Q: I want to use more containers in my small garden space and I like the idea of making gardening containers from recycled items I have at home. What should I keep in mind when choosing or making a container?
Good thinking! As long as it can hold soil, any old thing, no matter how outrageous, can be used as a container. And items that are too holey or bizarre can be MacGyvered into submission.
Just about anything will do, but what works well depends on the plants you have in mind to grow. Plastics are the go-to choice for most gardeners because they hold water in well, which means less work for you down the line and less stress for water-loving plants. Clean garbage cans, storage boxes, bins, and your mom’s ancient Tupperware are just a few good options, but if you are growing food you will want to know if that particular plastic will leak chemicals into the soil over time. Check the recycling code on the bottom. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are considered “safer.” Food grade buckets that once held cooking oil or pickles aren’t particularly cute, but they are free and a nice size for larger vegetables such as cucumbers, bushing tomatoes, and kale.
There are plenty of metal objects sitting around in the home that make excellent, and more attractive containers (in my opinion). However, keep in mind that metal is prone to overheating in the sun – location is key when using recycled food tins or a broken watering can. They are best suited to herbs such as thyme, oregano, and lavender that will appreciate the heat and don’t mind short periods of drought.
You can’t control the amount of water plants receive outdoors, so it is essential that you always add drainage holes. Water plants and homemade ponds are the exception. I use a drill when making holes in thick plastics and wood. Special masonry or porcelain bits are necessary when making holes in recycled clay and pottery pieces. Take it slow and easy to avoid breakage. Hammer holes into metal with a very large nail. I have a long, pencil-thick roofing nail that I keep on hand for galvanized metal buckets, basins, and toughs.
While it is not a requirement, lining wooden containers with plastic can help slow down rot. Don’t forget to poke several holes through the lining before planting. Line open-weaved baskets with coir sheets or porous landscaping fabric – they allow water to drain freely but hold the soil in. It’s also a good idea to line galvanized pots when growing food, as there is a possibility of chemical exposure due to chemicals used in the manufacturing process. When in doubt, stick with ornamentals only. Bulk-sized olive oil cans make a good (and free) alternative.
Garden authority Gayla Trail is the creator of YouGrowGirl.com.