Large plastic totes as planters?

alison(6b/OH)May 19, 2005

Looking for planters for my neighbors exposed, super-sunny front porch I stumbled upon big plastic totes in the storage section of the hardware store. The 18-gallon ones are maybe 24" long, 15" across, and 20" deep -- and are a mere $6. I'm trying to find ways to lessen the need to water frequently, and these seem like a good (cheap!) option.

Has anyone used these kinds of containers on their balconies? Any suggestions/warnings/advice? The ones I saw are dark blue; should I scout around for a lighter color, or is soaking up the heat much of an issue?

So far we're thinking a 1-gallon hibiscus and some smaller plants like thyme, moss roses -- ground-cover-like. Any guidance on how many plants we can comfortably crowd in? (I think she's planning on treating these plants like annuals.)

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They will certainly work. (You can container-garden in just about anything.) Just remember drain holes! Use a drill or a hot soldiering iron to poke many holes in the bottom, or better yet, in the sides right above the bottom.
Use the lid as a drip tray!
Hot roots can be an issue for some plants, but the large pot size should mitigate any possible heat problems.
Happy gardening!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2005 at 7:20PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I've been growing tomatoes in the smaller version (14 gallon I believe, since they were out of the 18 gallon ones when I bought the below 2 years ago).

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR..... this frickin' weather has me so late planting. :-\ My 'maters are outside hardening off and I should have had them planted already. I'm going to try a spaghetti squash in one of these this year. I have one in a tote now (the survivor of 6 put out real early under a cutoff plastic jug, but I started some more that I want to stick in there).

Yes, I did put lots of holes in the bottom and filled with Promix. I want to actually add some more to top it off this year.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 6:43PM
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bjwsea(z7 Everett, Wa.)

I too am growing some of my plants in plastic containers. I chose royal blue and lime green for the colors, instead of clear. Although I have many large ceramic containers, this seemed a good option in regards to price, and how heavy all the ceramics were becoming on my balcony.
The plants - some veggies, some flowers - are growing well in them. They get no afternoon sun, and hot roots hasn't been a problem. A few holes drilled in the bottom provided drainage. If you don't have a drill, use a nail and hammer.
The only hassle came when trying to use ready-made supports for the peas - the triangle shaped support didn't fit in the container. Circular tomato supports would have worked much better. I didn't want to spend more money, so I improvised with tall straight sticks I gathered from other nearby trees. (Spread at the bottom, and tied together at the top like teepee poles.) It works.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 12:52PM
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bjwsea(z7 Everett, Wa.)

I had one more thought. If you were trying to grow a warm weather plant, go for the darker color. It will keep the soil warmer by absorbing the warmth from the sun. Something like peas, which appreciate cooler temps, might like the lighter colors.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 1:10PM
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Yikes! I drilled the holes and I'm starting to plant and fill the totes. Even with a heavy helping of perlite, the first two took 80 lbs of potting soil each. Aand that's dry weight.

I'm planning on cutting some plywood and putting castors underneath, to make it possible to move the containers and keep them up off the wood floor. (I'm also putting the lids under the container as a drip tray.) But I think the castors I've got may be a little too flimsy for this job....

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 3:44PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Yeah - that's why I didn't feel too bad about the 14 gallon ones once I saw how much soil they needed. LOL

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 9:34PM
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triple_b(BC 5b)

You have given me much food for thought. I have been thinking of economical ways to grow stuff in containers. The large ones (proper planters) can get pricey. And the weight and amount of soil needed was something that had not yet occured to me. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 10:40PM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

Another thing to consider is growing edibles in containers made of food-safe materials. Some types of plastic can leach contaminants into the soil, from where they can make their way into your herbs and veggies. Exposure to sunlight can also cause many plastics to degrade. Jenny, a chemist, might know more about this.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2005 at 3:04AM
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I think I read this here---- smashed empty alum. soda/beer cans in the bottom of a large pot or container.

I'm going to try it. Since they're made for food they shouldn't leach. Don't know about the alum. or the dyes to color the cans.

Recycled and lightweight.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 11:59AM
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aromaticwings(7b TX)

Question on the colors and types of these large totes.. I have some that are clear( I had bought them for something else but now want to use for my garden). Would they not act like a magnifying glass on the root systems of the plants?? Is there a way to keep the roots cool??

    Bookmark   May 28, 2006 at 4:59PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I don't think they would actually "magnify" in the sense that they are not curved like a lens. But they might heat up a bit more (not unlike using clear plastic over a soil surface to warm the soil like black plastic).

You could spray paint the outside with a light color like white (maybe using latex - Krylon has some non-toxic types). Or you could use some white kitchen type trash bags and wrap around the outside and secure.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2006 at 9:48PM
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