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Green container gardens for your school - using recycled materials

Updated on July 26, 2012

Note: All text and photos are property of the author and cannot be reused without permission.


Ready to get started with gardening at your school, but not ready for a big commitment of money or space? Consider container gardens, made from reused or recycled containers. A bag of potting soil, some seeds, and you’re ready to go. Here are a few ideas to get you started. I've provided links at the bottom for more complete instructions.

Plastic milk jugs – Cut off the top and poke a few holes in the bottom. You can even leave the handle on for easy transport.

Newspaper or egg cartons – Wet newspaper, place in a muffin tin or cup, and use to start seeds. Plant the seedling with its paper pot, which will soon decompose. Cardboard egg cartons can also be used this way.

Old gutters – I have also seen these mounted on a wall and used as planters. They were sloped and overlapped such that water from the higher ones dripped into the lower ones.

Old tires – Use one tire, fill with dirt, and plant, or use more than one to surround a whole area for a raised bed.

Wood pallets – Line these with two layers of landscaping fabric, fill with dirt, plant, then lift to create a vertical garden. The resulting garden is accessible to kids (and adults) in wheelchairs, too (see the link at the bottom of the page for complete instructions).

Old wash tubs or storage tubs – Poke some holes in the bottom, fill with dirt, and plant.

Broken wheelbarrow – Again, remember to poke some drainage holes before filling with dirt and planting. These can also be accessible to kids using wheelchairs, and if the wheel still works, they can be repositioned for easy access or to take advantage of sunny or shady areas.

Nursery pots – It seems every shed has a collection of these. Put a call out for those disposable plastic pots that nurseries use to sell plants and you will find yourself overwhelmed. They come in all sizes. The larger ones would be good for more permanent gardens, while smaller ones can be used for individual students’ plants.

Ziploc bags – Save sandwich bags from kids’ lunches (don’t cheat and buy new ones!). Place a wet paper towel inside with a seed, seal it up, and tape it to the window.

Glass or plastic jars – You can fill these with soil or place paper towels and water inside and grow seeds against the edge of the jar, so kids can see the roots form. These are also great to make terrariums. Replace the top after planting, but poke a few holes in it to allow air to circulate.

Leftover CD cases – Tape together to create a terrarium, or grow a seed inside with a paper towel.

Used 5-gallon buckets – Make an upside-down tomato planter. Cut a hole in the bottom, place landscape fabric over it, fill with soil, then cut slits in the bottom and plant a tomato plant inside. Hang from a hook. The kitty litter buckets with handles are also good.

Other, more creative ideas – Shoes or boots, stacks of old books or newspapers (seen these used to grow mushrooms), sections of a tree that has been cut down (used to surround a bed), old bike helmets, margarine or other food containers, Styrofoam meat coolers.

Not only will these ideas save your school money, but they’ll get your students thinking creatively about the things they would normally throw out. I’d love to hear of other ideas you might have for container gardens from recycled materials.


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    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Turn the toilet seat into a cushy thing and the kids will love it! (lol)

    • marthamuldoon profile image

      marthamuldoon 5 years ago from Austin, TX

      I like the idea of just using the separate tank part - it doesn't scream "toilet" quite so much, though maybe that's your goal. It even comes with that convenient drain hole. Thanks for the idea!

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      OK. Here's an idea. Use an old toilet. Fill both the bowl and tank with dirt and plant in both. Check out this link from one of my hubs:

    • marthamuldoon profile image

      marthamuldoon 5 years ago from Austin, TX


    • supermom_in_ny profile image

      supermom_in_ny 5 years ago from NY

      Loved this ideas! My sister runs a beautification program in the Bronx, so I shared it on Facebook. Thought these are great projects for the kids, especially since they use recycled materials. Voted up. useful and interesting! ;)