Cheap Gardening Containers: How to Find and Use Them

Cheap gardening containers are easy to find with a few helpful tips, and they can be used for a variety of garden projects.

| June 13, 2012

  • Stand Up and Garden
    “Stand Up and Garden” by Master Gardener Mary Moss-Sprague is a great reference for inspiration and instruction on sustainable and economical gardening practices. Find basic planting and growing information for a wide range of vegetables and herbs in small vertical spaces. Also, learn how to repurpose old tubs and buckets as cheap gardening containers for growing happy vegetables.  
  • Cheap Gardening Containers
    Food-grade buckets, grower’s pots, and plastic dishpans are all good to use as cheap gardening containers for growing plants. Just remember to add drainage holes. 
  • Swiss Chard
    Swiss chard shows off its pretty leaves. 
  • Drainage Holes
    Al Sprague drills holes in several plastic dishpans at a time. 
  • Beans and Peas Start Climbing
    Beans and peas planted directly in the dishpans quickly germinate and start climbing. 
  • Tomato Plants Up Close
    Tomato plants, up close and personal. 

  • Stand Up and Garden
  • Cheap Gardening Containers
  • Swiss Chard
  • Drainage Holes
  • Beans and Peas Start Climbing
  • Tomato Plants Up Close

Stand Up and Garden (The Countryman Press, 2012) by Master Gardener Mary Moss-Sprague is a complete how-to guide for raised-bed gardening that allows anyone to grow robust fruits and vegetables in any climate. Change the way you garden with this excerpt from Chapter 3, “Containers – Your Chance to Get Creative on the Cheap!” and learn how to repurpose tubs and troughs of all shapes and sizes for use as cheap gardening containers.  

Should you be brand new to the gardening scene, be assured that there is no one shape of container that’s more “correct” for garden use than another. Long, short, wide, square, round—all are perfectly good. This also applies to materials from which the containers are made. Wood, ceramic, pottery, fiberglass, plastic/resin/polyethylene—it’s wide open to personal choice and economical considerations. If you already have a container collection, make certain that it is suited to the plants you want to grow before you charge gung-ho into planting. Reading the rest of this chapter will help you decide if you need anything different. Remember one very important thing: Your containers must all have drainage holes or be able to withstand having holes drilled in them without breaking apart. Without proper drainage, your plants are doomed to fail.

Finding Cheap Gardening Containers

Certainly, there are many very attractive (and expensive) pots and planters available in stores. The more utilitarian choices usually cost far less. Containers can often be found at yard sales, thrift stores, and other secondhand vendors, and I encourage you to go scouting for what you need before buying anything. Five-gallon food-grade service buckets can often be had for free at supermarkets or restaurants. Whiskey barrels cut in half work well; even large old truck tires will serve, when placed flat on the ground and the hollow filled with soil, although they’re not very aesthetically pleasing. Plant nurseries and garden centers sometimes sell off unneeded inventory, too, and you may be able to find some great containers at these places.

This is especially true if you’re in the market for larger, molded plastic tubs, also known as grower’s pots. If you don’t find these big fellas locally, the Internet is a great place to buy them at inexpensive prices. Just set your search engine for something like “plastic grower’s pots,” and you should find plenty of vendors who will be happy to ship to you. Three-, 4-, and 5-gallon pots can cost as little as a dollar apiece, maybe even less. The only catch is that there is usually a minimum order of 50 or 100. But that shouldn’t be a problem if you have friends or relatives who also want these containers. Simply share the cost of a shipment, and you’re in business!

Here’s an innovative idea: One of the thriftiest choices I’ve found are thick, black, rectangular polyethylene dishpans sold in dollar stores for—yes!—just one dollar. Thin, brittle plastic pans won’t work, though; the material must be a bit resilient and flexible. Polyethylene is the same material used for making livestock watering tubs, so it’s safe for this application.

See what some of the choices are and decide what you want. Then start looking. While the shape of containers and the material they’re made of aren’t important, we do need containers of different sizes. But why? It’s necessary because it’s not a one-size-fits-all world. A thriving Roma or beefsteak tomato plant bearing heavy fruit must reside in a container that can withstand the plant’s weight and bulk, such as a 5-gallon grower’s pot or food-grade bucket. This container must also be large and deep enough for heavy wire or wooden support stakes that will be added as the plant grows. All plants requiring soil 6 or more inches deep belong in the largest grower’s pots.

6/24/2015 2:47:40 PM

I disagree with the need for drainage holes in containers. Why not create sub-irrigated or self-watering pots instead? This is esp. crucial now in areas experiencing multi-year drought such as California or in seasonal dry areas such as AZ, NM, and TX. There are lots of plans & instructions online as well as ready to go systems for purchase at nurseries and gardening centers.

Leslie Le Vecque
9/23/2012 10:31:34 PM

I grow mostly herbs and lettuces. The large Maxwell House and Folgers plastic coffee containers are great and they have handles!

Jennifer Kongs
7/19/2012 9:50:25 PM

I always grow cellery in containers to help me keep their roots wet enough. Containers are a great way to grow cut-and-come again crops, too.



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