There’s a reason why whiskey barrels have endured through the years as a gardener’s favorite planter. For one, they are incredibly durable and long lasting. Two, they have that wonderful, old-timey rustic look. And, three, any type of flower arrangement looks good in them, from simple daisies to striking annuals and other ornamental plants. Not only do whiskey barrels add creative charm to outdoor spaces, another great way to use them is for a vegetable garden and / or herb garden. Want to learn more about using whiskey barrels in the garden? Read on!
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Why Whiskey Barrels Make Great Planters.
Real whiskey barrels are made of oak, which is good stuff. If you’re in a cold climate like I am, they are frost proof. Meaning you can leave them outdoors in the winter. You may notice that they look charred on the inside. That’s because burning the wood to one degree or another releases the flavor of the oak to enhance the whiskey or wine or whatever is in the barrel. Some barrels are left un-charred, but most of them are.
There’s only a couple issues that come up related to using whiskey barrels as planters. Namely that some people mistakenly believe that a wood preservative is used on the barrels; similar to pressure-treated lumber. They worry that vegetables grown in the barrels will absorb these chemicals. As a protective measure, they cover the inside with a plastic liner or even use a separate container.
But this is FALSE. The fact is, whiskey barrels are not treated at all, because they are not meant to be used outdoors. That faint chemical smell in your nostrils is from the original liquid contents of the planter. Although the smell can seem strong, it’s reassuring that the National Gardening Association (garden.org) says it is perfectly ok to grow any vegetable in a whiskey barrel. No plastic liners are needed. Whiskey barrels make excellent planters!
What about protecting the wood? Whether or not to use a liner to extend the life of your barrel planter is really up to you. Whiskey barrels are strong, sturdy vessels that require little or no maintenance. They are moderately resistant to rot compared to other types of wooden planters. I have had the same whiskey barrel in my gardens for many, many years (we even moved it to our new home) and it’s just now beginning to show signs of age. I have never treated it with anything and I haven’t used any type of liner.
The barrel swells when it’s damp, causing the wooden staves (a/k/a wood panels) to expand and fit tightly together. Now, the color will definitely fade to gray over time, but many gardeners actually prefer the beauty of aged wood.
How to Prepare a Whiskey Barrel for Use in the Garden
Many big box stores, like Home Depot, carry half wine barrels in their garden center. Sometimes your local greenhouse or nursery will stock them, and if you’re lucky, perhaps one will show up at a flea market.
Check first to make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom. If there are no drainage holes, then you will have to make some. Either the hubs or I will drill holes using a larger drill bit. There’s really no exact measurement for this, but you will want the holes to be large enough so that excess water will drain from the planter.
A half whiskey barrel is a very large planter and they take a lot of soil to fill. Some people like to save money on potting soil and use something else to fill the bottom of the barrel. If you’re going to do this don’t use junk, plant roots like to grow in rich organic material. Also, using garden soil from the ground is a bad idea. I suggest using leaves, twigs and grass clippings in the bottom of large flower pots. These things will break down into compost that will fortify the soil.
Ideas for Using Wooden Whiskey Barrels in Your Flower Garden
Whether you have a spot in full sun, or you need to add some color with shade plants, whiskey barrel planters are a wonderful way to accomplish this. There are so many different ways to style them and we’ll discuss a few ideas here.
Because of their size and depth, there’s plenty of room in a whiskey barrel planter for adding a small trellis for your climbing flowers and vines. Décor such as garden stakes, bird houses or solar lights will complement whatever you plant.
Whiskey barrel planters don’t have to sit upright. If a bit of whimsy is what your garden needs, consider tipping the whole thing on its side. Fashion the soil and the plantings to make it look like the barrel is a spilled flower pot.
More Creative Ideas For Using Whiskey Barrels in the Garden
A neat way to add some interest to your flower display is to turn one barrel upside-down and set the planted barrel on top of it. This adds a little height in the garden and makes your flowers stand out.
