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Exterior Update: Creating Instant Rusted Patina

I bought a brand new Corten Steel planter for the front of my house. It is the kind of metal that slowly oxidizes over time. I didn’t want to wait for that to happen and gave it a DIY rust accelerating treatment which created a beautiful rusted patina in a few hours.

In my previous home, I used to remove rust from exterior metal as it didn’t go with my suburban, classic brick center-hall colonial home.

When we moved to Lake Murray on a lakefront lot with towering pines all around us, I started seeking more natural finishes as they go with the house and natural setting.

Verdek Corten Steel Tall Planter before rusting process.

We are not ready for any major updates to the exterior, but have been doing smaller, budget friendly, DIY projects to update the facade and bring out the modern vibe of the house and roof line.

Over the last two years, we have removed a lot of shrubs, painted all the exterior doors to look like stained wood grain, had the previous green color of the house painted using Glidden Exterior Primer and Paint in the color Khaki Beige, and added a stained wood slat wall to the front.

These updates have made a huge difference, but I still have 3 small items to add to the front.

One is a tall modern planter for the far side of the garage door. The area needed something to balance the rust brown color on the house.

Tall modern black Corten steel planter after a week of being outside. Fake boxwood in planter.

When searching for a modern-style planter online, I found this one and ordered it. It was a little pricy, but I went for it since it was a perfect fit that will last a very long time. It is a Veradek Metallic Series Pedestal Corten Steel Pot Planter.

I also knew I do not have a green thumb and bought a fake boxwood to go in it. The metal planter is insulated and does have drainage so if I ever do plant something real in it, it will be ready.

What is Corten Steel?

COR-TEN® resists the corrosive effects of all seasons of weather by forming a coating of dark brown oxidation over the metal, which inhibits deeper penetration and negates the need for painting and costly rust-prevention maintenance over the years. In simple terms the steel is allowed to rust and that rust forms a protective coating that slows the rate of future corrosion.

Verdek Corten Steel planters are shipped in their raw steel state, gradually developing a rich rust patina finish over time. Mine started to oxidize after only a few days, but I couldn’t wait and sped-up the process.

How Long Does Corten Steel Take to Rust?

A corten steel tall planter in a driveway
Size: 30″ H x 13.5″ W x 13.5″ D Size

It only took a few hours for the steel to start taking on a rusted patina after I began spraying coats of a DIY rust accelerating mixture to the metal.

Veradek Metal planter being aged to a rusted patina.
Corten Steel rusting process.

I made the mixture following the directions from Veradek (video below) and sprayed it onto the metal surface every hour until I liked the look.

Fake boxwood globe in Veradek Corten steel planter.

At first the color was bright orange, but with each added coat of the rust accelerating mixture, the color got darker. :-)

This finish lasts indefinitely. Corten, if left alone, will take 2-4 years to reach its peak patina and then should remain in that state with very little change.

Here are the links to each item:

How to Patina Steel with Vinegar, Hydrogen Peroxide and Salt

First coat of rust accelerator on surface of metal planter

The fast and DIY way to rust metal on purpose is to make a mixture in a spray bottle of white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and salt.

First coat of rust accelerator being applied with a spray bottle on surface of metal planter.

Spray the mixture onto the metal surface several times, letting it dry between coats and your metal will take on a rusty patina almost instantly.

Rusted Corten Steel tall planter with boxwood placed on a driveway next to a garage door.

This color was after I applied 4 coats.

Veradek Corten steel planter getting a rust accelerator treatment.

In total, I applied 6 coats to get the deep rich brown and rusty colors.

Can I Seal Corten Steel?

You can seal rusted metal to prevent further corrosion and sealing will also prevent rust stains from getting on other surfaces around it or your hands.

Corten steel can be sealed with polyurethane or a product called Everbrite, for a more durable finish . The finish will be darker after applying than dry rust, but similar to rust sprayed with water or oil.

Rusted finish on a planter. How long does Corten steel take to rust? 2 days if you use a rust accelerating process.

How to Remove Rust Stains From Concrete

I initially placed the planter in the yard, so the run-off would not get on the driveway. Once I finish rusting it, I moved it to the side of the garage and some rust did transfer to the concrete. In the directions, it did state this could happen. To remove it, here is what I did:

Pour white vinegar (or lemon juice for hard to remove stains) on the stains. Let it sit for several minutes before scrubbing it with a wire brush. Rinse away the rust with some cold water and repeat for difficult stains.

Large artificial boxwood for tall modern outdoor planter

I love how the rusted finish came out. I am also very happy with how real the boxwood looks.

Shop this Look graphic to show readers where to get the products I used.

It is getting too cold to do anymore of my planned smaller outdoor projects this year, but I did finish the 2nd one last week. I will share that with you soon.

My 3rd outdoor DIY project will have to wait until spring.

metal planter with rusted finish photo.

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16 Comments

  1. This is lovely! We have a corten steel lined circle in our garden and I would like to use this method. However I’m worried about staining. Could I dab the liquid on with a damp cloth instead of spraying it?

  2. Another great Idea that I’m looking forward to duplicating!

    Did you get the boxwood from Wayfair as well? The ‘fake boxwood’ link takes me to the planter.

  3. I just love the way your creative, innovative mind operates! Great job on aging the new planter AND for getting a faux boxwood bush to put into it! The whole look of your home is really very wonderful!

  4. I love Corten and that seems like a reasonable price as i have seen things that were a lot more $$. Does this rust making formula work on ALL steel or just Corten? Will regular steel continue to rust til it disintegrates? I have seen it used in other exterior applications ( garden walls etc) but understood it was $$$$$$$$$$$$$.

  5. Diane…you continue to inspire me with your gift of creativity. You are so blessed with with such a talent to see things and repurpose or design them to your liking.

  6. I love your planter. I have similar copper finished ones from Grandin Road that I love. I also use faux boxwood topiaries in them as I know nothing would last in the Idaho summer heat. They are now under cover at our new home but sat out in the elements when we lived in WA state. The topiaries faded in the sun there so before moving I got 2 different spray paints in lime green and a darker green. I started with the darker and gave a light coat. Then I highlighted with the lime green. Looks realistic and hasn’t shown any signs of flaking nor fading since they are now under cover in our entryway.

    1. Hi Missy – Copper finish, I bet that weathers to a very nice patina.

      I had thought about using spray paint on the boxwood when it fades. Thank you for telling me you had success with it! Love hearing from other DIY’ers about how they used their skills to fix something. YAY!

  7. Beautiful planter Diane and I had no idea something you could “rust” yourself was available. As an avid gardener I’m not a fan of the artificial plants outside, however, I understand you not wanting to spend money on something that might not live. I hope the artificial plant you have doesn’t quickly fade in the sun. You will probably need to rotate it periodically so it gets even sun exposure. Boxwoods are not easy plants to grow. There is a holly (smooth leaf) that looks just like a boxwood called Soft Touch Compact Holly, Ilex Crenata ‘Soft Touch’ and is much easier to grow. I can also visualize an ornamental grass in that planter which would look so pretty. Anxious to see what your third outside DIY will be. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    1. Hi Vikki – Come spring next year, I will probably plant something real in the planter, but knew nothing would grow now. :-) I did read the reviews about the boxwood and most said it didn’t fade as much or as fast as they thought it might. Luckily it only gets a little sun and I will rotate it from every so often. I like our idea about using ornamental grass. That would look nice.

      I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving also. I can’t believe it is not that far off. Gotta get planning for that.