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Main Content
garden bed

Recycled materials make unique and functional garden beds

Jennon Bell Hoffmann

Living on and off the land means we do all we can to protect, preserve, and conserve it.
Breathe new life into old items, creating unique, eco-conscious ways to beautify your yard, recycle those hard-to-dispose-of materials, and add a little character to your landscape.

Get Inspired By Local Treasure Hunting
Nearly everything can be repurposed, but some materials do better than others. When looking for older items to turn into new treasures, keep your eyes peeled at local yard sales, or take a second glance at what your neighbor’s recently curbed.
Consider some of these items to start:

Rubber Tires
Old tires are tough and can withstand rough weather. The strong shell and pass-through design acts as a barrier, keeping weeds more manageable and some critters, such as rabbits, from eating your plants. Recycling tires on your land means fewer tires in a landfill.

Metal items that are too rusted for regular use work well as a garden planter, especially if you want a weathered, industrial look for your garden.

Think of them as adult Legos®. These concrete blocks can be made into anything and are nearly indestructible. Plus, you can paint them to match just about anything.

Pallets are trending, but resourceful people have been using them in every way long before Pinterest made them popular. The bonus of working with pallets is that they provide a structure and solid foundation for any type of work. From novice carpenter to master woodworker, there’s a pallet project for everyone.
What Won’t Work

Plastics That Off-Gas
Some plastics give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are toxic in varying doses. Not appetizing for your summer squash, right? If you do want to use plastic, use a protective barrier, such as a liner or interior terracotta planter, to help keep your plants healthy and VOC-free.

Chemical Containers
Any container that previously housed chemicals, such as cleaning solutions, pesticides, varnishes, or paint, and anything flammable, must be properly cleaned and treated. Most contents, such as paint and pesticides, can’t just be poured down a drain. Call your local Environment Protection Agency (EPA) office to learn about the best options for disposing questionable materials.

TIP: Planters require solid construction and proper drainage. Different plant root systems require different container features to promote healthy plants.
Prep and Design: Simple Steps for Prepping Old Materials for New Purposes

You have your plan and your materials; Now it’s time to get to work.

1.    Inspect
Will the material do well with watering? Is it permeable to insects or animals? Will direct sunlight cause damage? Being thorough in your inspection will help you avoid repairs, wasted time, and problems later.

2.    Clean And Prepare
Thoroughly clean, disinfect, and prepare your old object for new life as a planter. Use a cleaning solution that is best for the material, such as power-washing for concrete; oil or conditioner for wood or leather; and hot water and soap. A protective sealant is a must for anything you expect to withstand inclement weather, and to keep the material from deteriorating.

3.    Measure And Mark
Plan out how the plants will drain and where in your yard the planter will be placed for best sunlight. Some materials, like wood and galvanized metal, will need holes drilled in them for drainage. Textiles or decorative objects, such as rain boots refashioned into planters, will need to be outfitted with a method for draining for holding planters. When possible, test the drainage system to prevent any surprises later.

Unique Repurposing Ideas

  • Bathtubs
  • Furniture
  • Toilets
  • Canoes or Small Boats
  • Boots 
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Hallowed Out Tree Stumps or Logs
  • Large Stones
  • Do you have a creative idea for a garden bed?

We want to know about it! Send us pictures of your planters for a chance to be featured in an upcoming issue of Out Here. Email your ideas to

 Jennon Bell Hoffmann is a writer from the Illinois-Wisconsin area.