Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Metal Trough Planters

A couple of years ago, I ran into a woman who was asking how she could get rid of some black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) that she'd planted in her yard.  She'd cut it down one year, and it had all sprouted back up.  I perked up because I was at a sale shopping for bamboo when she said it, so we went over and dug up several clumps and cleaned up her patch in trade for about $150 worth of free bamboo.

We planted it in the ground, in big rubbermaid containers with the bottoms cut out, because that was my strategy for preventing escape.  18 months later, and we were ready to completely re-do the yard in that area.  The bamboo came out, we built a new fence behind it, and put it back in the same spot, but this time, in above-ground planters that are sold as livestock watering troughs.  They're heavy galvanized sheet metal, with a handy drain hole and a rolled rim.

This is not a new idea.  We see these planters all the time, but here's what it looked like when we did it.

First off, we leveled off the area, and packed the dirt with a tamper to try to reduce any later settling.  Then I went and picked up a half yard of 3/4-minus crushed rock, and we put down a couple of inches of that, tamping as we went.  The tamping is very important, if you don't want the ground to subside on its own later and ruin your work.  I use a hand tamper that is basically a ten-inch square of cast iron with a handle.  It weighs about 15 lbs, and it's a good workout.  You can also make your own out of wood, or just use a chunk of 4x4 for small jobs.  It's amazing how solid a bed of crushed rock gets after compaction.  The fine bits fill in the gaps between the bigger chunks, and it makes for a very sturdy surface.  Stomping with your boots isn't really a substitute, because you need to deal more of a blow than your feet can handle.

We set the troughs in place, and made sure they were level with each other and sat nice and flat.   It took a few iterations of wiggling the planters, and then removing them and adding rock and raking and tamping, but this is the only chance to get it right.  Once we were happy with the position, we put a bit of rock in the bottom for drainage, and then filled the first foot with fill dirt (very little organic material), and then topped it off with about 16 inches of mixed compost and soil.  Our neighbor helped us heave the giant bamboo root balls into the planters and that was that.

A few weeks later, several new canes have sprouted.  Hopefully, if I can keep the sun from roasting the containers, the bamboo will be happy here and provide a nice backdrop for the yard.