How to Prepare a Half Wine Barrel Planter

How to Prepare a Half Wine Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

I love half wine barrel planters. At our house, we have challenging clay soil and a whole lot of slippery hillside to work with. The barrels are great because I can set them on our big, sunny deck and place them along hillside walkways. They make it easier to maintain the soil and they put my plants within easy reach.

The first time I planted a half wine barrel, I forgot to drill drainage holes in the bottom. Duh. But now that they are taking over our property — at last count, we had sixteen — I have developed a solid system for preparing them. Of course, there are many ways to handle the particulars, but I’ll describe the steps that work for me. (At some point, I got tired of reinventing my method every year and wrote it down in my garden journal. Do you keep a garden journal? It’s a handy thing.)

Half Wine Barrel or Whiskey Barrel Planters | Hitchhiking to Heaven

Where to Get Half Wine Barrels

Your options depend on where you live. If you’re in or near wine country, you can turn to the wineries themselves. (Is there such a thing as whiskey country? These barrels are also used to store whiskey.) I sometimes get my barrels from a winemaking shop in Berkeley. You can also find them at many nurseries and many big-box home stores. (Barrels offered by the latter are often of lesser quality, made to look like half barrel planters but constructed of weaker materials.) And I once found some genuine barrels outside a mainstream supermarket for an amazing price, so keep your eyes open.

If you can obtain a barrel at or near its source, it will be less expensive. When I get barrels from the winemaking folks, I pay half the price my local nursery charges. For me, the only advantage of getting them at the nursery or local lumber yard is that those places are closer and they’re willing to drill the drain holes for me — very expensive holes.

Where to Get Half Wine Barrel Planters | Hitchhiking to Heaven

What You Need to Prepare a Half Wine Barrel Planter

Here’s a list of what I use to prep a half barrel, minus any kind of liner. (I discuss liners at the end of the post.)

  • half wine barrel (you can also get a whole one if you’re up for cutting it in half)
  • power drill with a bit large enough to make drainage holes the size of quarters
  • apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle (to inhibit the growth of fungus)
  • wire mesh to cover the drainage holes
  • wire cutters to size the mesh
  • staple gun to affix the mesh
  • four casters or feet (depending on the surface the barrel will sit on)
  • good soil (a standard barrel holds about 4 cubic feet of soil)

How to Prepare a Half Wine Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

Five Steps for Preparing a Half Wine Barrel Planter

1. Drill drainage holes in the bottom. Even when I lived alone, I thought it was important to own a power drill. I’ve done this plenty of times myself, but a girl can get lazy about certain things when she has a guy around. Now I usually ask Stewart to drill the holes.

How to Prepare a Half Wine Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

2. Spray the bottom and inside of the barrel with apple cider vinegar. If your wine barrel is the real thing — solid oak that was used to ferment grapes — it may play host to a fungus that will grow on the wood. If you put the barrel on a wooden deck, the fungus may begin to grow there, too. To inhibit the growth of stuff you don’t want, get some apple cider vinegar and a plastic spray bottle and go to work. Turn the barrel over and thoroughly spray the bottom, concentrating on the area around (and within) the holes. Then turn it over and thoroughly spray the inside of the barrel, too. Let the barrel dry and proceed to step 3.

3. Cut pieces of wire mesh to fit over the drainage holes. You can use any kind of strong mesh for this step, as long as the openings are small enough to prevent the soil from dropping through the drainage holes. If you have mesh made of strong fabric, you may be able to cut out a big circle with scissors and staple the whole thing to the bottom of the barrel. I use the heavy wire shown in the photos only because we have a bunch left over from an old drainage project.

How to Prepare a Half Wine Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

4. Secure the mesh with staples. Again, you can adapt this step to whatever kind of mesh you’re using. I am a big fan of the staple gun.

How to Prepare a Half Wine Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

5. Add casters if necessary. If your barrel will sit on a patio or deck, you’ll almost certainly want it to have a good set of wheels. To add wheels, we’ve taken a number of different approaches. At various times, we have (1) bought casters at the hardware store and mounted them to a wooden platform on which we set the barrel (see photo below), (2) attached the casters to blocks of wood and screwed the blocks into the barrel, and (3) screwed the casters directly into the barrel. But I rather like (4) take the easy way out and buy a ready-made wheelie thingw at the nursery or online. I like the ready-made wheelie things, which are actually called “plant dollies” or “plant wheel bases,” if you’re wondering what search terms to use. When you consider the cost of the casters and the time spent fussing around with them, the pre-made plant dollies really aren’t that expensive. You don’t have to get a huge one, either. The 16″ model works fine.

Of course, if your barrel will sit on the ground in your garden, you don’t have to worry about wheels. Just set it down where you want it and prop it up on some feet (bricks or blocks of wood are great) or at least put a good layer of drain rock/gravel underneath it — not inside the barrel, but underneath — to help with drainage. (My gardening bible, Golden Gate Gardening, by Pam Pierce, says, “Don’t put any gravel or pot shards at the bottom of containers of any kind; no matter what you’ve heard, research shows clearly that they will impede drainage rather than help.” I love this book. It has been helping Bay Area gardeners keep their dumb mistakes to a minimum for almost twenty years.)

