6 Household Items You Can Upcycle for the Garden

Got a pile of junk destined for the curb? Give it new life as a trellis or planter in the garden.

by Amy Grisak

Gardeners are a resourceful bunch, and there’s nothing better than creating conversation pieces for the landscape. The garden is the perfect place to repurpose materials from the home that have outlived their traditional function. It’s much more satisfying to use an old household item rather than to buy something new, particularly if it would otherwise be destined for the curb. Here are some ideas for upcycled garden features to help get your creative juices flowing.

1. Baby Crib Trellis

Discarding a well-loved baby crib can be emotional, but using it in the garden to support vining plants gives it new life. A simple and sturdy structure can easily be put together by setting the sides on end in an A-frame configuration. You can also use the end pieces, which are more narrow but typically taller, for a support system for taller plants. Fasten them on the top with twine or zip ties.

Even the springs from older cribs can be utilized when fastened to remain upright. Most cribs are roughly 30 inches wide, giving you a medium height for trellising vegetables like peas or cucumbers. Secure it by pounding two 36-inch pieces of rebar 10 inches deep at each end of the springs, then set the springs upright against them, and attach them to the rebar with wire or twine. If you’re using wire, be sure to bend it down flush so you don’t poke yourself when the vines grow over and cover the sharp ends.

2. Vertical Shower Support

If you’re looking for a functional piece of botanical art, keep your eyes open for a free-standing shower with the ring to hold a curtain attached at the top, such as one used in a claw-foot bathtub. Secure the vertical pipe to a firm post to keep it from moving or tipping over. To create a living shower curtain, grow hops or other vining plants up strings going from the ground to the top ring. And, for the shower, add a hose attachment to the bottom of the pipe in order to easily screw on the garden hose for a quick wash after working in the garden.

3. Windows for Cold Frames

It’s hard to resist interesting, old windows. With enduring character, they’re often an inexpensive choice for a unique lid on a cold frame. However, be cautious when recycling windows. Those with single panes of glass break easily and should be absolutely avoided if there are children or pets in the garden.

Tempered glass is a better option, though it can be heavy and unwieldy. It also can’t be cut to fit a frame, so you’ll need to construct your cold frame size around the dimensions of the glass. Use caution with these heavy windows, as they can be difficult to maneuver and would hurt tremendously if the lid accidentally slipped and fell on an arm or head.

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Be aware of lead paint on old windows, as well. If they were pulled from a home prior to 1978, there’s a distinct possibility lead paint was used on them. This is even more prevalent in homes before 1940. Unless you plan to refinish these windows you should probably steer clear.

4. Ladder Plant Stand

Wooden ladders can be rickety to climb after many years of service, but they make a terrific display for potted plants. If you want a fresh look, sand the ladder and give it a double coat of outdoor paint in your favorite color—though leaving a well-used painting ladder spattered with years of project colors can be a fun garden feature.

Using the ladder for a plant stand can be as simple as setting small pots on the wooden steps. Or, you can create a larger display platform by setting boards from the steps to the supports on the opposite side. This will give you plenty of room for larger containers or more extensive plant displays. Of course, if you have children, you’ll have to explain that this ladder isn’t for climbing.

5. Old Shoes for Planters

Turn that favorite pair of boots or shoes into unique containers. Cowboy boots, old sneakers and even heels make fantastic containers for all sorts of herbs, flowers and succulents. Tiny shoes are excellent for sedums and other smaller specimens, while big boots can overflow with petunias or other cascading flowers.

6. Chest of Drawers Filled with Flowers

Partly pull out the drawers of an old dresser or table and you have instant planting space. When you’re choosing your piece, look for something sturdy and not apt to tip over with the weight of soil and water. A shorter chest of drawers or side table works well.

To spiff up an old piece, you don’t have to put much more effort than possibly sanding it down and painting it with a couple of coats of outdoor paint. You may want to smooth out rough patches, though it’s not necessary to make it perfect.

Drill holes in the bottom of the drawers to allow drainage, and then line the drawer with plastic, such as a trash bag or plastic sheeting. Punch a few holes in the bag to allow water to escape to the holes beneath. Fill the drawers with soil and plant a beautiful display of flowers, herbs or vegetables.

It just takes a little imagination to turn items that have outlived their usefulness into unique garden pieces. Look at what you have in the house to see if you can give it a new lease on life.

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