Backyard Project: Add Color to the Outdoors With Milk Paint

Painting raised beds, borders and even compost bins with eco-friendly milk paint is a fun and easy backyard project that adds color to your garden all year.

Do you enjoy a garden filled with colorful plants?  Most of us do – but unfortunately, there are often times of the year when plants are out of flower, which can leave our backyard garden somewhat colorless.  But, plants are just one way to add color to your garden.

Often, when we feel the need for more color inside our homes, we paint our walls.  So, why not apply that concept to our outdoor spaces?

Let’s step outside and take a new look at the wooden structures in the garden and imagine what they would look like with a colorful coat of eco-friendly, milk paint.

painted raised bed for color

Last year, I visited the University of Tennessee kitchen gardens and was impressed by their colorful raised beds, compost bin and vertical wall.  Not only were the flowers and vegetables attractive, so were the surrounding garden structures with their purple color.  That got me to thinking about how this garden would look beautiful even when empty of plants.

The wooden structures in this kitchen garden were painted using ‘milk paint’.  While you may not have heard of ‘milk paint’ before, it has been around for thousands of years and was used for creating cave paintings and objects painted with it were found in King Tut’s tomb.

Well, the saying that “everything old becomes new again”, is certainly true in this case.  Milk paint is becoming a popular choice for both indoor and outdoor use.  The fact that it is non-toxic and made from natural ingredients (milk protein, lime and natural pigments), makes it the perfect choice for outdoor structures – especially those that surround edible crops.

painted compost bin

Milk paint adds color while retaining a matte, rustic look.  The grain from the wood clearly shows through giving it a semi-opaque quality, which goes along with a garden theme.  The color from milk paint does not fade and resists peeling and chipping, which are common complaints when other paints are used.  When used outdoors, milk paint is often finished with a layer of hemp oil to help protect it from the elements.

Let’s take a look at the wooden structures where you can use milk paint in your own garden.

If you have raised beds, trellises or a wooden border surrounding a perennial bed – how about giving them a nice coat of milk paint?  Or maybe the door to your shed could be an opportunity to add a bright spot of color to your garden?  And don’t forget about your compost bin- if it’s made out of wood, why not transform it into something that actually adds beauty to your outdoor space?

painted vertical garden

Do you have a vertical garden wall or a wooden fence?  Why not give them a coat of milk paint?

By adding color to outdoor, wooden structures, you’ll add colorful interest to your garden that will last throughout the year – even in the dead of winter.  I am excited to start this backyard project and paint my raised vegetable beds and fences with milk paint – I just have to decide which color – there are so many to choose from!

Want to learn more about milk paint?  Click here for information on where to buy it and how to apply.  Want to make your own?  Click here for a DIY tutorial.

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist, writer and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. She is the CEO and owner of 'AZ Plant Lady,' an education company that aims to help people garden successfully in the desert climate. She is the author of the book, Dry Climate Gardening, and her byline has appeared in publications such as Birds & Blooms and Phoenix Home & Garden magazine. She is an instructor at the Desert Botanical garden and Tucson Botanical Gardens.