Growing Your Own Herbs and Vegetables in Used Wooden Barrels

When it comes to repurposing, few objects are as versatile as used Oak barrels. These barrels, often associated with aging spirits like bourbon, whiskey, rum, and wine, can find new life as unique and charming planters for growing your own herbs and vegetables.


In this blog post, we'll explore the journey of used bourbon barrels from distilleries to your garden and discover the benefits of using them as planters for a bountiful and stylish harvest.

The Legacy of Used Wooden Barrels


The legacy of the wooden barrel began with the Romans, who used them to store wine. These used wine barrels were also utilized to hold butter, honey, mead, and other beverages, as well as foods such as fish, meat, fruit, grains, and dried fruits. During this time, the barrels were made of small staves of oak, yew, or pine and required considerable craftsmanship to construct.

After two or more years of aging, a bourbon barrel is ready to retire. This is the point at which the charred wood starts to lose its flavoring power. But, thanks to Kentucky law, the barrel isn’t allowed to be distilled again.

When a bourbon barrel is retired, it’s often sold to distilleries around the world for use in their whisky or other spirits. In Brazil, for instance, used wooden barrels have been used to age spirits like sherry, reposado, Anejo, tequilas, cachaca, pisco, rum, and vodka. Other spirit distillers in Scotland, Japan, and Ireland also utilize used whiskey barrels to mature their products. In addition, the craft beer revolution has seen many brewers experiment with barrel-aged beers, from low-alcohol stouts to mouth-puckering sours.

Used Oak barrels, such as bourbon, whiskey, rum, and wine barrels, possess a rich history and unique character. These barrels are traditionally made from oak, a durable and long-lasting wood that imparts distinct flavors and aromas to the spirits they house. After their primary purpose of aging spirits is fulfilled, these barrels can be repurposed for various applications, including as beautiful planters for your gardening endeavors.

The Benefits of Using Wooden Barrels As Planters


Wooden barrel planters are a unique way to add charm and style to your garden. They also provide a number of practical benefits. Cacti and other succulents look great in barrel planters, as do ferns like Bergenia, which add rich color to the garden with their greenery and blooms. Other hardy perennials, like tall grasses, vines, and dwarf shrubs, work well too.

Enhanced Drainage and Aeration

Used wine barrels offer excellent drainage and aeration properties for your plants. The porous nature of the wood allows excess water to drain away, preventing waterlogging and ensuring proper oxygenation of the roots. This feature is especially beneficial for herbs and vegetables that require well-drained soil.

The curved shape and slatted design of barrel planters promote better drainage, preventing waterlogging that can damage the roots of your plants. To further ensure that excess water can escape, the bottom of your barrel should be lined with landscape fabric or gravel to reduce soil compaction.

It’s best to use a liner that is either biodegradable or made from recycled plastic. Alternatively, pool noodles are a lightweight inert material that can be cut up into smaller pieces and used as filler. You can also line your barrel with a thin layer of moss, which helps to keep the soil moist without allowing water to seep through and potentially cause root rot.

If your barrel is made from wood, it should be treated with a preservative to protect it from rotting. You should also regularly clean it to remove debris, weeds, and other organic matter. If you have a shady garden spot, you can even transform your barrel into a whimsical pond that lights up at night.

Insulation and Temperature Regulation

Unlike many other types of containers, barrels are made from wood, which means they can endure a variety of outdoor weather conditions. They can withstand sun, wind, and rain, making them ideal for gardeners of all ages. The barrels are also easy to clean, which helps prevent mold and mildew growth.

Used rum barrels provide natural insulation, helping to regulate the temperature of the soil. This insulation can protect the plants' roots from extreme temperature fluctuations, promoting healthy growth throughout the seasons.

Organic Material and Nutrient Retention

Over time, the wooden barrels slowly break down, releasing organic compounds into the soil. These compounds enhance soil fertility and promote nutrient retention, creating an ideal environment for robust herb and vegetable growth.

Unique Aesthetic Appeal

In addition to the practical benefits of using barrel planters, they add a unique, rustic charm that complements a wide variety of garden themes and schemes. They can also be customized with paint or wood stain to enhance their appearance and protect them from rot.

The rustic and vintage charm of used Oak barrels adds a distinctive aesthetic to any garden or outdoor space. The weathered appearance and natural textures create a visually appealing backdrop for your herb and vegetable garden, elevating the overall ambiance of your surroundings.

Preparing A Used Bourbon Barrel for Planting


Before a barrel is filled with bourbon, it goes through a long process of conditioning. This helps to impart flavor and color to the resulting whiskey. Once the barrel is empty, it can be reused for other purposes like aging different types of spirits or turning them into planters.

