Tub garden can be a half-barrel of fun

A local garden center received a supply of half-barrels the other day, so I hastened in to get three. These kegs, as they are sometimes called, are made of oak or sometimes cedar, and they make handsome planters. They are also strong enough to last for quite a few years. A half-barrel looks good anywhere in a garden. It can dress up a drab corner in a hurry, particularly if you put a couple of smaller planters on each side of it. Most of these barrels have been charred (slightly burnt) on the inside. This is what you want because it helps preserve them against decay.

Otherwise, paint the inside of the barrel with a preservative that won't damage plants. Ask your local nursery or garden center what to use. Cuprinol is a useful product for this purpose.

Before you use this planter, there are a couple of things you should do:

1.Turn the half-barrel upside down, and if the hoops that hold the barrel together are loose, bang them down towards the ground (the open end of the barrel, in other words). This will make the barrel good and tight.

2.Now, hammer a nail (a galvanized roofing nail with a big head is good) into the wood just above the hoops while the barrel is still upside down. Do it so that the nail goes into the wood but half of the head covers the hoop. Do this in two places on opposite sides of the barrel.

Now when the barrel is right side up, the hoops will not be able to loosen and slip down.

3.Drill four or five half-inch holes in the bottom of the barrel for drainage. Or drill twice that number of quarter-inch holes in the sides of the barrel all around the base.

4.Turn the barrel upright and set it in place on three bricks. Place stones an inch or more deep over the holes in the bottom to help with the drainage. (Several inches of good coarse straw or hay will do the same thing.)

5.Fill the barrel with garden soil to which you have added a pail full of peat moss.

If you have no soil available, mix builder's sand and peat moss (half and half) and add that to the barrel. Then take a small bag of potting soil and mix that into the top six to 10 inches.

Always be sure that there is at least an inch of rim sticking up above the soil so that water or rain won't simply run over the sides.

6.To improve the fertility of the soil, spread half an inch of composted cow manure over the surface and mix this into the top six inches.

7.Finally, water the barrel thoroughly and let the soil settle for a day or two before planting.

Next week: Planting

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