Gardening in Water Troughs


Gardening in water troughs is becoming a popular way to grow plants in small or unconventional spaces. Whether you have a sprawling backyard or a tiny balcony, water troughs can offer a unique and efficient solution for your gardening needs. These troughs, originally designed to hold water for livestock, are now being transformed into vibrant gardens. This method of gardening is not only space-saving but also quite manageable, making it ideal for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike.

The Rise of Gardening in Water Troughs

The concept of using water troughs for gardening is not entirely new, but it has gained a lot of attention in recent years. People are always looking for creative ways to maximize their space, especially in urban areas where traditional gardening space is limited. Water troughs are durable, easily available, and versatile, which makes them excellent candidates for a variety of planting projects.

Benefits of Gardening in Water Troughs

One of the biggest benefits of using water troughs for gardening is their portability. Unlike permanent garden beds, water troughs can be moved around depending on the sun’s position and the needs of the plants. They also offer excellent drainage, ensuring that water doesn’t pool at the roots, which could harm the plants. Additionally, the metal or plastic materials of most troughs create a barrier against pests and diseases, further protecting your plants.

Understanding Water Troughs

Types of Water Troughs

Before jumping into gardening in water troughs, it’s essential to understand the different types that are available and how they might suit your gardening needs.

Metal Troughs

Metal troughs are commonly made from galvanized steel, which is sturdy and resistant to rust. These troughs are excellent for heat-loving plants because they absorb and radiate warmth, which can help extend the growing season.

Plastic Troughs

Alternatively, plastic troughs are lightweight and often cheaper than metal. They don’t heat up as much, which can be beneficial for cooler-loving plants. Plastic is also resistant to rust and can come in various sizes and colors to fit any garden design.

Choosing the Right Size and Shape

Considerations for Space and Plant Needs

The size and shape of the trough you choose will depend on the space available and the type of plants you want to grow. For example, shallow-rooted plants like lettuce require less depth, whereas deeper-rooted vegetables like carrots will need more space to thrive. Additionally, consider the weight of the filled trough and make sure your space can support it.

This introduction and initial sections of the article set the stage for anyone interested in starting their garden using water troughs. The subsequent sections will delve deeper into how to prepare, plant, and care for these unique gardening spaces.

Preparing for Gardening in Water Troughs

Sealing and Waterproofing

Before you start planting in a water trough, it’s crucial to ensure that it is well-sealed and waterproof. This step is especially important if you are using a metal trough because it helps prevent rust and extend the life of your trough.

Materials Needed for Sealing

To seal a metal trough, you will need a non-toxic sealant suitable for metal. You can find these at most hardware or garden supply stores. Ensure the sealant is safe for use around plants.

Step-by-Step Sealing Process

  1. Clean the Trough: Start by cleaning the trough thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. Let it dry completely.
  2. Apply Sealant: Use a paintbrush or a spray to apply the sealant evenly over the inside of the trough. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying time.
  3. Check for Leaks: Once dry, fill the trough with water to check for leaks. If you find any, apply more sealant to those areas and test again.

Drainage Requirements

Proper drainage is vital for preventing waterlogged soil, which can lead to root rot and other plant diseases.

Drilling Drainage Holes

Using a drill, create several small holes at the bottom of the trough. The number of holes will depend on the size of the trough but aim for at least one hole per square foot.

Best Practices for Drainage in Troughs

  • Elevate the Trough: Raising the trough slightly off the ground will help improve water flow through the drainage holes.
  • Use a Base Layer: Before adding soil, place a layer of gravel or small stones in the bottom of the trough to help water drain away from the soil.

Gardening in Water Troughs: Soil and Fertilizers

Choosing the Right Soil Mix

Using the correct type of soil is essential for the success of your garden trough.

Components of a Good Soil Mix

A good soil mix for trough gardening should include:

  • Garden Soil: Provides the base and nutrients.
  • Compost: Adds organic matter that improves soil structure and nutrient content.
  • Perlite or Vermiculite: Ensures the soil is well-draining.

Fertilizing Your Plants

Regular fertilization is necessary because water troughs can limit nutrient supply to your plants.

Types of Fertilizers

  • Organic Fertilizers: Such as fish emulsion or compost tea, are great for providing slow-releasing nutrients.
  • Inorganic Fertilizers: Water-soluble fertilizers can give your plants a quick nutrient boost.

Fertilizing Schedule

  • Early Growth: Apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks when plants are young.
  • Mature Plants: Reduce to once a month or according to the specific needs of the plants you are growing.

Gardening in Water Troughs: Planting

Best Plants for Water Troughs

Selecting the right plants is key to creating a thriving garden.


Some vegetables that do well in troughs include:

  • Lettuce and other leafy greens: They have shallow roots and grow quickly.
  • Radishes: These are also quick-growing and don’t need much space.
  • Tomatoes: Choose bush or dwarf varieties for best results.


Consider these flowers for a splash of color:

  • Marigolds: Easy to grow and help repel pests.
  • Petunias: Great for adding vibrant colors to your garden.
  • Nasturtiums: Both edible and decorative.

