Water Trough Gardening: Is It The Right Choice For You? A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to growing a lovely garden, no single approach is universally applicable. Some gardeners prefer beautiful vertical gardens, others like pyramid gardens, and others want to establish a hydroponic garden. However, in recent years, water trough gardening has become an increasing trend in the gardening community.

Photo Credit Trough planters are ideal for growing little plants that do not look as good in other flower pots.

Water trough gardening is different as it uses water troughs which are commonly used to supply clean, fresh water to cattle on farms and ranches. So, if you think that a water trough is only for the pleasure of farm animals, you’re wrong, and you need to reconsider!

Metal water troughs, both new and used, make excellent planters. All you have to do is drill some drainage holes in the bottom of your water trough and line them up with permeable mesh or a plastic sheet that has been holed. Next, fill the troughs partially with soil and compost, and there you go!

That said, there is much more to using water troughs as planters.

Continue reading to learn about their pros and cons as well as what you can grow in them.

Water Trough Gardening Pros

Water Trough Gardening Pros

Photo Credit Water trough planters require less maintenance and are less prone to weeds.

A water trough can serve as the ideal container for your plants if you want your garden to have an appearance that is both traditional and trendy. Water troughs in the garden can help you reduce weeding, expand your growing area, and avoid burrowing animals. 

In essence, water trough gardening uses water troughs as planters. There are numerous advantages to using a water trough in your landscape. 

Some of them are described in brief detail below.

Ideal For Small Backyards

If you do not have enough space to dig into the ground and begin your garden, a water trough is an excellent option for a small patio, front porch, and back deck.

Ideal For Areas With Poor Soil

A water trough, similar to any other type of container, gives you the option to provide your plants with the highest quality soil available

If you reside in a region with poor soil quality, a water trough can serve as an excellent container for storing store-bought and high-quality soil for your plants.

Reduces Weeds

Because your flowers and plants are confined to a single, condensed area, the likelihood of weeds growing there is significantly reduced. 

However, even if weeds do appear, you can easily and swiftly pick them out.

Can Be Painted To Enhance Aesthetics

You can give the water trough a new coat of paint and even draw pictures and designs on it. If you do this, your flowers won’t be the only thing to look at in your yard.

Makes Gardening Tasks A Bit Easier

Since water troughs are tall objects, the tops remain elevated off the ground. This makes gardening much more accessible to folks with knee or back problems because you don’t have to stoop or lean over to pick or tend your plants.

Ensures The Formation Of Robust Root System

These troughs are deep and wide because they were built to hold many gallons of water. This particular form of potting environment is ideal for ensuring that the roots of your plants will never be constrained in any way and is therefore highly recommended.

Easy To Find & Buy

You can purchase water troughs over the internet, at your neighborhood hardware store, a farm supply store, or a home improvement store. They are inexpensive and easy to find, allowing you to get your garden up and running quickly and easily.

Keep Away Underground/Burrowing Pests

You won’t have to worry about underground animals like groundhogs or rabbits eating your plants because water troughs are raised and off the ground in your garden. This comes in handy while tending to cultivate veggies or berries.

Come In Versatile Designs

Water troughs are often not expensive and have a wide range of applications, in addition to being versatile enough to be reused.

Water Troughs Are Durable

Water troughs were created to supply drinking water to livestock animals such as goats, pigs, and cows. That is why they are designed to be durable and sturdy, so you will never need to fear your garden collapsing and your lawn getting ruined.

They Come Pre-Assembled

After you buy a water trough for planting some plants, that is what you have. There is no need to assemble anything. You won’t have to do much more than putting some soil, plants, and water into your water trough to create a lovely and productive garden.

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Water Trough Gardening Cons

Cons - absorbs heat

Photo Credit Metal water troughs used for plants absorb heat and can become really hot in the summer.

There are a few drawbacks to using water troughs as raised beds in your garden, despite the fact that they are more durable than traditional wooden raised beds and may be used for a more extended period of time. It is essential that you are familiar with these aspects of water trough gardening as well so that you can make an educated choice regarding whether or not water trough gardening is the right choice for you.

Water Troughs Can Rust

If you are using a water trough that is made up of metal, it can rust over time due to moisture. The best way to prevent such a situation is to apply a coating of paint over your metal water trough, which will not only save it from rust but also give it a unique look.

Water Troughs Can Crack In Cold

During the winter months, the water trough will need to be maintained, or it will need to be stored in a safe place, and any surplus water will need to be poured off before it is used again. This is because they can crack very easily in the winter.

