The Rocky Bucket

By Kate Riley May 15, 2012

A few weeks ago I was asked by Home Depot to shop their store and come up with a few new ideas for planters (you’ve seen the other two here and here).  I had this idea in my head that I wanted to wrap a metal bucket in river rocks to turn it into a coastal inspired planter with crazy cool texture.  I wasn’t 100% sure the idea would work but it actually did.

Here’s the quick play by play on how I made this rock covered bucket!

diy: rock covered bucket


Basic ingredients for a rock covered bucket: strong (not flimsy!) metal can or bucket that holds its shape when moved (I chose this trash can); 2 sheets 12” x 12” river rock mesh tile; thin set mortar; grout (sanded or nonsanded); putty knife, large sponge.

If you want to make it a planter, punch a few holes in the bottom with a hammer and a thick nail first for drainage.  To adhere the river rocks to the metal bucket, I followed the same basic steps as I did with this mosaic planter, first applying a thick layer of thin set mortar then cutting the mesh tile with a box cutter and layering the tile on the outside of the bucket.

apply thin set to bucket

I found it helped to turn the bucket upside down using the top rim as the base to hold the mesh tile to the bucket and allow the thin set mortar to dry.   You need to work in sections, mixing small amounts of thin set at a time and allowing each section to dry for about an hour, then allowing all of the thin set to dry for a full day.

I was a little skeptical at first (since in most circumstances thin set mortar isn’t designed for metal) but then delightfully surprised just how well the thin set and mesh river rock pebbles clung to the sturdy metal bucket once the thin set was dry.  I’m not convinced this idea would work with thin set if using individual pebbles or small river rocks – in that circumstance I’d choose an epoxy adhesive instead of thin set.  And if you use a flimsy container, the project just won’t work – it definitely needs to be a bucket that holds its shape or you risk cracking mortar and grout.

apply river rock tile to bucket


The next evening I mixed up some grout, added it with a putty knife, then removed excess with a sponge.

mix up grout

wipe off excess grout with sponge


I was nervous about the thin set not clinging to the metal, so I’ve been testing its durability for the last few weeks by moving it around a lot and getting water on it daily,  and it’s all stayed completely intact so I’m feeling confident it will last.

rock covered bucket cg

diy rock covered bucket


It’s a great focal point in the yard that always sparks up a conversation – it would also make a great indoor accent, perhaps for storing bathroom towels or toiletries!

*all supplies for this project courtesy of the Home Depot.



  1. This is great- love this idea. I expect that it should work with a clay pot also. I have to try this.

  2. Love that project. Very unique. Let us know how it holds up by the end of the summer. Hope
    it’s a keeper.

  3. Kate,
    You’ve been coming up with some really creative planters lately. I like this one because it is very organic and natural looking. It also seems fairly easy to do and something that I might even be able to get my son involved with. Thanks for the idea. Lesley

  4. Wow! You are one a roll with all these DIY planters. I’m seriously in love! Like, I honestly want to try making everyone, but I’m literally out of room to put one more planter at my house. Beautiful inspirations!

  5. that is so cool! i don’t know how you come up with awesome idea after awesome idea. really! amazing!

  6. How unique. Love this use of materials and the finished product is so lovely! Is it really heavy?

  7. Kate,

    That turned out really cute! Luckily I have most of the supplies on hand, leftover over from our recent bathroom redo, I just need to purchase a metal pail.

    Your creativity never ceases to amaze me!

    Thanks for sharing,

  8. What a great idea. Looks really nice!

    Was that really a 6-gallon bucket? It doesn’t look that big, but that’s the size that comes up when I click on the link.

    • Hi Patricia (Butter Yum) I think you’re right, it’s the wrong link! It is a trash can though, but probably more like 3 gallons, will have to fix that!

  9. Beautiful planter. a great project for this summer. I have several planters sitting around which are just ugly and this would be perfect to upcycle them.

  10. I love this idea! No wonder Home Depot asked you for inspiration :) You never cease to amaze me with all that you come up with, Kate!

  11. I love how simple yet beautiful this is! I may try this for my bathroom! A great way to bring the outdoor feeling inside : )

  12. I love this idea! I think the planter you made previously would also look great with the river rock. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hi Andrea, I don’t think a paint can would work since they’re not quite as sturdy and can dent, but I wish it would that’s such a great idea!

  13. So pretty Kate..Maybe I can make on after I get out of the hospital..

  14. OK – so I did the bird bath with the jewels and rocks – and it turned out great. I’m letting it cure for 2 weeks cause the tile guy said so. And this is such a great inspiration, I bought a plain cheap metal wastebasket and am using the left over rocks and jewels to cover it for the new bathroom. In your experience, since the thing is only a wastebasket, can I use liquid nails to set the jewels and then use grout to fill in the spaces? It doesn’t have to hold water or flex and I use a plastic liner so I don’t have to lift it. I wish I knew how to upload a picture – I’d send you a picture of the bird bath. It is soooo cool. Thank you so much for sharing all your ideas. They let us riff on our own.

  15. Great Idea!! I want to try this on a clay pot with different kind of rock. The rock bucket would go well with any kind of bush or plant. Your bucket looks beautiful with the plant. The flowers look very pretty

  16. Artsy but practical. A very nice technique to improve the garden scenery without breaking a lot of sweat or robbing the bank. Even kids can definitely do it

  17. I love this post! Took it as inspiration and I am redoing my entire bathroom. I love the tile you used and have searched the Home Depot site and I’m struggling to figure out which one you used. Can you post a link or at least a name? Thanks, and thanks for all the wonderful inspiration!

    • Hi Danielle, I don’t know the name but I found the sheets of river rock mesh tile in the tile department! So sorry, wish I knew the exact name!

  18. I like the Idea, I’m trying to do the same thing but I couldn’t find what is “thin set” in french, I don’t know if it works with the ‘ciment colle’
    By the way, I like your projects your ideas are wonderful.

    • Hi Nassima, just look for whatever adhesive is used in France to adhere or secure tile to walls, that should work!

  19. KATE! Just saw your best of the year and ran across this planter. We just did a feature wall in our guest bath with all white river rock and I have leftover sheets. I CANNOT WAIT to do this! You are such a favorite stop of mine. Thanks for doing all you do. Hoping you’re enjoying the time with the fam. Two of our five boys are grown and married…the other three still at home but in high school. Everyone says your time w/ them flies. It DOES!

  20. Do you know if the thin set will work with a plastic planter? I have 2 (or maybe 4) good size planters that I would love to cover, but they are definitely plastic – good and thick.

    • Hi Kathleen, I’m not convinced thinset works over plastic – I have never done it before and I suspect it won’t adhere but perhaps you can find something online that will give you more information – I don’t think thinset is designed to stick to plastic unfortunately.

    • Thanks so much Kimberly, I left a note on the blog, hopefully she will change the link to reflect the true source, I appreciate that!

  21. Hi Kate, I am decorating my bathroom in a costal theme and have been looking for a container to sit on the floor that would hold dried twigs I have collected on the beach. Do you think this method will work with broken sea shells? FYI I saw this on pinterest contributed to worldingreen. I found your sight through your watermark on the pics. Love your sight.;)

  22. Hi Kate! This is a beautiful planter. I wonder if it will work with tin soup cans? I’m so looking forward to finding out. Thanks for such a wonderful idea!

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