8 Raised Bed Trough Garden Ideas to Try This Spring

8 Raised Bed Trough Garden Ideas to Try This Spring
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8 Raised Bed Trough Garden Ideas to Try This Spring

Different Types of Trough Gardens to Make Your Raised Bed

Raised beds and container gardening has become more and more popular every year for the last couple of decades. Many gardeners have been utilizing troughs for their gardens. They plant both flower and yummy vegetable seeds in these raised beds.

The easiest way to describe a trough is to visualize the open water tank used to water cows and horses. Those are the troughs we all are used to seeing on the farm pasture, but troughs can also be made of wood, plastic or cement and even fabric! 

Concrete or Stone Troughs

These concrete containers are the most durable of all. They can handle all types of weather conditions, from extreme heat to extreme cold. They are perfect for large plants like trees and shrubs. The disadvantage is the weight as they likely can’t be used on a deck, patio or balcony.

Most of these containers are made of cast concrete but very occasionally an actual stone trough turns up. These are usually antique, and a farmer years ago chiseled a large rock to make a water trough for his animals.

If you find one, bring it home as they are a beautiful part of history and can be filled with flowers or left as they were originally used. Fill with water for the birds and other wild animals in a special spot in your garden.

Galvanized Troughs

With all the advantages of the metal troughs, it isn’t surprising that it is the most common material used for troughs. Galvanized troughs have lots of advantages to the home gardener, including:

Easy Accessibility — Troughs are available in most big box stores as well as farm supply stores. They also become available at farm auctions and sometimes online.

Ready to Use — There is no assembly required as the troughs come assembled and ready to fill with soil. These stock tanks come in a variety of sizes including round. That gives flexibility to allow for the most efficient use of the space you have no matter what the shape or size of your garden area.

Use Anywhere — A gardener who has no yard can place a trough on a deck, patio or even a balcony.

Good Soil — If you live in an area where the soil is poor, you can use a trough to control the quality of the soil. You also can control the depth of the soil to accommodate the root crops.

Less Pest Problems — If you have been fighting with the rabbits for your vegetables, the height of the trough could be the answer. They also deter slugs and some of the insect pests. Add the ease of weed control and you will be spending more time enjoying your garden instead of defending it.

Easy Access — If you are an older gardener or a gardener with physical limitations, the extra height of the trough garden could mean you will be able to continue gardening without having to bend or stoop to reach the soil and the plants growing in it.

Long Lasting — Galvanized troughs will last for years. These troughs are made to stand up to animals that weigh a thousand pounds. They are meant to hold water and not deteriorate.

Paintable — The outside surface can be left as is or it can be painted. Some gardeners with an artistic talent paint the outside with a mural of flowers or vegetables. Others like a more uniform look and choose a metallic paint like copper. Some gardeners want a fun look and choose a vibrant color for each trough.

There are disadvantages to using galvanized troughs though, and the main one is that metal will heat up in the sun. This is great for the northern gardener as the heat will transfer into the soil allowing the gardener to gain a couple of weeks of gardening time in the spring.

However, the southern gardener may find this a negative. Perhaps painting the trough will reflect the light away and keep the soil at a comfortable temperature for the plants. Another solution is to line the sides of the trough before you add the soil to control the temperature of the soil and protect your plant roots. That said, the outside of the trough and the top lip will still be hot, and the gardener will have to take care.

Another disadvantage, depending on the type of metal your trough is made from, is that the metal can discolor over time. Some people like the change but others may not. Galvanized metal will change the least with aging.

Plastic Troughs

Plastic troughs are also very popular gardening containers. Plastic or resin troughs are lightweight compared to metal and they also come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are relatively inexpensive.

Look for a composite material as the plastic is strengthened with fiber or other material that makes the plastic able to be left outdoors in sun or cold without being damaged. The added strength of the product also means the container can hold a greater volume of soil without becoming damaged or misshapen.

Wood Troughs

Wood is a good option, especially if you are a DIY-type person. The best wood to use is teak or cedar. These woods are more expensive, but the wood will survive being wet frequently for years longer than pine. You can use less expensive woods like pine, but understand it will not last as long.

Avoid treated wood, if possible, especially if you are using your trough to grow food. There is a risk of some leaching of the chemical used to treat the wood into the soil. Once in the soil, your plants will absorb it into the food you want to eat. On the positive side, wood can be less expensive, and it can be painted or stained whatever color you choose or to match your home, fence or garden shed.

Preparing the Site

If your troughs are replacing an in-ground garden or even a raised bed garden, prepping the site should be done before you place the troughs. First, decide what you want surrounding the troughs. You can leave grass around the troughs but understand that will require a lot more maintenance to look nice. A better solution is to treat the entire area as a single pad. 

