Unusual and Repurposed Container Gardens

  • 01 of 07

    Introduction to Gardening in Unusual Containers

    Pansies in Clementine Orange Box
    Pansies in Clementine Orange Box. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    In the last few years, the popularity of container gardening has soared, and for good reason. Containers are easy to maintain (almost no weeding!) and because you are controlling the quality of the soil, water and food for your plants, it is easier to create a great growing environment. Container gardening has become an art as well a hobby and by thinking outside the pot, you can have great fun, save money and create gardens that will attract attention and be custom made to fit your style and even your color scheme.

    The possibilities for unusual containers are endless. Almost anything can be turned into a container, but that doesn’t mean that everything should be. The first thing to consider is your gardening style. Do you want a plumbing fixture on your lawn? For some people this works fabulously, for others, not so much.  Everything from brassieres to old computers can and have been turned into containers – and plants will grow just fine in them—but while they may be great conversation starters, many people wouldn’t want to look at them day in and day out. Also, some materials will last and look better over time than others.

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  • 02 of 07

    Unusual Container Possibilities

    Bedspring Garden
    Bedsprings as garden art. © Kerry Michaels

    When choosing an unusual container, look for something that will weather well and last for at least your growing season and longer if you have a plant that you want to bring inside at the end of the season. Old wooden boxes are inexpensive and easy to find. Metal buckets, decorative tins and baskets also work well, and can even be enhanced by a patina of wear. Plastic reusable grocery bags are inexpensive and come in fun patterns and many sizes--they will only last for a season but plants seem to love them.

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  • 03 of 07

    Where to Find Unusual Containers

    Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Start in your house. It may surprise you how many things you already own that can easily be made into great containers. On old colander, oatmeal tin or Clementine orange box all make wonderful choices. Buckets, little red wagons, old kids toys or even a chipped soup bowl or a beat up basket all can be easily transformed into a pretty pot. Once you’ve checked your house, move on to yard sales and second hand stores. Look at things with an eye for interest, durability and scale. Also, the kitchen departments of discount and Dollar stores can turn up some interesting and inexpensive finds.

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  • 04 of 07

    Size Does Matter

    Mini Succulent Table Decorations
    Living Table Decorations. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Your container can be as big as a boat, or as small as a teacup, juice box or even a tiny mint tin, but the smaller the container, the less soil it will hold, which means that there is less water retention and nutrients available for your plants. This also means that there is less margin for error on the gardeners part—small containers can dry out completely very quickly. For some drought resistant and hard to kill plants--most succulents fit that description--that isn’t a problem, but for plants that need a consistent moisture level, a bigger pot may be a better choice. 

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  • 05 of 07

    Don't Drown Your Plants

    container garden picture of hens and chicks in old metal basket
    Hens and Chicks in Old Basket. Photo © Kerry Michaels

    Drainage though not the sexiest topic is probably the single most important consideration in making something into a container. Make sure your container either already has a way for water to get out the bottom, or that you can punch, drill or cut holes—lots of them—into the bottom. A good drill, with several different large bits including special ones for ceramics and metal, can be an invaluable tool. Also a hammer and a large nail can be used to punch holes in most metals.

    On the other hand, if the container has a very large hole or holes, that’s a bonus, but you may have to cover them so the potting mix won’t fall out. Plastic window screening is great for this. A roll is inexpensive and easy to cut to size. It is perfect for letting water out while keeping soil in. You can also use a coffee filter or a piece of paper towel.

    Moss is a great solution if your container has large, visible openings. It can make a beautiful visual statement and also help your container hold moisture and potting soil. If you have a loosely woven basket or a a metal bin, you can line the inside with wet sphagnum moss, which gives the container a finished look.

    Whatever you've read in the past, don't use gravel in the bottom of your pots be they unusual or conventional. It is an old wives tale that it improves drainage, when it actually makes the soil soggier.

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  • 06 of 07

    Start With Good Potting Soil

    Clam Shell Container Gardens
    Clam Shell Gardens. © kerry michaels

    Buying a good quality potting mix is important. Also finding out if it has fertilizer already mixed in is key—most don’t. If your potting soil doesn’t have fertilizer in it you will need to add a slow release fertilizer, carefully following the directions on the bag for handling and quantity. I use an organic as there is usually much more room for error with organics.

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  • 07 of 07

    Have Fun!

    Succulents in an Evening Bag. Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    The primary reason I use unusual containers is that it's fun. I love experimenting with different ideas, styles and color combinations. You can go from elegant to playful to outrageous simply by what you choose to transform. I also love that unusual containers can be a great way to save money. For a few dollars you can get a great container that will look fabulous and add interest.