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!
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