As much as I sometimes hate them, I have learned a universal truth about clichés: they persist because they’re true. And when it comes to that old adage about another person’s trash becoming treasure, that is absolutely spot on. If you want to find some great gardening ideas, start thinking about all the stuff you normally throw away—and transform it instead. I found a ton of ways to turn trash into garden treasure. Besides, when you start calling it “upcycling” instead, it starts to sound pretty noble. Below is a list of 10 brilliant upcycling ideas for your garden. Chances are you already have some of these materials lying around, so you can get started on creating them this weekend!
Transform Plastic Buckets into a Strawberry Plant Tower
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I discovered that you don’t have to get fancy to use vertical gardening techniques. In fact, you don’t even need real planters to make an amazing plant tower. All you need are plastic buckets. Get several that are about a foot high and around 11 inches in diameter. Punch several holes in the bottom of each for drainage, and you’re well on your way to building a vertical plant tower that will inspire and impress all your friends.
After your drainage holes are cut, don’t put your cutting tools away. Use a hole saw attachment on a power drill, and cut 12 evenly spaced holes around the sides of each bucket. This is important: the holes should not be any bigger than 1.25 inches in diameter. While you have your cutting tools out, poke some tiny holes in a water bottle cap, and cut the bottom half off the bottle. Screw the cap on the bottle very tightly. This will serve as a water reservoir to keep the soil moist.
Fill every bucket with potting soil and strawberry plants, and create a thin layer of pebbles on top of the soil. This will help keep moisture in, and prevent rain and wind erosion. Leave some room in the top-tier bucket for the water bottle reservoir you made.
Stack the buckets on top of each other to build your tower. The strawberries will branch out through the holes you’ve cut out, and you’ll have handfuls of fruit before you know it.
Vertical Pallet Planter
Photo credit: Flickr
Wooden pallets are a favorite upcycling material for good reason: they’re incredibly versatile. I’ve seen them used for every type of garden project imaginable, from vertical gardening beds to outdoor furniture, and even complete decks. You’re only limited by your own imagination when it comes to pallet projects. But if you want something that looks really unique and creative, use one to create a vertical planter.
This is an ideal option for people who are short on outdoor space, but are still itching to cultivate a garden. All you need are some simple shelf brackets and a single wooden pallet. The latter items are pretty easy to obtain, as many companies use them to haul industrial materials and then throw them out. Mount shelf brackets to the back of your pallet, and attach it to an exterior wall or fence.
Fill the pallet with potting soil, and either seeds or seedlings of your choice. Culinary herbs are ideal for these planters, but edible greens like lettuces and kale work well, as do flowers. Or you could intersperse all three!
Spoons + Mason Jars = A Hanging Garden
Photo credit: Pinterest
You could easily spend a fortune buying hanging planters, hooks, and all the various accoutrements needed to build a hanging garden. Or, you could go to the thrift shop and get your hands on some spoons. That’s right—spoons.
Grab a strong person to help you, or use up your own muscles to bend the spoons’ handles outward, and then into a downward-curving arc. Bend the very end of the spoon handles upward to make a little open loop. They don’t have to be perfect. Drill a hole right through the spoon bowls, and use screws to secure them to any outer wall or sturdy fence.
Fill mason jars with potting soil and flower seeds. Ditch the metal jar lids, but keep the rims. Use a hammer and small nail to poke two small holes into the rims, directly opposite one another. Lace a thin piece of wire through the holes, secure the ends around the rims, and hang those jars on the spoons. This is one of the easiest upcycling ideas possible, and basically uses trash to create something truly beautiful.
Give Old Furniture New Purpose
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Find any old, worn-out furniture that has drawers. Nightstands, dressers, desks—it doesn’t matter. If it has a drawer, you’ve got an amazing planter just waiting to happen. If you like, use spray paint to give the furniture a colorful makeover. Spray paint is cheap, easy to work with, and durable enough to withstand several seasons’ worth of weather. That’s why so many street artists work with it!
All you need to do is fill the drawers with potting soil, and seeds for succulents, flowers, or ferns. Pull the drawers about halfway open to give plants room to grow, and soon, that old furniture will be teeming with new life.
Paint Bucket Planters
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When a paint bucket is empty and dried out, it’s worthless… right? Wrong! Take a good look at a paint bucket sometime, and you’ll see it’s really the perfect size for a small planter. Punch a few drainage holes in the bottom with a hammer and nail, fill it with soil, and you can grow all sorts of different plants in something that most people just throw away.
