Indoor Plant Pots & Containers: Thrifty Edition
April 12, 2022 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Thrifty parents of potted houseplants! What are your favorite free/inexpensive/recycled containers, pots, or other vessels for homing your potted plants? I need them in all sizes- small, medium, large.

I am open to all suggestions, but bonus points for ideas that meet the following SNOWFLAKES:
- Naturally look chic/cute/inventive without having to use paint or decoupage*
- Can be thrifted, recycled from every day objects, or purchased for less than ~$10
- Possible to find in Ontario, Canada

*I am okay using paint/etc to make them more visually pleasing, but would prefer to avoid this where possible
posted by nightrecordings to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a place where people get rid of stuff when they're remodeling, I've used an old bathroom sink (found at a garage sale in my case). It was pretty cute, but I did need to water more often since it was shallow.
posted by FencingGal at 7:10 AM on April 12, 2022

If you have a hand power drill, you can put holes in any kind of ceramic, metal or plastic container you can find in a thrift/junk/antique store. For ceramic, you'll probably need a specific kind of bit. A good hardware store can inform you of the kind to get. It might take some patience and experimentation to do this, but it is not super difficult to do. I didn't look, but there has got to be YouTube videos about doing this.

Then you are open to using any kind of thrift store find to keep plants—bowls, cookie jars, flour or sugar jars, galvanized steel, etc. And you might break some of these attempting this! Probably can't do glass, though. Proper drainage is the #1 important thing to consider.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:31 AM on April 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

I like to use plastic pots (yogurt pots, takeout soup containers, etc. with holes in the bottom all work well here if you don't have nursery pots) and put them inside a basket or box or more-attractive container. Then you don't have to drill holes in the attractive container (although obviously if it's a basket or something non-waterproof you also need to fit a saucer inside).
posted by mskyle at 7:42 AM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

An Italian cafe I went to once used the empty cans from those big-ass industrial-size cans of tomatoes. I've been meaning to do that myself actually.

For smaller containers: fancy looseleaf tea often comes in tins. One brand that you can find in grocery stores even has suggestions for how to reuse the tins on their website - and "as a planter" is one very common idea. That post also has a picture of another potential tin - the tin from a package of amaretti cookies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:53 AM on April 12, 2022 [7 favorites]

I also like an inner, plastic pot (with holes) inside a larger, decorative cache pot (no holes/holes optional). I used to use whatever plastic container was at hand, but I've had good luck scavenging nursery pots from dumpsters and alleyways (and, occasionally, the free section of Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace), and they tend to work better and hold up longer than, say, takeout containers. There's a good diversity of sizes and the largest are larger than even 5 gallon food service/sheetrock buckets. They're also very light, which really matters with larger plants and small trees.

I usually remove the plastic pot from the cache pot for watering, which allows me to take the plant to a sink or the tub and really drench it. Once the water has has drained off and the pot has dried a bit, I return it to the cache pot, which only needs to be waterproof enough that it can handle drips without deteriorating. Beyond that, you can drop a plant in a plastic nursery pot into basically anything that's the right size, and since I started using double pots I basically have stopped trying to drill containers for use as planters.

Most plants (notably excluding succulents) seem to prefer the plastic pots, and it dramatically eases repotting/soil swaps, which you definitely should be doing once in a while. Many plants have roots that stick to terra cotta and it seems like I do less damage (to both the roots and the pot) when removing plants from plastic pots.
posted by pullayup at 7:55 AM on April 12, 2022 [7 favorites]

Goodwill and similar thrift stores around here always have small and medium indoor plant pots, enough that I can guarantee I'll get a couple (with holes) any time I stop in for $1-5 each.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have used masonry and glass drill bits to fashion planters out of mugs, bowls, all sorts of vases and planters not suited for growing plants in. Old crock pot liners are my favorite; they sell for just a couple bucks (often less), and older ones are often textured and quite nice on the outside. They can even handle temperature fluctuations to the extreme and can be used as outdoor planters.

It requires patience; it is not a hard process to drill into glass or ceramic, but it it slow. You aren't as much drilling, as scraping out a hole.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:32 AM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Halloween candy buckets and castle shaped beach buckets can make really cute pots depending on your aesthetic. Always check the seasonal aisle of your local drugstore or supermarket for this kind of thing. Right now, there are probably a bunch of Easter basket type things about to go on deep discount, and a lot of them are likely to be just colorful and cute instead of plastered in rabbits or Jesus.

To make a liner for a basket or bucket with holes in it, you need some burlap fabric and a plastic garbage bag. Tuck the burlap into the basket, making sure all the holes are covered, folding it into itself so it conforms to the shape of the container. You can use paperclips or binder clips to get it to stay as you fuss with it. When it’s good enough, cut it from the roll and trim around the top, giving yourself a couple inches of allowance. Then take it out of the container and unclip it, spread it flat. Take your garbage bag and cut it down one edge and along the bottom, unfold so you have a plastic sheet. If you have an old plastic drop cloth from some painting or something, or a large plastic shopping bag, that will also work. Anyway, lay that on top of your burlap and cut it to the same shape. Stick the whole sandwich back into the container, plastic side up, and then fold the edges in on itself (so you see burlap along the top, not plastic.) Weigh it down with some stones and bark for drainage, then add your potting soil and plants. You might find it easiest to keep the edge folded with paperclips and then remove them once you’ve planted. I did this with a wire basket etagere thingy I found at a flea market, stuck a bunch of succulents and herbs in there, lasted for ages and ages. The burlap looked cute between the crackle painted wires and the plastic kept the soil from washing away or water draining onto the layers below.
posted by Mizu at 9:03 AM on April 12, 2022

Not quite what you are asking, but we've had success giving a second life to square section 1 litre tetrapak containers: they are taller than regular plant pots [v important for root development] and efficient for filling, say, a crate. Snip off the top . . . and the bottom corners for drainage.
posted by BobTheScientist at 9:06 AM on April 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

For my miniature orchids, I go with 8 ounce plastic cups containers that have had holes punched in in them with a hot soldering iron, and those go inside my empty candle jars.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:24 AM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ikea's FNISS trash can makes a sleek and cheap 10 liter pot. Just drill a hole.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:49 AM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am only a plant person inasmuch as I can usually keep them alive so grain of salt, but AFAIK you can a pot even if it doesn’t have drainage holes. Just keep the plant in the plastic liner (which does have holes in it), throw some same-sized rocks or large marbles from the dollar store into the ceramic pot, and rest the plant in its liner on top of the rocks/marbles. (H&M home has some cheap hole-less pots.)

Unfortunately, as you know, nothing is cheap in Ontario. Even on Kijiji, people want the sticker price they paid for their five year old, broken down Billy bookcase. You go to a thrift store and find Old Navy tanks selling for more than they did originally. It’s ridiculous.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:37 PM on April 12, 2022

I'm helping out a friend who has recently become an indoor plant daddy, and I'm learning some things along the way. Some Lowes and Home Depot stores will accept people dropping off used plastic pots to recycle, for others to pick up and reuse for free. Free is nice. You might give your local big box hardware stores a call and see if they run these programs near where you live.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:46 PM on April 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is new retail, and I’m assuming that Target is available in or ships to Canada. I absolutely adore this line of incredibly cheap, lightweight, and great-looking self-watering planters.
posted by Sublimity at 8:07 PM on April 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

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