How To Make Virtually Free Plant Containers For Gardeners

Posted in E books, Gardening Tips, how to features on April 11th, 2013 by John Coxon

A very cheap way or  free way  to make your own  plant containers  for outdoors or to disguise and protect those ugly plastic plant  troughs and pots bought from shops. . My neighbour was throwing out a number of discoloured and cracked plastic plant troughs and I have used all of them having disguised them with simple wooden boxes I made from recovered free sourced timber.

plastic troughs soon lose their integrity but for example, I used a saw to cut the  top off this broken one and built a wooden surround so it remained usable.

Plastic troughs soon lose their original colour and also their integrity because of sunlight  but for example, I used a saw to cut the top off this broken one and built a wooden surround so it remained usable & protected from further light damage.

Shop bought plastic troughs and plant pots tend to be sold in either green or terracotta brown and in my view don’t look as pleasing as the more expensive clay or wooden variants and of course the colour of the plastic fades over time because of the  elements and espeically sunshine as  ultra violet rays cause most plastics to deteriorate, lose strength and become brittle.

Large plastic patio containers fade & become brittle because of the sun's UV rays.

Large plastic patio containers fade & become brittle because of the sun’s UV rays.

 

The alternartive , wooden troughs and barrels though  seem to be unnecessarily expensive for what they are and thus all the box plant containers in my little garden I actually made myself and in the main from found and /or reclaimed timber or i used  used recycled plastic containers which cost nothing. The  bonus for me  is that doing such things is  great for the environment- part of the fun is  finding practical uses for stuff most people throw away without a thought.

I like to have natural materials in my garden and thus either make my own containers made from reclaimed timber in simple box construction or use the same reclaimed wood to disguise a number of tired plastic troughs I have been given by friends and neighbours . I do this  either by boxing them in or, with smaller pots use slats of wood linked together.( I also make broad  re use of plastic food package containers or plastic  paint tubs in my garden and greenhouse )

How to make a large planter free from a used plastic paint tub

Clean emptyemulsion  paint tubs can be cut to depth to make free,strong durable plant pots.

Re-use clean empty emulsion paint tubs  cut to depth to make free,strong durable plant pots.

In the first example I have used one of several large emulsion paint tubs I have collected which of course cost nothing and this size is the equivalent of fancy thicker plastic planters which a well known large DIY chain is charging £8 a pot for or about three pounds a piece for the thinner basic large plastic plant pot!

I have collected a number of empty 15 litre plastic emulsion paint tubs from various free sources. Emulsion is really easy to scrub off the inside of the tub (whereas oil based paints are much more problematic. )  This size of tub is an ideal size for example for growing individual tomato  plants  or small shrubs and conifers. Shop brought mass produced  standard  plastic plant  pots are usually very thin by comparison while  such lidded paint tubs  are stronger, thicker  and deteriorate far slower than shop bought pots.  (Ultra violet light from the sun degrades most forms of plastic and that is another reason for considering disguising them with a simple wooden surround since it prevents UV rays from  affecting the integrity of the material. )

Thoroughly wash out the remnants of emulsion from the 15 litre tub. Use a paint scraper to remove the excess dried on solids on the inner edges  then finish with an abraser scouring pad

Thoroughly wash out the remnants of emulsion from the 15 litre tub. Use a paint scraper to remove the excess dried on solids on the inner edges then finish with an abrasive  scouring pad

Drill three holes in the base for drainage- I used a 15mm flat bit here.

Drill three holes in the base for drainage- I used a 15mm flat bit here.

fill with a good multi-purpose compost- add agricultural sand ( grit) 1 part to 2 parts compost if you are planting bulbs.

fill with a good multi-purpose compost- add agricultural sand ( grit) 1 part to 2 parts compost if you are planting bulbs.

 

If you prefer why not add a coat of black emusion paint to cover the lettering or discguise as a barrel as shown elsewhere in this blog entry. this size is more than adequate for a single tomato plant, small fruit bushes and shrubs.

If you prefer why not add a coat of black emusion paint to cover the lettering or discguise as a barrel as shown elsewhere in this blog entry. this size is more than adequate for a single tomato plant, small fruit bushes and shrubs.

Where you want a shallower planter or cutting down a larger capacity paint tub I use masking tape around the perimeter to enable me to straight  cut the tub down to the depth/size I want and then drill one or two drainage holes in the bottom. Then since some of these pots will be on display and not in the greenhouse I disguised them with wooden slats making them barrel like and at no cost siocne all the materials were reclaimed.

