Magazine article Sunset

A Long Happy Life for a Wooden Container

Magazine article Sunset

A Long Happy Life for a Wooden Container

Article excerpt

A long happy life for a wooden container

Some call them homely, others say they'rerustic; but no matter how you view whiskey or wine half-barrels, you can count on them as reliable containers for a small collection of vegetables or flowers, or for a single shrub or small tree such as a dwarf citrus. If you lean toward the more costly new redwood tubs, you'll get a wider choice in shapes and heights.

No matter the type, you can make themlast longer by following the few steps shown here.

Choosing a tub

Most of the half-barrels at nurseries andgarden supply centers were cut from whiskey barrels; note the charred, rough interiors. Those cut from wine barrels are smoother inside and often show wine stains. The thick wood on all of these provides excellent insulation for the roots of plants. When buying a tub, look for a nursery that keeps them stacked upside down. This helps keep the bands from slipping toward the base. Also, ask if the barrels have been wetted down occasionally-- otherwise the staves may have dried up and separated, creating a wobbly barrel.

Be critical of the saw cut that halved theoriginal barrel. Some cuts are straight and even, others are jagged and lopsided.

You may also see light-colored strippedoak tubs like the one pictured at far right. These are especially attractive since the weathered surface has been planed off. But that leaves thinner staves that are more prone to rotting. On such tubs, besides following the steps shown here, paint only the outside with a stain or clear water-repellent wood preservative.

Redwood tubs are noted for their resistanceto rotting. The more expensive ones have tongue-and-groove construction (see photograph at left). This helps ensure that the staves stay securely together.

If the bands break, you can sometimes gettubs rebanded at a nursery for $2 to $6-- you may have to call several to find one that offers this service.

No drain holes? Metal bands slipping? Bands badly rusted?

For the sake of your plants as well as thetub, drill drain holes in the bottom of the container if it doesn't already have them (step 1). Some half-barrels are now sold with a large central hole blocked by a wooden plug; knock it out before planting.

Check to make sure the metal bands onthe barrels have not slipped down; look for faint lines marking their original positions. …

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