Container gardening is a great way to grow flowers, vegetables, herbs and other plants even when you don't have a lot of land to work with. But purchasing enough containers to create the effect you want can get expensive — and why should you buy new when there are so many cheap and even free materials out there to use? Plastic buckets, cracked teapots and olive oil cans are just a few examples of recycled and repurposed materials that make beautiful, creative plant containers.
Plastic buckets are great for moisture-loving plants — plus, they're free. Use kitty litter buckets, paint buckets or other bulk containers, which you can get at your local recycling center if you don't have any at home. Galvanized buckets are great as recycled plant containers, too — just be sure to drill holes into the bottom to allow drainage, unless you're growing bog plants.
Olive oil and coffee cans are colorful and eye-catching, reflecting sunlight to give your garden a little recycled shimmer. Drill drainage holes, fill the cans with soil and they're ready to go. These containers look especially beautiful with trailing plants draped over the sides. Go for an Italian theme by planting a bulk olive oil can with basil and cherry tomatoes or oregano and flat-leaf parsley.
Barrels are the perfect large-capacity containers for plants like potatoes that need plenty of depth to fully extend their roots. Plastic food-grade barrels with no prior petroleum or chemical contents, of the sort often used for DIY rain barrels, can be cut in half or used whole as planters and can often be acquired for free or inexpensively from restaurants. Wine and whiskey barrels tend to be a bit more expensive but look great and age beautifully in the garden.
Wheelbarrows, tubs and basins can be useful long after they've sprung leaks and are perfect for eclectic cottage gardens where there's a surprise in every corner. Just be sure to test old porcelain bathtubs and sink basins for lead, which is commonly found in the glaze. If it tests positive, no need to throw it out — it can still be salvaged by coating the inside with enamel paint.
Cracked pitchers, teapots and watering cans can be given new purpose as planters, too. While they won't hold water any longer, they'll provide an eclectic look that's right at home in cottage gardens. Don't worry about filling in the cracks, since they'll allow drainage.
Industrial materials make quirky, modern-looking garden containers. Glass or plastic light fixtures and metal odds and ends can often be filled with soil and placed anywhere in the garden for the dual purpose of holding your plants and serving as art pieces. Just remember that metal and glass transfer heat to the soil, so if you live in a hot climate, you'll need to water those containers more often.
Old tires can be used to create raised beds when used singly or stacked on top of each other. Use a utility knife to cut off the sidewalls and you'll double the planting area. Tires do contain heavy metals, but don't worry about them ending up in the soil — several independent studies have found no ill effects. If you live in a hot climate, you'll want to paint the tires white so they don't heat up too much and scorch your plants.
Soda bottles can be quickly transformed into self-watering containers for seedlings and small plants. Just cut them in half, poke holes in the cap, turn the top half upside down and place it inside the bottom half. Fill the bottom half with just enough water to cover the cap. The soil will draw moisture up through the cap as needed, so you don't have to worry about under- or overwatering.