Slats cut to length linked together with phone wire

Slats cut to length linked together with phone wire

I simply measured the depth and the circumference of the pot and cut the requisite number of slats which would go all the way round the pot to make it look more pleasing and natural ( making the slats a centimetre or so longer than the depth of the pot so the pot  cannot be seen when wrapped in the slats. ) Originally I used  stiffer plastic coated garden  wire nailed to the wood  to hold the pieces together but actually twin flex wire or thin  telephone cabling is much easier to work with . Simply lay out the slats you have cut in a row and use carpet tacks or panel pins hammered at intervals through the wire and into the wood . Knock the nail over to hold each piece firmly together.

The completed project nicelydisguising the plastic paint tub with natural free sourced materials.

The completed project nicely disguising the plastic paint tub with natural free-sourced materials.

I have used a similar fixing  techinque using cut to size short thin logs from branches of one of my trees I had trimed split into halves as in this example.

here ~i have cut thin logs to length a little taller than the plant pot, split them and used the telephone wire technique described earlier to hold them together in a ring to disguise the plastic pot and protect it from Uv rays.

Here I have cut thin logs to length a little taller than the plant pot, split them and used the telephone wire technique described earlier to hold them together in a ring to disguise the plastic pot and protect it from Uv rays.

How to Make your own low cost wooden plant troughs

The cost of wooden plant troughs and planters to me seems pretty steep and I doubt whether prices genuinely reflect the actual production costs and yet they are so easy to make yourself. I use a range of wooden planks and ocasionally reclaimed laths from discarded pallets i deconstruct first which I have collected here and there in my locality which means there is no cost in making wooden plant containers. i am not particulalry bothered about having planters which are not alln of the same material but if you want style untiy  you could also watch out for special offers on decking planks if you want garden planters to look co-ordinated and made from exactly the same material. It comes in two and three metre lengths  sometimes for as little a three pounds a length , especially at times of year like now when the stores don’t think there will be much demand. This timber looks attractive , is substantial but also treated so it is normally guaranteed to last ten years or more. Because it is thicker than say standard flooring planks it is actually easier to construct simple boxes from it and it doesn’t split as easily when screwing cut lengths together to make the box construction. Decking screws are relatively cheap and also treated for outdoor use and do not require drilling “pilot” holes and can be driven straight into the wood . for that I use a cordless screwdriver which makes very light work of cosntruction. Some timber merchants will cut decking boards to your requirements if you give them a cutting list ( for a small fee.)

Decking board is cheap, solid, attractive and long lasting for making wooden plant boxes.

Decking board is relatively cheap, solid, attractiv, rarely bows  and is long lasting with outdoor use and thus ideal for making simple to make wooden plant boxes.

 

You can make window boxes and other planters to disguise plastic shop bought troughs.

You can make window boxes and other planters cheaply to disguise plastic shop bought troughs.

 

Whether you are making a stand alone trough or a box to be lined with a pre-bought plastic trough to disguise it , the same simple technique of box construction is employed and you will need a front, back and two shorter sides. Here are the tools I use :-

simple tools

 

This is probably the most usedful tool for anyone - a small powerful but lightweight cordless screw driver and drill - takes all the work out of screwing your sections of wood together. chose one with a Lion battery- slightly more expensive but charges quickly, doesn't lose its charge as nicam rechargable batteries do.

This is probably the most useful tool for anyone – a small powerful but lightweight cordless screw driver and drill – takes all the work out of screwing your sections of wood together. Chose one with a Lion battery- slightly more expensive but charges quickly, doesn’t lose its charge as nicam rechargable batteries do.

A tri square enables you to mark out your wood to get a perfect right angle so that bwhen you cut the ends of your wood rthey butt together easily and effectively.

A tri square enables you to mark out your wood to get a perfect right angle so that bwhen you cut the ends of your wood they butt together easily and effectively.

you can improvise by lining up  with a book or CD case to get a right angle when marking out your wood.

you can improvise by lining up with a book or CD case to get a right angle when marking out your wood.

alternatively , most hand saws have handles which incorporate an edge on the blade side of the handle which you can use to draw a right angle across planks of wood.

alternatively , most hand saws have handles which incorporate an edge on the blade side of the handle which you can use to draw a right angle across planks of wood.

 

Once you have measured out your lengths to make the sides and ends of your box and marked out take care cutting to length letting the saw do the work. Take one long piece and one of the two side peices and butt them together  as in this image. This way you can’t see the sawn edge of the side piece when you have screwed the front to the side. I use decking screws because they cut their own hole, don’t split the wood and are coated to last outdoors.

the long front peiece is butted at right angles to one of the sides and screwed together as shown.

the long front piece is butted at right angles to one of the sides and screwed together as shown.

 

Screws in place- repeat  with the other side piece and finally add the long back piece.

Screws in place- repeat with the other side piece and finally add the long back piece.

