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Trough Planting Tips

Historically stone troughs were used in England to feed and water livestock. These still exist as antiques in the British Isles.  They are large, expensive and heavy. Gardeners found that these troughs made beautiful planters. Today, hypertufa artists are duplicating them in various sizes and shapes to use as planters. These containers can be used to create small rockeries in miniature, All troughs should have a drain hole to provide good drainage to the plants.

Plant selection for troughs is critical.  All of the plants in a given container should have the same cultural requirements in regard to  light and moisture.  The plants should be of  relatively short stature and slow growers,  You should not use plants that self-seed.  Use plants that prefer a dry or normal moisture environment.  Use plants that have different shapes - mounds, small buns, rosettes and mats. This adds interest to the planting.  It is often fun to recreate natural plant associations in your troughs.

You also need to know where your trough is going to be placed so you may choose plants appropriate to the amount of sunlight received. 

The planting mix is important.  We use a well-draining soilless mix that contains slow release fertilizer and superphosphate for root development.  The mix should be light and airy with spaces to take in air and expel gases.  Air is as critical to plants as sufficient moisture and nutrients.  Use a gravel mulch.  We also add some small rocks. They are aesthetically pleasing and also serve a few purposes.  They slightly moderate temperature extremes and help keep roots cool.  They also channel rain water to the plants and help prevent washout when watering .Rocks and plants should be culturally compatible.  Do not use limestone rocks with plants that prefer a very acid environment.  Small pieces of wood can replace the rocks in a woodland trough.  For these shady troughs we prefer a bark mulch rather than gravel.  When siting the trough, elevate it on feet or bricks to increase drainage.

Planted troughs are used for a variety of reasons.  The troughs raise the height of the plants and segregates them from their neighbors.  Troughs also work well with plants that have special soil requirements or plants that require very sharp drainage.  Some plants live longer and bloom better in a very dry environment.  Troughs add interest to entrances, walls, patios and terraces.  They can also be sited directly in a garden in a place of honor.

The wintering of troughs is not difficult if done properly.  The trough should winter well if constructed and cured properly.  Plants selected should be hardy to your area.  If the trough is small enough to move, place it in a sheltered spot or in an unheated porch or garage.   If it is too heavy to move, you can cover it with evergreen branches for a little protection.  It is not freezing that kills plants in troughs in winter.  It is the constantly fluctuating temperatures. 

Remember that  a planted trough is a reflection of the gardener.  It can be staid and conservative or wild and wonderful!