Adding Casters to Half Wine Barrel or Whiskey Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

A tip about placing your barrel. In some of the photos in this post, you can see that the lip of each half barrel has a round notch in it where the barrel’s spout used to be. If you use a drip irrigation system, this notch is useful — you can lay your irrigation hose right into it. Think about this when you place your barrel and orient the notch accordingly. You won’t want to be moving your barrel around a lot later, especially if it’s on feet rather than casters.

6. Fill your barrel. A standard size wine barrel (26″-28″ in diameter) will hold about 4 cubic feet of soil. How much you need depends on what you’ll put in it. If you’re planting a dwarf tree with a good-sized root ball, you’ll need much less. Estimate and adjust.

Adding a Liner to Your Barrel

Whether or not to line your barrel with plastic is entirely up to you. Many people feel that a liner significantly extends a barrel’s life — though how much is questionable. My lined barrels are decaying at about the same rate as those that aren’t lined. One way or another, if your barrel is solid oak, it should last for a good long time.

I like to line my barrels for a different reason, which is that it helps the soil to retain moisture. Even large containers can dry out quickly during a stretch of hot summer days. With a liner, I don’t have to water as often.

At first, I had some worries about chemicals leaching from plastic liners into the soil (and then into the plants and then into me) but I poked around on the Internet and talked to a lot of gardener folk and pretty much put my fears to rest.  After all, I occasionally plant in heavy-duty plastic pots or even 5-gallon plastic buckets. But if you have any worries about plastic, skip it.

If you want a liner, you have to decide what kind. You can buy pre-made plastic liners for half-wine barrels. (Liners with a lip that goes over the edge of the barrel are the most protective because less water will get between the liner and the inside of the barrel.) Ready made liners are expensive, but if you’re not going to have a huge crop of barrels, they may be worth the investment. Myself, I have invented a goofy way of fashioning a liner out of a heavy-duty, 42-gallon trash bag. (This may explain why the liners aren’t doing a super job of preserving my barrels, but I do know they work for moisture retention.) All you need is the bag, a pair of scissors, your trusty staple gun, some patience, and maybe a sense of humor. (This post is already way too long for me to explain the specific steps, but there are some photos below to give you an idea of what I do.)

The most important thing about a liner? If you use one, remember to put holes in the bottom of that, too. They should match the holes you drilled in the bottom of your barrel.

Making a Plastic Liner for a Half Wine Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

Happy planting!

How to Prepare a Wine Barrel Planter | Hitchhiking to Heaven

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  • Reply Denise | Chez Danisse March 2, 2011 at 9:54 am

    You are good. I’m embarrassed to mention how I prepared my wine barrels… When I find a little space and am able to begin planting again, I’ll know where to pop back for advice.

    • Reply Shae March 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm

      Denise, now you have me wondering what you did, or did not do. Is it possible to do something more embarrassing than forget about the drainage holes? I hope you find yourself a little patch of soil before too long.

      • Reply Denise | Chez Danisse March 9, 2011 at 11:37 am

        I did have drainage holes, but not much more. Add soil + compost + plants. That’s it.

  • Reply maureen March 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Are you stalking me? Cause that’s three posts IN A ROW that are completely relevant to my life at the exact moment I am reading the post. First your Meyer Love post, when I am trying to figure out the birthday cake for my insane-about-lemons Mom. Then yummy soup with Bok Choy, the very day I get Bok Choy in my CSA box. Now wine barrel planting, right when I am telling myself that I really have to start figuring out my garden if I want to actually grow things this year, instead of just kill them. Well, if you couldn’t tell, I love your blog (and your citrus slicing method for marmalade) so continue stalking and I will continue reading :)

    • Reply Shae March 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm

      Maureen, you made me laugh. I picture myself lurking around your neighborhood (wherever it is!) with fruits, veggies, and a gardening trowel. I’m glad we’ve been in sync.

  • Reply Michelle March 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    I love this! Thank you for the very clearly written instructions. I’m going to try to follow them this spring. Outside my second floor windows I have a view of the lush backyard gardens belonging to all of my Piedmont-resident neighbors, and beyond that are the green Berkeley Hills. But of course my shared backyard is a cracked, gray concrete driveway on which an old detached garage unit stands. The landlord won’t be forfeiting that extra income any time soon and I really want and need to lay some green down for my duration here. And you’ve just shown me how! : )

    • Reply Shae March 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      Michelle, it’s easy to do this and I know you will plant beautiful barrels. Take pictures!

  • Reply Shae March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Oh, dear folks with little space (or who dream of having a little space), my first half wine barrels were set out on the tiny balconies of tiny apartments in Berkeley, way before I had all this hillside to quack about. Even one barrel brought so much lushness to my life! (After I remembered the drainage holes, that is.)

