Decorating Your Recycled Container Garden

Posted on Jun 6 2011 - 2:32am by Mike Lieberman

People (haters) often bust my balls about how ugly my balcony garden is. They say that it’s beaten up and used 5-gallon containers and not very pretty.

I’ve decided to take the challenge of the haters and decorate my self-watering containers. One of my containers was decorated by my girlfriend, Anita, who did a much better job than I could ever do. Since I’m not nearly that artistic I got some inspiration from Life on the Balcony. Her finished containers are more stylish than mine, but I’m working on it.

This would be a great project to do with your kids and get them involved.

I removed the reservoir containers and painted them a solid color for now. I’ve been contemplating creating stencils for them, but am undecided at this point.

What do you think of the new look containers? Should I leave them solid colors or decorate them a bit more? If so, what should I put on them?


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

  1. Russell Franke June 6, 2011 at 11:04 am -

    I kind of agree with those haters….sorry.  I like the garden to be nice looking as well (of course, that was the demand of my wife if I was going to mess with her landscaped backyard, LOL).  The link you shared showed some amazing pots.  
    I think your new, painted pots, look awesome.  Personally, I like your colors, earthy but colorful.  I would use some type of stencil or painted design.  How about spelling out what grows in each pot?  This way you won’t confuse the chard for the bell peppers!  

  2. T R June 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm -

    I love having things look clean and neat so my vote is to keep the painted buckets the way they are and let the plants be the decoration!  (This from a person who has ALL green plastic pots for her container garden….heehee!)  Fern has some lovely containers but they seem too feminine for you, Mike.

  3. Summer Hodgman June 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm -

    Who cares what other people think?  If you like them plain, leave them:)  I’d probably decorate them further, but only cause I like the process more than the end result.  you could always go with magazine cutouts and decoupage:D 

  4. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm -

    Hahaha. That’s the thing Russell…”looking nice” is such a subjective thing. Some would stay it still looks tacky. 

    I’ve been thinking stencils, but haven’t taken that step yet.

  5. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm -

    Hahaha. Yea her stuff is gorgeous, but definitely not my style.

  6. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm -

    Personally I don’t care what the haters think. If they have problems, that’s their problems not mine. 

    I might paint them some more as time allows, but leave as is for now.

    Decoupage…I learned a new word today. Thanks!

  7. Jan1965 June 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm -

    oh, dear…mine’re all beaten up and tacky-looking…and y’know, I just really don’t care!!!  LOL…I’m gonna spend my time planting more stuff, rather than prettifying the stuff in the buckets!!!  my ‘taters are gonna taste just as good, whether the buckets are painted or not…

  8. Jan1965 June 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm -

    oh, dear…mine’re all beaten up and tacky-looking…and y’know, I just really don’t care!!!  LOL…I’m gonna spend my time planting more stuff, rather than prettifying the stuff in the buckets!!!  my ‘taters are gonna taste just as good, whether the buckets are painted or not…

  9. CathleenB June 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm -

    I like them a lot better painted. Imagining walking by on the sidewalk the “at a glance” look is nicer. With that said, it should be what YOU want, not anyone else.

  10. CathleenB June 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm -

    I like them a lot better painted. Imagining walking by on the sidewalk the “at a glance” look is nicer. With that said, it should be what YOU want, not anyone else.

  11. Cherise June 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm -

    As an artist and someone who is very visual by nature, I like my garden to look nice. However, I’m also a realist so I know that not every container I plant in is going to be “pretty.” I bought all my containers at yard sales, usually for a dollar or less. I try to stick with natural colors and metal. Love metal buckets! They’re timeless and nice to look at. This year I planted in an old metal horse trough (4′ x 2′ x 30″ high). I love the new look and colors of your buckets. I agree that it’s no one else’s business by yours. Especially if it’s kept neat and clean. Neat, clean and producing food always trumps aesthetic appeal.

  12. North100 June 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm -

    My vote is to leave them as solids. The brush strokes add texture and the stacking, leaving a white edge, serve as a “stripe.” I like. Nice Mike!

  13. Egwyatt June 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm -

    Ok..I think it’s a great idea for using them as planters but, I have two questions…are you using Earth-friendly paint and does that type of plastic leach into the soil?

  14. Ali_moran June 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm -

    I  love them!!!  Although I think they looked fine before too.  I just planted my first two self-watering buckets with lettuce and carrots.  My question is, I understand that the water will be sucked up from the bottom, but do I need to still water a little on the top so the top stays moist?
    Thanks so much!  
    Alison in  Tacoma, WA

  15. JessicaCRB June 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm -

    I really love the solids of different colors next to one another for a sort of rainbow effect.  If you were going to use stencils it would be fun to stencil on what was in each container, but that would limit your container options for next year. 

  16. Yart June 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm -

    I think that they look really nice…. And your right this is going to be a great project to do with the kids. 

  17. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm -

    Thanks. Me gusta too.

  18. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm -

    I thought the same thing.

  19. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm -

    If you are starting from seed, water from top until it’s about 3-5″ tall.

