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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Roll Out The (Flower) Barrels

Lynn Coulter
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flower barrel


If you want to garden—but you don’t have a garden spot—try a barrel.

Wooden barrels make great planters when you’re short on growing space. Just turn your barrel over and drill some 3/4″ to 1” holes in the bottom for drainage, if the barrel doesn’t already have them. Staple a piece of screen over the holes to help keep them from getting clogged with dirt, and your barrel is ready to roll! Find the perfect flowers to plant for your zone here.

Bourbon distillers know the value of recycling old barrels, which cost around $120 each. Companies like Jim Beam ship theirs to Scotland when the bourbon has aged long enough, where the barrels are reused for single malt Scotch.

In fact, most old wine or whiskey barrels have had a long and interesting history before they wind up holding our potatoes and petunias. Did you know:

  • Spirits have to age for a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels before they can bear the “whiskey” label.
  • Wooden barrels give whiskey its dark color. As the temperature changes, the wood expands and contracts, allowing the liquid to pick up compounds that cause color changes.
  • Skilled barrel makers were in demand in the 1800s, when customers needed sturdy casks for shipping and storing goods.
  • Despite their size, barrels were fairly easy for early users to transport. They could be carried by pack animals, strapped to rafts and floated downstream, or rolled down the gangplanks of ships. 

It’s easy to turn a barrel into a planter. If you put yours on a porch or deck, you may want to elevate it on bricks to help water drain away. If your barrel is going in the yard, it can rest on the ground.

Be sure to place the barrel where you want it before filling it with good potting mix, so it’s not too heavy to lift. What you’re growing will determine whether to place it in sun or shade. Most fruits, herbs, vegetables and many flowers need a lot of light. Choose plants like coleus, fuchsias, ivy, ferns, impatiens, and small hydrangeas for shady spots.

Use your imagination when it’s time to plant. A half-barrel is large enough to grow a dwarf lemon, lime, or other fruit tree; a small shrub; or garden vegetables like cucumbers, squash, and peppers.  

Fill your barrel with lettuces, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and edible flowers like nasturtiums, and you’ve got a salad bowl, or plant it with a grape vine on a trellis. If you prefer, skip the drainage holes, and add a waterproof liner for a water garden. A small fountain or pump will make the water splash and bubble, and you’ll enjoy the sound when you’re outside.

Image: Shutterstock/maturos1812

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