 

this an an alternative method for making a box using precut thinner timber lenghts in each corner and screwing each side intot them. This should guarantee perectly square corners.

this an an alternative method for making a box using pre cut thinner timber lenghts in each corner and screwing each side into them at each of the corners. This should guarantee perfectly square corners. This planter I made from a deconstructed wooden pallet I found with three pieces forming each side. This method works well with thinner material like this and also holds together the composite of pieces making up each side

 

Cut a further length and screw to the bottom of the box for stand alone planters and don’t forget to drill a couple of drainage holes. Line the inside edges with plastic sheeting to extend the life of the wood. Here’s how I do that :-

How to line wooden plant containers neatly and easily

Turn trough on its side and measure walls and add an inch to  the depth to allow for the lining to fold over the wire.

Turn trough on its side and measure walls and add an inch to the depth of the plastic to allow a kind of hem  for the lining to fold over the wire.

plant trough lining

 

If you haven't sufficent full lengths of polythene overlap what you have to complete the job lIke this.

If you haven’t sufficent full lengths of polythene overlap what you have to complete the job like this.

 

 

I  attach sheets of tough polythene to the inside surfaces of my home made containers to slow down the process of the wood deteriorating by direct contact with wet soil and bugs sometimes using cut down old rubble or compost bags. To avoid the need to fold and tuck corners  I cut lengths of polythene to fit each inner face of wood but adding say and inch to the depth to fold over to form a neat finish. I place the polythene in place as shown in the photo and pin through  the telephone wire I have cut to length. You then simply fold the sheet over and into the box repeating the procedures both inner sides and ends. ( Don’t  forget to drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of your container .) Because you are using separate sheets excess moisture can find its way into and out of the drainage holes)  Note how the edge of the wire/ folded top edge  is roughly half an inch below the lip of the container so , when filled with soil /growing medium, the inner lining is barely visible but you have a very neat edge when the soil is added .

You get a neat edge like this when the soil is pressed agianst the plastic lining.

You get a neat edge like this when the soil is pressed against the plastic lining.

 

Make a ready made plant trough simply from a discarded wooden book case 

I had both a pine book case I made and a wooden CD double library case both of which became redundant in my home so I simply cut them down with a hand saw to make additional planters as follows in this illustrated example using the CD storage case.

Redundant CD storage case about to become a plant container.

Redundant CD storage case about to become a plant container.

 

check where the shelf comes , reverse the case and carefully mark out you cutting line. Be patient and don't force the saw -let it do the work for you and it is as easy as cutting bread.

check where the shelf comes , reverse the case and carefully mark out your cutting line. Be patient and don’t force the saw -let it do the work for you and it is as easy as cutting bread.

the separated section of the CD case- it has a thin ply back as much of this kind of furnature does but will be fine if the planter is going to be on a flart surface. Screw or nail a stronger piece of timber to the underside if you want it stronger and more durable.

the separated section of the CD case- it has a thin ply back as much of this kind of furniture does but will be fine if the planter is going to be on a flart surface. Screw or nail a stronger piece of timber to the underside if you want it stronger and more durable. Line with polythene sheets before adding soil to extend the life of the wood .

Other items used as plant containers outdoors

A non stick large wok that had lost its unstick- not hard to drill a couple of drainage holes in its bottom and this one planted up with flowering shamrock bulbs ready to flower in June.

A non stick large wok that had lost its  non stick- not hard to drill a couple of drainage holes in its bottom and this one planted up with oxalis ( flowering shamrock) bulbs ready to flower in June.

to fill a narrow available space on top of our boundary this is simply a section of a pallet two boards wide and great for single plants in a row.

To fill a narrow available space on top of our boundary this is simply a section of a pallet two boards wide and great for single plants in a row.

 

And finally a range of the kind of plastic food and drink packaging that I save for use as improvised plant pots and seed trays.

a rnage of plastics are not widely recycled but can still be reused as improvised pots and seed trays.

a range of plastics in food packaging are not widely recycled but can still be reused as improvised pots and seed trays.

DSC_3522

 

 

FEATHERING YOUR OWN NEST?

Posted in compassionate photographer, E books, Gardening Tips on April 11th, 2013 by John Coxon

An alternative to  feathering your own nest !

(Providing nesting materials for wild birds in your garden.)

(click on any image to view a larger version)

sparrow nest material collecting

The English idiom “feathering your own nest” usually refers to someone selfishly seeking to make profit only for themselves and comes with the hint of dishonesty and greed. I think such behaviour is self-defeating and harmful to the Self and that the more you strive to do for others whether people of creatures is one of the many ways of ensuring your own well being and limiting the negative impact you might otherwise have on others.  It is taking more than you actually need a behaviour which is very rare in the natural world of wild creatures of all species. Such creatures are great role models because, unlike humans, they have simple needs and so take only what the actually need.