  • Reply janis March 8, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Next time I create container plants I want to do a better job, and do it like you :^) I am also swooning over your deck… looks like a special place.

  • Reply Aimee March 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Aghhh! Thank you so much for this post – our landlord just cut one of his old wine barrels in half for us to use as planters. This weekend I put casters on (casters attached to 2x4s, wood pieces screwed into barrel bottom…AND…(drumroll please)…guess what I completely forgot about??? Drilling DRAINAGE HOLES!

    Fortunately I have not yet filled them with soil and plants! VERY glad I found your site and read this reminder!

    Question – I hear you on the gravel/pot shards, but do you have any suggestions for something else that will take up space (and therefore require less potting soil, which will make it lighter and cost a lot less money..) I have a friend who uses styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottom 1/3 of most of her large planters for this reason…not sure what they do/don’t do in the drainage department. Any thoughts?


    • Reply Shae March 28, 2011 at 7:26 pm

      Aimee, you made me laugh. I am so glad you can still add the drainage holes. It’s a drag when you forget — as I know!

      I have never wanted to add anything to my planters but the best soil I can possibly manage. I figure that’s what my plants are putting their feet down into, so I want them to have the best environment I can provide for them. (As a lot of gardeners say, there is nothing more important about gardening than the soil.) Also, I mostly use the big containers for dwarf fruit trees and for veggies like tomatoes than need depth, so I wouldn’t want to deprive them of even an inch of root space!

      • Reply Shae May 3, 2011 at 11:40 am

        Hey Aimee: I just read something about adding crushed one-gallon water jugs to the bottom of big planters to take up excess space. I don’t know that I’d ever need to do it, but it was advice from a reputable source, so I thought I’d pass it on!

  • Reply Stacy April 3, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    We live in an apartment and I just got my two half barrels set up today, holes drilled but had never thought of setting them up on castors and feet of sorts . . . looking into that tomorrow. Getting ready for planting frenzy . . . glad to bring it out of the community garden and onto my patio! (Might do the community garden this year again, not sure) . . . but will be fun to have it right there at my back door! =0)

    thanks for the post! Very informative!!

    • Reply Shae May 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

      Hi Stacy! I’m sure by now your barrel is planted and happily growing beautiful things. Enjoy your spring!

  • Reply Katie May 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    My husband just purchased 4 barrels from a winery and didn’t notice the varying degrees of mold in each one! How can I easily and safely clean these barrels of the nasty fungus and keep it from coming back?

  • Reply Shae May 5, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Hi Katie: I have pretty good luck with the apple cider vinegar spray that I described in the post. If you hit the fungus with a good dose of that and expose it to good air and light before you plant, that should help. I think it’s pretty normal for them to have some fungus in them if they were used for wine. A couple of barrels I purchased this year had some, but the cider vinegar seemed to do the trick.

  • Reply Susan May 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Does it have to be cider vinegar, or will the plain white stuff work? Also, when you say a solid oak barrel should last a good long time, do you have any idea how long that might be in the Bay Area?

    • Reply Shae June 6, 2011 at 9:21 am

      Susan: I’ve only ever used cider vinegar, because that’s what I learned to do and it has worked for me. My oldest Bay Area barrel (unlined) is on its seventh year and it’s showing signs of deterioration but still hanging tough!

  • Reply Duane June 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    I’ve got two half wine barrels that are already full of soil and are providing a good home to some very happy plants. Unfortunately, the plant caddies they rest on aren’t strong enough. You point to the ready-made wheelie things from Amazon, but I’m not sure they will allow for proper drainage. My concern is the wheelie thing in the picture will impede all the drainage holes I drilled in the bottom.

    Any thoughts?

  • Reply Shae June 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Duane: Yes, I think it’s all about how the wheelie thingie meets the holes in your particular situation. In mine, there are enough holes in unimpeded places that I’m not concerned about it. (I suppose you could drill some holes in the wheelie thing, but that could do a pretty good job of weakening it and then you’d be right back where you are now.) I’ve also seen ready-made wheelie thingies made out of wooden slats. Maybe you could find one of those or home-make one of your own? Good luck!

  • Reply Pat Draper June 23, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Excellent info. I needed to know if I needed to get rid of fungus in barrel. I live in the mountains in dark redwoods and I use regular vinegar or bleach to get rid of mold. I love vinegar; great disinfectant, room deodoriser, (cheap), etc.. Never thought of putting wheels or lifts under barrel or liners. Good ideas. I think I will put bricks under mine….easier.

    • Reply Shae July 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      Vinegar is great, isn’t it? And so are bricks . . . so long as you don’t have to move your barrels around . . . :-)

  • Reply Chet June 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Three bricks under the planters seems to work best for proper drainage. This site has some great info on planting tomatoes in a wine barrel planter.