Want to have extra fun with this DIY idea? Spray paint the buckets white, green, gray, or any other color you like. Next, get a different, contrasting paint color (preferably something very bright), and drip it around the bucket’s rim so that color runs down the sides. When you’re done, you’ll have fun little planters that are sure to inspire a few smiles.
Photo credit: Flickr
You can find old colanders at yard sales, thrift shops, and probably in your own kitchen cabinets. After you make your first colander planter, you’ll start looking for them everywhere you go—just like I do. Old colanders are absolutely ideal for gardens. First of all, they’ve already got drainage holes. Secondly, they’re bowl-shaped, which is perfect for holding soil and plants. Aim for colanders that are made of metal: it’s a resilient material that can withstand weather and remain outdoors for many years. They can also be spray painted in any color you like.
Best of all, they have handles on either side. Grab some twine, and use it to wrap each handle several times over. Leave several feet of cord hanging free from either end of each handle. Gather up all four twine pieces and tie them together. Line the colander with sphagnum moss, then fill it with soil and seeds (or seedling). Then all you need are some screw-in hooks so you can hang these beauties anywhere.
New Uses for Old Soda Bottles
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There are so many ways to incorporate used soda bottles into a garden that it was difficult for me to pick just one method to highlight. You can cut them in half to create cloches, or suspend them horizontally to build an amazing hanging garden. But one of my favorite uses is to turn them into upside-down planters.
First, cut the bottom off a few empty soda or water bottles. Peel away the labels, and think about how you want your planters to look. You can leave them clear or you can use spray paint to give them color—whichever you prefer. Take the caps off and toss them (or, find a creative way to use them!). Now, your planter has a drainage hole. Easy, right?
Now, you can either screw those bottles to a board and hang that up, or punch a few holes around their rims and hang them up with twine. If you’re short on outdoor space, you can even hang these inside in front of a sunny window, so you can grow some greens or flowers in your apartment. Try cascading edible blooms like nasturtiums, or cut-and-come-again lettuce varieties.
Aluminum Can Garden Lights
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Empty aluminum cans are absolutely everywhere, so you have plenty of materials to work with. Even if you don’t ever buy cans, just ask a neighbor if you can rifle through their trash… though you might need to explain why. All you need to do is completely remove the lids with a can opener or tin snipper—a tool that’s easy to buy at any home improvement store. Fill the cans 90 percent full of water, and place them in the freezer overnight.
While your water is freezing, grab some paper and draw some simple dot patterns. You can make stars, hearts, flowers, or anything else you like. If you’re not great at drawing, you can find tons of easy-to-use templates online. If you like, use graph paper to keep your patterns even and symmetrical.
Once your patterns are drawn, remove the cans from the freezer. Tape the paper patterns onto your cans, then grab a slim nail and a hammer, and get to work. Use the hammer and nail to punch holes into the cans, following the dotted patterns you created. The ice keeps the metal from bending and folding as you work. Once all the holes are punched, turn the cans upside-down over the sink and shake out the ice blocks. A little hot water will help with this if ice is stubborn. Peel off your paper patterns and toss them in your recycling or compost bin.
Grab some solar-powered or battery-operated, flame-free tea lights, and glue them to the inside bottom of each can. You now have gorgeous, custom-made garden lights that barely cost you anything.
Mini Mailbox Garden Shed
Photo credit: MaxPixel
Where do you keep your gardening gloves, shears, and other small tools? If you don’t have a good answer to that question, you’ve got a great reason to get your hands on an old mailbox. Once you have one, you just need a bracket to attach it to a fence post. Mount your mailbox near the garden, and stash your gloves, trowels, and other small items in it so they’re easy to access.
Enchanting Birdbath Planter
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Make an adorable fairy garden with an old birdbath! A cracked or worn birdbath can’t hold water, so it really isn’t much use for the birds… but it’s one of the best upcycling ideas for a gorgeous garden element. Fill it with enough soil to build a little hill, and cover that with moss. You can even plant a few small succulents if you like. Press small stones, shells, and even pieces of colorful glass in the moss-covered soil, and suddenly that old birdbath is an enchanting fairy mound that will look perfect in a shady area where other plants don’t grow well. Mosses love shade, so all you have to do is mist this creation occasionally. Add a miniature fairy or gnome statue and it’ll add a little bit of extra magic to your garden.
Image via Pexels
I hope you enjoyed reading this list as much as I enjoyed putting it together! Hopefully, you not only got some inspiration from my ideas, but came up with a few of your own while you were reading. Once you catch the upcycling bug, you’ll start seeing all kinds of opportunities to transform old pieces into beautiful treasures. Before you know it, you’ll transform your garden into a veritable oasis of creativity and color.