Container gardens

Turn That Old Grill Into a Planter

New life for an old grill. Photo: Nicola B,

You’ve had it for years and it served you well. Thousands of steaks, sausages and shish kabobs have come out of it and you’ve probably fixed it up with new parts every now and then. However, now your old barbecue grill really is too far gone to be worth saving… and you’ve already ordered a shiny new replacement. 

So, the old grill has to go to the recycling center… or does it? There’s a big empty space inside that could hold soil, and anything that can hold soil can become a planting container, so…

Why not upcycle it into a container garden? For herbs, flowers, vegetables—or all three! The choice is yours.

Cleaning Up

The grill is certainly going to need a bit of work first, though. 

Take out all unnecessary parts and give it a thorough cleaning. Photo: leovee6,

Start by gutting it, taking out the grills and other paraphernalia that will be in your way. You might want to remove the lid (it will be of no use to the plants) or you can leave it on to remind you of its origins. 

Next a thorough cleanup will be needed. Go over it with a shop vac to pick up bits and pieces of gunk and rusted metal, scrub it down inside and out with soap and water and give it a good rinse. Do wear protective gloves: it’s going to be a messy job!

You can choose to paint it if you wish. Photo: Jenn Kapus,

You might want to paint it… but then again, you might not. Grunge is in! And a little rust has never really hurt anyone, has it? 


Line it with landscape fabric. Photo:

There’ll probably already be holes in the bottom that will become the drainage holes of your new container, but if not, drill a few. Still, the original holes might be too large and since you won’t want the new garden to be leaking soil, cover the inside, or at least the bottom, with landscape fabric, molding it to the shape of the container. 

Now move it to its permanent home. Once it’s filled with soil, it will be heavy and harder to move, even if it’s on wheels. Do note that most plants like full sun. If you have shade, you’ll just have to be pickier and choose shade-tolerant varieties. 

Now, fill it with potting soil to about 2 inches (5 cm) from the top. Not soil from the garden. Why introduce bugs and slugs from the get-go as well as soil that will likely turn rock hard in weeks? You’ll want something light and airy, maybe labeled container mix or houseplant mix. I like to use a mix that contains mycorrhizal fungi. They really perk up most plants.

What, no drainage layer? Of course not, drainage layers have never been necessary. They just take space away from plant roots.

Add and work in a layer of compost and a few handfuls of slow-release fertilizer. Any kind is fine. Plants can’t read fertilizer labels and if you “feed” them lawn fertilizer or whatever other fertilizer you have on hand, they really won’t care.

Water well, stirring the growing mix with a trowel to moisten it thoroughly until it has the constancy of a wrung-out sponge. You don’t want to leave any pockets of dry soil.

Time to Plant

Fill with your choice of plants. Photo: 1001 Gardens & Landscapes

Yep, just plant it up. You can put in veggies, herbs, flowers or small shrubs. Plant plants or sow seeds. Or both. 

There’s nothing special to add about planting. Dig a hole, drop in a root ball, cover with mix and water. 

As for spacing, you can get away with stuffing more plants into a container than into the ground as long as you water and fertilize in consequence. So, take the plant’s eventual width (which should be on its label) and divide by two. If it’s supposed to reach 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter, give it 6 inches (15 cm) of space. Simple!


Any kind of barbecue will do. Photo: Tara Knighton,

Again, maintenance is pretty basic. Use the finger test to see if the soil is dry. If so, water abundantly. If not, don’t and test again a day or so later. You may need to water more than once a week, depending on the conditions. 

Plants in container gardens lose some of their fertilizer to leaching every time it rains or you water, so about every two weeks, water with the liquid or soluble fertilizer of your choice, following the dose on the label. Again, plants really don’t care which fertilizer you use as long as the minerals are there when they need them.

Pinch, prune, stake and harvest as you see fit: it’s your garden!

At Season’s End

In cold climates, when the frost kills the annual plants (flowers, herbs or veggies), yank them out and compost them. Then replant the following season. Leave any perennials alone. It can get pretty darn cold in an exposed container, so you may lose a few. If so replace them in the spring. 

In mild climates, you might be able to keep things growing throughout the year, replacing spent annuals as they succumb with seasonally adapted ones.

A container garden in an old barbecue grill: a great project to start the gardening season.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “Turn That Old Grill Into a Planter

  1. Margaret


  2. Okay, this is too weird.

  3. Why not? I would have not thought of it, but it seems like a good idea. Thank you.

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