  • Reply Antje July 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Found some wonderful, authentic half barrels at Lowes. They did NOT have
    holes, so I’m glad I read your site. I have an acre, but am trying to keep my
    precious fruit trees in planters, in case I move in a year or two. Any idea how
    long fruit trees can be kept in planters? Mine are already a year old. Thanks for
    all the info, especially about the drainage, the bricks beneath, and the vinegar.

  • Reply Shae July 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Hi Antje: I think it’ll depend on the tree. I have only dwarf trees in my barrels, so they’ll be good in them for quite a few years. Probably best to consult a grower for more information about the trees you’ve got. Thanks for visiting!

  • Reply Chet July 15, 2011 at 11:55 am

    I would stick to dwarf fruit trees and they will live just fine in a wine barrel planter.

  • Reply Pad July 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Great post! Thank you very much.
    Last season, I tried planting with wine barrel but because of no holes all plant have rotten.
    This time, after reading this post, I hope to have a better luck.

    • Reply Shae July 30, 2011 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks! Drilling the holes will make all the difference. :-)

  • Reply Tanesha August 7, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Anyone have ideas on a ‘drip pan’ for under my wine barrel planters? After watering the planter drains all over my nice clean concrete.

    thanks for any help

  • Reply Chris September 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    I just bought 6 half barrels today and appreciate all of your suggestions. But I still have a couple of more questions! Someone suggested “painting” the inside with tar to keep the wood from rotting. Any thoughts? I am planning on removing rust that has developed on the steel bands on the outside. Then I thought sanding down both the steel bands and the oak would be appropriate. Then I want to seal it with a water sealer. What do you think? I am so excited to get started! I have 20 roses be delivered in a week. Most will go into the ground but several will go into planters and stay on the patio.

    Last, someone suggested having a bunch of soil delivered from a landscaping company (basically, buying in bulk) instead of buying bags of soil. Have you done this?

  • Reply Shae September 24, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Hi Chris: I’ve done both — bought bags or had soil delivered. Depends on how much you need and on your local company’s delivery fees. As to tar or sealer, I don’t have personal experience with either one. I’ve been trying to keep the toxic stuff away from my soil and, as you can see, I’m pretty low-tech when it comes to waterproofing. :-)

    Enjoy your roses!

  • Reply Lucia October 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Your explanation was very hepful for me to learn how to deal with my new planter barrel. Great pictures! Thank you.

  • Reply Chet December 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Wine barrels and wine barrel planters with free local delivery.

  • Reply manac December 23, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    thanks for your site as a novice the advice was great just completed two barrels with dwarf mandarin and indian lime for wifes xmas present they look great

  • Reply Catherine January 11, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks for the great tips! I just decided to use wine barrels after discovering how expensive a big platter box would be if I built it out of redwood.

    My current conundrum is how to keep my puppy and all her furry friends that come over to play each week out of the planters. My pup currently eats a lot of the bamboo that is planted as a screen and of course she likes to dig so I fear she will both eat my plants and dig them up if she can get to them.

    I thought perhaps a large stack of bricks could do the trick but I imagine I will need a lot of them to keep it both tall and sturdy. I hope to have 6 wine barrels along with other pots. Any suggestions?


  • Reply Catherine January 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I wanted to follow up from my question posted earlier. I ended up using cinder blocks to raise up the barrels out of my pup’s reach. They were inexpensive and actually looked better than I thought. My patio is concrete so they go with the “industrial look” and the mental bands of the wine barrels. I put three in a triangle formation and then stacked another three on those to get it to the right height. Standard sized (8x8x16) work but if you can get the thinner ones (6X8X16) they fit just perfectly without extra on the sides so it looks even tidier.

    If you need to get your planters out of a dog’s reach or just want some variation of heights this works really well. Hope my info will be of use to someone else too.

  • Reply Mary Ruth May 23, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I am a beginner gardener….I grabbed an old barrel from a friend who was moving….It had plastic in it and holes in the bottom, But it had fungus (?) looks like fungus or hard whitish mushrooms attached to the top inner sides. I scraped them off (they were like rock). My question to you gardeners out there. Can I plant a rose bush in the pot now…with new soil? or will my rose bush get fungus? thanks Mary

    • Reply Shae May 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Hi Mary: My barrels sometimes get a fungus exactly like the one you are describing. I have never had the experience of it transferring from the barrel to a plant — including my favorite rose, which is thriving in a barrel that has had the fungus, too. Good luck!

  • Reply Cynthia June 10, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Does anyone know how to extend the life of wine barrels? We have had a number of them on the patio and they are starting to fall apart after 10 years. Do the plastic liners extend their lives?

    • Reply Shae June 17, 2012 at 9:52 am

      Hi Cynthia: A plastic liner should extend the the length somewhat, but ten years is a great length of time for a wine barrel planter. My unlined barrels sometimes give out after just 5 years.

