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A New Kind of Raised Planter
by Jean McWeeney

The parking area outside an artist’s studio needed a shot of color,
which was provided by planting stock tanks with tough, blooming plants.
(Photo courtesy of Jean McWeeney.)


Have you ever found yourself with ground that is too tough to plant in, or even a slab of concrete that could use a planter? How about the need for a raised bed but not the means to build one?

I have just the solution for you ­– a stock tank. Hmm, isn’t that the thing that cows and horses use for water? Wouldn’t that look weird in my suburban yard? Well the answers are yes and no. Yes, stock tanks are used to provide water (usually) for livestock. No, a stock tank won’t look weird in your yard unless you have a strictly formal landscape, such as an Italianate villa might have.

  Step one –in the stock tank planter process is drilling holes in the bottom. Be sure to provide some type of platform under the tank in order to let the water drain away. In this case, the tank sits on bricks.

 Step two – fill with potting soil. Be sure to select or create the appropriate type of soil for the plants. If creating a succulent or cactus planter, be sure to incorporate small rocks, grit and/or sand for best drainage.

 Step three – fill with plants and water! This planter is right at home on this urban balcony, providing easy access to fresh herbs for cooking. (Photos courtesy of Dana J. Robinson.)

There are a number of reasons I (and many gardeners) love stock tanks. First, they look equally at home in an urban setting, the galvanized steel providing a contemporary accent, or in a typical suburban yard, the steel blending well with wood siding, fences and other landscape elements.

Another reason is that before a stock tank is planted it is somewhat lightweight and can be moved to its resting spot with relative ease.

Stock tanks are perfect for those places where either no soil exists, such as patios, driveways or entrances, or where soil is really tough, such as compacted soil. When siting a tank, be sure you take into account the need for leveling. You also want to allow for drainage, so besides drilling holes in the bottom (and optionally removing the plug), you may want to raise your tank with bricks or shims.

Stock tanks are great for plants that can get away from you, such as horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) or bamboo, provided the tank is on a solid surface (so roots can’t escape through drain holes). They can easily handle large shrubs or trees that need well-drained soil since most have a lot of root capacity. I first used a stock tank for some cacti and succulents. I love those types of plants but live in an area that gets more rain than would be good for them. So I custom mixed some very well-draining soil and planted away. That planter sits on my asphalt driveway facing the western sun. Now I don’t have to worry about too much or too little water.

A row of planted stock tanks can act as a screen. Some day I’d like to plant a few with bamboo muhly, Muhlenbergia dumosa, to provide a little privacy in one area of my backyard. I’ve seen them used as screens and wind breaks for outdoor sitting areas for sidewalk cafés.

And, how about a stock tank pond? They can be used to great effect with so many sizes and shapes to choose from. I’m starting one this year with a small, 3-foot by 2-foot tank. I’ll plant some miniature water lilies and am looking forward to dragonflies and other interesting critters all summer. If you have the room, try an even larger one to house a variety of water plants and fish.

The number of ways you can use a stock tank is only limited by your imagination. They can usually be found at farm/feed stores, sometimes ordered from big box stores, or online (be sure to ask about shipping costs first). Whether you tell them you don’t own a horse is up to you!



Two stock tanks are playing two roles – the smaller one as a water feature and the larger one as a surrounding planter. (Photo courtesy of Jean McWeeney.)


This gardener needed a temporary space safe from dogs to plant some veggies, so a few stock tanks fit the bill. (Photo courtesy of Jean McWeeney.)


Hardy annuals and perennials fill this stock tank placed against a sunny west wall: lantana, Mexican feather grass, star daisy (Melampodium), cosmos, sweet potato vine, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Rudbeckia maxima and salvia. (Photo courtesy of Jean McWeeney.)


Posted February 2011


Jean McWeeney is a freelance garden writer, a garden coach and owner of The Natural Garden Coach, a Master Gardener, and blogs about her own garden at diggrowcompostblog.com.



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