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This old pair of rain boots makes an adorable planter that adds whimsy and visual interest to any garden. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

Upcycling can turn unused items into great gardening containers

Monday, June 7, 2021

Media Contact: Trisha Gedon | Communications Specialist | 405-744-3625 |

By upcycling unused items around the home, gardeners can prove the cliché that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure while keeping those materials out of landfills and creating whimsical, decorative features.

It’s a sure bet that nearly any gardener can find some really interesting things that can be repurposed into unique garden planters, said Keith Reed, Oklahoma State University Extension horticulture educator in Payne County. However, such a project does require consideration.

“A lot of ideas you may see online, such as using an old wagon or the bed of a child’s old dump truck as a planter, may look cute, but may not be very practical, especially in Oklahoma’s extreme summer heat,” Reed said. “You must keep in mind soil volume and temperature inside the planter. It may look cute in the garden, but the plants likely won’t survive our summers without extraordinary attention to watering and plant selection.”

A good suggestion in the succulent family is the plant often referred to as hens and chicks, which has amazing tolerance for poor soils. In the same group is portulaca, which will add a lot of color to the landscape.

If the idea of an old dump truck or small wagon is appealing, be sure to select plants such as sedums that do well in shallow soil and are drought-tolerant because the soil will dry out quickly during an Oklahoma summer. Most plants need at least 4 inches to 6 inches of soil depth.

Reed said draping a burlap bag or gluing rope around a container can help cut down the amount of heat created inside the planter by providing insulation spaces.

“Not only do these methods help with cooling, but they also can help soften the aesthetics of the garden space,” he said.

Casey Hentges, OSU Extension assistant specialist and host of the popular gardening program Oklahoma Gardening, said no matter what type of planters you have, make sure they have plenty of drainage holes already or drill some yourself.

“Proper drainage is so important for good plant health. Plants that become waterlogged likely will experience root rot,” Hentges said. “When planting multiple plants in the same container, make sure they have similar moisture and sun requirements for optimum growth.”

Something else to consider before scouring Pinterest for unusual container ideas is to think about how long you plan to grow something in a specific container — one season or many? Maybe you need something just for a special event. These all are factors that must be considered before deciding what recyclable containers will be used. 

Reed said objects from nature naturally make good landscaping elements.

“Rotten logs and stumps make great planters for a few years. For example, if you lost trees on your property in the October 2020 ice storm, or even the deep freeze in February this year, and haven’t had time to get them removed, consider turning them into a planter,” Reed said. “Ask the tree company to cut down the tree to a manageable height and drill out some of the center. They really do look great planted with colorful flowers that cascade down the stump. Over the years as the tree decomposes, it will help improve the soil.”

An episode of the Oklahoma Gardening TV show features Hentges making a fallen tree into a planter. Hentges also shows viewers how to make a raised bed out of an old dresser and wooden dresser drawers and provides guidance on how to plant the raised beds.

Imagination is the only limiting factor when it comes to upcycling in the garden, said David Hillock, OSU Extension consumer horticulturist.

“Are you tired of fighting with that old hand-me-down dresser that the drawers don’t close right? Take the drawers, drill a few holes, fill them with soil and start planting,” he said. “Spray paint some old coffee containers or upcycle the removeable part of that old crockpot that quit working.”

Other upcycled container ideas, depending on the space and the look gardeners are going for, include old rain boots, baskets, painted tires, bird cage, bathtub, wheelbarrow, tacklebox — basically anything that will hold several inches of potting soil and has drainage holes.

OSU Extension offers more gardening information online.

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