  20. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm -

    It’s paint that was laying around the house..acrylic I believe. And they are #5 containers, which aren’t known to leach into water.

  21. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm -

    Thanks Lo.

  22. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm -

    Exactly. Thanks.

  23. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm -

    True. True.

  24. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm -

    Hahaha. YOu should do an experiment to see which ones taste better?!!?

  25. Rose Kodis June 6, 2011 at 5:19 pm -

    Okay…I am not a HATER..let’s get that right.  Now, I applaud you for sharing your information with us…but I don’t think that your containers have to look ugly.  I just have a set of esthetics…and your containers were ..mmmm…bland.  Those who commented were saying the same thing.  Why not display your bounty in an attractive way…just saying.

  26. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm -

    I got it right. When someone talks negatively about something..they are hatin on it. I hate on Monsanto, chemically sprayed foods, Usher, etc…Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

    You are also getting into something that is very subjective. What is aesthetically pleasing to one is an eyesore to another. Not everyone has an issue with the plain containers, but some do. To me, it’s not about the container, but what’s inside of it that matters most.

    I display my bounty in a very attractive way…on my plate.

  27. Mary C. June 6, 2011 at 5:47 pm -

    They look very contemporary and stylish as they are really. I’d leave them like this. If you later decide to do more, it would be cool to make potato stamps. Or ask friends if they have stencils you can borrow so you don’t have to buy any for a one-time thing.

  28. Kitty Price June 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm -

     Lol! I saw how you snuck Usher in there.  I think I’m torn in agreement with you and Rose… I looove the painted ones (and Anita is quite talented!), but I didn’t see anything inherently wrong with the plain buckets… to each his own? 🙂

  29. Meemsnyc June 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm -

    I like the color.  Looks good!

  30. Ivette June 6, 2011 at 6:57 pm -

    I guess I have to be a HATER, then – but that doesn’t mean I hate what’s going on IN your buckets! As someone who tries to make food growing ornamental as well as functional, I think aesthetics are important – but it doesn’t have to be important to everyone! And you are right, what is attractive is SUPER subjective! So I’ll go on the record saying that I don’t really like the look of the buckets – BUT… if you are TRULY interested in my opinion …

    I think the plain white buckets are fine – but they have to be clean (which is really hard to keep up, obviously!). The paint looks messier to me. I think to make a bucket garden look really dialed-in, one might want to get a bunch of buckets in one solid color – like orange or blue, and use those. I think it could look really slick, modern, and dramatic. I have a friend who got a bunch of orange Ikea plastic wastepaper bins on sale and turned them into containers for her bamboo – they look amazing and ended up being $1.99 a piece! 
    But, I don’t think the way the buckets look are important to you. I think you are more interested in making this garden work for very little $$$, and that is cool. BUT (again) I wonder about the yield you are getting for your use of space – you could plant more in a long rectangular trough than you can in a series of smaller round containers, and you can associate your plants in a way that they help each other grow more vigorously. I think you have ingenuity – I wonder if you could build/repurpose a different growing system. BUT (yet again!) I know alot of people grow out of buckets and if it works for them, then that is great. I’d much rather people grow beautiful food in ugly buckets than not grow anything at all!

    So maybe you can just consider me a mini-hater… and in the end, who cares? Some people don’t like the look of my raised beds, and I couldn’t care less! I love them, I grow alot of awesome food in them, and that is the most important thing to me. So go on with your bad ass bucket self!

  31. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm -

    Hahah. Yes to each his/her own. The world will be a much better place that way.

  32. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm -

    Good call on that.

  33. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm -

    I love how you just had an entire conversation with yourself. I wish I could do that! Totally jealous.

  34. Elaine June 6, 2011 at 8:48 pm -

    Coil trash-picked rope around them, like at the docks.

  35. Ali_moran June 6, 2011 at 8:57 pm -

    Ah dang!  I did already add the water in the bottom….should I just let that run dry then?  I’m not good at the whole gardening thing…but I’m trying!  (And I can’t believe how much people can care about what your buckets look like!! I mean…really???!!!!!  

  36. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 8:59 pm -

    Nice. Good call.

  37. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 9:00 pm -

    No worries. I change out the water in the reservoir container like once a week.

  38. Diana June 6, 2011 at 9:14 pm -

    I think bright Mexican colors, with free hand painted stripes, spots or squiggles are nice.  No need to go to the trouble of stencils (imo).

  39. Mike Lieberman June 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm -

    Yea I was gonna go stencils, but decided against that headache.

  40. Jacqueline D'Elia June 7, 2011 at 12:45 am -

    Paint pretty vines and daisy flowers on them. 🙂

  41. Lori Alper June 7, 2011 at 2:17 am -

    Solids…love ’em. Like the color combo you chose. Not a stencil fan-but you gotta do what works for you.

