Gardening in Wine Barrel Planters: The Ultimate Guide
Wine barrels are a wonderful choice for container gardens – to grow edibles and ornamental plants alike! They’re like the perfect mini raised garden bed: more compact, affordable, and ready-to-use than a traditional raised bed, but offer greater growing space and moisture retention than your average pot. Not to mention the attractive rustic charm they add to any garden! Read along to learn all about gardening in wine barrels, including how to prepare them for planting.
What you’ll find in this article:
- A quick introduction to wine barrel planters
- The benefits and perks of gardening in wine barrels
- Tips on where to buy wine barrels
- Plant spacing recommendations and examples
- Adding drainage holes to wine barrels
- Filling the barrel with soil (how much and type)
- Fertilizer recommendations
- Irrigation tips
- Plenty of photos for wine barrel garden inspo!
About wine barrel planters
Wine barrels are used in the winemaking industry (no kidding, huh?). They’re very durable, usually made of thick oak wood planks with metal rings around them for stability. Most folks use half wine barrels for gardening (aka, ones that have been cut in half). Full-size wine barrels aren’t used as often since they’re exceptionally tall and require a lot of soil to fill them! You may also be able to find quarter or three-quarter wine barrels in some places too.
Benefits of Gardening in Wine Barrels
- Wine barrels are awesome for growing food, flowers, herbs, or even trees in small spaces like patio gardens.
- Because they’re fairly light and portable (compared to other garden beds), wine barrel gardens are the perfect solution for renters. You can bring them with you when you move!
- Wine barrels are nice and deep, providing ample room for a wide variety of plants to flourish, including deep-rooted crops like tomatoes or carrots.
- Gardening in wine barrels creates a controlled environment which you can tailor to a specific plant’s needs. For example, fill the wine barrel with acidic soil or use acidic fertilizers to grow blueberries or potatoes. Wine barrels are also ideal for growing and confining invasive plants like mint.
- Unlike other raised beds, gardening in wine barrels requires no assembly, building skills or tools (with the exception of a drill to add drainage holes).
- Wine barrels add character and curves to the garden. Even though we have dozens of large raised garden beds, we always add wine barrel planters for a little whimsy too!
- It’s easy to make wine barrel planters mobile on hard surfaces. Simply screw heavy-duty casters to the bottom! This is especially useful in small spaces where you may want to rearrange things based on the sun exposure, entertaining, or other needs.
- Wine barrels last a long time – for several years minimum, up to 10 or more (depending on quality and climate). Learn how to make your wood raised garden beds last as long as possible here.
- Believe it or not, wine barrels are technically a “waste product” of the wine industry. Therefore, gardening in wine barrels is sustainable! You’re doing your part to reduce waste by giving them a second life.
- Since they’re self-contained, wine barrels are automatically mole, vole and gopher-proof. (A huge perk here!)
Where to buy wine barrels for gardening
If you live in wine country like we do, you’re in luck! Wine barrels are generally pretty easy to find at local nurseries, Tractor Supply, and on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. Big box garden centers often carry them too, especially to kick off the spring garden season. Here are some wine barrels currently available from Home Depot. They don’t ship to home, but might be able to transfer to your local store. You can also usually find faux wine barrels like these stylish ones made from fir (though they likely won’t last as long as the real ones).
If you can’t find wine barrels, keep an eye out for whiskey barrels too! Whiskey barrels are also typically made from oak, very durable, and great at retaining soil and moisture. They’re just a tad smaller than wine barrels; full size whiskey barrels hold 53 gallons of liquid rather than 59 gallons like wine barrels. When in doubt, call around and see what you can find – including wineries or distilleries in your area!
How many plants can I fit in a wine barrel?
You’d be surprised at how many plants you can fit in a wine barrel planter! The surface area is just over 4 square feet, much larger than your average pot. However, it’s still important to maintain proper spacing between plants – just like you would in any other garden bed. Crowded plants won’t thrive as they compete for root space, nutrients, water, sun and airflow.