Planting Techniques

Arrangement Tips

  • Sun Requirements: Place sun-loving plants in the center and shade-tolerant plants at the edges.
  • Height Variation: Plant taller plants towards the back of the trough and shorter ones in front.

Care and Maintenance

Regularly check your plants for signs of stress, such as wilting or discolored leaves, and adjust watering and fertilization as needed.

Gardening in Water Troughs: Watering and Maintenance

Watering Techniques

Proper watering is essential to keep your plants healthy and thriving in a water trough garden.

How Often and How Much to Water

  • Check Soil Moisture: Before watering, check the soil moisture. Water only when the top inch of soil feels dry.
  • Morning Watering: Watering in the morning is best as it gives plants time to absorb moisture before the heat of the day.

Seasonal Care

Adjusting care according to the seasons will ensure your trough garden remains vibrant year-round.

Winter Care

  • Insulation: Protect roots from freezing by insulating the trough with straw or burlap.
  • Reduced Watering: Water less frequently, as plants require less moisture during colder months.

Summer Adjustments

  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch to retain moisture and keep roots cool.
  • Shade Provision: Provide shade to prevent overheating, especially for heat-sensitive plants.

Gardening in Water Troughs: Advanced Tips and Tricks

Using Water Troughs for Aquaponics

Integrating aquaponics into your trough gardening can create a self-sustaining ecosystem.

Introduction to Aquaponics

Aquaponics combines fish farming with plant cultivation, where fish waste provides nutrients for the plants, and the plants help filter and clean the water for the fish.

Setting Up a Simple System

  • Fish Tank: Set up a fish tank below or beside the plant trough.
  • Pump System: Use a pump to circulate water between the tank and the trough.

Pest Management

Keeping pests at bay is crucial for the health of your garden.

Natural Pesticides

  • Neem Oil: A natural pesticide that helps control various pests and diseases.
  • Companion Planting: Grow plants like marigolds or garlic that naturally repel pests.

Preventative Measures

  • Regular Inspections: Check your plants regularly for signs of pests.
  • Clean Environment: Keep the area around your troughs clean and free of debris to reduce pest habitats.

Gardening in Water Troughs: Conclusion

Gardening in water troughs offers a flexible and efficient way to make the most of limited space while enjoying the benefits of gardening. From selecting the right trough and preparing it for planting to choosing suitable plants and caring for them through the seasons, each step brings its own set of considerations and rewards. Whether you’re setting up a basic garden for herbs and greens or experimenting with more advanced techniques like aquaponics, water troughs provide a durable, portable, and scalable solution for urban gardeners and hobbyists alike.

As you embark on your water trough gardening journey, remember the importance of regular maintenance and be open to adjusting your techniques as you learn what works best for your specific environment and plant choices. Happy gardening!


Troubleshooting Common Issues

  • Overwatering: Signs include yellowing leaves and soggy soil. Ensure proper drainage and adjust watering schedules.
  • Underwatering: Wilting and dry soil are common signs. Increase watering frequency and consider mulching to retain soil moisture.

Additional Resources

  • Local Gardening Groups: Joining a local gardening group or forum can provide support and advice.
  • Gardening Books and Websites: Look for resources that offer in-depth information about different aspects of gardening in water troughs.

FAQs: Gardening in Water Troughs

1. What type of water trough is best for a beginner gardener?

Answer: For beginners, plastic water troughs are recommended due to their lightweight, affordability, and ease of handling. They don’t heat up as much as metal troughs, making them less sensitive to temperature fluctuations which is beneficial for those just starting out.

2. How do I ensure proper drainage in my water trough garden?

Answer: Proper drainage can be achieved by drilling several small holes at the bottom of the trough, roughly one hole per square foot. Additionally, placing a layer of gravel or small stones at the bottom before adding soil can help improve water flow away from plant roots.

3. Can I grow root vegetables in water troughs?

Answer: Yes, you can grow root vegetables in water troughs, but you need to choose troughs that are deep enough to accommodate the root growth. Vegetables like carrots and beets will require a deeper trough compared to shallow-rooted plants like lettuce.

4. How often should I water my plants in a water trough garden?

Answer: Watering frequency depends on several factors such as climate, soil type, and plant species. A general rule is to water when the top inch of soil feels dry. It’s best to water in the morning to allow plants to absorb moisture before the heat of the day increases evaporation.

5. What are some natural ways to manage pests in my water trough garden?

Answer: Natural ways to manage pests include using neem oil, which acts as an organic pesticide, and practicing companion planting, such as planting marigolds to repel pests. Regular inspections and keeping the garden area clean can also help prevent pest infestations.

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Jim Gomes

I have been fascinated with gardening and growing plants of all types. My parents and grandparents had green thumbs and grew all types of flowers, fruits and vegetables. I have always followed the "old ways" practiced by them and to the maximum extent possible have tried to avoid the use of chemicals in my garden. I hope to be able to help others to do the same.

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