A whole barrel–if you can find it– makes a charming pedestal for setting things on that you want to get noticed. Whether it’s a basket of trailing flowers, like wave petunias, or a funky antique or sculpture.
How about DIY water features? The rugged whiskey barrel gives a lot of character to a small garden fountain. Authentic wine or whiskey barrels are made to hold liquid and are water tight, so chances are, you won’t even need a liner. But fill it up anyway and watch it for a few days to make sure there are no leaks.
Add a solar fountain and voila! You might also try a submersible pump for better circulation. The barrel is deep enough that you could add real or artificial water plants and make it a water garden. The gurgle of water delivers a refreshing sound to your garden environment. As an added benefit, it’s also a fun place for birds to hang out. Use the same instructions found here to make your own DIY whiskey barrel fountain. No time to DIY, check out these rustic wood barrel fountains.
Half whiskey barrels make adorable fairy gardens and they are the perfect height for children. The half barrel fairy garden pictured below is at a public garden where I volunteer. Children adore this little garden and they take turns at rearranging it.
Whiskey Barrel Flower Planter Ideas and Images
Some of the photos below are from Gingham Gardens’ readers, or from stock images. They all represent wonderful ideas for you to replicate in creating your own whiskey barrel planter.
Barb from Nebraska sent in the picture below of her antique water cart with a whiskey barrel planter. How creative!
My neighbor uses lots of antiques in her garden from her family farm. I have shared her ideas in many other posts. Her whiskey barrel planter is sitting on an antique milk cart.
The photo below demonstrates a full-size whiskey barrel with a cutout for flowers. I think this may be my next project.
Sandy, a Gingham Gardens’ reader from zone 5 sent in the picture below of an area she created to hide a generator on the side of her home. Look at that cute whiskey barrel fountain. This is just dreamy and so creative!
Another Gingham Gardens’ subscriber, Terra from Georgia, sent the whiskey barrel planter pictures below.
And another planter idea from Terra. I’m not sure why Terra’s parents use so many whiskey barrel planters, other than they are gorgeous. But, using half barrel planters is a fantastic way to add a flower garden or vegetable garden if you have bad soil, or if you need lower maintenance.
I love the idea below of the tipped planter. Another neighbor came up with this idea and it looks awesome in her front yard flower garden.
Finally, what to do with your whiskey barrel planter after summer is over? Don’t put it in storage! A whiskey barrel is appealing any time of the year. Use it in a fall display with pumpkins and squash and set it out on the front porch. Check out more ideas for fall planters here. When the Christmas season rolls around, just change it out for the holidays. Add pine cones, mini lights, and figurines to make it look festive. Check out more ideas for winter planters here.
Using a Whiskey Barrel for Vegetables
Flowers aren’t the only thing you can plant, if you’re lacking room for an in-ground vegetable garden, many veggies will grow well in containers. Because of their size, whiskey barrels are amazing planters for vegetables. A tomato plant will live its best life in a big old half-barrel planter.
Half barrel planters are perfect for any large container garden. Try a combination of herbs, flowers and vegetables. Think Swiss chard with a basil plant and marigolds. Pat from Tennessee sent in this picture of her herb gardens all planted in faux half barrels.
If you don’t want to shell out the bucks for authentic oak wine barrels, the plastic or wood barrels work well too. Be sure to check the size before ordering.
I don’t think whiskey barrels will ever go out of style as planters and garden décor. Their rustic charm and functionality have been a standard in the garden from way back when, and will continue to do so. The fact that they are strong and durable make them a worthwhile purchase and great addition to any garden setting. You’ll be able to use them year after year, after year. And, the best part – the possibilities of adding rustic charm to your flower gardens, vegetable gardens, or any of your outdoor spaces using wooden barrels are endless!
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A whiskey barrel planter will be the perfect addition to your garden or outdoor space. Do you have more ideas for whiskey barrel planters? Please leave a comment below and share your idea with us.
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