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A long happy life for a wooden container.

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. If they have slipped, turn the barrel over, place the tip of a screwdriver on the band edge, and gently tap the screwdriver as you move it along the band to force it back into place. Then hammer in galvanized nails below the bands.

If you like the rustic charm of rustingbands and don't want to change them, be sure your barrel is not sitting on a patio where rust stains would be unwelcome.

Otherwise, it's a good idea to remove anyrust with steel wool, a wire brush, or a drill with wire brush attachment (see step 2). You don't have to be meticulous--just get the worst off.

Follow this by painting with an oil-baserust-retarding paint. You can use any color, but black changes the look of the barrel the least.

Preserving the wood

Although the wood in the half-barrels isfairly thick, without protection it may rot out in a few years. Make sure the barrel is completely dry, then coat the inside with asphalt roof patch. You can buy this at most hardware stores for about $4 per quart; choose the kind that has the consistency of thick jelly.

All wooden containers last longest if aircan circulate underneath. If the container is to sit on a patio, place it on a dolly with sturdy wheels, as pictured above. This allows you to move the barrel easily, since it can be very heavy when filled with soil.

If you don't plan to move the tub, nailwooden blocks or rubber furniture bumpers to the bottom to provide the necessary air circulation.

Photo: 1. Drill drainageholes in bottom, using a large bit

Photo: 2. Remove rust from metalbands with wire brush; brush attachment on drill eases job

Photo: 3. Paint bands with an oil-baserust-inhibiting paint. Choose black or a color

Photo: 4. Coat interior withjelly-texture asphalt roof patch

Photo: Well-constructed redwood tub hastongue-and-groove staves, which increase sturdiness, water-holding ability

Photo: Typical choices range from mass-produced new containers to beat-up bargain barrels

Photo: 5. Place barrel on dolly (left),fill with potting mix, and plant. Above, he's positioning his newly planted citrus
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:wine barrels used as flower container
Date:Mar 1, 1987
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