You can buy lovely–and expensive–planters from any garden store. You can also scavenge, recycle and adapt containers, thus saving money, reducing waste and giving your imagination free rein.
Well, almost free rein. There are a few basic requirements for a container that will actually hold healthy plants for any length of time. Let’s look at those.
Garden Planter Requirements
Make sure your container hasn’t held anything toxic–roofing tar, oil paint etc. This is especially important if you’re going to eat vegetables, flowers or herbs from your planter, but even non-edible flowers will thrive better in a clean environment. For the same reason, avoid containers made from pressure-treated wood.
Consider depth. Most vegetables need at least 8″ of soil for best production; many require a foot or more of depth. Small herbs and flowers may be able to flourish in a 6″ deep container.
Provide drainage so your plants don’t drown. Drill 1/2″ holes in the bottom of your containers and prop them up so the bottom isn’t sitting directly on the ground, or drill holes around the bottoms of their sides. If your container is at least a foot deep and is made of something you can’t make holes in, put crushed rock in the bottom 2″ or so and water sparingly.
Use light-colored materials unless planters will be in the shade. Black containers sitting out in the sun can overheat and cook the roots of your plants.
Remember how heavy moist soil is. If you’re going to need to move your containers once they’re planted, keep them small enough so that you don’t mind lifting them.
Garden Planter Possibilities
A wide variety of recycled objects will work for planting. This is by no means an exhaustive list; consider these a few initial suggestions to get you started.
Tires can be stacked and filled with soil. Some people grow potatoes in these, planting them in one tire and continuing to add tires and soil as the plant grows, always leaving the top leaves above the soil. Others plant flowers in tires stacked one or two deep.
Bathtubs make effective mega-planters. They come with one drainage hole, but you’ll want to add more or else put crushed rock in the bottom and set the hole at the downhill end. Sinks also come with drainage that is adequate in itself.
Two-and five-gallon plastic buckets are small enough to move when full, large enough to grow substantial plants in. Stick with buckets that have held food, birdseed, or very low-toxicity products like joint compound. Wash them out thoroughly before use.
Old Metal and Enamel Pots
Old metal or enamel pots can be used as planters if you have the tools to make holes in the bottom, or (with luck) if you put a layer of crushed rock on the bottom and water sparingly. Colanders drain freely and may be deep enough in the center to accommodate plant roots.
Galvanized steel troughs are sturdy and capacious, and they may be deep enough so that you can use them without drainage holes if the bottom is filled with rock and you water with some restraint.
Old metal vents can hold small, shallow-rooted plants; line the bottom with sphagnum moss.
Wooden toolboxes take drainage holes easily and are convenient to move.
Where to Find Salvaged Containers
Some of these containers may already be lying around your house or garage–or around your friends’ houses and garages. Let them know what you’re looking for and see what turns up. In some neighborhoods you can pick up large items like tubs and tires on the side of the road, either set out for scavengers next to a Free sign or waiting for trash pick-up. Other items can be gotten cheaply at thrift stores, flea markets or auctions.
Want to learn more garden recycling ideas and garden container requirements?
Don’t miss these articles:
Recycling in the Garden from University of Florida IFAS Extension
Growing Vegetables, Herbs and Annual Flowers in Containers from Cornell Cooperative Extension