  42. Happy June 7, 2011 at 2:21 am -

    Whatever pleases you best is what you should use.  But I’ll mention anyway that I liked your original  containers, all white as I recall, with focus on your thriving plants.  Simple and effective.  But the painted pots are cheerful and will be attractive with plants growing in them.  Fussy details on painted pots don’t seem appropriate for what you are accomplishing.  If you took pleasure in creating works of art for containers, that would be fine.  But you seem most interested in growing and harvesting your plants in a simple and healthful manner.   Keep it simple.

  43. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 2:34 am -

    Totally my style 😉

  44. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 2:35 am -

    Word. The stencils that I’d find funny woul be hard to find though.

  45. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 2:35 am -

    Simple is how I do.

  46. Lfond June 7, 2011 at 2:43 am -

    Oh what the heck! Design it.  Have fun with it. 

  47. Mrskey1860 June 7, 2011 at 2:47 am -

    We cover our buckets/pails in burlap and tie twine around the burlap to make them look rustic with our rustic Milwaukee decor….cheap…and fun. CA calls for color and fun but… Meh, I say do what you think is what YOU want.  Don’t need curb appeal for your own CA balcony.  

  48. Mrskey1860 June 7, 2011 at 3:03 am -

    I agree…simple is more appealing.  This world has too much “busy” in it.  Keep ’em simple.

  49. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 3:05 am -

    I think I’ve exhausted my design skills.

  50. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 3:05 am -

    I like that idea.

  51. NaturallyMariam June 7, 2011 at 4:32 am -

    Color is great Mike.

  52. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm -

    Just a lil bit.

  53. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm -

    Just a lil bit.

  54. Faeriewhale June 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm -

    you could paint the names of the plants on there with funky letters.

  55. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 10:08 pm -

    Thought about that, but then I’d have to repaint with each planting. Or plant things in containers with other names. Don’t want to give them complexes now 😉

  56. Garden Hoe June 10, 2011 at 12:28 am -

    My raised bed is a little crowded and I added three 5 gallon buckets to grow my prized heirloom tomatoes.  All women find my buckets ugly and say I should invest in real container because the buckets attract attention more than the plants themselves. All men (even my landlord) like the buckets and the extra space…Should I conclude men find “the look” less important than the result.

  57. Mike Lieberman June 10, 2011 at 12:46 am -

    Hahhaa. It’s your garden. Do what you want. 

    Also depends on your goal. My goal is to grow food. I save the being pretty to my looks, not my garden 😉

  58. Jllessard June 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm -

    Chalk board paint !
    It comes in all kinds of colors not just black then you could write which plant was in there at the time. Genius I know

  59. Mike Lieberman June 27, 2011 at 6:25 am -

    Yes that is genius.

  60. Farmerfanny July 23, 2011 at 7:30 pm -

    I say grow thyme or other low growers like lettuce  in smaller pots around the buckets so the plants cover them up and works for companion planting to keep bugs away. I prefer plain you don’t need all the bling on the pots.  Who knows it may make your food dizzy and fall off the balcony.

  61. Mike Lieberman July 24, 2011 at 2:28 am -

    Hahaha. I don’t need to give people another reason to complain about em 😉

  62. Cindy Rajhel December 5, 2011 at 9:15 am -

    We’re using recycled jute coffee sacks to grow potatoes. Maybe you could slip one over a bucket and see how it looks.  We’re on Facebook/homegrownfun

  63. Mike Lieberman December 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm -

    Ohhh…that just might work. Thanks for the idea.

  64. Laurel Rose January 9, 2012 at 9:23 am -

    Haha!  I’m one of those people who commented about the containers before~ but I’m not a hater!  I think you’ve made a huge improvement!  I love the colors!  Instead of stenciling, you can use a hot glue gun and glue on some of those shiny glass pebbles they sell at the dollar store around the border.  And what about a mosaic?  That might be a fun project for a crafty type. 

  65. Laurel Rose January 9, 2012 at 9:27 am -

    Can’t help it!  I love blingy baubles and shiny bright colors that pop!

  66. Mike Lieberman January 9, 2012 at 11:59 am -

    hahaha. See I’d find that unattractive. Hater 😉

  67. Sassafras January 12, 2012 at 7:06 am -

    What kind of paint did you use?  Has it held up to the weather?

  68. Mike Lieberman January 12, 2012 at 7:55 am -

    I dunno. Whatever paint my girlfriend had in the house. It’s held up pretty well to the weather. Not many scratches.

  69. Peapeagreen36 May 10, 2012 at 11:06 am -

    I just purchased my 5 gallon containers online in a variety of colors. It cost a little more than going down to the home depot, or buying one color in bulk, but I think it produced a very nice esthetically pleasing result 🙂

  70. Mike Lieberman May 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm -


  71. Natjenn May 27, 2012 at 2:53 pm -

    Since you are into recycling, glue on broken ceramic pieces for the mosaic instead of buying stones etc.

  72. Mike Lieberman May 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm -

    Word. I like that!

  73. TracyG July 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm -

    I think I’m going to wrap my containers in rope or paint them then wrap them with chain or use reed or bamboo (vertically placed and wrapped at top/bottom to hold the reed on).  Could get heavy.. have to try it.  Yours look great!

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