Skip to Content

How to Use an Upcycled Tin Can to Pot a Cactus

There is this empty tin can sitting at home in perfect condition. I got it as a Christmas gift from my co-worker.

It contained cocoa powder packed in a foil bag.

Needless to say, the cocoa powder has been consumed and enjoyed by me, and all I have left is this container.

How to Use an Upcycled Tin Can to Pot a Cactus

Using tin cans can give an arrangement a vintage look and feel. This look may not be for everyone, but I find it cute and quirky. I have seen pictures of succulents in empty soda cans, or empty canned goods, etc. and I thought this would be a good project to try.

Coincidentally, my son’s elementary school is having a green project this month for Earth Day. The project consists of finding any old item in the house and reusing it for something else. I thought this would be a good way for me to show my son how I recycled this container and to inspire him to think of something creative for his school project.

Besides, I really do hate throwing things out, especially gifts from dear friends and family. This was a gift from a coworker who was very kind to me and I loved working with. I no longer work with her and this is a good way to commemorate good memories I had while working with this person and the friendship we formed.  

Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus

Materials I used:

Recycled tin can


Small spade

Rocks or pebbles

Cactus potting mix



Potential Problems with using Tin Cans

First, I had to think of a plant to put in it. Tin can is made of thin metal materials. Metal is a good conductor of heat and can absorb heat easily. This can be problematic for plants if left in full sun for too long. The plant can suffer from sunburn, or worse, the roots can dry up and fry if the container gets too hot. Ideally, you want a porous material for succulents to get good air circulation and allow the roots to breathe better.

Another potential problem with using tin cans is rust. Metal is prone to rust. An application of a weather-resistant sealant should help prevent this problem. With all this said, I am aware of the potential problems this container can bring but I am confident I can pull this off. Besides, I can always pull the plant out if it begins to show signs of stress, or move it to a more suitable location.

The plant I chose is a mammillaria cactus that has been growing in a huge fairy garden planter I planted about 3 years ago. The planter was in need of an upkeep. It had become overgrown and some of the plants needed to be pulled out and repotted elsewhere. This Mammillaria Krameri was in need of more sunlight. The Crassula Tetragona (Mini Pine Trees) were quickly growing and blocking the sun. I was also afraid of overwatering this cactus in this planter. I would feel more confident with it being in its own pot. That way I can adjust the light and water it receives whenever needed easily. To see where this cactus was originally planted, please click on “Revamping an Overgrown Succulent Fairy Garden“.

Cactus to plant in an upcycled tin can

This is what I did to make this work:

What you want to do is to make sure the can is clean and dry. When using metal, you can apply a weather-resistant sealant to help prevent rust. I opted not to do this even though I have a sealant sitting at home. The reason is this tin container I am using appears to have been treated with a glazed material and might not need a sealant for now.

Next I punched a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Then I added some rocks in the bottom. The purpose of this is to prevent the roots from sitting in wet soil too long, causing root rot. 

The rocks in the bottom can help with drainage and aeration, as rocks are less compact than soil.

How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus
How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus

I used a cactus potting mix and perlite combined together. Perlite will make the soil more porous which is better for the cactus’ roots.

How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus

To get the cactus out, I carefully dug around it with a small garden spade making sure to get as much of the roots as possible. I put my gloves on and carefully pulled the cactus out once it was loose enough. The cactus appears slightly etiolated or stretched out but healthy for the most part. The roots appear healthy too. Since I saw some white mold forming on the surface of the soil, I cleaned out the soil and sprinkled cinnamon powder on the roots for good measure. 

I first heard about cinnamon powder from a Succulent Group I belong in. Cinnamon powder is a known antifungal agent and has been used as a natural rooting hormone.

How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus
How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus

Before planting, I always check to see how much soil I need to add by placing the plant inside. Pack the soil tightly around the walls of the container and leave room in the middle for where the plant will go. This way you decrease your chances of being pricked by the thorns when adding more soil in. 

How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus

Place the cactus in the middle and pack the soil gently around it and fill in any open spaces. I added a few more sprinkles of perlite on top instead of a topsoil because I want the soil to be as porous as possible. I will keep this plant dry, let it settle in its new home and avoid watering for a couple of days. I will be keeping an eye on it every now and then just to see how it is doing in its new home. I pay closer attention to my newly transplanted plants just to see how they are doing in their new containers and check for any signs of stress.

How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus

Caring for Mammillaria Cactus

Mammillaria is one of the largest genus in the cactus family. It has also become one of the most popular cacti due to their ease in care and propagation. Some mammillarias have fine, hairy spines, and some have sharper, thicker spines. Other types can have no spines at all.

Here is my newly transplanted mammillaria cactus in an upcycled tin can. This is a Mammillaria Krameri. It has knobs protruding out of its body with curved, sharp spines.

During winter months, avoid watering and keep the plant as dry as possible. Water minimally just to prevent the plant from drying out completely. Starting springtime, increase watering as the plant’s growing season starts. Water about once every two weeks in springtime, or when the soil feels dry.

In the summer months, water once a week, even more during extremely hot days or heat waves. Decrease watering again as fall starts and winter approaches.

How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus

Just as with other cacti, you need a well draining potting mix. You can fertilize during the active growing season, refrain from fertilizing during winter and fall. Fertilizing is not necessary, especially when the potting mix is fresh. The plant can take full sun but may suffer from sunburn when exposed to extreme afternoon heat.

To encourage flowering, allow the plant to go through a dormant winter period. Keep the plant dry during this time and only water to prevent to plant from completely drying out.

How To Use Upcycled Tin Can To Pot a Cactus