What to Do with Old Black Plastic Nursery Pots

Clever Ways to Get More Use from Old Containers

Plants in pots laid out on horticultural membrane to plan garden border design
Brian North / Getty Images

Every time we buy a sizable new plant, we also get a new black plastic pot. While it's nice to have a stock of old containers handy when we're dividing, moving or giving away plants, they can really start to pile up. Rather than saving them "just in case", here are nine ideas for putting them to good use.

  • 01 of 09

    Prop Up Small Containers

    Old Plastic Pot as Plant Stand

    © Marie Iannotti

    Containers are great ways to keep color in the garden border, but we don't always have large-scale containers and smaller containers can get lose at ground level. Use an overturned 5-gallon plastic container as a base, to lift the planter above neighboring plants. The Black color will virtually disappear into the surrounding foliage.

    It's best to use the more rigid black pots for this or double up pots with flexible sides so that they don't collapse when the planter is heavy with water. A lightweight potting soil will also help.Another bonus of lifting the planter higher is you don't have to bend to water it.

  • 02 of 09

    Shake and Dispearse Fertilizer

    Plastic Pot as Fertilizer DIspenser

    Marie Iannotti

    Smaller plastic containers make great shakers. The hole at the bottom will slowly sift fertilizer, animal repellent, and other granular material. You can just scoop up what you need and wave it about. Make sure you either scoop right next to the bed you'll be fertilizing because it's going to start flowing out immediately.

  • 03 of 09

    Mulch Protection

    Protecting Your Plants from Mulch Volcanos

    Marie Iannotti

    Mulching is no one's favorite chore, but you know it's worth the effort. It helps to speed things up by dumping the mulch into the bed, rather than spreading it carefully around. But you don't want to bury your plants. You can protect them by covering each one with old plastic containers, before you dump, and then lift them when you are finished. This way you don't run the risk of burying them or getting the mulch too close to their crowns.

  • 04 of 09

    Soil Scoop

    Pots as Soli Scoopers

    Marie iannotti

    This is a bit of a no-brainer. Very often the only thing handy when you are filling pots is the container you just took the plant out of. How nice that it makes the perfect potting soil scoop. Thin, rigid edges make for the best scoopers.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Liners for Containers with No Drainage

    Plastic Pots for Pot Liners

    Marie Iannotti

    We're always cautioned not to use containers with no drainage holes. Of course, the soil needs to drain, but some of those ceramic, metal and concrete containers are too nice to pass up and who want's to ruin them by drilling holes? Just find a plastic pot that fits easily inside the solid container and raises it a bit from the bottom with something like stones. Lift the liner occasionally to check that there is no standing water. If there is, empty it and water less frequently. If possible, you can even lift the liner and water the plant outside of the solid container and then replace it once it has drained.

  • 06 of 09

    Instant Frost Protection

    Protecting Plants from Frost

    Marie Iannotti

    When you hear that a frost is pending and you are not ready to lose your favorite tender plants, cover them for the night with old nursery containers. They are like instant row covers. Once it warms the next day, remove the pots and the plants will still be in good condition. They provide enough insulation to get them through several early season threats.

  • 07 of 09

    Durable, Light Weight Filler

    Using a Plastic Pot as Filler

    Marie Iannotti

    It's nice to give your potted plants as much soil to grow in as possible, but some containers become excessively heavy when filled with soil. Until the pot fills with roots, they can also become water sodden.

    Overturning a plastic container in the bottom of the larger pot will cut down on the amount of soil needed - and the weight. If there is room around the side, you can fill them in with plenty of bunched up newspaper. The newspaper helps to hold moisture and it eventually decomposes, making room for expanding roots. Don't worry, it's perfectly safe to recycle newspaper in the garden

  • 08 of 09

    A Permanent Planter in the Garden

    Pot HolderIn Ground

    Marie Iannotti

    If you like to swap out container plants seasonally, right in the garden bed, you can make it easier on yourself by creating a permanent planting hole. Dig a hole and insert a black plastic pot that is larger than the containers you will be swapping out. Then you can just sink and lift the seasonal plants as needed. This is especially nice if you like to add color around shrubs. Bury the liner when you plant the shrubs and you will never have to disturb their roots. Once again, the black color will help the pot completely blend in. Here are some more tips for keeping your garden in color all season

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Paint Them and Pot Them

    Repurposing Old Plastic Pots

    Marie Iannotti

    There's nothing that says you can't use old pots as... pots. If they aren't going to be seen because they will be hidden behind other containers or under vines, you can use them as it. But you can always paint them.

    Clean the pot well and then roughen the surface with some sandpaper, so the paint will adhere better. Spray paints work much, much better than trying to brush paint on. A coat or 2 of primer and then 2 - 3 coats of paint, followed by a sealant should do it. You can get creative with shapes, use string or tape to create patterns (remove the string or tape once the paint dries), or use one of the metal or stone paints, as was done here. The coating won't last forever outdoors, but you should get a few seasons of use before you need to touch them up. Now for some inspiration to put in those containers...

Any More Ideas?

If you have any more suggestions for re-purposing old pots or any other tips for recycling in the garden, I'd love to hear about them. Add them to our Frugal Gardening Tips, below.