Of course at this time of the year wild birds are thinking of building new homes for themselves in order to reproduce and work hard gathering the construction materials. Gardens like mine are deliberately not that tidy because of my wish to create a haven for insects and wild birds. Birds gather dried grasses and other stiffer garden plant  debris for the construction of the bowl like basic structure of their nests which they weave together but then they hunt for softer material to insulate and soften the inside of the nest.

A few years back ,one day in  Spring ,  I noticed that the wild birds which I deliberately and happily try to attract to my little garden   (, especially the local house and hedge sparrow population ) were  sneakily “ stealing” the fibrous horse hair like material ( spagnum moss and coconut fibre  ) the lining of my hanging baskets to use in the construction of their nests. That gave me the idea of placing  waste materials  for nest construction in nooks and crannies around my little garden including softer stuff ideal for lining nests.

Molly -such a rich source of fluffy stuff for nest lining!

Molly -such a rich source of fluffy stuff for nest lining!

Molly, my loyal friend here is a constant companion whilst I work in the garden and she possesses beautiful white, soft long hair which seems especially designed to clog up out vacuum cleaner as she tends to shed hair all year round. ( despite the Dyson hype there is no vacuum cleaner that can cope with her fur without getting clogged up! )To reduce the amount of her hairy fluff in the carpets called for regularly weekly brushing sessions and in fact I saved all the fluffy wool like fur I gathered from grooming her.  She is a rescued dog and seems to have missed out on some parental training basics – she  doesn’t understand ball games and doesn’t do fetch! She also makes very little effort to keep her fur tidy and it got to the point that she had to be sent to the local pet groomer for a makeover. I deliberately asked the dog groomer to save all the fur she snipped off and that duly arrived in a full carry bag when Molly was dropped back off after her hair do.

molly's soft long fur- collected from grooming and a make over radical hair cut at the dog groomers!

Molly’s soft long fur- collected from grooming and a make over radical hair cut at the dog groomers!

A couple of weeks back when it was still mighty cold and yet officially it was already spring, I took clumps of molly’s fur  and lodged clumps of it between  the troughs and plant pots around my little garden.  In the lst few days temperatures have eased a little and the sun has visited on occasions and that has seen a change in the behaviour of particulary the small squadron of sparrows which had become regular visitors to the bird feeders I have set out at the bottom of the garden. Not normally ground feeders they are spending more time on the soil and lawn and less on the feeders.  Think this is a sign that the mating season is upon us and nest building is on the agenda. I presume too that perhaps the female birds may be ingesting small amounts of soil to aid egg production but that is just a guess!

What a delight then today to see a very determined effort by the local sparrows coming back and forth to the dog fur clumps and taking sections of it away to the nests they have under construction.

Hedge sparrow make severable visits today collecting material I have consciously put out around my little garden to assist in nest building activity.

A hedge sparrow making several visits today collecting material I have consciously put out around my little garden in obvious places to assist in nest building activity.

Wild bird populations are in decline in the UK for a number of reasons , in part reduced populations of pollinator insects have contributed to the problem as has the trend for flashy  hybrid flowers which are far lower in nectar plus possible the increasing trend for gardens in general to be far more manicured than in previous generations plus the way that people apply concrete, paving , gravel and so forth to make their gardens very low maintenance with ready made plants bought like furnishings. Most Brits have a bit of garden and therefore are or could be /should be in my view , an important part of supporting wildlife and bio-diversity.  From my own window her in my office at home just three of my near neighbours ( a short row of Victorian terraces with relatively small back yards actually have a passion for gardening. (Curiously those three properties and myself seem to be the only residents nearby who are concerned and actively involved  about recycling household waste. ) The rest of the nearby accommodation is largely  two storey rented maisonettes where people have very limited personal “defensible space”  and here we see the odd plant container or two outside and mostly hard surfaces plus the manicured grass verges in between homes. Yes life got busier and maybe more stressful and time pressed but actually gardening is for me the antidote to life’s stresses , is therapeutic and cathartic and a very simple and practical way to aid your own well being and help the environment. I do not believe that one person and little things they do does not make a difference – one person active in such things can make a significant impact on their immediate surroundings and beyond.

Having a wild bird friendly garden where we keep bird feeders filled regularly  and ample supplies of clean available water for drinking and bathing is helpful and of course such facilities   saves the need for the birds to waste calories and energy searching high and low in the wider neighbourhood for enough food to survive and perpetuate the species. Providing nesting materials is one way to aid survival but also increases the likelihood of the birds building their nests near your home thus virtually guaranteeing they will be regular visitors all year round.

why not check out my detailed and copiously illustrated blog entry on helping to attract and support wild birds in your garden here – enjoy ! http://www.johncoxonphotography.com/e-books/feeding-wild-garden-birds-winter-care-tips/

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