  • Reply Jason June 16, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I have been trying to find how to fill the bottom portion of this large half barrel with something other than heavy potting soil. I’m gong with the suggestion of plastic bottles including water bottles and milk bottles. What have you used to fill the bottom 1/3 to 2/3 of the barrel. I am only planning on planting decorative grasses and flowers.
    This is a great site, by the way.

    • Reply Shae June 17, 2012 at 8:04 am

      Thanks, Jason. I never do fill my own wine barrels with anything but soil. I’d love to hear back from any of you who have experience with the plastic bottles or other methods. Good luck!

  • Reply Nick June 23, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Hi Shae, thank-you for your tips about wine barrels. I’m about to get one ready for a fruit tree and found your information very clear and useful. I had one question though about the size of the holes: is there any reason why I shouldn’t just drill a larger number of small holes, say 1/2 inch diameter, rather than 5 larger holes covered with mesh?

    • Reply Shae June 24, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Hi Nick: When I first started doing this, I was told to make quarter-sized holes, though now I can’t remember exactly why that is. It may be that they are less likely to become plugged than small holes. Can’t imagine you’d get in much trouble with a lot of half-inch holes, though. Enjoy your new tree!

      • Reply Nick June 25, 2012 at 1:19 am

        Thanks Shae, I’ll give it a go. I’ll let you know if I have any problems…

    • Reply Lori May 5, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Nick, that is what I had to do. Hope for the best. It took some time, had t o let the drill cool in between every 4 holes or so, but I put several in clusters all over. I hope it works for both of us. And, if yours already has or has not, let me know? ty Lori

  • Reply Brian Preetz August 15, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Hi Shae and fellow Green Thumbs!

    If anyone wants $35 wine barrel planters we have them for sale year round!
    You can find us at
    Located in Oakland, San Francisco and Cupertino.
    Hope to be a source for everyone! Plant on!

    -Brian 1 408 505 4101

  • Reply Tom August 24, 2012 at 8:30 am

    we are trying to make 1/4 barrel planters (HALF BARREL CUT IN HALF VERTICALLY) for part of my sons eagle hitch has come up, we planned on using either a center punch or a pin punch to create a starting point for inserting screws thru the bands at each vertical slat in order to anchor them when cutting the band. Problem…the punches are not penetrating the band…in fact the pin punch bent…any suggestions will be greatly appreciated

    • Reply Shae August 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm

      Sorry, Tom, I’ve see those vertical cut barrels (they’re very cool) but have never taken on the task myself. Hopefully by now you’ve found some good advice!

  • Reply Kelly September 22, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    hi shae. thanks for your very handy page on wine barrels. as a USA ex-pat living in nz, i’ve long wanted to be more self-sustaining, but our house is set into the cliffside of a gully, which isn’t amenable to the weekend gardener (unless the weekend gardener enjoys pulling out vine *every* weekend).

    yesterday my husband brought home my very first wine barrel. thanks to your excellent instructions, we were able to prep and plant today (lettuce & carrots). i found everything i needed from your list in the kitchen & garage, except for casters, which my husband picked up at the local swapmeet this morning. i’m as thrilled as a kid at christmas, and looking forward to getting a few more. thanks so much! they are as nifty as those 1M square raised beds, but much less expensive. being able to move it around is also a big help.

    now if i can just get the man to slap together a chook house, i’ll be all set :O)

    ps: for those down under, it took 3 40-litre bags of plant-happy soil to fill my half-barrel, even after putting a bunch of filler in the bottom! i also added some vege lime and blood & bone to the mix.

    • Reply Shae October 7, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      Kelly, thanks so much for your comment and for adding that helpful bit of information to the discussion. I know you will love your wine barrels!

  • Reply Vicky October 7, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Hi. Love this site. Is it okay to plant with tartrate crystals inside? I drilled the holes and covered them with the mesh and sprayed with apple cider vinegar. But I’m curious about those crystals. Do I have to get all the out first, or is it okay to just leave it?

    • Reply Shae October 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      Hi Vicky: I’ve sometimes seen crystals in my barrels and have never worried about them or had a problem with them. I don’t know anything specific about them, however. If you want more information, you might try to connect with a master gardener in your area. Thanks!

  • Reply Ernie January 5, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for the wonderful instructions. Has anyone experienced a problem with the bands falling. I have several full barrels that I am getting ready to cut in half. They have been empty and sitting around and drying out. Prior to cutting them I plan to drill 5 or 6 holes in each band and put in stainless screws to hold the bands in place. Just sitting around empty and moving the barrels, some of the bands have fallen off. I am anticipating that the bands could drop down if the barrels are allowed to dry out some time in the future. I have previously built planter boxes and placed hardware cloth on the ground and placed 3/4 inch gravel 4 inches thick covered by filter fabric. The rest filled with topsoil. Great drainage and no animals digging in from under the planter box. HAPPY GARDENING

    • Reply Shae February 25, 2013 at 8:53 am

      Thanks for your comment, Ernie. I hope someone might offer tips about falling bands; I haven’t yet had that problem with any of my barrels.

