A reader recently requested a post with more resources for container gardening, specifically, types of containers to use, and where to get them. I’m going to split it up into two installments: this post will discuss upcycled container ideas when visual aesthetics aren’t so much an issue, and I’ll follow up next week with one looking at containers to use when they’ll be subject to a more discerning eyes. (That follow-up post here.)
Here are some of my favorite things to use for container gardens when a rough, upcycled aesthetic is OK:
HDPE 55 Gallon Drums – Food-grade 55 gallon drums (made of high-density polyethylene, supposedly pretty inert, although some folks are skeptical) can be cut in half to create two large planters appropriate for a single fruit tree, several small shrubs, or many annual vegetables. In fact, you can create a micro-food forest by stacking all of those types of plants in one drum! (We go into some detail about this technique in the workshops.) If you live in a city of any size, somebody is usually hawking these on craigslist, and if you only need a few, I’d consider $15 each or less to be a pretty decent deal. If you can deal directly with a commercial kitchen or food distributor that uses them, you can sometimes get them for $5 or even for free!
Often I’ll find a piece of old garden hose, cut it to the diameter of the planter, cut a straight line down the lenght of it, and slip it over the edge of the barrel to create an attractive coping (pictured right). For drainage, I usually drill 10-16 1/2” holes in the bottom, roughly evenly spaced.
I’m really excited about using these for mobile micro-orchards. For this, you either need to be really good at pruning, OR get trees on mini-dwarf rootsock, OR get genetic dwarf trees like these. For information on root-pruning containerized fruit trees (a necessary process), check out this great video.
5 Gallon Buckets - 5 gal buckets are perhaps the most plentiful of any potential container gardens. As with the HDPE drums, commercial kitchens, large restaurants, bakeries, and food distributors are great places to get relatively clean, food-grade buckets.These buckets are extremely versatile because of their size. They’re just big enough to be able to grow small perennials and herbs in (plant rosemary, thyme, and oregano together for a nice Mediterranean bucket.
For drainage on these, I drill about 8 3/8” holes (roughly) evenly spaced on the bottom.
Nursery Pots - Left-over pots from retail and wholesale nurseries represent an enormous waste-stream of perfectly good container gardens-to-be. They come in many standard sizes, and are made specifically for the purpose in question. Check the dumpsters at retail nurseries or call local landscapers and ask if they have any left-over pots from jobs (they always do, sometimes by the thousands).
Yogurt Containers and Milk Jugs - These and other food containers are great for container gardens, especially for starts, small annuals, and for growing out small plants until they’re ready for their permanent, larger pots. As with the barrels and buckets, put some holes in the bottom for drainage!
Another fun way to repurpose yogurt containers is to cut them into 1” wide vertical strips and use them as plant labels (the kind you stick into the pots or into the ground). Write on them with a crayon or grease pen, as most ‘permanent’ markers are not very water- or UV-resistant on plastic.
Everything Else - The number of things that can be repurposed as a container garden seems infinite. Here are a few other things I’ve tried:
- Clawfoot bathtub
- Concrete utility sink
- Small aquarium
- Dresser drawer
- Recycle bin
- Old leather boot
- Various children’s toys
- Computer monitor
Observe your city/town’s wastestream, and see what sort of materials you can divert for a useful re-purposing as beautiful food-growing gardens. Dumpsters behind restruants often yield all sorts of containers, as do yardsales and freeboxes. Spend a day keeping your eye out for anything that could be a container garden. Dozens if not hundreds of things will start presenting themselves to you!
If you’re using something interesting for container gardening, send photos to share [at] permacultureforrenters [dot] com