How to make a vintage clawfoot tub planter

Pacific Northwest gardeners are not shy about getting creative with their gardens. One staple of the Pacific Northwest garden is the DIY clawfoot tub planter. But is it really as easy as it seems? Yes! In this DIY, we’ll walk you through how to choose, prepare and turn a vintage clawfoot tub into a garden planter. 

How to choose a tub for a DIY bathtub garden

What is the tub made out of?

The best tub for planting is a vintage cast-iron tub with a porcelain enamel coating. Porcelain enamel is a type of ceramic material made with clay and combined with inert materials. Porcelain enamel is 100% inert, nontoxic, light but strong, non-porous and nonstick. The enamel of a cast-iron tub has been fired in extremely high temperatures, making it a form of highly durable glass. 

How was the tub used before you got it?

Over time, the porcelain enamel of a bathtub can become infused with small amounts of materials used in the bathtub. As long as your tub was used for bathing, it should be harmless and nontoxic. If your tub was used to store chemicals or other toxic materials, do not use it for planting edible foods. 

Has the inside of the tub been painted?

If so, avoid using that tub for planting edible foods. Unless you are 100% sure that any paint is food safe and nontoxic, it’s not worth the risk. Alternatively, you can use a non-porous barrier material to line the tub for planting. 

How to turn a bathtub into a planter

Using food-safe materials, clean your bathtub thoroughly. 

Food-safe dish soaps, a 10% bleach solution, vinegar and lemon and other nontoxic cleaners are a perfect way to clean the tub. 

Attach the feet. 

It’s best if the tub has its feet attached. This allows for airflow and drainage and helps reduce how far down you have to bend to tend your garden.

Find the perfect spot for your tub. 

Determine where you’d like the tub to be. Partial sun, full sun, full shade, easy access to water — all of these growing conditions are important to consider. Once your tub is placed, it will be nearly impossible to move due to the weight of the growing medium. 

Drill drainage holes. 

Drill at least four quarter-inch drainage holes in the bottom of your tub. Ensure the holes are free flowing. If the tub is sitting directly on the ground, drill holes a half-inch from the ground and make space for water to drain. Spread one inch of gravel in the bottom of the tub for clear and easy drainage.  

Fill with growing medium. 

Fill the tub with a soil mix designed for growing in containers. Fill to within two inches of the top to leave for mulching in the coming years. 

Plant the tub! 

Now that your tub is in place, has proper drainage and a suitable growing medium, plant it with this year’s crop. Ensure that your plants have proper space and are well-tended throughout the growing season. Water regularly, as soil in containers dries out faster compared to in-ground soil. Mulch or fertilize regularly to help support your plants during their active growing season.

Clean the tub regularly. 

To best maintain your new favorite garden bed, empty and clean the tub regularly. Removing potting soil every few years will ensure that your plants are nutrient dense. 

Shop our collection of clawfoot tubs in our online store or come by in person to see what we have at The RE Store. Don’t have space for a tub? A cast-iron, enamel-coated sink, or porcelain toilet can be treated the same way. Remember, there’s no one way to garden, so get creative!