The rustic look of used whiskey barrels or even half barrels is great for home decor, especially as a planter! A barrel planter can be a centerpiece of any landscape. Before you start planting, it is important to prepare the barrel for potting. To transform a used bourbon barrel into a planter, follow these steps:

Cleaning and Preparation

Used rum barrels can be a great addition to a garden. The wood can add rich, smoky flavors to herbs, vegetables, or flowers. The metal bands can also be a nice touch of rustic design, and the sides can provide plenty of space for root growth.

However, before a barrel can be used for a garden, it needs to be cleaned and prepared. This process can be tricky, so you should be ready for a bit of work. The best way to clean a barrel is to soak it with hot water. This solution will sanitize the barrel and get rid of any bacteria that may be growing in the cracks and crevices.

Thoroughly clean the barrel, removing any residue from its previous use. Use a mixture of mild soap and water, scrubbing the interior and exterior surfaces. Rinse the barrel thoroughly and allow it to dry completely. After the soaking, you should rinse the barrel with cool water to make sure all of the hot water has been removed.

Drilling Drainage Holes

Typically, used wine barrels (half barrels used for planting) do not come with drainage holes. This is an important step to take as it helps prevent the soil from becoming too soggy and drowning the roots of your plants or causing rot in the barrel. Adding the holes also promotes aeration and allows excess water to drain from the barrel, preventing the barrel from filling up with standing water.

To ensure proper drainage, drill several drainage holes in the bottom of the barrel. This step is crucial for preventing water accumulation and root rot. To prepare the holes, turn the barrel upside down and mark the location where you would like to place them. Four to six 1/2-inch holes spaced equally apart should supply adequate drainage without weakening the bottom of the barrel.

Liner or Barrier

When used as a planter, a bourbon barrel makes for an eye-catching addition to any garden. However, it's important to use a liner or barrier. A liner or barrier helps prevent a corrosive chemical in the barrel from leeching into your plants and potentially harming them.

A lining also helps protect the wood of the barrel from water. This is especially important for people who want to use the barrel as a patio table or end table. The liner should also help keep the soil from washing out of the barrel during a rainstorm.

Consider adding a liner or barrier to the inside of the barrel to protect the wood and extend its lifespan. You can use a plastic liner, burlap, or a piece of breathable landscape fabric to create a barrier between the soil and the wood.

Planting and Maintaining Your Herb and Vegetable Garden


Soil and Plant Selection

If you are growing herbs in the garden, ideally, the soil should be light and well-draining. It helps to have a little organic matter mixed in the soil, such as compost, peat moss, or coarse sand. You can buy these products in bags at the garden center.

Whether you are gardening in the ground or in containers, most herbs prefer to be fed lightly with an organic liquid fish and kelp fertilizer (half strength) every few weeks. It also helps to have a certified organic mix with no synthetic chemicals or fertilizers. If you are using a bagged soil mix, look for the OMRI label on the product.

Researching the herb and understanding its growing needs is important to ensure it will thrive. Herbs that are grown in the ground should be planted where they will get at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Depending on the herb, some will do better in full sun, while others need more shade.

Most expert gardening sources group herbs by their origin and general growing preferences. For example, the so-called Mediterranean herbs of rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme grow together very well. Other groups are based on the fragrance of the herbs or their flavors, such as the "fresh" herbs of basil, cilantro, parsley, and tarragon.

Fill the barrel with a high-quality potting mix enriched with organic matter. Select herbs and vegetables suitable for container gardening, such as cherry tomatoes, lettuce, basil, rosemary, or mint. Ensure you provide adequate space between plants for proper growth.

Herbs are a great place to start when getting into edible gardening because they are so easy to grow and are a good way to get familiar with garden basics like watering, fertilizing, and pest control. Many herb plants also grow well in containers, making them a good option for those with less yard space or just starting out on their gardening journey. We recommend that new gardeners focus on herbs and salad greens for their first season before moving on to more space-hogging vegetables.

Watering and Fertilization

Water the plants regularly, keeping the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Monitor the moisture levels and adjust accordingly. Additionally, apply organic fertilizers at appropriate intervals to provide essential nutrients for healthy plant development.

Keeping herbs and vegetables properly watered and fed is key to their success. Most herbs and vegetables grow best in rich, well-draining soil that’s free of competing trees or shrubs. If your yard’s natural soil doesn’t meet these requirements, consider creating a raised bed garden and filling it with Miracle-Gro(r) Raised Bed Soil.

