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Tricks to Fill a Large Planter

This post shares a variety of items, tips and tricks to fill a large planter or pot, other than dirt!

If you know me, you know I love a planter filled to the brim with seasonal colors. I have a variety of planters in just about every size on the stairs to and from our home and right outside our screen porch. I collect container garden ‘recipes’ just as I do food recipes. Pop over here to see all my Container Garden Recipes in one place.

With all these pots comes a whole bunch of soil…right?


A plants on steps

You can easily fill a large planter with an assortment of items that would normally find their way into your trashcan or recycling bin, saving you money…and your back.

Before You Start Filling Your Planter, Ask Yourself a Few Questions:

  1. Do I need to move this planter?
  2. Will I want to hang this planter?
  3. Is it a lightweight planter, like this one?
  4. Will this planter blow over without weight at the bottom?

If the answer to questions #1 or #2 is ‘yes’, then you’ll want to consider filling your planter with lighter-weight items. If question #3 or #4 is answered in the affirmative, then you’ll want to add heavier items to the bottom of your planter.

Two containers with red grass.

Two Layers to Your Planters

  • Layer One will be the top layer of soil that your plants will be growing in and you want to make sure you have enough good, rich soil for them to thrive.
    • Most annuals will have a shallow root system (think vinca/periwinkle, impatiens, begonia, coleus, creeping jenny, verbena), as do lettuces and some herbs, like oregano, thyme lavender, chives, and basil. Make sure these plants have about 6-8″ of soil.
    • For deeper rooted plants like tomatoes, basil, parsley, black-eyed Susans, and purple coneflower ensure that you have at least 12-18″ of soil.
    • Do a little research to determine how much soil your plant needs, and therefore, how much of the pot you can fill with non-soil.
  • Layer Two will be your bottom layer. It will have an assortment of the items listed below.
    • Once you determine how deep you need your soil to be in layer one, fill the bottom of the planter up to that point. For instance, If you have a 2-foot-deep pot and are planting tomatoes (which need about 12-18″), fill about 6-12″ inches of the bottom of the pot with filler items.
    • If you have space between your items, consider filling in the remaining space of layer one with old soil, bunched-up pantyhose, or packing peanuts (the kind that don’t dissolve). Alternately, you can lay a layer of landscape fabric or other permeable fabric over layer two to prevent the soil from layer one from settling into it. Don’t use plastic bags or sheeting as those won’t allow water to run through.


Regardless of what you put in your pot to fill the space, make sure that there are drainage holes in the pot that holds your plant so that water doesn’t accumulate. You may have a pot within a pot for decoration purposes, but again, ensure that the pot actually holding the plant and its dirt has drainage holes.

AND…if you will be potting a plant that likes its soil more on the dry side, don’t use anything but rocks or sand to fill the bottom. These other items do slightly impede the water drainage.

Lemon trees in pots

Tricks to Fill a Large Planter with Lightweight Items

The good GREAT news is that these items will cost you nothing and will keep a few things out of the landfill or recycling center. When I am getting ready to plant a new planter, I go through my recycling bin and pull out items, like those listed below.

  • Plastic water bottles and soda bottles with lids (don’t want the water to get in the bottles and stagnate)
  • Plastic milk jugs with lids
  • Plastic sour cream or yogurt container, with lids
  • Any other plastic container with a lid
  • Crushed aluminum cans (crushed so that they don’t collect water)
  • Plastic plant pots (with holes) turned upside down
  • Packing peanuts that don’t dissolve in water (grab a few and run them under water…you’ll quickly know if they dissolve or not). Consider accumulating them in a bag so that they don’t get everywhere when you need to repot. If you use a plastic bag, put the bag in your pot so that the bag opening is facing down or has a few small holes poked in it so that it doesn’t fill with water.
  • Styrofoam (the same admonition as with packing peanuts, put them in a plastic bag)
  • Broken ceramic and terra cotta pot pieces
  • Pool noodles, cut to fit

I know it looks like I’m just dumping trash in my pots, which I kind of am doing. 🤷‍♀️ But, just think of all the 💲 I’m saving on soil! 😉

Using filling in a a pot

Heavy Items You Can Use to Fill Up Space in a Planter or Container

  • Bricks
  • Rocks, pebbles, gravel
  • Cinder blocks

This is my porch vegetable and herb ‘garden’. I have a tomato, fennel, a pepper, and the last of some dill growing in a large aluminum ‘planter’. I really don’t know what this ‘planter’ is, my husband went to a restaurant supply auction several years ago and brought it home for me.

It makes a unique and good-sized planter, measuring 15″ deep and wide and 25″ long. We drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. (*p.s. If you do know what this ‘planter’ is, please let me know. It looks like an industrial-sized mixing bowl, but the back of it is flat! I’ve never seen a flat-sided mixing bowl, so we are flummoxed!)

A large tub growing plants.

I wanted to give the tomato as much soil as possible, so I filled the back with good-quality soil, compost, and ground-up eggshells. But I used broken terra-cotta pot pieces at the front, where the dill and fennel are to reduce the amount of soil I needed there.

What Not To Use to Fill a Planter

  • Metal as it will rust and fall apart, causing air pockets in your soil
  • The same is true for any organic matter, like logs, wood, paper, wood chips, cardboard, etc. They may be fine for the short term, but over time they will decompose, you will get air pockets that can damage the roots and the plant will start sinking. No Bueno. 😔
  • Sheets of plastic, bubble wrap, etc…

Bookmark this page or pin the following image to refer back to this post sharing items, tips, and tricks to fill a large planter.

A pink flower is standing in front of a sign

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  1. Hi-
    What is the plant to the right in front of your mixing bowl planter?
    I have these all over my flower beds and I pull them out because I don’t know what they are.
    Do they have flowers?

    1. Hi Joy,

      That’s a Greek Myrtle. They do get flowers, but I’ve succeeded in killing two of them in the span of one year! I’ve been trying to grown them as a topiary, but I think they are sensitive to too much or too little water. I haven’t given up yet though!

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