You can grow the following plants in standard half wine barrel planter:
- 1 tomato plant
- 1 dwarf fruit tree or fruiting shrub (e.g. blueberry bush or pineapple guava)
- 1 large ornamental shrub, artichoke, or hemp plant
- 1 bush zucchini or squash plant, perhaps 2 if it’s a trailing variety.
- 1 or 2 broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower plants
- 2 or 3 climbing cucumber plants
- 2 or 3 pepper plants or eggplant
- 4 kale, collard greens, bok choy, or similar large leafy green plants
- 6 to 8 heads of lettuce, strawberry plants, fava beans, or bush beans
- 10-12 onions, depending on variety
- 12+ snow or snap peas (planted in a ring around a central trellis or teepee support)
- Up to 20 bulbs of garlic
- Dozens of carrots, radishes, or turnips
- Several annual flower or herb plants, depending on variety
- Other crops we like to grow in wine barrels include turmeric, ginger, horseradish, rhubarb, and so much more!
Don’t forget about companion plants! Even if your barrel only fits one or two large plants, you can tuck a few smaller ones around it. For instance, one tomato plant in the center with a couple basil or marigolds around the edges.
Adding drainage holes to wine barrels planters
Before filling your wine barrels with soil, use a drill and large drill bit to add at least 6 large drainage holes spread evenly across the bottom of the barrel. We’ve added ¾” holes in the past, which is a great size but drains the drill battery fast. (The bottoms are really thick!) In the most recent wine barrel planters we set up, we added about 9 half-inch holes instead. I wouldn’t recommend anything smaller than half-inch.
This is a crucial step; one you cannot skip! Think about it: wine barrels and whiskey barrels are made to hold liquid without leaking. Sure, they may drain a little between the seams as they age, but overall they’re excellent at retaining moisture. If you don’t add plenty of drainage holes, the soil will get too soggy and plants can easily drown and rot.
We also usually add a layer of durable water-permeable landscape fabric to the bottom of the barrel to prevent the drainage holes from getting clogged with soil. That is a great way to ensure invasive roots like mint runners don’t escape from the bottom of the barrel too!
Elevate before planting
Avoid setting your wine barrel planters directly on soil. Instead, elevate them slightly on bricks or pavers to reduce wood-to-earth contact on the bottom. This will prevent the bottom from rotting – and extend the life of your wine barrel! You don’t need to elevate barrels if they’re on concrete or gravel, but can do so if you wish. Even though most of our barrels are in gravel, we still often tuck several bricks under the perimeter to help them sit level. Reminder: Wine barrel planters are very heavy once they’re full of soil, so be sure to do this prior to filling them up!
Filling Wine Barrels with Soil
Fill wine barrel planters with potting soil or other soil that is specifically made for containers or raised garden beds. It should be fluffy and well-draining (usually contains perlite or pumice) and moderately rich in organic matter. We typically use quality bagged potting soil mixed with some well-aged compost, but the compost makes up no more than 30% of the total volume.
Last but not least, don’t forget to top off your barrel with a good layer of mulch! Mulch will insulate the soil, protect plant roots from temperature swings, and aid in moisture retention.
How much soil do I need to fill a wine barrel planter?
Most wine barrels hold about 4 to 5 cubic feet of soil. Once cut in half, the average wine barrel is about 27 inches in diameter and can range from 16 to 18 inches tall. A quick run of the numbers (V=πr2h, anyone?) allows us to determine the volume it holds. For reference, potting soil usually comes in 2 or 3 cubic-foot bags. So, plan on using 2 to 3 bags of soil per barrel.
Fertilizing plants in wine barrels
Like any other potted plant, wine barrels will have slightly higher fertilizer needs than in-ground gardens or larger raised beds. That is because there is more runoff and less overall soil volume to store nutrients.
Plan to amend your wine barrel planters at least annually, maybe more depending on the plant’s needs. For instance, one round of fertilizer in the spring before planting short-lived annual veggie crops would be sufficient. However, trees or other perennials growing in wine barrels may benefit from fertilizer 2 or 3 times per year.
