This Under-$10 Thrift Store Buy Is My New Favorite Houseplant Hack

published Nov 30, 2023
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Credit: Viv Yapp

One of the reasons I love shopping at thrift stores is that it’s a sustainable way to get new (to me!) things. But another part of the fun is finding something old and giving it new life by using it in a completely different way than it was intended. In the past, I’ve employed vintage cookie jars to hold my glasses, and a 100-year-old vase to hold pens. Now, with my growing plant collection, I’m often looking for secondhand plant accessories. That’s led me to my favorite new hack: repurposing fancy dishes and serveware as plant trays.

I’m not the only one who’s caught on to this smart idea. Recently, design TikToker Elena, who posts as @thishouse5000, showed off her own praise for this practice. “We as a society can do much better than these flimsy, plastic plant saucers,” Elena says in the video before recommending shopping your local thrift store for secondhand glass trays instead. 

Not only are thrifted trays a more sustainable option than cheapie plastic saucers, but glass is also more durable and can be tossed into the dishwasher for cleaning. It’s just a bonus that clear glass looks lovely and is cost-effective. Elena’s followers think it’s a great idea, too, with some raving that they were headed to the thrift store or their cupboards to select a tray.

Before you grab your wallet, know that some warnings exist about using a flat surface not intended for use with plants. Plastic saucers are made with grooves that allow water to flow freely underneath pots so it can evaporate; those features won’t exist on flat glass trays, meaning water can get trapped inside the pot. That can lead to too-moist soil which causes a range of problems, including fungus gnats and even root rot.

A divided tray’s ridges help create an exit path for water.

The fix, though, is pretty easy: You just need to make sure your pot is elevated off the tray enough to allow for water to pass through. You can do this by adding pebbles to the tray before placing your pot on top, or by adding bumpers to the bottom of your pots to lift them slightly off the surface below. Another option: Use a divided tray so you can take advantage of the built-in ridges.

Another thing to keep in mind is that glass is susceptible to cracking when exposed to extreme temperature swings, so you should use glass trays indoors only. (And make sure to test for lead, especially if you’re using the trays under herbs or other edible plants.)

Of course, even with those watch-outs, there are tons of positives to using sustainable items under your plants. Commenters under Elena’s post mentioned finally finding a purpose for hand-me-down dinnerware, and others noted that this is a great way to put chipped dishes to good use.

Single dinner plates are another great saucer substitute.

You aren’t limited to glass trays under your plants. Some of my favorite thrifted things to use as protective plant saucers are dinner plates and enamelware pie pans. If using dinnerware, select a plate that is an appropriate size (and make sure it’s durable enough to handle the weight of the plant you’re using it under). Dinner and lunch plates work well, but you can also use a saucer for your tiniest of pots.

For my large Thanksgiving cactus, I use an enamelware pie plate as a saucer.

Pie tins made of enamelware are also a great choice because the coated metal will withstand temperature fluctuations while holding water, meaning these work just as well outside as they do inside. One thing you will have to be wary of with these is chipping, as any exposed metal could rust when put in contact with water.

No matter which route you take — glass trays, ceramic dinnerware, enamelware, or something else entirely — using something thrifted underneath your plants will add a unique touch to your home decor. And better yet? It often costs the same as buying brand-new plastic saucers. Secondhand shopping for the win!