Avoiding exposure to COVID-19 resulted in Deborah and David Holtschlag spending a good bit of their summer relaxing on the porch of their Mt. Lebanon home.

“I realized that my husband, the gardener, had about 30 different potted plants out here, and they were just sort of taking over,” Deborah recalled. “So I decided I was somehow going to move the planters that I was trapped by out to the other side of the railing.”

This spring, the outer edge of the porch’s floor is decorated with a series of flowers and ferns, thanks to her ingenuity.

Holtschlag has developed a product she calls Plant Traps, an L-shaped device made of rust-resistant steel that slides under the bottom of a railing to create a shelf for holding pots, boxes and other containers.

“My mission was really simple,” she said. “It was that my mother could install it in a few seconds, that you could use your own pots and that it wrapped the bottom of the railing, as opposed to the top.”

When she first came up with the idea, she searched the Internet for a product that turned out not to exist. And so she thought about doing it herself, employing a basic principle of engineering.

“It is cantilevering a shelf over the side, because the railing acts as a barricade,” she said. “So it won’t tip, as long as you don’t send it too far out there.”

With that in mind, Holtschlag placed an order with a metal fabricator.

“The first prototype weighed probably 25 pounds,” she recalled. “I had a steel plate bent in half, and I just pushed it out there and put a ginormous plant on it and thought, OK, it’s possible. Now I have to figure out how to get it to secure onto the shelf. It took me quite a while to do that.”

Early design concepts involved cost-prohibitive features such as moving parts and welded joints.

“I finally figured out I could just stake from above, and I thought that was a really friendly solution because gardening people already are familiar with the stake,” Holtschlag said.

The finished product comes in black or white and is made of a galvanized zinc-coated steel called Galvanneal, fabricated in New Kensington.

An artist who has had gallery shows of her paintings before adding inventor to her résumé, Holtschlag designed the section that stands upright as a stately fleur-de-lis. As for the part that slides under the railing, the base is 12 inches long, protruding far enough outward to allow for larger containers to be displayed, especially when multiple Plant Traps are used for support.

“This puts barely any pressure on the railing, because it’s just a matter of not letting it tip,” Holtschlag said, and regarding installation: “It’s no tools, and it’s easy for anybody. A child could do it, which is kind of cool.”

To see for yourself, visit youtu.be/vJZJzngzIio.

Plant Traps are available at local businesses including Rollier’s Hardware in Mt. Lebanon, Trax Farm in Peters and Union townships, Bedner’s Farm and Greenhouse in Cecil Township, and Chapon’s Greenhouse and Supply in Baldwin Borough. More information is available at planttraps.com.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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