Water Troughs Dry Out Very Quickly

The soil in a water trough has a propensity to dry out more quickly than the soil in any other kind of potted plant. So, you will need to water it more frequently.

Water Troughs Get Hot

When exposed to the sun, the metal material of a water trough can heat up to the point that it is uncomfortable to touch. If one were to touch this accidentally, it might cause burns.

Water Troughs Are Heavy

The traditional material for water troughs is steel or another type of metal, making them cumbersome and difficult to move about, particularly after being loaded with dirt.

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How To Build A Galvanized Trough Planter?

We live in an old house, and the soil in older homes frequently contains lead. We conducted tests on our soil to verify, and the results showed that, indeed, our soil had greater amounts of lead than are safe for healthy plant growth. At that point, we made the decision to adopt the water trough gardening method, and I constructed the water trough planters on my own. This is a detailed walkthrough of the process, step by step.

Tools & Materials Required

  • 1/8″ cobalt drill bit
  • Cordless drill
  • Galvanized water trough
  • Landscape fabric
  • Large gravel
  • Six-foot level
  • Slow release fertilizer
  • Topsoil

Step 1: Buy A Water Trough

Where can you find a large metal water trough? You can locate a few on Amazon if you want to place an order online. I was able to get mine from a local firm that specializes in farm supplies. These objects come in a variety of heights and widths. I spent about $125 on a trough that was 2 feet by 2 feet by 5 feet.

Step 2: Drill Drainage Holes

Next, drill approximately ten holes around the edge and ten holes in the bottom of the water trough. A good planter will have adequate drainage to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged and rotting the plant roots. I used a cordless drill along with a drill bit that was 1/8 inches in diameter. I always use a hardened Cobalt bit while drilling through steel because a standard bit will quickly dull.

Step 3: Add Gravel To The Base

I went to Home Depot and purchased a few bags of the least expensive gravel I could find there; this was enough to cover all of the holes that I bored into the sides of the trough. 

The gravel will maintain the free space around the holes, which is necessary to keep the water moving and avoid soil saturation in the water trough.

Step 4 – Fill The Water Trough With Soil

Once you are done adding gravel to the water trough, add topsoil on top and fill the water trough. Some people add styrofoam or other thick objects under the soil, which decreases the quantity of soil that needs to be added. 

However, I think topsoil is very cheap, and you should fill the water trough with topsoil as it will allow your plants to develop a deeper and more robust root system.

Step 5: Add Your Favorite Plants

Now that the water trough is fully ready, you can add your favorite plants to it. I would also suggest sprinkling a bit of starter fertilizer on top before adding your plants.

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Final Thoughts

Growing plants in water troughs offer a wide variety of valuable advantages. Even if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, it is essential to take them into account. 

However, the many advantages of water trough gardening demonstrate that, despite its few drawbacks, it has the potential to be an aesthetically pleasing addition to any area. 

You’ll appreciate how helpful a water trough garden can be in your yard.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you grow vegetables in water troughs?

The use of galvanized troughs as gardening containers is highly recommended. You are free to plant as many vegetables as you like, in whichever pattern you choose, and then watch them develop. The only issue that can arise when cultivating vegetables in water troughs is that zinc and cadmium can leach out of the soil over time.

Can you use a water trough for a raised garden bed?

Stock tanks, often known as water troughs, make excellent gardening beds. They are a wise alternative to the typical raised garden beds as they are robust and long-lasting. 

Water troughs of any size can be used in your garden. It entirely depends on the location you have in mind for them and the plants you intend to grow.

Are galvanized stock tanks safe for gardening?

The short answer is that galvanized stock tanks are very safe for gardening. The zinc coating on galvanized steel requires acidity to degrade, and since most gardening soils are neutral, there is no effect. But occasionally, zinc from freshly galvanized metal can seep into the ground at quantities high enough to prevent healthy plant growth.

Do troughs need drainage holes?

When attempting to grow plants, veggies, or flowers in a water trough, drainage is likely the most important factor to keep in mind at all times. So, ensure that the bottom of the trough you use contains an adequate number of holes. However, if you are utilizing a sink, there will only be a single hole.

Can plants live in pots without holes?

It is possible, but too much water in the soil causes poor growth. If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, you shouldn’t use it for an outside plant unless it will be protected from rain. 

Some industry experts recommend using a layer of stones as a substitute for the drainage layer in containers that do not have holes in the bottom for water to escape.

Sources for Further Reading

Plant of the Week: Trough Gardening – University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service

Trough Gardening – Pacific Horticulture

Cow Creek Gardening – Oklahoma State University Extension Service

Raised Bed Gardening – Raised Bed Gardening Extension Service

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