Monday, August 8, 2011

Upcycling for the Garden

Update 2014 - this post has been edited for formatting in order to comply with updated Google search rank policies regarding links.

(This guest post is full of some gorgeous ideas! At my shop we are in LOVE with container gardening, and I will be on the hunt to implement some of these sweet projects! Enjoy, Heidi)

Upcycling is a new word for a long-practiced method of repurposing existing items that might otherwise be discarded. With our planet in peril, we should all be making a personal effort to reduce our own consumption and waste. 

All you really need to turn most ordinary items into a planter is to have a method for containing water, dirt and a plant. For larger planters, you’ll want to make sure you can drain excess water (usually by putting holes into the bottom of your container). You can use simple items – like 2L soda bottles with tops cut off, fondue pots, buckets, old mugs, peanut butter jars, glass kettles, fish bowls, and re-usable lunch containers. They are all perfect candidates as an upcycled planter for seedlings and young and mature plants.


Paper towel tubes (cut into three, and folded in on one end) or bathroom tissue boxes with the tops cut off are ideal to plant seeds after germinating. The cardboard helps retain moisture, which acts as bonus for watering your seedlings. If they are outdoor plant seedlings, you can drop them right into the ground as the cardboard will break up over time in the moist soil.

Ice cube trays, egg cartons and egg shells, or old popsicle moulds are a great option for growing seedlings! The individual sections provide about an inch square for potting soil to help get your seedlings started. The dirt can be gently packed with a butter knife or Popsicle stick, then removed carefully by prying around the edges when transplanting.

Popsicle sticks are also great to use as indicators for your seedlings – help you track what you have planted.

  • Incandescent light bulbs have been converted to grow seedlings and young plants.

  • Light fixtures (flush mounted ones work best) can be re-used for growing the roots on certain plants. (Spider plants are a great, robust plant that will provide some fresh greenery in the house.) Preparing your light fixture: first, remove the metal hardware gently from your light fixture; usually a screwdriver will suffice for tools. You can decorate your glass light fixture with paint on the outer surface, if you like. Since you’re no longer using it for electrical purposes – you can style it as you see fit. 

Larger Planters:
  • Re-using your refrigerator vegetable or meat drawers. All they need is to have some holes drilled into the bottom and be set outside. They can be filled with plants or vegetables not requiring more than a few inches of space for the roots, depending on the drawer you choose. These are great for herb gardens!

  • Metal wire baskets – the kind you might find in a common chest freezer (or deep freeze). You can inlay burlap, or coconut husk to provide a shell for the dirt to sit in. 
  • Old drawers from dressers or nightstands can be easily converted to planters.

  • Even old rubber boots make great plant holders. They’re ready to go, as they should be waterproof in most cases. If they have a small leak in the bottom, that’s okay too. Having some draining is a good thing. If you are a little craftier you can even make a hanging gutter garden which is great if you are limited for space. 

Boot Planter Photo Credit:

Gutter Garden Photo Credit:

  • Washing machine (washer) or dryer drums make great opportunities to host larger plants. You can easily grow potatoes, or use the drums for outdoor storage. (Other upcycling opportunities for drums include creating a fire pit, for the really handy.)

  • Oven racks and folding dryer racks (for laundry) can be tied together with zip ties and be made to into A-frame trellises for peas or other plants that like to really spread out.
  • Coffee pot or old tea pots. Maybe it’s lost a handle or is badly stained with hard water residue? You can re-purpose the pots into a plant easily. Just give it a good scrub, apply compost mix or potting soil, and add a plant or flower, then display!

Window farming

For the more ambitious, a recent trend in New York City to upcycle common household items into a vertical farm for apartment windows has started a small revolution. The gardens were made from old soda bottles, suspended above each other by strings or wires. Each bottle has a larger opening cut into the side to allow plants & vegetables to grow, and a small hole at the bottom to allow water to drip to the plant below. The water is moved to the top by a small pump and hose system.

This simple hydroponic setup encourages planting and harvest, even during winter months. Its construction is simple enough for most DIY’ers and needs little cost to set up a perpetual source of home-grown food.


Terrariums are self contained ecosystems and can easily be described as gardens living in glass. Any type of sealed container will do but, old mason jars, wine bottles and light bulbs really add a decorative touch. The best thing about these little ecosystems is that you can be as far from a ‘green thumb’ as you can get and still grow a healthy and lively terrarium in your home.
The setup is pretty easy, all you need is:
·         A glass container
·         Pea gravel (for drainage)
·         Potting soil
·         Activated charcoal (sold at pet stores for aquariums, it will filter the air)
·         Moisture loving plants and decorative stones
After you wash your container, follow this recipe and add:
  • A thin layer of the pea gravel to the bottom
  • About ½ inch of the activated charcoal
  • At least ½ inch of moist potting soil
  • Finally add your plants/moss

A few final tips:
  • Keep leaves from touching the glass to prevent rot.
  • After to add your plants mist inside the terrarium and let sit unsealed for a day before misting again.
  • Once water evaporates off leaves you can seal the container again and may not have to mist again for up to 6 months.
  • Place your terrarium on display in indirect sunlight and ignore it! But do not forget to provide little mist of water every once and a while.

Upcycled garden containers are great for all stages of the growing process , for seedlings, young plants and mature growth. Using upcycled items from around the house for your interior and exterior gardens really adds a creative and stylish touch, plus it’s a form of reusing which is great for our landfills. Have fun playing with some of these ideas and adding your own personal touch to your upcycled garden!

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