How to make a cheap water butt look more attractive - or hide it from view completely

Plastic isn’t so fantastic…

a water butt by a wooden shed in a garden with trellis and plant pots - Milos Ruzicka - GettyImages-1494799426
(Image credit: Getty Images/Milos Ruzicka)

Although the big yellow thing in the sky has made a few appearances this year, there are promises of a very wet summer ahead of us. And while this means that there’s never been a better time to buy a water butt, you might be wondering: How do you make a cheap water butt look more attractive?

Sure, installing a water butt may be easy, but there’s no doubt about the fact that the end result leaves a lot to be desired. Although there are many stylish barrel or metal water butts out there, these aesthetically pleasing options normally come with a very hefty price tag. And when your aim is to use a water butt to save money on your water bill, you don’t want to go spending hundreds on the water butt itself.

Thankfully, you don’t have to. If you’re looking to buy a cheap water butt - or you already have one that looks like an eyesore in the garden - there are many ways to make a cheap water butt look good.

How to make a cheap water butt look more attractive

‘Cheap water butts are effective in collecting water but aren't necessarily the most attractive things to look at, and they often don't sit very nicely in a garden,’ explains John Clifford, garden expert at Gardenstone. So, here are six ways to transform your water butt - no matter whether you want to make it look more attractive or hide it from view completely.

John Clifford
John Clifford

John Clifford is a director of Gardenstone, a leading garden landscaping retailer based in the UK. With over 30 years in the gardening industry and continual work alongside The National Trust, John has amassed an extensive range of gardening and planting knowledge. Alongside his younger son, John has built a strong reputation for Gardenstone as a trusted source for both high-quality garden products and expert gardening advice. 

Water butt

(Image credit: Crocus)

1. Paint it

There are so many paint ideas for inside the home, but what about outside? Although it’s a little unorthodox, painting your water butt is one of the easiest - and cheapest - ways to make it look more attractive. It can also make it look more expensive, too.

You can tailor your colour palette and your design to your own tastes, but John suggests, ‘Choose a paint colour that complements the surrounding area in your garden.’

It’s also important to note that most of the cheap water butts available on the market are round and plastic - and, sadly, round and plastic things aren’t typically designed to be painted.

Because of this, we advise sanding the water butt before using an acrylic paint (or spray paint), to give the paint a rough surface to stick to. If you can, finish with sealant to stop the paint from cracking or flaking off with the weather changes.

Just be warned that it may only last a year or so, but that just gives you the option to change up the colour scheme next year!

Water butts with plants in the garden

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

2. Hide with planters

If you love a container garden as much as we do (which is a lot), you've probably put a lot of thought into arranging pots in your garden. But have you ever considered hiding your water butt with these planters?

Morris Hankinson, Director of Hopes Grove Nurseries, explains, ‘Standing colourful plants around the base of a water butt may be enough to distract from the look of the water butt. Choosing brightly coloured pots and flowering plants will look attractive and hide an unsightly water butt from vision.’

Thankfully, there are no rules or guidelines when it comes to hiding a water butt with planters. You can keep things simple and choose a couple of well-thought-out plants and pots, or go wild and turn the whole area into a planter paradise.

Keep practicality in mind, though. Morris adds, ‘Don’t forget to make sure you can easily access the water butt from the top and also the tap at the bottom.’

Morris Hankinson of Hopes Grove Nurseries
Morris Hankinson

Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants. He established the thriving business in 1992, shortly after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex.

Water butt in the garden with a garden fork next to it

(Image credit: Future PLC/Neil Seligman)

3. Turn it into a wildlife haven

It can be a plastic overload when you have a plastic water butt topped with a plastic lid and then attached to plastic drainpipes. This can make the corner of your garden look incredibly cheap and soulless - but @the_gardenerben suggests turning your water butt into a wildlife haven instead.

In a TikTok video, he urges gardeners to consider growing plants inside of their water butt as a way to add visual intrigue and encourage more wildlife into the garden.

He says, ‘Your water butt doesn’t have to be dull, ugly and void of life. Try installing your water butt tap around 15 inches from the bottom of the barrel, and then add a water lily, an air lily or even some bearded irises.’

‘You’ll be surprised by just how quickly wildlife will move in, creating a beautiful and useful space to encourage wildlife into your garden.’

As these plants have a constant supply of water, they’re also extremely low-maintenance plants, too.

garden area with water butt and flower plants

(Image credit: B&Q)

4. Box it in

If you want to hide your water butt, you might want to take a leaf out of the wheelie bin’s book. There are so many amazing wheelie bin storage ideas out there, and most of them involve boxing them in to shield them from view. The same can be done with water butts.

John explains, ‘Build or buy a wooden box to cover the water butt completely. This will make it look less like a water butt without damaging how it works. It'll hide the plastic material, and you can even add climbing plants to grow around the box.’

Of course, how you do this totally depends on your needs, your DIY prowess, and your budget. If you have leftover wood or even a spare pallet in the shed, you could use these to fashion your own creation. But if you’d rather buy something, opt for trellis panels or other privacy screens.

a water butt by a wooden shed in a garden with trellis and plant pots - Milos Ruzicka - GettyImages-1494799426

(Image credit: Getty Images/Milos Ruzicka)

5. Decorate with climbers

There’s a reason why people use climbing plants for privacy on a patio, and that’s because they offer beauty and practicality at the same time. This is something you can use to your advantage when you want to make a cheap water butt look more attractive, too.

‘If you have space, putting some trellis around the water butt and growing climbers up the trellis, such as clematis or roses, will completely hide the water butt and be a wonderful addition to your garden. There’s always room for more plants!’ explains Morris

And while this can be extremely effective, John has issued a warning to those looking to decorate their water butt with climbing plants. He says, ‘I wouldn't recommend growing plants directly up a water butt, as it could interfere with the system.’

Instead, use a frame or trellis—especially since you won’t have to worry about planting these in the ground, either. There are so many stunning climbing plants for pots that can form part of your container garden.

A rain barrel in a modern garden

(Image credit: Getty)

6. Move it out of sight

Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, if you really don’t like the look of your cheap water butt, moving it out of sight could be the best option for you.

John says, ‘Place it out of sight. If possible, position the water butt in a more discreet location. Although this is hard if your water butt collects water from your home drainpipe system, try and opt for an area that's away from any seating or dining locations outdoors.’

You could even add guttering to your shed and hide your water butt behind it so it’s well and truly out of the way.


How to get free water barrels in the UK?

To become more eco-friendly and help households cut down on bills, some local councils and water companies are offering free or subsidised water butts. It’s best to check with your local council or water supplier if this is offered.

Can you use stagnant water to water plants?

Although you can technically use stagnant water to water plants, it’s not recommended due to the build-up of microbes and algae. Plants will thrive on clean, well-oxygenated plants, so aim to use this at all times.

To prevent your rainwater from stagnating, leave the lid open slightly so that the water can breathe. By doing this, you should be able to use the rainwater from your water butt indefinitely.

So, will you be making your cheap water butt look more attractive this weekend?

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.