Using Unconventional Containers in the Garden

There’s no need to spend a fortune on containers when unconventional objects found at flea markets and garage sales make for beautiful displays.

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Unconventional objects make interesting and eye-catching containers for gardening and often provide a focal point.

There’s no need to spend a fortune on containers. Unconventional objects found at flea markets and garage sales – old galvanized buckets and washtubs, sinks and bathtubs, baskets, breadboxes, barrels and wheelbarrows, etc. – make excellent receptacles for beautiful displays.

How to make drain holes in your container

All you need to do to make them suitable for planting is to create drain holes.

In the case of galvanized steel or metal containers, use a carbide-tipped bit to drill your own drain holes. Use a masonry bit on a clay pot, covering the spot where you will drill with an “x” made from two pieces of masking tape. This will help prevent the pot from cracking while you drill. The softer the clay, the more likely you can drill it without cracking it.

Pretty containers that do not have drain holes and cannot be drilled can still be used. Simply double-pot the container – place a smaller pot into your container and allow the inner pot to drain into the larger one. Set the inner pot up on blocks or small empty yogurt containers to keep it off the bottom of the outer pot. Drain the pot regularly to prevent the accumulation of water, especially after a heavy rainfall.

Make use of damaged and discounted clay pots

Des Kennedy, award-winning journalist, speaker, author, environmental activist, and GardenWise magazine columnist says, “clay strawberry planters are frequently damaged during shipping – the protruding lips of their apertures being chipped and cracked – and end up in the “clearance” section of local retail outlets.

“Cost-conscious gardeners can scoop these pots at bargain prices and put them to good use by planting them with hens and chicks (Sempervivum). The drought-tolerant hens and chicks quickly multiply, their succulent clusters soon covering up the damaged portions of the pot, then cascading gracefully down the planter’s sides.

“For best effect, try different types: some have spider-web hairs, some have bronze leaves. Miniature stonecrops (Sedum) are also wonderful in the various apertures.”

Growing a garden in a bag

Commercially produced plastic planting bags (which come pre-filled with potting soil) provide a unique way to dress up a bare wall or fence. Plant your choice of flowers (trailing varieties are especially attractive) through the slits in the side of the bag, then keep it well watered and fertilize weekly.

Most small flowers and even vegetables, like peppers and lettuce, grow well in bags. These bags have the additional advantage of portability – they can be moved from one location to another and adjusted to show at the appropriate height.

Tips for using self-watering containers

Self-watering containers offer a good way to keep plants healthy without daily watering. These containers typically feature an inner pot (that holds the plant and soil) set in an outer pot or bottom reservoir that holds extra water. A wick channels the water into the root ball. Most reservoirs are large enough to support the plant for several days.

Limit the outdoor use of self-watering containers to spots where they are not subject to rainfall, such as under the eaves or in a covered balcony area. They make good containers for houseplants.

Choose the right size of container for your garden

David Tarrant, UBC Botanical Garden Program Coordinator, author, host of Canadian Gardener on CBC television, and GardenWise Magazine columnist says, “buy containers that suit the scale of your garden.

“For a large area you’ll need large pots 50 to 60 cm (20″ to 24″) in diameter. Similarly, in a small space you may want to use smaller pots. The best minimum size for a patio container is 30 cm x 30 cm (12″ inches x 12″). Pots that are any smaller than this tend to dry out quickly in the heat of summer”

Look for a container with a good-sized water drainage hole or sufficient number of smaller drain holes. Proper drainage of water, as well as sufficient room for air to pass through the pot and into the soil, is critical to the health of most plants. Insufficient or blocked drain holes may cause water to collect on the bottom of the pot, which can cause root rot.

Reuse containers in your garden

“Reusing last year’s containers?” asks Judy Heyer, GardenWise Magazine contributor. “Be sure to give them a thorough cleaning first to remove any fungal spores or diseases.

“Empty terra cotta pots can be given a good scrub using a simple solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Hot, soapy water can also be used to clean pots where there has been no specific pest or disease problem.

“Also wash any saucers on which the pots were sitting. For wooden containers, scrub using a mild detergent solution and rinse with clear water.” 

Related content:

> Deer-resistant Washtub Planter
> How to make a tool-box planter
> Wheelbarrow planter
> Fixing terra-cotta pots