Creative Container Gardening: New Uses For Old Things

Lots of goodies today! If you’d like to get creative with your yard display this year, I’ve put together a list to help tweak some ideas for you (this is also a great way to repurpose household items that would otherwise be junked).

Next you’ll find four videos: two provide tips that will help your potted plants do their best, and two videos show how to make your own containers using hypertufa (I love that stuff!). At the bottom I’ve added several different projects you can try that I’ve found around the ‘net…most are pretty easy too!

Picture of Flowers In Boot - Tipnut.comHere is a list of different items you can use, I’ve either seen these implemented or come across mentions of them. Make sure to add your favorite ideas too!

  1. Work Boots (leave the toe intact or cut out for flowers to bloom out both ends)
  2. Metal Buckets & Pails (these can be painted in either a solid color or with a decorative design–but plain metal works too)
  3. Wicker Baskets (these can be painted)
  4. Wooden Kegs/Whisky Barrels/Rain Barrels
  5. Wheelbarrow
  6. Old Toybox & Wooden Crates
  7. Deep Roasting Pans, Stock Pots
  8. Old Bicycle (I saw a yard display once that had a bicycle basket attached to the front handlebars with flowers planted inside, as well as hanging flower bags fixed across the seat)
  9. Old Fashioned Baby Carriage
  10. Mailbox
  11. Old Chair (cut out the seat and attach a fitted container inside)
  12. Dresser Drawer
  13. Picture of Geraniums In Enamelware - Tipnut.comDeep Enamelware Pots
  14. Child’s Wagon (choose one that’s deep so there’s lots of soil for the plants to grow)
  15. End Table (turned on its side)
  16. Watering Cans
  17. Hypertufa Containers (see more info below)
  18. Bird Houses (large with the roof removed and a plant inside)
  19. Wooden Tool Box
  20. Old Fashioned Bird Cage (pot inside)
  21. Hollowed Out Stumps & Logs
  22. Old Wash Tubs


  • Picture of Pansy - Tipnut.comThe sky’s the limit when choosing containers but use items that have a deep space, enough to hold the necessary amount of soil for your plants and flowers to thrive. Once you start getting creative with your containers, you’ll be looking at “junk” in a whole new way ;).
  • Make sure that you either drill or cut drainage holes otherwise the plants won’t do well and the roots will rot.
  • For metal containers, you can line them with several thicknesses of newspaper before filling with potting soil. This will give the roots some protection from the heat.
  • If you choose items that won’t survive strong winds without toppling over (like a standing bicycle), choose places to display in the yard that will provide some shelter from the wind.
  • For large containers, first fill with false bottoms or recycled materials so you can save money on soil (also mentioned in one of the videos below).

Here are two different videos offering tips for preparing plant pots and containers. I have included summary notes under each video for those who can’t view them.


  • Make sure to make a drainage hole so excess water will come out the bottom to prevent root rot.
  • Bigger pots are better since they hold the water longer. To save on soil as well as not make the pots too heavy, try filling the bottom with recycled materials like styrofoam peanuts, crushed cans or a false bottom (you can buy these). Top with a square of weed barrier fabric before adding potting mix so the soil stays above the bottom filler materials.
  • Pick a good soil mix that contains perlite or vermiculite for drainage as well as peatmoss to hold the moisture.
  • If the soil you use doesn’t contain any fertilizer, add & mix in some slow release fertilizer to the mix before you fill the pot with plants.
  • Water plants thoroughly and check them daily.

Three Things You Need To Know For Best Results:


  • Make sure you water enough so that the water comes out the bottom. This ensures that the entire soil is wet, not just the top.
  • Feed plants at least once a week.
  • Liquid Fish Emulsion is the best growth food for most container plants since it has all the growth fertilizers plants need for superior growth.


Hypertufa is a mixture of cement, peat moss, and sand designed to imitate volcanic stone which was once used in England as watering troughs for livestock. The troughs were later used as planters by English gardeners, but eventually the supply ran out.

Hypertufa was invented as a substitute material for planters and can be shaped in almost any way. It has the appearance of stone, but is also lightweight enough to be moved around the patio. Once cured, it’s freeze- and thaw-proof so it can be left outside year-round.

Source: Home Envy (also has a tutorial). I’ve added a couple videos below showing you how easy it is to make:


  • Find forms using things like dish pans, oil pans, boxes
  • Materials: Equal parts Perlite, Peat Moss, Pure Portland Cement
  • Water: Slowly add water, add enough so the mix will hold shape when making a ball.
  • Pack the hypertufa into the form (first lined with plastic), about 2″ thick (smaller containers are fine with 1″ to 1 1/2″ thick).
  • Make sure the finished product will drain well.
  • Select a soil mix that drains well.
  • The hypertufa pots are fine to leave outside over winter since they are porous.


  • Made with Peat, Perlite, Portland Cement. Mix all together before adding water. You can add concrete coloring at this point (check at the hardware store).
  • Build a well in the middle of the mix then add a small amount of water. Mix, slowly add more water, mix, keep adding water until you have the consistency of cottage cheese and the hypertufa mix will hold together its shape when you form into a ball.
  • If you add too much water, it’s easy to fix by adding a little more peat or perlite until you get the consistency you want.
  • First line the form with plastic so the pot is easy to pop out when it’s dry. Add bubble wrap if you’d like a bubble design on the outside. You can also add pieces of moss along the sides.
  • Press the hypertufa into the form, start at the bottom then the sides. Pack it in tight.
  • Sit for 5 to 7 days to harden, then pop it out of the form. Leave for another 7 to 10 days to make sure the hypertufa is dry.
  • Rinse the finished product with vinegar to make sure all the lime from the cement will be removed.
  • Bonsais do well in hypertufa pots.