  • Reply Philip January 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    All the above advice will be handy as I prepare my four half barrels this Spring. Thanks.
    I have two five year old planters. One is falling apart, is filled with fern I took from my woods. The other has a variety of cuttings doing well. The fern will be transplanted to new barrel.
    Important tip, make sure there are no side holes. I had the unfortunate experience of disturbing a nest of wasps and getting badly stung. (Commercial wasp sprays do not work. You have to wait for the frost).
    Another tip for the frugal. The two barrels I bought at Kmart at the end of the season: retail $30, I paid $5. This past summer they retailed at a ridiculous $45. Again, paid only $5. Yes, I did have to sand the rust from the straps, and waterproofed the wood.
    This year I will try a variety of colorful flowers. I am surrounded by woods, and need that uplift.

    • Reply Shae February 25, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Thanks for the information, Philip!

  • Reply Mavis February 25, 2013 at 8:42 am

    what can you do years on when there is a substantial fungal growth inside barrel above soil level? Years of life in it. any product I can use that won’t harm my runner beans?

  • Reply Shae February 25, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Mavis, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that one. I’d inquire with your local nursery or a master gardeners’ organization, if there’s one in your area.

  • Reply JOEL April 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Something I have had good luck with when potting is using perlite for drainage and as a filler. A thick layer of perlite in bottom of the tub will filter sediment from coming through the drainage holes. However a much finer mesh would have to be used over the holes than what is pictured in this column to retain the perlite. Perlite can be mixed with potting soil for a lighter overall soil that promotes quick root growth and drainage. I suppose it could also be used as thick and light weight, under soil layer for shallow growing plants. But the soil could possibly dry out if not watered daily. I just picked up one of these barrels yesterday from a local Lowes store. I am excited get my Japanese maple out on my patio. Thanks for all the info.

  • Reply Lori May 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you so much. My landlord bought these instead of the “pretty” wooden planters and I have already fallen in love with their character…I did not have access to a big bit, so I took the biggest I had and made several holes close together all over, around the bottom. I hope this is sufficient for drainage. Probably 30/50 smaller holes? AND, I was just getting ready to put some river rock in the bottom of the pots….I will put them up on some bricks, and now I know I need some mesh too.
    I was looking for what type of soil to use, I live in Eastern Washington. Not as wet as the other side and can get very hot….thanks again, will continue to look for answers. Hope they are as quality and understandable as yours. :)

    • Reply Shae May 5, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Hi Lori: If your holes are that small, I don’t think you will need mesh. I always use a basic potting soil for good drainage. For plants that need more acidity — blueberries, daphne, azalea — you can amend with a bit of acidifying fertilizer. Enjoy your planters!

  • Reply Chris G May 25, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Hi Shae –

    Thanks so much for the info on wine barrel planting. I bought two half-barrels on a whim today and am glad to have all of your insight.

    One problem I’m having right now: My two barrels were stacked on top of each other (like the third picture you posted above). And they are REALLY stuck together. I can’t separate them by bare hand. My thought is to use a rubber mallet and start to hammer on them a little bit, hoping to jar them loose. But I’m also concerned about damaging them or loosening up the bands.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks for any help.

    • Reply Shae May 31, 2013 at 9:39 am

      I’ve never had this problem, Chris, but understand your reluctance to pound on them too much. Perhaps some gentle jarring has already knocked them loose? I hope so!

    • Reply Mike November 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Chris, I created the same problem stacking them together to get them home and they got stuck. It took a 3/4 spade drill bit, a long piece of steel ( I used a bar clamp) , and a mallet to separate them. I drilled holes around the edge of the bottom and hammered a few times to get it loose.

  • Reply Ruth Dixon May 27, 2013 at 5:21 am

    A good filler for the bottom of the barrels is scoria or lava rock. It’s cheap and light-weight. I’ve used it for years. I do have a problem though. Does anyone know how to reassemble a half-barrel? Our local store did not keep them wet and one fell completely apart when lifted out at home.

  • Reply Sarah Clancy June 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I loved this article and it was very helpful to a beginner like me. I can’t believe I didn’t even think about drainage holes. Oh-well, I am learning through my mistakes.

    • Reply Shae June 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks, Sarah. At least you know you aren’t alone, not thinking about the drainage holes. I learned that one the hard way, myself. :-)

  • Reply Noah February 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Have you thought about skipping the drainage holes and making sub-irrigated planters instead? Well there would be 1 hole about 5 inches up on the side to ensure you don’t over water. Here is a youtube video on the process:

  • Reply Yuliya May 6, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Hi Shae,
    I came across your amazing blog today. Thank you for these wonderful articles and recipes! I can’t get enough :) I am completely new to the world of gardening and trying to start a garden in my backyard. I have recently purchased a raised bed for planting vegetables and was planning to place in my side yard which is covered wiith the stamped concrete. Since the raised bed has no bottom I was hoping to line it with plastic so that the soil doesn’t stain the concrete. However, I was worried about the proper drainage and thought it would probably not work. Then I came across your article today about using the wine barrels for planting where you recommend to line them with plastic. My question is, would it be ok for me to line the raised bed with plastic? I would make the wholes for drainage of course. Thank you very much for your time!

