File Cabinet Planter Boxes
DIY
May 31, 2023

File Cabinet Planter Boxes

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Patio and deck area showcasing a planter box made from a file cabinet


Have you ever noticed how expensive patio and deck planters are? I’m sharing a budget-friendly project, turning old metal file cabinets into modern design planter boxes. Whether you have a couple taking up space in your garage/basement or pick some up at the thrift store, this upcycle is sure to please.

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File Cabinet Planter Box

We were lucky to inherit a very nice stamped concrete patio at the bottom of our deck when we bought our home. I’ve mentioned before that when we moved in here, we didn’t have anything in terms of outdoor furniture or décor. We’ve slowly added different pieces over the last 4+ years, but larger planters have eluded me. The other struggle with the space is that we live right on a corner and our backyard has a lot of real estate with public sidewalk going by. I don’t mind really, but I definitely don’t want to be on display as we’re trying to sit outside, enjoying time on the patio.

Whether I’m putzing around with my flowers or we’re doing a fire pit, I’ve been wanting a little more privacy for the space. Without digging out ground around the patio, though, to add ornamental grasses or adding a permanent structure like a pergola, my options have been limited.

I think it was last year that I saw someone turn metal file cabinets into modern looking planter boxes. I can’t remember who it was to credit them, but since then, I’ve seen a few others do this as well. Of course, when you don’t need something from the thrift store, items are plentiful, which was the case with file cabinets. I used to see them all the time at the thrift, at garage sales, and even for free on the side of the road! When I started looking for them to do this project, though, the file cabinets seemed to be scarce. As I would find them, they also appeared to have gone up in value because the prices were sky high. Maybe everyone was catching on to their potential as cool patio planters.

I finally got lucky a couple of months ago and found 3, 4-drawer metal file cabinets on Facebook Marketplace for a total of $20. Better yet, I told the guy what I was doing with them and that I didn’t need the drawers—he removed and disposed of them for me! It pays to be chatty with folks.


My first step for turning the file cabinets into modern-design planters was to take them to my mom’s hubby, Ken, to do a little welding work on them. He took some of the crossbars out and re-welded them into different spots. Hindsight…I probably wouldn’t have had him do that again because I don’t think it helped really to reinforce the boxes and he ended up punching a couple holes in the file cabinets with the welder, plus the created some divots on the outside as well. I have tried to not let my OCD run wild with this, as they still look great…and everything outside gets a little weathered anyway. The other thing he did was to cut drainage in the bottom/backside of the cabinets. The file cabinets are pretty big, so plan to make quite a few drainage holes to accommodate for that.

Next up, was figuring out how to fill the file cabinet planters so I could put plants in them. This is another hindsight moment. I wish I would have had an insert of some sort made for the boxes that would operate like a window box almost. This would have been much more manageable to fill with dirt and plant in. I could also have done this and then just plopped potted plants in, but I really wanted to have ornamental grasses, so they could get tall and act as a privacy fence. So, take this as a word of warning…it takes a lot (A LOT) to fill the file cabinets to the point that you will be able to plant in them.

My method, should you choose to follow it, was to fill with different layers of items…mostly to take up space. Before I did any filling, though, I spray painted the outside with textured spray paint and then matte black spray paint. The texture should help the spray paint to stay adhered to the metal better…although there are never any promises on this. I actually think that next year I will go over both boxes with leftover exterior paint from our house…as it’s just about as strong as you can get. Whatever spray paint you use, make sure it rates for outdoors and metal…and includes a primer. I also did a coat of spray poly on the inside, with the hopes of staving off a bit of rust.

file cabinet in a garage painted black


Okay, once the planters were painted, we moved them to the patio. I ended up putting a piece of sturdy
and mulch.

file cabinet on its backside filled with empty planter pots
file cabinet on its backside filled with pool noodles





I did end up taking the pool noodles out of the plastic packaging, I just wanted to see if they were going to fit without cutting…and they did, perfectly!



Again…another learn-from-me moment…

Allow yourself enough time to do this project. I’m always behind the wire, so I rushed through this a little bit and ended up having to do more work than necessary. I got one box all done, planted the flowers, and the next day I went out and the plants had all sunk down about 6 inches. The dirt compacts so much in the box that even if it appears full, it will sink so that you’ll have to put more in. So, I ended up removing the plants, adding more dirt, and replanting. Guess what?? It sunk again…and so did my heart.

I am nothing if not persistent, though. I learned from my mistakes and started working on the other box. I did all the same things, except, I allowed about three days to let the layers of dirt settle, so I could see if I needed to add more. After each layer I added, I wet the dirt down well to help the process along. I finally managed to find the sweet spot and the dirt didn’t settle anymore! Once I felt like I was safe from the dirt compacting, I added about a 5-inch layer of Miracle Gro Potting Mix, the plants, and mulch to top it all off. The mulch will help hold moisture in, especially since it’s an elevated planter.

There really are a lot of options for this project. My friend took the third file cabinet I bought and made a planter box/bench hybrid for her front porch. I love the way it turned out. She had her handyman build a base for the whole thing, added ledges inside to hold her planter pots, and then a couple of pieces of wood on top created little spots to use as a bench. Who knows…maybe I’ll get tired of the look of these in a couple years and decided to do something more like hers! To me, that’s the beauty of an upcycled project. You likely won’t have a lot of money put into it, so you don’t have to feel badly about changing it up every so often.







I think my friend Kellee’s file cabinet turned out so neat as part planter and part bench! It’s always neat for me to see how people can take the same item and turn it into something completely different based on preference and need.



supplies for making a File cabinet planter box

What you’ll need:

-File Cabinets-They come in various sizes, so you should be able to find the perfect ones for your space.

-Spray Paint (for the outside)-I used a combo of textured spray paint (for better adhesion) and matte black spray paint.

-Spray Poly (for the inside)-Hopefully this will help stave off rust.

-Liner Mat for Underneath-Helps protect your surfaces from rust.

-Filler Items-Empty planter pots, pool noodles, cardboard, topsoil, Miracle Gro Potting Mix, plants and flowers, mulch.


directions for making a file cabinet planter box

Directions:

1.  Spray the outside with spray paint

2. Spray the inside with spray poly

3. Start filling! (Allow time for settling)

4. Add plants

5. Top with mulch

planter box made from a file cabinet


This project really is so easy, just a bit time consuming. Once you have the file cabinets, there are lots of options for how you can use them as planters, depending on your needs. I even love the idea of adding a top and just using it as a table for setting plants on. After all my sinking dirt debacles, that seems like a really nice option right about now. As with all projects, we learn as we go! That’s why I’m here…so you can learn from my mistakes and my victories…I have a similar number of both.


If you’re looking for a way to make some big impact in your outdoor space, these file cabinet planter boxes are a great, budget-friendly option! When I have looked online at similar products, the prices on them vary anywhere between $250 upwards of $500! Now, because these are metal, I don’t know what the shelf-life of them will be, but as Jason said, maybe by the time they’re not looking so good anymore, I’ll be ready for something new anyway.

backyard area with a black shed. patio with a file cabinet turned into a planter box
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file cabinet turned into a planter box


If you make a file cabinet planter box, I would love to see it. Post it to your Instagram stories and tag me so I can see! You can find me on Instagram at.

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