Gardening and growing food at home is in a full-fledged comeback, but the ways we are doing it are markedly different from the gardens of old. When the US population was largely rural and agricultural, there was plenty of space to spread out, till the earth, and cultivate big square footage. Nowadays, we are more urban and suburban, where space is limited. That means a lot of what we are growing is in containers.

While there are plenty of nice plant pots available for purchase, some of the most unique and striking growing containers come from repurposed materials. This is not only good for its quirky stylishness but also for the fact that it makes use of things that might otherwise get tossed into landfills. In fact, the beauty of making planters out of repurposed resources is that we can make use of things that can no longer perform the functions they were intended to.


What then, pray tell, makes a good planter? So, glad you asked.

1. Wine Bottles

For those who like to get into a project, using spent wine bottles to make self-watering planters is a great one. Glass cutters are available online, and they can be used to cut wine bottles in half. Once in two parts, turn the neck end of the bottle upside down and put it in the bottom half. Fish a small strip of cloth through the neck, holding it in the top portion as you fill it with potting soil. The water will wick up from the bottom half of the bottle into the top as it is needed.

2. Old Shoes/Boots

Old shoes and boots make snazzy planters, and this is particularly useful when rubber boots have holes, rendering them ineffective. They look appropriately placed on a patio beside the back door or in a patio garden, and they can make fun planters, with herbs or flowers growing out of the tops.

3. Wheelbarrows

One of the classic repurposed items to use as a planter is a wheelbarrow. Eventually, these instruments of the garden to get a bit rickety, so what better way to use them in their final act of duty? Fill them with garden soil, fill them with plants, stick them in the garden area and let them grow roots.


4. IBCs*

“IBCs” are international bulk containers used to transport liquids, such as vast quantities of olive oil or hot sauce. These can be cut in half to make large wicking beds that will water themselves and grow lots of fresh vegetables. Used ones can easily be found for $40 or less at online outlets like eBay or Craigslist.

*Be sure to get food-grade containers that have not transported toxic substances.


5. Sinks/Tubs

Old sinks and tubs, particular enameled cast iron stuff, make really cool planters. Not only can they just be straight up plant pots, but tubs can also be designed as self-wicking beds, much the same as IBC totes, to grow a full bevy of salad greens. This is a great way to use sinks and tubs that have gotten a little to worn out.

6. Colanders/Strainers

Lots of kitchen gadgets can be used to make planters, but perhaps the best is a colander. They can be filled with matting and used as hanging planters or a tabletop decoration. The colander will allow excess water to drain out, just as it does with pasta.


7. Pallets

Pallets make awesome vertical planters. Strips of landscaping fabric can be stapled between opposite slats to create nifty planting troughs. These are great for growing things like lettuce, strawberries or fresh herbs. Lots of people fill them with perennial flowers or succulents to make green walls.

8. Picnic Baskets

Picnic baskets can be lined with some old plastic sheeting, filled with potting mix and placed out as planters. Even for those who don’t necessarily have picnic baskets around the house, they are available for a couple bucks or less at thrift stores.

9. Shoe Organizer

Another great material for making a space-saving vertical garden is one of those shoe organizers that hang on the back of the closet door. Each pouch can be filled with soil then planted with edibles and/or flowers. This can be hung on a sunny balcony wall or patio post.

10. Cinderblocks*

Cinderblocks leftover from DIY projects or bought used can make really elaborate and attractive planters for flowers and succulents. They can be stacked in all sorts of arrangements to make pretty container garden beds.

*Don’t use them for food because they may contain toxic materials that will leach into the soil.

11. Paint Cans*/Tin Cans

Paint cans, particularly with little drips down the side, and tin cans from the kitchen can make nice planters. They can be painted into a color scheme, or they’ll rust a little over time, adding a nice rustic touch to the garden.


*Don’t use paint cans to grow food.

12. Rain Gutters

Another fine container for growing vertical gardens is old rain gutters. They can be cut to size and fastened up sunny wallscapes to make beautiful rows of flowers and/or food.

In short, it’s great to have a pretty plant pot (also easy to find used in thrift stores and yard sales), but building them from repurposed materials can make for an eclectic and personal container garden. Plus, it’s fun.

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