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Water Garden in a Whiskey Barrel

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Living in the Bluegrass Region gives us access to one of the finest exports – Kentucky Whiskey / Bourbon. Whiskey is cured in brand-new oak barrels, so there are always old barrels to be bought from the distilleries or found at flea markets. These barrels make wonderful planters for small gardens or plants, but they also make the perfect container for a water garden.

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Whiskey-barrel water gardens are hardy in zones 6 through 9 and look great on a patio, front porch or deck. When searching for the perfect barrel, make sure it is a sturdy half barrel that sits firmly on the ground. Also make sure it has at least two metal hoops.

There are two ways to prepare a barrel to hold water for the garden. Some people like to line their barrels with thick black plastic in order to hold the water, while others like to keep their barrels in the natural state. I feel since these barrels are built to hold whiskey for several years without leaking, then it should be leak-proof enough for water.

Make sure to place the barrel where you want it to be, because once it’s full of water, you will not be able to move it. Either line your barrel with plastic up to an inch from the rim, or fill your barrel with water and top off over several days until the oak soaks in enough to make a permanent seal. With either method, drill a small hole about one inch from the top to use as an overflow release in case of extreme rain.

Place clean concrete blocks or bricks in order to bring your plants higher up into the barrel. Select water plants of different varieties, sizes and shapes, also consider the type of plant. Some plants are just oxygenators which need to be underwater, some on float on top of the water, and some must be secured in submergible pots. Here are just a few to choose from:

  • • Hornwort – oxygenator, submergible
  • • Parrot feather – oxygenator, floater
  • • Fairy moss – floater
  • • Water hyacinth – floater; cleans water of pollutants
  • • Water lilies – used for color; must submerge roots about 8 to 12 inches
  • • Pickerel weed – makes a bold statement; submerge up to 12 inches

There are numerous websites and gardening catalogs that have a large variety of water plants to choose from; just remember that less is more.

A word about mosquitoes – you have two options in controlling mosquitoes and their larvae. One is to add the small cakes added to water to destroy mosquitoes, but they don’t hurt the plants. The other option is to add goldfish or mosquito fish to the garden; these must be removed before cold weather in order to survive.

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