18+ Things Garden Centers Should Always Buy At The Thrift Store


Garden centers can save a few bucks, add extra charm and do right by the environment by buying things to use, for day-to-day operations, from thrift stores or yard sales. I totally get that doing this bargain shopping comes at a cost, your time, as it's not always the fastest way to attain any one product. I do swear that if you apply yourself somewhat consistently, you'll be surprised at how easy it can be:


  1. Aquarium Gravel--You need all the aquarium gravel you can find for top dressing small planters, terrarium workshops, fairy gardens and for adding a few tablespoons to the bottom of a funky vintage ash tray or planter and adding a few Tillandsia
    White aquarium gravel at its finest
  2. Cake Domes And Risers (and cheese domes)-- Add instant oh-la-la to indoor displays. What can you display under a glass cake dome? You can make the whole dang thing into a terrarium. Or merchandise miniature plants, tiny terrariums, any gardeny jewelry you sell, Christmas ornaments or ...an actual cake to share. Which will be a hit, I am sure.
  3. Coloring Books And Crayons-- Set them out for the kids, while their parents shop, and parents will weep with gratitude and probably remember you in their wills.
  4. Glass Containers With Lids-- Apothecary jars, candy bowls, coffee carafes, baby food jars and even regular canning jars all make great terrariums. You can easily host a terrarium class with a cost of under $10 a person if you check the thrift shops and garage sales first. (Check back for supplies at #1 and #12)
  5. Hanging Shoe Organizers--Fabric or fabric/clear vinyl shoe storage organizers are great for organizing plant tags, seed packets, infographic hand-outs or you can jam plants in them and you POOOOF have a vertical garden.
  6. Ladders-- Regular size and step-stool height ladders are great for merchandising, as well as for hanging/taking down 400000 hanging baskets. You can simply set things on the rungs or use shelves across 1 or 2 ladders. The old flat kind (not A-frame) can be hung from the ceiling and used to hang other stuff from (admittedly that's a lot of hanging). Small step-stool type ladders can have the treads drilled through and jewelry can be hung from them.The older and paint drippier they are, the better.
  7. Metal File Boxes And Old Cash Boxes--Old metal file boxes can be used to keep handouts, catalogs, seed back stock, signage and rolls of price stickers, maybe not waterproof but darn close. Of course you can use larger (and smaller!) file cabinets as planters, too. Old cash boxes are great for popup events (farmers markets and craft fairs) and in-store lemonade/pop corn stands during events (using them as actual cash boxes). They are also great for storing smaller promotional supplies (like punch cards, plant tags, pens, stickers or pins), first-aid kits, sewing supplies, as well as storing insect repellants and sun blocks. 
  8. Old Garden Tools--In winter, I throw a handful of painted shovels, rakes and hoes into a large decorative container and I'm done decorating. It actually looks terrific. Old tools can be painted, glittered, gold-plated, beribboned or decoupaged and be used as sign hangers, vertical accents or path markers. Why not?
  9. Ornaments and Ribbons--Stockpile all the holiday glam you can and host wreath making or simply wreath decorating classes. Wire on ornaments, ribbon, bows, old lights... whatever. (see #18)
  10. Percolator And Mugs--Coffee, cider or tea? Cocoa? Mulled wine? Hot chai lattes? Be ready for a crowd by snatching up all the good-as-new percolators out there for just a few bucks. And why not make the extra commitment to the environment and buy second hand mugs for serving, too. *Bonus- percolators make great planters (and so do mugs)
  11. Picture Frames--You can use them as succulent planters, accents and photo opportunities. I'm not going to elaborate,  just look!
  12. Plastic Dinosaurs--Plastic dinosaurs can be hidden throughout the garden center, then tell younger visitors to count how many they can find. They look super realistic (ahem) and at home amongst Hostas and ferns. Mini dinos (and other tiny toys) make great features in terrariums, too. 
  13. Raincoats and Umbrellas-- When it rains, it pours and your customers or staff may be caught off guard. Keeping extra raincoats, ponchos and umbrellas that cost little or nothing is a great way to go an extra mile for your customers, so that they can get to their car while staying relatively dry or continuing to shop in the rain. They won't ever forget it (and if you let them take the rain coat home, there's always the chance that they will endeavor to return the rain coat, then they get to shop AGAIN!).
  14. Shopping Bags (the fabric kind)-- fabric grocery bags/tote bags make excellent planters for vegetable when they outgrow their tiny cell-pack prisons, as well as a good thing to have around for actually, uh, shopping bag purposes. Pop for some personalized shopping bags for your garden center and let customers know they just scored a FREEEE grow bag. 
  15. Sleds-- Use the saucer or 3-kid shaped plastic winter sleds as drip trays for realllllly big plants, tropicals or trees/shrubs. They have the added benefit of being more transportable when sitting on top of a sled, too. Sleds are easy to come by all summer, virtually no chance of finding them in the winter. It's actually in the Constitution that every yard sale must sell at least one sled. That's true. 
  16. Vintage Planters-- Please check out #vintageplanters on Instagram to truly see what can be done with these super cheap, vintage beauties. They have a history and sometimes a story, they deserve to be reused and have new life and to be kept out of a landfill. 
  17. Watering Cans--It's good to always have a flock of watering cans, filled and at the ready, just in case something looks dry and needs instant relief. But what if you give little kids a watering can when they arrive, with as much water as they can carry, and tell them they need to water stuff and that's their job? I love nothing more than watching little kids struggle with watering cans. 
  18. Wreath Forms--Whether they are the flat metal kind or old, dusty grapevine wreaths, snatch them up and wire them up with leftover greens in November. It's amazing how fast they come together with just scraps. (then see #9)

That's my list! I encourage you to not pass any of this stuff up (because you just never know...) and when I see you at the thrift store, HIGH FIVE!