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Last winter I decided that my back deck needed some trough gardens. Normally when gardeners think about troughs it’s the stone variety like those described books such as Creating and Planting Garden Troughs. I wasn’t craving stone or hypertufa, however…I was thinking livestock. Specifically, a metal Behlen tub that is commonly used to feed and water cattle.

These troughs were very successful, as the photos below demonstrate. The plants that I chose for the summer plantings were largely picked for two reasons: I wanted some plants that attracted hummingbirds and some that look good when backlit by the late-afternoon sun. Many evenings in the summer my husband and I sit on this deck during cocktail hour, so beautiful lighting and bird action were important.

A few weeks ago I took cuttings from those annuals that I save from year to year. That done, I pulled out the summer plants, refreshed the soil in the Smart Pots that were used to line the troughs, and planted them up for the winter. While I was at it I put in some tulip and daffodil bulbs for spring color.

The only thing missing is some more height – those King Tut Papyrus were stunning and I miss them. So soon I’ll be adding some curly willow to the center of these troughs. These planters will be appreciated from the kitchen and living room windows all winter and spring. Maybe the tall twigs will even become perches as birds head to our heated birdbath, so we’ll still get some bird action even though the hummingbirds have gone south.

There is an upside down plastic crate in the bottom and the Smart Pots rest on top of that.

When you put plants into place at the beginning of the summer it's hard to imagine the explosion of growth that's about to happen...

but explode they did! This photo shows how these plants caught the light of the setting sun. The Agastache and the Black and Blue Salvia kept the hummingbird action going until they migrated south.

I love the evergreens and know that they'll look fantastic when dusted with snow. I'm just missing the golden curly willow...but that will be added soon.

Sharing the Wealth
Tips for Metal Troughs

  • Don’t forget to take out the drainage plug at the bottom of the trough. This is how the excess water will run out. I also put some Mosquito Dunks underneath the plastic crates before the Smart Pots were filled. They are made of a type of Bt that kills mosquito larvae, so if some water remains on the bottom of the troughs I won’t be breeding mosquitos.
  • Don’t put rocks at the bottom of your smart pots or troughs. These planters are already plenty heavy, and rocks will just add to the weight. Smart Pots drain well and should be completely filled with soil.
  • I mixed an organic fertilizer in the soil before planting in the spring and I added more before putting the evergreens in this fall.
  • Don’t forget to water your containers if the soil isn’t frozen in the fall and winter! Sometimes we forget that evergreens in containers will need watering if it doesn’t rain at least once a week.


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