We amend the soil in our wine barrel planters with the same types of mild slow-release organic fertilizers we use in our raised garden beds, including kelp meal, neem seed meal, alfalfa meal and basalt rock dust. Or, try this all-in-one organic all purpose fertilizer. Here is another great option specifically for fruit trees.
We also like to water with homemade aerated compost tea a few times per year, which provides gentle nutrients along with important beneficial microbes! Mycorrhizae is another excellent natural addition to support root growth and fruit production, and increase overall plant health and resilience.
How to water wine barrel planters
Irrigation needs vary drastically depending on your climate and what you’re growing. For example, large plants with expansive root systems require more frequent water (and the soil dries out faster) than young plants. Most plants prefer consistently damp soil. But remember, they also breathe through their roots! So, water your wine barrels often enough so the soil doesn’t fully dry out between watering, but also doesn’t stay sopping wet all the time. When in doubt, do a “finger check” and explore several inches below the soil surface to assess moisture.
There are a number of ways to water wine barrels. Most of our barrels are all connected to automated drip irrigation, which is incredibly convenient! Learn how to connect wine barrels (and other pots or containers) to drip irrigation in this tutorial. I even show you how to set up a simple new drip line to a nearby faucet or spigot, or to PVC pipe. Then of course there is good old-fashioned hand watering with a garden hose or watering can.
Clay ollas can greatly reduce the amount and frequency you need to hand water! Before setting up automated drip irrigation to our newest wine barrels, we’d often stick a medium GrowOya inside the barrel and plant around it. If you’re not familiar with ollas, they are vessels that you bury in the soil, fill with water on occasion, and the water slowly seeps through the porous terracotta into the surrounding soil – helping the soil stay moist much longer! Discount code “deannacat” will save you 5% at GrowOya.
And that concludes this guide on gardening in wine barrels.
As you can see, there are dozens of benefits to gardening in wine barrels – and even more plants that you can grow in them! It’s also probably pretty obvious that we love using barrels in our own gardens. I hope you enjoyed learning more about them, and are able to make good use of few wine barrel planters in your own garden too. If you found this information to be valuable, please spread the love by sharing or pinning this post! Also feel free to ask questions or chime in with any tips in the comments below. See you next time!
Don’t miss these related articles:
- How to Build a Raised Garden Bed: Step-by-Step Guide (and video)
- 9 Ways to Add Whimsy and Interest to Your Garden
- How to Grow Fig Trees
- Non-Toxic Gopher Control: How to Gopher-Proof Your Garden
- How to Grow Pineapple Guava (Feijoa): Cold-Hardy Tropical Fruit
- How to Grow Turmeric in Containers, in Any Zone
Oh my gosh, your garden beds are amazing! I am looking to add raised beds, I had not even thought of barrels for tomato plants. I remember years ago planting in a barrel, and finding termites. Do you ever have this problem with your raised beds? I really like the looks of the wood beds and barrels, but do I want to attract termites? Anyway, I am really impressed with your gardens. Thanks for all the great info.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Anna, we don’t worry about termites too much as there is only so much you can do. For raised beds we choose wood such as redwood or cedar as both are pest resistant. Granted when you are using wine barrels, most if not all of them will be made of oak, yet using a waste product such as wine barrels, we don’t expect them to last our lifetime either. Yet, we have been able to successfully grow plants in wine barrels for many years before they break down or deteriorate. Hope that helps and have fun growing!
Hi Deanna, do you line or stain the inside of the wine barrel?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Jasmine, we don’t stain the inside of the wine barrels but we usually lay down a small section of landscape fabric on the bottom to cover the holes that have been drilled so they don’t get clogged with soil. Hope that helps and good luck!
Three small nails spaced around the bottom of each metal ring keeps them from falling down. Enjoyed the article.