    • Reply Shae May 7, 2014 at 7:27 am

      I’m not an expert at this, Yuliya, but intuitively speaking, I think you’ll have trouble lining a raised bed on concrete with plastic. The wine barrels drain well because they are elevated off the ground; there’s space for drainage and air circulation under the barrels. The other thing is that I believe the water would seep under the plastic and stain the concrete, anyway. I’d keep doing research and talking to folks to see if you can find someone who’s had experience with your situation. Good luck!

  • Reply Yuliya May 7, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Thank you for your response Shae! I guess I will stick to the wine barrels for now.

  • Reply Greg June 8, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for the easy-to-follow instructions. I made a half wine barrel flower arrangement for my wife. She deserved it, and I wanted to introduce myself to landscaping and figured this would be a good start for a beginner. She had a much smaller wooden barrel type pot by the porch for years, but it only had ivy in it, and rotted away and I had to toss it. Ivy is an invasive plant to this area anyway and the city gov’t encourages residents to rid their property of it.

    Anyway, I thought I’d share some adaptations I used when prepping the barrel.

    First off, I would add another step at the very beginning, and that is to de-burr the outer edge of the barrel where it was cut. The barrels they had at the local hardware store had very sharp slivers on the edge. I just used a piece of left-over course-grit sandpaper.

    Another thing I did different was I just cut one large piece of wire mesh to fit over all the holes. Why? Because I didn’t want to take the time to cut 5 small ones.

    Another adaptation was I used small tacks and a hammer to secure the mesh. Why? Because I coudn’t find the staple gun (but I know we have one somewhere). In the future though, I’m going to make sure I locate the staple gun because it was a little difficult hammering any tacks in the middle of the wire mesh because the barrel bottom is only barely wide enough for the hammer to fit. That being said, hammer and small nails will work if you don’t have or can’t find a staple gun.

    Lastly, thank you for the info about not putting gravel or rocks in the bottom. My wife wanted me to do that, and we had some, but I forgot to put it in prior to dumping potting soil in it. I was SO glad when I read further that it’s not recommended. Our barrel is located on the ground. We had some 4 ft. sections of left over 2X4s, so I cut one in half and set the barrel on the two sections of 2ft 2X4s.

  • Reply Dave June 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Been using barrels for 20 years on my flat brick patio. Put the half barrels on bricks for drainage, but also to allow me to slip a travois under them I made from 3 pcs of angle iron and casters on two points. The 3rd point (“front”) of the trav goes on my hand truck so I can scoot these hummers around as needed. Angle iron pcs are longer than the width of a barrel head.

    Here in Western Washington we have a tree fungus called Brown Cubical Butt Rot. Infected trees tip over (hopefully out in the woods) and split open to reveal what looks like diced carrots turned brown, thus the name. The “butt” is the tree stem, aka Trunk. You can tell when you’ve got it in a barrel by the hard ears that form on the outside. This is the reason to use fresh dirt in a new barrel. This year will be the first time to use your vinegar trick as a preventive, so in 5 or 6 years, we should have a report for you. This is the single most important reason for the demise of a barrel.

    One year (and only one) I used packing peanuts as I’ve seen suggested in earlier posts. Fine until it was time to recycle the dirt (into the garden, not into a new barrel) from those two planters. Never again. Barrel vendor said paint them with spar varnish before I put them out and they should last better. Stay tuned for 5 years for next post. Two new planters (one barrel) per year and we cycle through our 12 planters in 6 years.

  • Reply C is for Celery Citrus Salad – Hitchhiking to Heaven December 5, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    […] year, celery grew very well for me in a half-wine barrel.  Right now, my celery plants are babies — about 3″ tall — but I’ll be […]

  • Reply Susan April 3, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I just stumbled across your website looking for info on barrel repairs (one of mine needs TLC).
    I’ve been planting my veggies in half barrels for several years now.
    I do the same 5-6 large drainage holes in the bottom.
    Then I attach one of the heavy duty dollys (I think the brand is Down Under) to the bottom.
    Then I insert a 45-gal Smartpot with the top edge folded down to the proper height.
    Then I fill with high quality soil (I use Fox Farm Ocean Forest).
    Then I plant — tomatoes, squash, herbs, greens or whatever.
    The Smartpots still allow the soil to breathe (unlike a plastic liner) and drain, without allowing dirt to flow through the drain holes.

  • Reply Shae April 3, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Thanks, Susan! That’s a great tip. I haven’t had to prepare a new barrel for years now, but maybe I’ll try a Smart Pot next time I do.