Looking for a bit of whimsy or that perfect colored pot for your garden? Why not make your own! Here are several different projects from around the net that you can try…
Patio Pavers: All you need for supplies are 5 patio pavers, weatherproof construction adhesive and DecoArt Patio Paint to tint the pavers in the color of your choice (paint is permanent and weather resistant).

On The Cheap: With a little paint, shellac, and elbow grease, you can turn plain old pots into something truly spectacular!
Cement: You can make the planters for both indoors and outdoors, decorate in your own style and voila! you have planters in shapes, sizes and colors that will match your decor perfectly.

Stone: Make your own stunning planter using stones and cement.
Small Space Salad Box: The idea is to take a window box, attach some legs to it then use it as a raised planter to grow a small amount of herbs and vegetables.

Chair Seat: (pdf) The idea is to remove the chair’s upholstered seat and make a new planter seat with chicken wire and some weedmat to hold dirt, sphagnum moss and potting mix that you can plant succulents in.
Cupcake: With some creative painting you can turn plain terracotta pots into something whimsical for your garden.

Mosaic: Take a plain old terra cotta pot, add some pieces of ceramic tile (or pieces of broken china) and voila! a one-of-a-kind garden showpiece.
Galvanized: The idea is to take plain old galvanized planters and spiffy them up with paint in either a design (see the checkerboard example) or a single color that’s bright and pretty (notice the chalkboard “label” idea).

Simple Spring Planter: Modern looking planter made with pine, wood glue, wood stain, polyurethane and landscapers cloth.
Felt Wall Planter: Made with squares of craft felt and features a plywood back so that it can be removed and stored away during the off season.

Jute Webbing: A few yards of jute webbing is woven around a disposable cooler, fabric stiffener applied then cooler removed once the materials are dry.
Wood Boxes With Casters: Made with plywood sheets, caster wheels, screws, wood glue and paint or stain. These can be made as large (or small) as you like.

Wooden Planter Box: Clever idea! Holes are cut into a piece of lumber which is then attached to a wall with brackets. The holes are sized to fit clay pots.
Jello Mold: A neat way to display succulents, this fits in place around a patio table umbrella.

Food Gardens In A Bag: Here’s a clever idea planting seeds and seedlings directly in topsoil bags.
Concrete: Tupperware containers are used for the molds, made with fast setting cement patcher (good for a smooth finish).

Faux-Stone Finish How-To: Learn how to transform a plastic or resin flower pot with paint, sandpaper, primer, and other basic supplies.
Recycled Planter Box: Made with teak (or other reclaimed lumber), exterior glue, corrugate roofing and assorted tools.

Deck Rail Planter: Can be built as long as you wish, the base is suitable for resting on a deck floor or along the railing.
Cheap Decorative Ideas: Make pots pretty with outdoor paint (or chalkboard paint), masking tape and foam stamps.

Galvanized Washtubs: Holes are punched in the bottom then the tubs spray painted and wooden legs added (optional).
How To Make Tipsy Pots: What a creative display for garden pots!

One of the best things to have when container gardening is a potting bench, these make an ideal work space (which your back will surely thank you for!). You’ll find some free plans on this page.

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    • Frugal Dad

    Great ideas! We use the bottom half of used milk jugs filled with starter soil to grow our seedlings in, and then transfer them to our square foot garden. Over time, I would like to try to grow tomatoes in some of these “creative containers” because they just take up so much room in the garden box.

    • Faith

    Dear Tipnut;
    Love your tips. I used an old WOOL sweater, instead of buying wool yarn, to make my dryer ball. Just tye it with string and felt it as you would a yarn ball. It works great and saves me money.
    After suffering through years of deer, rabbit, groundhog, etc, dammage to my outdoor yard garden, I purchased a childs 24″ high swimming pool. It is on the deck of my house, 8 feet off the ground. I filled it first with a few drainage holes, then a couple inches of river bottom gravel, washed well. Next several bags of potting soil, well mixed with with equal parts of vermiculite and perilite. I use your trick of pipe to water my plants, except I used a large2″ iron pipe and insert the garden hose into it . The iron pipe sets on a section of cinder block. The top is covered with Black plastic which is weighted so it is streched tight across the top. The plants are inserted into holes in the plastic top. I mix Miracle Grow into a water can of water once a week. It has been growing wonderful tomatoes, cucumbers, beans , radishes , etc. for 4 years and I will plant it again this year.

    • Joelle

    Where I grew up, people would plant a toilet in their front yard with annuals.

    • Tegan

    By the way for a Overweight indivividual like me Gardening offers the perfect Sweat breaker 2 hours of good time weed digging and I am in business

    • Sheriva

    Can sytroform used to pack electronics, etc be used as a filled in a planter? Or just the ‘peanuts’?

    • Ella

    We made holes in the bottom of Costco Kirkland laundry detergent containers we had emptied, and then layered it with leaves, dirt, then more leaves, etc. Then planted dill in one, and another one has mint and some flowers and it seems to hold enough moisture for the plants to do well, but the drainage works well.

    • Avis

    I use shredded paper to line the bottom of containers, about 2-3 inches thick, depending of the size of the pot. It filters the water, holds the water, and you don’t need to use as much soil. And it dosen’t cost anything.

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