Ideas for Cheap or Free Container Gardens

Pansies in Clementine Orange Box
Photo © Kerry Michaels

Being frugal combined with a love for recycling, re-purposing, and love of interesting containers has led many to an obsession with finding container garden ideas that can be done on the cheap. Here are some favorites that gardeners tend to use.

  • 01 of 09

    Juice Box Container Garden
    Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Juice box containers make great flower pots, though they are small so will need lots of attention so they don't dry out.

    You can even use juice boxes for starting seeds.

    Cut holes in the bottom for drainage and then put a piece of plastic screening, coffee filter or paper towel over the hole. This keeps the soil in while letting water out.

    Growing small herbs​ or flowering annuals works well in this type of container.


  • 02 of 09
    container gardening picture of reusable grocery bag garden
    Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    Grocery bags are cheap (usually $2.00 or less), and plants love them. Grown giant tomato plants in the larger size, or everything from lettuce to herbs to flowering annuals in the small, lunch-sized bags. Whole Foods has some great bags in both sizes.

    You will want to get the kind that has plastic on the outside. It usually has some kind of fabric on the inside. Cut holes in the bottoms and line them with plastic screening, and make slits about half an inch from the bottom. The reason you want to do this is that if your bag is sitting on a non-porous surface, water can have a difficult time getting out of the bottom holes. The slits on the sides will make sure your drainage is good.


  • 03 of 09

    Clementine Orange Box Container

    Clementine Orange Box Container Garden
    Kerry Michaels

    In season, oranges cost anywhere from $5.99 to $8.99, which is not bad considering all the fruit and a free very cool container.

    Line the Clementine boxes with newspaper to maximize the amount of space for potting soil and also it helps retain some water. I fill them with pansies and violas in the spring.

  • 04 of 09

    Crocs Shoes Containers

    container gardening picture of container garden ideas
    Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    Crocs work well as planters,  but you can also use any rubber or plastic shoes, though you'll have to cut or drill drainage holes in them.

    Shoes don't have lots of room for potting soil, so you have to make the most of the soil you can squish in. It's also a good idea to choose plants, like succulents that are fairly drought tolerant, because the shoes tend to dry out really fast.

    It's also a bit of a challenge to plant in the back of the Crocs, which are open. If you wish, you can line the back with moss so you can stuff in more potting soil.

    Crocs also have a heel strap, which is great if you want to hang them on a wall. You can tie each end of a fishing line or twine to the straps and then hang the line over a nail - putting them at the same or different levels

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Trash Can Container

    container gardening picture of white trash can container garden
    Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    It can be hard to find large, inexpensive containers. Check discount stores, often in the housewares departments, or hardware stores and in feed and farm stores (which are admittedly hard to find if you live in a city).

    Also, keep a lookout for trash cans. Some are only a couple of dollars and are quite clean and modern. They are usually easy to drill a drainage hole in and will often hold up for a couple of seasons.

  • 06 of 09
    container gardening picture of kiddie pool garden
    Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    A large sized, brand-new kiddie pool will cost about $9.00. It's a great way to get a larger, really inexpensive raised bed. You can put it in a driveway or on your lawn. If you put it on your lawn, you can say goodbye to your grass, but sometimes it's worth it.

    Since they are fairly shallow, I wouldn't try growing giant tomatoes in them. Herbs work really well, as do annual flowers and salad greens.

  • 07 of 09

    Colander Garden

    container gardening picture of colander with million bells
    Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    There are old colanders at almost any yard sale or thrift store you go to. If you can find a large restaurant colander (you'd be surprised how many are around), buy it, as this plant, in particular, makes an awesome container for an annual like calibrachoa, also called million bells.

  • 08 of 09
    container gardening picture of Flower Bags
    Photograph © Thompson Morgan

    Flower bags or flower pouches are a beautiful and inexpensive way to grow vertically. They only cost a few dollars and they look great hanging from fence posts, or on a wall. They look fabulous, hanging in multiples. Flower bags are super easy to make.

    Flowering annuals are perfect for these bags, but you can also do herbs and lettuce. Plants that drape, like petunias, million bells, thyme, golden oregano work wonderfully.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Old Baskets

    container gardening picture of flowering basket
    Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    Baskets often cost just a dollar or two, especially if you find them at a thrift store. Some are a little beat up but have character, and sometimes all it takes is a can of spray paint to a basket and really make it into something special. Usually, they will last a season, but some last a few.