Cheap Ideas for Large Planters

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Going big and bold with garden planters doesn't have to break your bank account. Large planters dominate their space and define your garden style, so finding an economical match takes on importance. Whether you're into cozy country looks or edgy edibles, sleuthing out inexpensive components and upcycling castaways lets you stay on budget and go large in style.

Inexpensive milk crates, made for stacking, take square-foot gardening to new levels and let you go as big as you want to go. Get originals through secondhand markets, or opt for sturdy, new, container-store models available in sleek black and other colors. Crates stacked two high and up to four deep, as wide as you desire, or tri-level tiers against a wall are the perfect height for raised-bed herb and veggie gardening. Use landscape staples to attach liners cut from landscape fabric or doubled burlap to hold soil for your favorite edibles in place within the pierced plastic sides. A dense, compost-rich potting mix improves moisture retention in the open-sided planter.

Things You'll Need

  • Landscape fabric or burlap
  • Scissors
  • Landscapes staples or other fasteners

Vintage combines with Victorian in cast-iron, claw-foot bathtubs with built-in planter drainage. Rust and cracks that put castoffs beyond refinishing add vintage charm and low-budget price tags. Take tubs from quirky to classic with old-fashioned favorites, such as foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora), hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8, annual love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and Popcorn Drift rose (Rosa "Novarospop"), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 11, spilling over the edge. Fit a small piece of screen over the drain, and slightly elevate the other end so that excess water finds it easily. Reserve this planter for solid ground that can handle this heavyweight.

Things You'll Need

  • drain screen

Galvanized troughs and tanks, drilled for drainage, let plant choices set the tone for streamlined or rural styling. Bypass trendy garden centers and look for stock tanks at farm auctions and supply stores. Available in different heights, lengths and shapes intended for livestock use, polished new tanks complement modern styling and metallics, while rust and barnyard battle scars give used troughs their country charm. Create dramatic screens with lean, shiny tanks and "Karl Foerster" ornamental grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora "Karl Foerster"), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, or play up rural roots with annual sunflowers (Healianthus annuum) and nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus).

Things You'll Need

  • Drill or other tool to create drainage holes

Burlap bags and decorative cord turn discarded plastic containers -- from 5-gallon buckets to 50-gallon drums -- into large, low-cost planters. Stitch your own from patterned or plain burlap, or hit your local coffee roaster for large, premade bags used to deliver bulk coffee beans. Find buckets with non-toxic, food-grade histories at restaurants, and hit animal feed stores for toxic-free drums you can drill for drainage and cut down to size. Loosely fit the bags up and over the upper edge, so soil holds bags in place, then tie on decorative rope or cord and plant to fit the season.

Things You'll Need

  • Coffee-bean or other burlap bags or fabric
  • Rope or decorative cord
  • Utility knife, if needed
  • Drill or other tool to create drainage holes

Turn faux bois artistry on its ear with pedestal planters made from real tree trunks, bark intact or stripped bare. Contact arborists or tree removal services for lengths of trunk cut to your desired height, with or without root flares. Form a mini-fence around the upper rim with cut-to-fit galvanized hardware mesh attached to the stump with double-point staples, and line the mesh with coir fiber, sphagnum or found moss to hold your soil. Woodland-inspired plant choices such as maidenhair ferns (Adiantum pedatum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, and wildflowers help complete the woodland look.

Things You'll Need

  • Galvanized hardware mesh
  • Wire cutters
  • Hammer
  • Double-point staples (u-nails)
  • Coir fiber, sphagnum moss or other moss liner

Corrugated-metal culvert pipe marries industrial with inexpensive in large, round planters with ribbed or spiral designs. Contact construction firms for used or excess pipe from roadway projects, or check with lumberyards for deals on new pipe cut to size. Finish the planters with a length of old garden hose sliced down one side to fit over the upper edge. Culvert planters balance the height of garden trellises covered in flowering vines or tomato cages with robust heirlooms such as Tainan tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum var. Tainan), typically grown as an annual.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden hose or other flexible hose
  • Utility knife

Affordable, gabion-inspired planters make up quickly from hardware mesh formed into large tubes and filled with stones and au naturel objects. Cut galvanized or black-coated mesh to your desired size, and use wire or zip ties to secure the form. Add stones high enough to support a slightly smaller, castoff plastic container that serves as the planting zone, and continue layering around the outside of the container with found objects, such as shells, pinecones or neatly stacked twigs. Finish the upper lip with sphagnum or found moss held in placed by mesh bent over the edge, and plant with favorites that complement your gabion's contents.

Things You'll Need

  • Hardware cloth mesh
  • Wire cutters
  • Zip ties or wire fasteners
  • Stones and other found objects
  • Plastic container
  • Drill, if needed for drainage holes

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Tips & Warnings

  • When working with bottomless planters such as culverts and gabions, choose your site first and add the details in place.
  • If using planters on a wood surface, elevate the planters and provide something to catch draining water to avoid damage.
  • In areas that receive frost, winter temperatures above the ground are much colder than below-ground temperatures. Plants that survive winter in the ground may not survive in above-ground containers.
  • Always know the history of used containers, and avoid using containers that may have held toxic substances.

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