This is such a great guide and I love all the pictures. I am going to take your tips re soil to heart as I’m realizing i could use a clay watering system and also need to fertilize right about now. Thank you! My biggest obstacle to getting things to grow in my wine barrels has been squirrels constantly digging in them! Have you had any luck deterring squirrels?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Emily, the squirrels we have had to deal with in the past were gray tree squirrels. We were able to deter them with a short piece of fencing material as it didn’t seem they liked to climb over it. One option would to be to use some green metal fencing such as this (unless the openings are large enough for a squirrel to fit through?), we would then wrap it around the barrel util you have enough for the perimeter of the barrel, cut off that section from the main roll, from there, cut the section in half widthwise so you only have a 2 foot section of fence so it is easier to reach into the top etc. Now, use a drill and short flat head screws to secure the section of fencing around the top portion of the barrel. A few of the images in the article show some barrels with fencing secured around their tops to keep the chickens out. Hope that helps and good luck!
I would love to see your system for connecting the wine barrels to your drip irrigation system. We have 2 side by side 4X8 raised beds that have whiskey barrels at the 4 most outer corners about a foot away from each.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Stephanie, we took photos of how we irrigated the 6 wine barrels we have at the one end of our garden space and hope to have a new post about it in the coming weeks. Essentially, we made a loop using 1/2 inch drip tubing to encircle the wine barrels, from there we used barbed adapters to connect 1/4 inch drip tubing to each individual wine barrel, one the surface of the wine barrel we used a barbed T adapter to create a loop of perforated drip tubing that will water the barrels. It’s a tad confusing without photos but that is at least the gist of it, let us know if you have any other questions.
Thanks for this! It makes perfect sense. So, are your wine barrels on their own zone? I’m trying to see if I can get away with just tapping into our main header (water supply line that emmiters run from) off of neighboring bed. Instead of trying to run an entirely new zone. Our beds were pre-installed with water lines built underground. We’ve since revamped the beds and built them up and added the barrels to the outside, but I am not sure how far down the main supply line goes underground (or where).
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Stephanie, the wine barrels run on the same zone that half of our raised beds run on so we had to tie into our main PVC supply line for that zone, converting to 1/2 inch drip tubing to run around the barrels. If your current zone uses 1/2 inch drip tubing, it should be easy to tie into the barrels from that without needing to tap into your main or original supply line. You would just need to see what the current emitters are running from (main supply line or drip tubing) to see how to irrigate your barrels and from which supply line. Hope that helps and let us know what you find out.
Would potatoes work in these?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Great article! Do you have recommendations for how to carry filled and planted wine barrels around the garden? I am looking to buy a hand truck with large wheels that won’t get stuck in soil. I would love suggestions 🙂
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hello Gulhan, a hand truck is what we use to move around heavy items and we do the same with the barrels. Good luck!
Do you recommend a particular one?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
We bought a Milwaukee brand hand truck from Home Depot that is rated for probably 800 pounds or so, I use it to move items on gravel which is 3-4 inches deep and it works great. If you have really sandy or soggy soil that you are going to be moving the barrels on, you may want a hand truck that has bigger tires so it is easier to move heavy items on that particular surface. I also find it easier to pull the barrels with the hand truck instead of pushing it as it is easier to move when on less hard surfaces. Hope that helps and good luck!
Could you make a video of how you move a filled wine barrel with the hand truck? I
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Joanna, maybe we will make a video as it can be kind of difficult to explain. First, move the hand truck so the bottom is underneath the wine barrel, from there you need to have someone help you tip it backwards towards the hand truck as the hand truck is lowered slightly to lift the barrel off the ground. From there, move it to wherever you would like. If you are trying to do it by yourself, you need to stand on the side of the hand truck so you can reach the barrel as well as the hand truck. From there, tip the barrel towards the hand truck as you pull down slightly on the hand truck to lift the barrel. You may need to use your foot as a wheel stopper on the hand truck as it may want to slide backwards as the wine barrel is tilted and puts its weight on the hand truck. Hopefully that helped more than confused you, have fun growing.