Where To Get Containers For Your Container Garden

Posted on Apr 18 2011 - 2:54am by Mike Lieberman

The one question that I most often get from people is where I get the containers for my garden from. When I posted a question on Facebook asking what posts people would like me to write, it was mentioned again by some friends.

The first thing is that I never buy the containers brand new. I don’t for a few reasons. The most important is that I don’t want to use any unnecessary resources and materials, especially plastic. The other reason is that there are much cheaper ways.

Here are some places that you can easily get the containers for free or for a $1:

When I was living in NYC, the containers used on my fire escape garden, I got containers for free from the local bodegas.

All bodegas use the containers to put their flowers in. When I walked by and saw a big stack, I’d ask if I could take 3-4 of them off their hands. The usual answer was no. I’d follow up with how about just 1 or 2. They would usually say yes just so I’d stop bothering them. Free containers. That simple.

Farmers Market
Since I’ve moved to Los Angeles, and stared my balcony garden, there aren’t many bodegas where I live. So I’ve been sourcing them from the flower vendors at the farmers market for $1 each. It’s not free, but still not too bad.

Other places that you can likely get the containers from are:

Restaurants, Delis, Bakeries and Deli Section of Supermarkets
All of these places usually get their shipments of mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, etc in the 5-gallon containers. Check with them to see if they have any that they aren’t using.

It’ll be much easier if you are a regular customer or have a relationship with them. If you aren’t, it’s still worth inquiring.

Where you don’t want to get your containers from:

Construction Sites
It’s likely that the containers from construction sites had plaster, concrete, paint or something else nasty mixed inside of it. You don’t want to be growing your food out of that.

What other places are good to get containers from?


53 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Pamela April 18, 2011 at 11:31 am -

    For indoors seed starting, I often use old toilet paper rolls. When the plants have gotten a little bigger and need some space for their roots, I transplant them into plastic milk jugs. I cut the top off (and recycle), then poke some holes in the bottom. Sometimes I paint the exterior, but often I leave it as is.

  2. Mike Lieberman April 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm -

    Thanks for the tips.

  3. Alicia Ambler April 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm -


  4. Patty April 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm -

    I have used old plastic storage containers (food storage), the plastic popcorn container my kids had out in the garage, those big plastic toy containers with the rope handles…anything I can get my hands on to recycle.

  5. Dreamsister4ever April 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm -

    We bought ours new from a local hardware store. Because we bought 40 he gave us a good discount. This is a locally owned family hardware store that everyone knows everyone. They are intrigued by the container garden, and when ours is up and going want details also. We couldn’t find any that were free that didn’t hold major chemicals that weren’t good growing anything that was good for human or animal consumption.

  6. Forestwoman April 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm -

    I get mine all free from the local recycling center. Of course most folks take their recyclables TO the center as do I. Then I ask if they have any buckets that I can have and they ALWAYS say yes. I look for ones that never had chemicals in them. I also like the cat litter buckets. All free free free. I’m able to snag about 5 – 15 each time I go.

  7. Matt Bohnhoff April 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm -

    Great! I’ve been wanting to try this but I don’t eat out often and I’ve been too shy to ask for buckets when I have. I’ll have to try freecycle, though.

  8. Mike Lieberman April 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm -

    Always a good resource.

  9. Mike Lieberman April 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm -


  10. Mike Lieberman April 18, 2011 at 7:02 pm -

    I hear ya bro. I was shy too. Just ask and you’ll get over it.

  11. Mike Lieberman April 18, 2011 at 7:02 pm -

    Wow. That’s great.

  12. Mike Lieberman April 18, 2011 at 7:02 pm -

    Sweet. Good resource.

  13. Tess H April 18, 2011 at 11:45 pm -

    I just found your site! Awesome! I’ve been trying to get a self-watering container garden going down here in San Pedro myself. I bought a large storage bin and am using the lid as the inner “shelf” but want to find some bamboo for the pipe (ideas on where to find those?)… another seed starting idea I’ve seen (on PBS kids, no less!) is to use pizza boxes, and there’s always the old stand-by of cardboard egg cartons, as well as rinsed egg shells…

  14. Mike Lieberman April 19, 2011 at 1:27 am -

    Sweet. No idea where to get bamboo pipe, but love the idea. Keep me updated on your progress.

  15. Charisse Ramos April 19, 2011 at 2:12 am -

    What a good idea! $1? That’s a steal! 🙂

  16. Mike Lieberman April 19, 2011 at 2:50 am -

    I used to get them all for free. So $1 is a lot to me.

  17. tosh tanaka April 20, 2011 at 1:19 am -

    I got one from a Chinese take out place. They get soy sauce in 5-gallon buckets. They gave me a strange look but it was free!

  18. Charisse Ramos April 20, 2011 at 4:00 am -

    OH I totally get it… free 99 beats $1 any day!

  19. Mike Lieberman April 20, 2011 at 4:16 am -

    Hahaha. I guess $1 being a lot is a good problem to have…

  20. Mike Lieberman April 20, 2011 at 4:17 am -

    Good call on that one.

  21. Woolly Llama April 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm -

    Try Whole Foods Bakery. They are a big fan of reusing.

  22. Mike Lieberman April 24, 2011 at 3:01 am -

    When I used to go to Whole Foods the one by me wouldn’t give me any. For other reasons, I no longer shop at Whole Foods.

  23. Joshua Guess May 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm -

    Burger King, Braum’s, Chick fila, lots of fast food places. If you can develop a good relationship with some managers, try offering to share the produce you’ll be growing, they’ll save their pickle buckets for you.

  24. Mike Lieberman May 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm -

    Nice. Thanks for the suggestions.

