You can easily find planters made from recycled plastic, but you can take the recycling concept one step further by reusing materials from your own household, turning them into patio containers, seed starters and raised beds. With potential planters ranging from yogurt containers to old rowboats, fans of both recycling and gardening can grow anything from single herbs to small trees.
While peat pots and plastic seedling systems are plentiful at nurseries, common household items also make suitable seedling pots. Use egg cartons filled with a seed-starting medium to plant seeds. As seedlings grow, move them to cleaned plastic yogurt, margarine and cottage cheese containers (see References 1). If you need to repot extra-large seedlings, such as tomato plants or young trees, cut a milk carton, milk jug or soda bottle in half and use the lower part to hold plants. Save old roasting pans or baking sheets to recycle as watering trays on which to set your seedling pots.
Small and Medium Planters
Many of the same containers useful for holding seedlings also make effective planters for small houseplants and shallow-rooted patio herbs and flowers. Paint coffee canisters, large tin cans and plastic containers with eco-friendly paint to make them more decorative. Keep an eye out for items suitable for a children's garden or whimsical outdoor spaces. Old work boots, leaky watering cans, pots and pans, colanders, beach pails, hollow garden statuary, baskets and apple barrels can all find new life as planters. Gardeners can also establish shallow-rooted herbs, flowers and lettuce in logs and stumps by drilling holes in the wood and filling them with potting soil. (See References 5.)
Large Planters and Raised Beds
Car and truck tires may be repurposed as raised beds, as can recycled scrap wood. Other possibilities for large planters include old wheelbarrows and rowboats, washtubs, bathtubs, metal or plastic garbage cans, and wooden whiskey barrels. Line bottomless items like tires or nailed-together scrap wood with damp newspaper to suppress weeds, then fill them with a mixture of topsoil and compost or potting soil. (See References 5.)
Container Gardening Tips
Drill or poke holes in wood, metal or plastic containers to allow water to drain from the bottom of the planters. If you use colanders, wicker baskets or wire baskets, line them with sphagnum moss so the soil doesn't escape from the planter. When working with old metal containers, line the planters with garden-grade plastic to prevent rust from contaminating the soil. Exercise caution when building planters from scrap lumber, because treated wood sometimes contains chemical preservatives that can stunt plant growth or be absorbed by edible plants. (See References 4.)
Other Reuse Opportunities
Recycling comes into play not only for the planters themselves but for the soil and nutrients used to grow the plants. Compost works well as a planting medium and a fertilizer. "Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening" recommends mixing compost from your own compost pile with store-bought perlite and ground pine bark when filling containers. During the growing season, lay compost over the surface of the soil to feed plants, or soak bags of compost in water to create a disease-fighting fertilizer "tea" to spray on plants. Use grass clippings or shredded leaves to mulch your planters (see References 4). Further conserve resources by watering your gardens with discarded dishwater or rainwater captured in large barrels (see References 2). For the ultimate in garden recycling, save seeds from your best-performing annual vegetables and flowers for future use rather than buying new seeds at the garden center.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Spring Seedlings; April 2010
- FAO: What Does Our Garden Need?
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; What You Can Do -- At Home and in the Garden; December 2010
- "Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening"; Fern Marshall Bradley et al.; 2009
- "Container Gardening"; Stephanie Donaldson; Hermes House Anness Publishing Ltd.; 2006
Ellen Douglas has written on food, gardening, education and the arts since 1992. Douglas has worked as a staff reporter for the Lakeville Journal newspaper group. Previously, she served as a communication specialist in the nonprofit field. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut.