12 Clever Ways to Recycle Your Old Junk into Gorgeous Planters, Just in Time for Summer

published Jun 10, 2024
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reused planter collage
Credit: Photos: Paper & Stitch, Andy Greenacre ;Illustration: Isabela Humphrey

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Creating an outdoor space you absolutely love can get expensive, with beautiful planters often taking up plenty of your budget. But with some DIY magic, you can save money and create your own aesthetic decor. From breathing new life into tired household items to finding unexpected treasures right in your yard, there’s a wealth of materials just waiting to be repurposed into beautiful homes for your plants. 

Recycling everyday items (whether you own them already or buy them secondhand) into planters is an eco-friendly and budget-friendly way to upgrade your garden. You can also easily make plenty of indoor planter ideas more outdoors-friendly with waterproof paints and finishing sprays. To help get you started, I rounded up 12 DIY planter ideas that run the gamut from large outdoor projects to smaller planters you can use indoors and out. 

Credit: Melanie Gnau

1. File Cabinet DIY Planter 

Large metal planter boxes can sell for hundreds of dollars, but you can upcycle an old piece of office furniture to get the same look for much less (I found a few file cabinets for $20 a pop on Facebook Marketplace). To make it over, take notes from DIYer Melanie Gnau, who demonstrated how to transform an old filing cabinet by flipping it on its back, applying weather-resistant paint, and adding colorful plants. The result is a sleek, modern planter box for a fraction of the retail price. 

2. Steel Barrel DIY Planter 

Usually, a big planter means it has an even higher price tag. Angela K. Nickerson of Mid Modern Mama knew she needed several big containers to achieve her dream garden look, and she had a hack in mind to keep costs down. She was able to DIY six planters by cutting down 55-gallon steel drums, cleaning them, and using exterior spray paint to customize the colors. Nickerson scored her barrels for $15 each, and her tip for DIYers is to make sure your barrels didn’t once hold toxins because it could be detrimental to your plants. 

3. Stock Tank DIY Planter

If you’re going for a rustic farm look, this planter is for you — and it’s basically a mini garden where you can grow flowers, herbs, veggies, or wherever you’d like! Annie Diamond of Most Lovely Things shows how to upcycle stock tanks by drilling drainage holes and adding mesh in the bottom to prevent clogs. She notes to make sure you put your tank exactly where you want it because once it’s filled with soil and plants, it’ll likely be too heavy to move.

4. Shelving Unit Turned Coffee Table DIY Planter

Anyone with a broken or worn-down shelving unit will want to bookmark this clever upcycle. On My Thrifty Life, Cassie Fairy shows you how to create an entirely new piece of outdoor furniture that doubles as a planter and a coffee table. With the open shelves facing up, attach four legs at the corners, paint it with weatherproof paint, and drill some drainage holes. Once your plants are “in” the “shelves,” use tiles to create the “table” sections where you can put down a cup. 

Credit: Lindi & Russ

5. Pallet DIY Planter 

Pallets are a great source of cheap wood, and people often give them away for free. DIYers Lindi and Russ transformed one pallet into two striking triangle planters using saws and a nail gun. Customize your own triangle pallet planter with stain or outdoor paint, or keep the raw wood for a more natural look.

6. Birdbath DIY Planter

Birdbaths are beautiful additions to your garden, but sometimes the required upkeep leaves them seldom used and in rough shape. Cassidy of Succulents and Sunshine saw an opportunity to turn her mother’s birdbath into a shallow succulent planter. Her blog is dedicated to “helping you keep succulents alive,” so you know you’re in good hands! As with most DIY planters, you’ll need to create a drainage hole, but after that, it’s all about planting, and the birdbath is a great way to add height variation to your garden design.

7. Concrete Sprinkler Guard DIY Planter

Brittni Mehlhoff of Paper & Stitch has a DIY planter idea that might already be sitting in your garden. But you can also buy concrete sprinkler guards to create adorable, modern planters (she found hers for $1 apiece!). To transform them, stack two on top of each other, with the bottoms meeting in the middle, and then paint them with your color and design of choice. 

8. Basket DIY Planter

There are tons of baskets at thrift stores waiting for a second life. Take a cue from sustainable stylist Sarah Teresinski, who saved a broken basket and made it the perfect boho planter with bright blue paint and new tassel trim. Line your basket with a trash bag and secure it with staples to make it completely watertight, or add a drip tray to the bottom of the basket. 

9. Cookie Jar DIY Planter 

DIY a planter with built-in charm when you start with a ceramic piece that already has all the character you want. Brittni of Paper & Stitch found this cat cookie jar at the thrift store and gave it a quick paint facelift. Now it’s home to her beautiful snake plant. Pro tip: To make this more outdoors-friendly, use outdoor paint and a multi-surface waterproofing finishing spray.

10. Candle Jar DIY Planter

Sometimes the best part about buying candles is the beautiful containers they come in. If you’re looking for a way to repurpose your empty jars, find Brittni’s full how-to for turning them into planters. She’ll walk you through how to remove all the candle wax from your favorite containers and turn them into your new favorite planters. Don’t forget the weatherproof paint and finishes if you want these to last outdoors. 

11. Lantern DIY Planter

This clever upcycle also retains its object’s original purpose; use it as a planter for one year, then again as a lantern once your plant outgrows its home! Ashley Poskin took the classic TOPPIG lantern from IKEA, made a few color swaps, and switched out the handle to create this easy-hanging planter. Make sure to give your lantern a few coats of spray sealant if you want this DIY to work outdoors.

12. Thrifted Dish DIY Planter

Charlotte Smith loved a modern pedestal planter she bought for her home and challenged herself to achieve the same look with a thrifty DIY. For under $30, she nailed it using thrifted dishes (one smaller bowl and one larger bowl) that she stacked and glued with epoxy to create a pedestal. You’ll also need paint (weatherproof for outdoors) to get the distressed look that adds so much interest to Smith’s homemade planter.