Start by leveling the area, if needed, as an uneven ground surface will result in your troughs being crooked instead of nice and straight. This is likely your last chance to level the ground without having to empty the trough of all the soil and plants you are about to put in them. Once the ground is level, cover the entire area with weed barrier cloth or a good layer of overlapping cardboard. This will effectively kill any grass or weeds growing there. 

Place your troughs on the surface and arrange them in a way that looks good and is functional. If you like to use a wheelbarrow, make sure it will fit between the troughs even when plants hang over the sides. Save space for a chair or bench in your garden space. It is so nice to have a resting spot to just enjoy looking at your garden in the morning with a nice cup of coffee or tea, and it doesn’t hurt to sit down for a break when you are working hard. 

You might also want a spot for a bird bath. Having water in your garden will help to encourage pollinators to stick around. Once you have the garden designed the way you want it, cover the weed barrier with the mulch of your choice. Pea gravel is a good choice as it doesn’t break down, but wood chips or shredded bark look very natural and may match your other garden beds.

Prepping Your Trough

Once you have decided on the type of container you want and have them placed in your garden space, it is time to get your troughs ready to fill by following these steps, including:

Movable or Permanent — The first thing to decide is whether your trough will have to be movable. Once the trough is filled, it will be extremely heavy. If it needs to be portable, you may want to add wheels if possible before you fill the trough with soil. 

Water Drainage — The second and most important step is to provide a way for excess water to drain from your trough. Some troughs come with a drain to allow for draining and cleaning the trough. If your trough has no drainage, add holes in the bottom with a drill using the appropriate drill bit for the material your trough is made from.

Fill Your Troughs — Most troughs are at least two feet high. That will require a lot of soil to fill. You can fill your troughs with potting soil or use a mix of compost and topsoil. Some gardeners choose to put about five inches of pea gravel in the bottom, which still leaves 18 inches of soil and that is more than adequate for growing most plants. Another alternative is to place branches and small tree limbs in the bottom. This is organic material and will eventually decompose into compost. 

Plan for Watering — The only other factor to decide on is how you will water your troughs. Hand watering with a hose or even using a watering can will be very satisfying, and it gives you a chance to keep on top of everything that is growing. You will know when the beans are almost ready to pick, or if there are some weeds that can be pulled immediately before they become a problem. On the other hand, installing a drip irrigation system to water your garden automatically can be a huge time-saver. These systems are a great addition to your garden supplies. If you are going to use an irrigation system, set it up now.

8 Trough Garden Ideas to Try This Spring

Get out your flower and favorite vegetable seeds this spring as you are now ready to plant in your new garden troughs. Here are some ideas for what to plant, including:

Brassica Garden — If you plant all your brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) together, it will be easy to cover with a net to prevent the small white butterfly from laying eggs on your plants. When those eggs hatch, the destructive cabbage looper will start eating and can totally destroy the entire crop. The best solution is to put up a barrier to keep the butterfly out.

Herb and Edible Flower Garden — If you like to cook and use a lot of fresh herbs, an herb garden would be great. Plant basil, sage, thyme, parsley, chives, cilantro and even mint, as long as you keep it confined in its own pot.

Salad Garden — A salad garden with lettuce, radishes, spinach and a cherry tomato plant is a great way to supplement your salads with fresh vegetables.

Pizza Garden — Plant tomatoes, onions and peppers to have ready fresh vegetables to add for your pizza toppings.

Strawberry Garden — Fill your planter with strawberry plants. The berries will be protected from four-legged pests and a simple net will keep the birds from helping themselves.

Succulent Garden — Fill your trough with succulents for a unique garden. Succulents are very low maintenance plants that come in a wide variety of colors and shapes.

Cutting Garden — A cutting garden is grown with flowers that are intended to be cut and used in a vase. Plant a trough with zinnias, marigolds, daisies and snapdragons. You will have all the flowers you need to use indoors without destroying your landscape plantings.

Shade Garden — Fill this garden with shade-loving plants like hostas, ferns, astilbe and bleeding heart.

Each spring, add a few inches of compost and well-aged manure. Don’t use fresh manure as it can burn your plants. Remember to rotate your plants. Planting the same thing in your trough each year increases the chances of disease and pests. It also can deplete the soil of nutrients if the plants are heavy feeders.

If you have to use the same location, be vigilant when cleaning the bed in the fall and have the soil tested every spring so you can use soil amendments appropriately.

Choose your trough type, prepare it for growing and consider the eight ideas offered in this article to try this unique way of gardening this spring.