Recycled Raised Beds

Richard Tullis

Richard Tullis › Richard Tullis is an artist/photographer living with his wife Karen in Portland, Oregon. An amateur ...


Raised garden beds were in our dreams but not in the budget our first gardening summer. Following a winter of ambitious shrubbery planting we came up with an innovative idea that helped us on two fronts: recycling all the large black plastic nursery pots we had left over, and answering our desire for raised planting beds.

Instead of taking the plastic pots to the local recycling drop-off, I cut the bottom off of each pot with my jigsaw. I started by placing the blade in a drainage hole, then simply went from hole to hole, neatly sawing off the bottom of each pot. What was left was a sturdy heat-absorbing black plastic cylinder. It went really fast with a sharp blade and we put the pot bottoms in our curbside recycling bin.

For the next step, once Karen had laid out the garden plan, I dug holes the diameter of each pot and twice as deep in the desired locations. I shoveled the garden soil (beautifully dense Portland clay) into a wheelbarrow where I mixed it with an equal amount of rich organic compost. I also added a scoop of organic fertilizer (we now use Steve Solomon’s recipe for organic fertilizer found in his book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades). I dug the holes tight, so fitting the bottom one-third of each bottomless pot into its hole was simple. Next I filled each hole/pot with my soil mixture. With roughly 2/3 of each pot above ground, full of soil and ready to capture the warmth of the sun, these “raised beds” were ready to plant with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Our first couple of years we used the cone-shaped wire tomato cages with our raised pots. However, because our tomatoes are very happy and enthusiastic about growing huge, those flimsy cages were repeatedly pulled from the ground and/or pushed aside by the plants. I had to get creative with ways to stake up six-foot fruiting plants (hint: broom handles work well). We’ve since upgraded to the sturdier square cages available at better plant nurseries. Rather than going inside the pots they sit just outside. The added diameter of the wire and the cages’ superior construction and design have been well worth the added cost. They last a long time, this will be their fourth season. And an added bonus: they fold flat at the end of the season, making storage a whole lot easier.

Though we’ve since added permanent raised beds to our planting scheme (see separate article), we still rely on our raised pots for our tomato jungle. We refresh the soil each year, and have repositioned a few pots as sun angles have changed with the growth or removal of neighbors’ surrounding trees. A definite benefit of this type of raised bed has been its modularity and adaptability: we own our home, but still have new conditions to factor in each year. Anyone in a similar or more temporary situation might find this method as useful as we have.

– Karen & Richard Tullis

What are some of your favorite recycyling tips for the garden?

Photo Credit: Richard Tullis