  25. Mrskey1860 May 21, 2011 at 2:37 am -

     I just found some buckets along with smaller storage tubs and bins at a thrift store for 49 cents to 99 cents each.  I also got my 30 gallon garbage cans for my potatoes from a thrift store for 1.99 ea.  We  used decorative popcorn tins and wicker baskets for some of our plantings which seem to provide more curb appeal as our apt. is ground level. 

  26. Mike Lieberman May 21, 2011 at 4:22 am -


  27. Andrea Dierna June 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm -

    Very helpful post, Mike! I spent too much $$ on containers this season and need to start being more resourceful! 

  28. Mike Lieberman June 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm -

    Yea no need to waste the money on containers if you are gonna make your own. With that money might as well buy already made ones.

  29. Josue June 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm -

    Im using milk crates.

    2 milk crates (free outside gas stations/cafeterias/stores)
    3 black plastic bags(a few cents)
    shirt strips(old shirts)

    Line one container with two bags(two to prevent leaks and light penetration), this is a 1 cubic foot water reservoir(lasts a long time).
    Line the other crate with the other bag, this is the 1 cubic foot planter.
    Cut 5 small holes on the bottom(4 corners and one in center) of the planter to pass the shirt strips for the wicking action.

    You can use another crate below the reservoir to raise it.
    You can cut the bottom of another crate and stack it on the planter to make a deeper planter for pottatoes and deep root plants.
    Square planters save space.

  30. Mike Lieberman June 30, 2011 at 12:17 am -

    Thanks for the idea. Wonder what you could use besides the black plastic bags. Love the concept. Appreciate you sharing.

  31. Josue July 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm -

    You can use the thick black mat thats used for artificial ponds and other stuff. Its sold at home depot, its just a bit more expensive than the bags and you would have to sew it into a box shape that fits the crates. Strong trash bags will do the work fine, works for me at least.

  32. Chris Smith July 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm -

    Hey Mike. Great Site.Other container suggestions inclue of course the tried and true milk jug in 1/2 gal or 1gal sizes (just cut the top off around the mouth piece and not the handle); 2 and 3 liter bottles (cut 1/3 top off flip over and zip tie back into the bottom to make a self waterer), any water bottle or typical 20 oz plastic bottle can be used for starter pots (punch holes and zip tie 6 together like a 6-pack soda for portablility); bleach bottles (I’ve got a loquat seedling in one); oxy clean buckets; the cat food/litter pails mentioned before; and if you have the ground room: tires.A note on the tires, I’ve been using them now for 4 months with all of my crops, and per the safety factor I have found both sides fo the argement, but look more at the research that shows unburning rubber to be a stable element and therefore not leaking chemicals, but anyhow use it as you like. They are easy to use, just cut off 1 side wall and use the rest as a raised bed. the removed sidewall can be used as a tree ring around a seedling, or hacksaw 1 radius cut to place it around an already growing tree. The sidewall allow about 1″ to 2″ of compost/mulch to be placed in the center ring. Just (black) zipe tie the ring shut or drill holes and lace back with twine.

  33. Mike Lieberman July 25, 2011 at 2:06 am -

    Thanks for sharing bro.

  34. Guest November 2, 2011 at 10:12 pm -

    You can use an egg carton to start seeds in

  35. Mike Lieberman November 3, 2011 at 8:06 am -

    Good call on that.

  36. xangilax November 15, 2011 at 12:21 am -

    Yea Me too damned Monsanto Is creeping in to defile even the most unexpected places. 

  37. Sassafras January 12, 2012 at 6:12 am -

    Got two on a dumpster dive last week! SCORE!

  38. Mike Lieberman January 12, 2012 at 7:54 am -


  39. Michael Holstein January 17, 2012 at 9:13 am -

    Tried the egg carton trick, works better with the plastic containers than the paper ones 😛

  40. Mike Lieberman January 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm -

    The paper ones you gotta keep more moist.

  41. Michelle April 23, 2012 at 8:42 am -

    My husband works at a food manufacturing plant.  We have gotten our containers for free, since they trow them away!

  42. Kristin simlai April 23, 2012 at 10:40 am -

    Grocery store bakeries will often have free or cheap five gallon buckets that originally had frosting in them. Also I use the bottom half of strawberry containers to put transplants in until they are garden ready. They already have holes for drainage.

  43. Hraz April 23, 2012 at 11:08 am -

    Check out Dunkin Donut dumpsters

  44. Mike Lieberman April 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm -


  45. OneHippieChick April 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm -

    I’ve purchased used pickle buckets with lids from Firehouse Subs.  They used to be $2, now they are $4 each, but I haven’t had much luck getting any for free here.  Same with plastic barrels to use as rain barrels. Around here these days people are trying to make money from selling them.

  46. Catrina Glasl April 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm -

    I have seen good balcony planters made out of used pallets.  Many places will give you a free pallet if you ask.

  47. Mike Lieberman April 24, 2012 at 6:31 am -

    They’ve caught on!

  48. Mike Lieberman April 24, 2012 at 6:31 am -


  49. Stephanie July 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm -

    I’ve seen pics of people using old tires and planting stuff in them. Do you think that’s safe cuz if so, there are like 3 old tires in my neighborhood that people have just dumped. I want to use them but my husband think’s it will make the yard look trashy. I’m like nooo it’s called upcycling! 🙂

  50. Tfan59 July 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm -

    I used to use the plastic containers that my litter came in when I had cats.

  51. Niteflyrwoman July 24, 2012 at 9:18 am -

    Local department store

  52. Linda Dann April 15, 2013 at 9:22 am -

    Whole Foods- Monsanto Foods? Doesn’t surprise me !

  53. mordortourguide January 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm -

    How about cotton or loose weave fabric? Old sheets maybe?

Leave A Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.