    Here’s a link to the company for anyone who’s interested:


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  • Reply Sharmila February 13, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Hello, Thank you for the great article. Would you know the typical cost of a half wine barrel?

    • Reply Shae February 13, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Hi Sharmila: In my experience, the cost varies widely. The last time I bought one from the winemaking shop, I think I paid about $24. But I’ve seen them selling at other places for close to $60. The closer you get to the source (the vineyard or winemaker or business who supplies those folks) the less expensive they’re likely to be.

    • Reply matt alexander April 10, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      Rural king has the 1/2 barrells for 9.98 each. also they have a store wide 12 rebate going on until April, 15th 2017 which is an even better price. Cheers

      • Reply matt alexander April 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm

        Rural king has the 1/2 barrells for 9.98 each. also they have a store wide 12% rebate going on until April, 15th 2017 which is an even better price. Cheers

  • Reply Dan March 9, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Should I change out most of the soil in a half whiskey barrel that a dwarf tangerine tree has occupied for many years and continues to occupy? The tree has slowly reduced in size, but still produces quite a few tangerines. I use citrus fertilizer on a recommended schedule and add compost once or twice a year. I use bricks to raise the whiskey barrel off a cement area for drainage and air circulation. Thanks for all the advice.

    • Reply Shae March 20, 2016 at 11:56 am

      What you’re doing sounds great, Dan! I have in the past changed out some of the soil in a barrel, being careful of root structure, and even loosening up roots around the sides of the root ball if I can reach them. Some trees have a lot of shallow roots at the top, so I don’t think you’d want to do too much digging around in those. I’ve also recently had good luck removing a bit of the soil on top and adding a layer of worm castings instead of citrus fertilizer. And when one or two trees have just gotten too big for their barrels, I’ve gotten help to build even bigger custom boxes. (I don’t have much other choice because there’s no in-ground space here.) It’s all been a big, and for the most part successful, experiment. I think it’s a great sign that your tree is still producing. Good luck with your growing!

  • Reply Ryan Brady April 19, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    The notch on the side ( in the middle of the barrel) is called (tee hee) a bung hole, seriously. Thanks for the advice.

    • Reply Shae April 22, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      I think that’s where the term bung hole began, actually (with casks) — and later it was adapted to its, um, other use. :-)

  • Reply DAVE April 22, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Bought 2 barrels at Home Depot and they were supposedly Jack Daniels barrels as they were charred on the inside and had a Jack label on them.My question is is it alright to use fiberglass mesh or fiberglass screening material as I do not have wire mesh of any kind.Do’nt know if might be to fine or maybe better so as not to let dirt out as much as wire mesh, your thoughts.Loved the article.

    • Reply Shae April 22, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      Hi Dave: Thanks for your comment. I have no experience with fiberglass mesh/screening so I can’t speak to that. I can tell you that the last barrel I planted, I didn’t use any mesh at all and it’s doing just fine. I didn’t get piles of soil underneath or experience any other problems.

  • Reply Pete August 24, 2017 at 3:33 am

    Does anyone have any tips or advice on how to keep rust from the bands from creating a permanent circle stain on the deck? I am using my half whiskey barrels as ponds so drainage isn’t a concern. Is there a plastic tray of some sort or can I just lay down some pond liner beneath it? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  • Reply Allegra October 15, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Thank you so much, Shae, for the clear, easy-to-follow instructions for planting a “new” half wine barrel. I live on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, and I have two questions: 1) do you think that book Golden Gate Gardening would be applicable up here or is this a different zone (8b) than San Francisco area? and 2) do you spray the barrel with straight apple cider vinegar or is it mixed with water? I sure hope (and pray) that the Napa Valley and that whole beautiful area will recover after this dreadful season. Stay green and hopeful!

    • Reply Shae October 16, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      Thank you, Allegra. I fear it will be many, many years before the Sonoma and Napa valleys will recover from the tragedy of these fires. It’s a sad time, to be sure.

      You know, I’m not sure how much Golden Gate Gardening would help you. I believe we have some 8b areas in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the book isn’t written in terms of traditional zones; it focuses on the many microclimates we have in the area, from the places where the fog lays down in summer to other regions where the summer heat is more intense. I wonder whether there is someone who’s done a guide for your area?

      About the apple cider vinegar, it may be more than what’s needed, but I have always used it straight, without dilution.

      Best to you!

  • Reply Liseth Barriga December 15, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Shae! I am Liseth. I am very interested in doing a berrel for growing my own vegetables. I saw the idea in twitter! But the main problem is that I dont live in a place where is common the wine production… So I am trying to build my own barrel. I saw your post, very useful. But maybe do you have some information about how to build a barrel?

    thank you for your attention and helping.


  • Reply Daaniyah Nicholson bint Frank February 12, 2018 at 11:24 am

    We get burned out whisky barrels from KY. I live in western NC.

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