Most culinary herbs don’t need much fertilizer because they can often get the nutrients they need from their native soil. If you choose to fertilize, be careful not to overdo it because too many nutrients can actually diminish herb flavor and aroma. When using a synthetic, fast-release fertilizer, look for one that lists three numbers, such as 5-10-20, to indicate the percentage of each major nutrient: Nitrogen (5%), Phosphorus (10%), and Potassium (20%).

Sunlight and Placement

Place your wooden barrel planter in a location that receives sufficient sunlight, depending on the plant's requirements. Most herbs and vegetables thrive in at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Herbs love the sun and are quick to thrive in the heat, but some prefer cooler temperatures and will bolt when they get too warm. For this reason, it's important to study the specific needs of your herbs before choosing a location for them.

When growing indoor herbs, place them in a south-facing window to maximize the amount of sunlight they receive. East-facing windows are also a good choice for herbs that need partial sunlight. If your herb plants are in containers, check their soil for moisture regularly; you may need to add a balanced fertilizer.

If you're planting an outdoor herb garden, try to place it close to your kitchen so you can easily snip some oregano while making spaghetti sauce or some basil leaves while preparing bruschetta. This makes incorporating herbs into your cooking easier and can encourage you to use more herbs in your meals.

Many herbs make lovely additions to vegetable gardens and can help protect vegetables from pests. Because of their strong fragrance and flavor, most herbs are effective deterrents against many insect pests, including cabbage moths, carrot flies, and flea beetles. You can even use them as a trap crop by surrounding a vegetable plant with a sacrificial herb like collard greens to attract pests away from the more desirable vegetables in your garden.

Regular Maintenance

Once your herbs are planted, keep an eye on them throughout the summer and fall to harvest when they're at their peak. This will help your herbs to re-grow and continue producing leaves for you to enjoy. If you prune or harvest herbs frequently, the plant will re-grow faster and become bushier and leafier, which means you'll be able to reap even more!

Some herbs, such as those in the mint family, prefer to be kept fairly dry and don't do so well with wet soil. If you're unsure whether your herbs need to be watered, stick your finger into the soil - it should be moist to the touch but not wet. Watering only when the soil is dry will prevent rot, promote healthy roots, and reduce the risk of fungal diseases.

Prune herbs and harvest vegetables as they mature to encourage continued growth. Regularly monitor your plants for signs of pests, diseases, or nutrient deficiencies. Over time, you may need to replace the soil or refresh the planter, ensuring the longevity of your wooden barrel planter.

Plants That Are Well-Suited To Grow in Barrel Planters


A barrel planter is an ideal way to grow a range of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. These planters offer several benefits over traditional garden pots, including enhanced drainage and aeration, improved insulation from extreme temperatures, and the ability to move them around your garden to keep them away from pests.

A barrel planter is an ideal place to grow various plants, from perennials such as Petunias and Lilyturfs to flowering shrubs like Heuchera. If you're looking for an easy-to-maintain plant, daffodils are a great choice, as they provide bright pops of color while staying healthy and vibrant throughout the growing season.

Bergenias are a great choice for barrel planters, as they are evergreen and produce masses of blooms in spring. Their deep violet or blue-green leaves are a lovely contrast to the rusty brown or black finish of a wooden barrel, making them a beautiful and practical addition to any garden. Similarly, ferns thrive in barrel planters, with their finely-textured foliage that spreads and spills with minimal effort.

Hardy perennials, such as tall grasses and vines, sedums, and fuchsias, are an excellent choice for a barrel planter. Dwarf shrubs such as Abelia, Dwarf Waxleaf Privet, and Boxwood will add structure to the landscape and provide an explosion of color. Multi-stemmed trees such as a Japanese Maple, Dwarf Waxleaf Japanese Cranesbill, and Redbud will make a striking focal point.


With their beneficial drainage, insulation, and aesthetic appeal, wooden barrel planters add character to any outdoor space. Repurposing used bourbon barrels as planters for growing herbs and vegetables not only gives these beautiful objects a second life but also provides an excellent opportunity to create a unique and productive garden. So, why not embark on a journey of transforming a used wooden barrel into a thriving herb and vegetable garden, and enjoy the delightful flavors and aromas of your homegrown produce?

AUTHOR BIO: Rachel Moore works as a Marketing Manager at RMBC. RMBC provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and wine barrels. They are proud to partner with 1400+ breweries internationally.

About the Author Laura Bennett

Hello, I’m Laura Bennett. I love nature especially when it comes to flowers and different kinds of plants. I started a very small garden behind my house and I named it Humid Garden. So, I created this blog to provide aspiring and inspiring thoughts about gardening for gardeners and anyone who has the intention of keeping a garden.

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