I love modern planters! But at $700-$1500 piece, who can afford such an expensive home for your plants? I decided to try and build my own a few months ago, and thought about where I can obtain cheap metal boxes. Then I saw an old rusty file cabinet sitting around at the goodwill and thought this would be the perfect shape if I just tilt it horizontally! I did some quick googling and of course, other’s have repurposed file cabinets into planters before.
I made some adjustments of my own along the way and now I have two shinny new planters!
Tips for repurposing metal file cabinets into planter boxes:
1. Search Craigslist free section for old file cabinets, before you go pick them up, ask them if the cabinet has a hollow bottom or a solid bottom. Most newer cabinets don’t have a bottom at all! (to save metal maybe) but this is not good for planter boxes. The perfect file cabinet is usually pretty old and has a perfect smooth bottom. There are other file cabinets that have a bottom but its a little raised from the bottom. In that case, you might have to cut a piece of wood and fit it in if you want it to have a perfectly smooth surface.
2. Putting wheels on the bottom: I have my planters on a balcony and I’d like the option of moving them around from time to time. I also wanted to raise it up from the floor so the planters have proper drainage (and does not rot my balcony from collected water). I bought 4 metal wheels from Home Depot (3.99 each) and a pack of nuts and screws. I drilled holes to align the metal wheels and bolted the wheels in from the inside.
3. Proper drainage: I drilled 10-20 holes in the bottom of the cabinet to provide proper drainage for the plants
4. Painting the cabinet: Since the planter will be outdoors, its important to paint the cabinet with rust proof paint. I decided to use Rustoleum spray paint. First, sand off any rust from the cabinet, clean the cabinet, prime the cabinet with Rustoleum primer for metal. I used 1 bottle of primer which did not cover the whole cabinet in white but I just wanted to give it a light priming job. I used 2 bottols of yellow Rustoleum for metal spray paint to finish off the job. NOTE ABOUT RUSTOLEUM SPRAY PAINT: read the directions fully! it says that you can pain the 2nd coat on within 1 hr OR 48 hrs of 1st coat! Do not paint a second coat on between that time or the paint will bubble and peel off (as I found out the hard way!). I have had my plants for a few months now, the paint looks great. We’ll see how it hold up through the rainy season!
5. Filling the file cabinet: If you have a 4 or 5 drawer cabinet, that’s a lot of dirt you have to buy or obtain for your planter. One way to get around that is you can put large rocks at the bottom to take up some volume. (but it makes the planter pretty heavy). Another idea I read about is you can put styrofoam packing peanuts at the bottom. They provide drainage and are safe to use at the bottom of planters. HOWEVER, if you are going the packing peanut rought, make sure you fill the planter at least half way up with peanuts. Once you put the dirt on top of the peanuts, the peanuts will be crushed by the weight of the dirt and only provide you with maybe 1/5 of the volume you originally filled it with.
6. If you don’t want to fill the whole cabinet up with dirt, you can also put some buckets (for height) in the cabinet and simply place some potted plants in the cabinet. You might want to make a “cover veil” for the top and put some nice white rocks or sand so it doesn’t look like you just have pots inside the cabinet.
I’m working on building a smaller and medium version of the cabinet. I’m going to paint it bright Orange!
Update: 4/7/12 After having had these for over 2 years, I have added another red 2 drawer planter to my collection:
After filling it up with packing peanuts and dirt (a lot of dirt) I regret doing that. The dirt has mostly sunk and now fills up only half the planter. I should have just used square planter boxes and elevated them using buckets. Now I use plastic spinach containers you find at Safeway or Whole foods (those prewashed plastic boxes of salads). Punch holes at the bottom and two of them fit snugly into each file slot. I elevate them using a small bucket on top of the sunk dirt.