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Upcycle to Create Unique Containers For Your Garden

By Wendy Helfenbaum Rise Writer
May 5, 2021

Gardening and homesteading, in general, have exploded in popularity in the past few years. Container gardening works for most people wanting to grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables because you don't need a sprawling yard. You can plant in pots and enjoy the blossoms and the bounty. Container and balcony gardens are also an affordable and easy way to boost your curb appeal.

 When choosing containers for plants, most gardeners end up with lots of terra cotta pots. But you can transform just about anything into a funky and fun vessel for edibles, flowers, and other plants. Channel your inner zero-waste eco-warrior and take a good look around your basement, garage or storage shed to find items that are perfect for planting. You can use everything from old suitcases to shoe organizers to children's rain boots. 

Here's how to repurpose items into unique, sustainable garden containers.

Tire Vertical Planters

What Are the Advantages of Using Repurposed Items as Garden Containers?

Finding ways to reuse things we already have is a big step towards living a more earth-friendly life since we won't be tossing things that end up in a landfill somewhere. Most of us end up with garages, basements, and storage sheds full of items that we don't know what to do with. Why not put them to use in the yard?

Shopping in and around your own house also means you're saving the money you would have spent buying new pots. Plus, using non-traditional containers can add some flair to your garden.

Gardening Succulent Insta
Photo Credit: Gardening Succulent via Instagram

What Materials Should Garden Containers Be Made Of?

In her recently published book, Complete Container Herb Gardening, garden designer Sue Goetz suggests various materials that work as containers for herbs and other plants. Generally, anything that holds soil and has holes for water to drain away will work. Some good choices include containers made of terra cotta, earthenware, concrete, and cast stone.

Metal containers – including galvanized, zinc, steel, and cast iron – are very sturdy and resistant to freezing temperatures, so you can use them season after season. They will rust over time unless you're using galvanized containers. Metal also offers different looks depending on whether you prefer a contemporary or traditional vibe in your garden.

Tire Rim Planter Jessicas Lovely Garden Instagram
Tire Rim Planter. Photo Credit: Jessicas Lovely Garden via Instagram

However, one thing to watch out for is that big metal planters can trap heat during the hot summer months. This can lead to overly warm soil that can then harm the plant's root systems. Goetz offers an excellent trick to offset this problem: Line the inside of your container with a waterproof material such as plastic bubble wrap, which will also insulate the soil. You can also use burlap grow bags. Just be sure not to block the drainage holes. 

Because it's a natural insulator, wood gardening containers work nicely. Wood protects root systems in both hot and cold weather. Goetz recommends choosing planters made of sustainably sourced cedar, teak, or redwood – all will naturally resist decay.

Avoid softer woods like pine, which will start to break down after a few seasons. And don't use pressure-treated lumber, especially if you're growing edibles. The harmful chemicals can leach into your soil and plants.

Add a plastic or metal liner or a woven grow bag inside your wood planter to avoid potential rot. Elevate your wooden planter with pot feet or pieces of brick or paving stones, so it doesn't sit in water. 

Bucket Garden Planters

What Are the Best Garden Container Shapes?

Anything with a bowl-like shape that can hold soil and plants can be reimagined into a vessel for your garden. You just need to ensure that it can drain well and withstand both hot and cold weather conditions.

Because square pots hold more soil volume, they tend to work better for plants with extensive root systems, such as tomatoes or asparagus. Generally, the larger the pot, the less often it needs to be watered. 

Upcycle Fan Insta
Photo Credit: Upcycle Fan via Instagram

How Deep Should a Garden Container Be?

More depth allows more room for a plant to grow and thrive. However, if you want to use something as a container and it's not very deep, plant things with shallow roots, like annual flowers, lettuce, or broccoli.

Goetz suggests that you'll need about 8 inches of soil depth for herbaceous plants like basil and chives, so your container needs to be deeper than that. Herbs or plants with long taproots like parsley need 15 inches of soil depth, while shrub herbs like rosemary need a minimum of 24 inches of soil depth.

Toy Truck Planter The Microgardener
Toy Truck Planter. Photo Credit: The Microgardener

What Items Work Well as Garden Planters?

Anything that holds soil, has drainage, and is deep enough for the plants you select can be used as a container. It's especially fun to use unusual items that had a previous life outside of gardening. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Colorful toy trucks work well to plant succulents.
  • Teapots and teacups are lovely planted with delicate flowers.
  • Wagons can make a great focal point at the back of your garden.
  • Watering cans that leak can find new life as planters because the cracks serve as drainage.
  • Broken terra cotta pots make adorable miniature or fairy gardens,
  • Turning a pallet on its end turns it into a hanging herb garden.
  • A fallen tree trunk can be hollowed out and planted with low-growing plants.
  • A metal birdcage can be repurposed to grow trailing plants. Add some netting and moss to keep the soil from washing away.
  • Vintage bicycles with baskets look great against a fence when planted with annuals.
  • Leftover cinder blocks can be stacked and planted with herbs or flowers.
  • Kids' rain boots or any old shoes can be repurposed as planters.
  • Empty wine bottles can become a hanging garden
  • Old hats can be hung on a fence and used as pockets for small plants
  • If your children have outgrown their beach pails, recycle them as planters
  • Got a rickety wooden chair? Cut a hole in the seat, and pop in a flower pot.
  • Colorful food tins from coffee or cookies make lovely planters.
  • A vintage bathtub works perfectly for colorful annuals – it even has a drain so water can seep out. 
  • A rusty metal wheelbarrow that's too rickety to use anymore can be parked and planted with flowers.
  • You can use a section of picket fence with a few rows of gutters to create a vertical vegetable garden. 

How Should You Prepare an Item to Become a Garden Container?

Make sure whatever object you choose has a hole for evaporation or drainage, suggests Goetz. You can drill or punch holes if it doesn't. If your item is dirty or rusty, you can clean it up, paint it or leave it as is and appreciate its patina. 

Recyclart.org Wine Bottle Planter
Wine Bottle Planters. Photo Credit: Recyclart.org

Where Can You Buy Unique Items That Make Good Containers if You Don't Already Have Any? 

If you don't have a stash of potential containers lying around, you can bet most people in your neighborhood do. You can find terrific and inexpensive items to repurpose as garden containers at flea markets, garage sales, and online marketplaces. Keep an eye on the curbs before garbage or recycling pickup days: many people put things out for collection that would work well in your backyard.

There are no rules for container gardening. The only limiting factor is your imagination, so have some fun.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-05-05T17:07:24+0000
Wendy Helfenbaum

Article by:

Wendy Helfenbaum

Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal-based journalist and TV producer whose work has appeared in many outlets including Apartment Therapy, Metropolis, Architectural Digest’s AD Pro, AARP, Costco Connection, Country Gardens, Realtor.com, Style at Home, Canadian Living and many more. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum