Published 3 July 2016 ● Last Updated on 1 October 2020

An easy tutorial turn old cigar boxes (or any other wooden box) into a desktop garden for succulents / cactus. Jazz up your coffee table or use the idea for a housewarming gift!The backstory

It all started with a deal I couldn’t pass up. I’m on a Facebook group to buy and sell pre-loved stuff, and a lady posted pictures of these gorgeous hand-made Cuban cigar boxes, all going for a steal. Turns out her artist husband had collected one-too-many to fashion a hand-made guitar for himself (I know, wow!) and now that he was done, the remains were up for the taking.

So of course, I showed up at her door step with eyes wide open that very afternoon. I meant to pick a couple, but on impulse picked up, erm, six. My excuse to myself – that I would upcycle a few, and rest could be used as gift boxes. Fantastic brainwave, no?


When a friend was turning 40, I thought to fill up the box with man-goodies … think cool-looking shaving balms like this one, till his wife asked me if I expected him to open a Cuban cigar box and find no cigars and be happy with beautifully-lettered pomade. Touche.

Anyway, so I have lots of boxes. But I have no regrets – coz I also have some better ideas than gift boxes for men!

The cactus box

If you are suffering fatigue from artfully arranged coffee table books and aromatic oil lamps on mantelpieces, this idea is exceptionally appealing. It is the perfect antitheses to the tasteful 3-element displays that line up way too many tables nowadays.

An added advantage – it is notoriously hard to kill cacti 🙂

Here’s what you will need:

  • A Cuban cigar box. Or at least a wooden box. Daiso / dollar stores sell them cheap if you don’t have anything at home
  • Soil
  • A few succulents / cactus plants
  • A plastic bag (alternately – waterproofing know-how)
  • Décor pieces – such as pebbles (optional)
  • Wood oil (if your box is old and dry)

Step 1: Restore the box to health. First, inspect the wood. Clean it with a damp cloth. If the texture is looking too dried-out (mine was), oil it as well. I used Pledge’s furniture oil and could immediately sense the wood drinking up the moisture. Keep in mind that the color of the wood will change to a warmer, richer hue with oil, but that’s a good thing and will make your box last longer!

Use an old lint-free cloth to oil the wooden box
Use an old lint-free cloth to oil the wooden box

Step 2: Waterproof the box. I suppose I could have drilled a hole and used a waterproof sealant. But I am a novice with the drill, have a distaste for aerosols, and didn’t want to tamper with the glorious old wood. So I decided to create a waterproofing layer by simply using a plastic bag. I suggest reusing the transparent plastic that mail sometimes comes wrapped in. You can recycle it whenever you redo the planter.

Step 3: Add the soil. Ideally, you need to pick up succulent potting soil. But the plants I bought came in their own bed of soil and I simply filled up with horticultural soil lying around the house.

Waterproof the cogar box with eth use of a plastic bag
Cut the plastic bag to size only after you have completed the transplantation

Step 4: Add your cacti / succulents. If, unlike me, you are a green-thumbed type of person, try your hand with cuttings (but don’t ask me for directions ☺) and drop in a comment on how that goes!

Or like me, you could simply purchase some plants as they’re so easily available at shops ranging from nurseries to Ikea. I picked mine along with groceries at Cold Storage.

Be careful when transplanting the succulents – as I found out to my tragic surprise that they are rather delicate despite hardy looks – especially the strangely named “hens and chicks”. (They’re the un-thorned juicy-leafed plants in my planter.) Gently grasp the plants from the bottom when you’re moving them into the “well” you create in the cigar box soil.

Once the plants are set in place, trim away the edges of the plastic lining so it is no longer visible.

Step 5: Decorate! Gravel, pine cones, dry flowers, white pebbles, potporrie you’ve been wanting to get rid of… anything will do. I was trying some fancy decor but finally settled on a simple gravel mix. My cigar box has a beautiful inlay – the brightly coloured lady logo – so I toned down the colours of my decorative stones. But go ahead with whatever you imagine, you won’t know what works till you try!

Step 6: Get rid of the coffee table books and scented candles, your planter is ready for center-stage!

An easy tutorial turn old cigar boxes (or any other wooden box) into a desktop garden for succulents / cactus. Jazz up your coffee table or use the idea for a housewarming gift!Tips on caring for your planter:

  • Do not over-water! Succulents / cacti need minimal watering, so just spray them when the soil runs dry.
  • Succulents love the sun, but your wooden box won’t! Best to keep this planter indoors in a well-lit area.

Bonus Makeover!

Repurpose old cigar boxes into ring holders. Perfectly paired for vintage jewelry!If you follow Secondsguru regularly, you probably know my predilection to turn jewelry holders out of everything – glass bottles, old photoframes, even dictionaries! But you can’t blame me for this one. The cigar box, with its warm colors, practically begs to be a ring-bearer, and is the best-suited amongst all my other attempts to hold my faux-vintage collection!

The makeover is so easy (and gorgeous) that the result has already replaced all my other teeny-tiny boxes of rings. You will ideally need a shallow cigar box for this. Here’s how you can replicate it:

Step 1: As in case of the desktop garden, check the wood – clean it, and if it is too dried-out, oil it as well.

Step 2: You will need thick paper to make the rolls. I used bright scrapbook paper I had lying around the house. But thick magazine paper [not the thin pages] will also serve well. Just cut paper to the correct width and roll up. Secure with tape on the sides.Here's how you can repurpose old cigar boxes into ring holders.

Step 3: Take a piece of cardboard (I used an old greeting card) and cut to the size of the inside of the cigar box. Use a liberal coat of PVA craft glue to stick all the rolls on top. Wait till it is completely dry before fitting it inside the box.

Step 4: Add rings!






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