How to Make a Rock Garden in a Trough
Troughs are stone containers that were originally used for holding animal feed and water. However, refurbished troughs can also be used in the garden to display alpine and miniature plants. You can use them to create a small rock garden that will provide a natural-looking setting for smaller plants while also bringing these plants up to eye level so that they can be admired more thoroughly.
Making Your Trough
Pick out the material you would like your trough to be.You can buy a stone, metal or wood trough from the garden store; these tend to be fairly expensive. You can also use an old butler’s sink or metal tub from the reclamation yard. Remember that solid stone troughs will be very heavy, especially once full of soil and rocks.
- Try to get a trough planter with drainage holes, or, if possible, drill drainage holes in whatever planter you are using.
Consider making your own trough.You can make your own trough using hypertufa and a plastic storage tub or wooden crate as a mould. Hypertufa is a mix of cement (eg Portland cement) with peat and perlite; these materials lighten the mix and add texture. Usual proportions are 1:1:1. This material usually needs a little time to cure before it can be planted.
- Hypertufa provides an aged stone effect but is usually a little lighter to move than a solid stone or concrete trough of the same size. Because of its texture, the hypertufa planter will acquire mosses and lichens on its surface over time. You can poke drainage holes in the trough base before it is dry.
- You can also use polystyrene fish boxes that are painted grey or covered with grout. This trough will be considerably more fragile than hypertufa.
Move your trough to its location.Try to move your empty trough to its final location ahead of planting as it will be very heavy once filled. It’s also a good idea to raise it slightly off of the ground as this improves drainage.
- If you don’t have drainage holes this is less important. Remember the trough is really heavy so make sure it is very stable however you place it.
Make sure your trough drains well.Drainage is really important in a trough planter. Try to use a trough that has drainage holes. If you are using an old sink, the plug hole will provide drainage.
- If you plan to build your own hypertufa one, poke some holes in the bottom while the mix is still damp.
- If you aren’t able to get a trough with drainage holes then try to improve drainage as best you can when filling it.
Add a drainage layer to your trough.Regardless of whether the trough has draining holes or not, you should try to put a drainage layer at the bottom of the trough before the soil goes in. Use several inches of broken pottery shards or gravel to make this layer.
- Top this bottom layer off with another two inches of soil mixed with gravel.
- Add free-draining compost; a good one to choose is compost mixed with horticultural grit.
Filling Your Trough
Select your rocks to create the trough garden.The rocks you choose should be based on your personal preferences. The combination of one larger and one smaller rock works well, or consider using long, thin rocks placed in rows for another nice effect.
- Consider using rocks of the same color and variety rather than a mixture; this can look more natural and harmonious. All the rocks should be buried so that half of the rock is covered with soil. Doing this will keep the rocks in place.
Think about textures and the colors of your rock as you work.You may wish to plant towards a single raised point, such as a tall rock or piece of driftwood arranged semi-vertically.
- A slightly triangular effect also works well.
Pick out plants that will do well in the location that you have chosen to put your trough.Most rock garden plants (such as Alpines) favor sun. If you plan to place your trough in a shady site then you may need to choose shade-tolerant plants.
- Plants like alpines and sedums, or Aubretia, work well in sun; consider planting ferns, begonias and small hostas in shade.
Consider the “thriller, filler, and spiller” philosophy.Some gardeners swear by the rule ‘a thriller, a filler and a spiller’ for container planting. One showy plant to catch the eye and thrill it, a plant to fill out space and provide an attractive backdrop, and a trailing plant to spill over the edge and create an interesting organic shape.
- Remember to plant trailing plants near the edge of your trough so they cascade over the side.
Think about picking out plants that can survive the winter.Remember that if you choose only plants that disappear over the winter, your rock garden will look very sad for several months of the year.
- Consider planting some evergreens such as the sedum Stonecrop or the alpine groundcover Matted Globularia (Globularia repens).
Give your plants some space.Rock gardens aren’t usually covered in plants that are crowded together. Leave your plants some breathing room and allow the rocks to be visible.
- They will need room to expand over time, especially if they are ground cover plants or creeping varieties.
Add a decorative mulch (optional).Once you finish planting your trough, consider adding an attractive inorganic mulch using something like pea shingle or shale. This sort of mulch will hide any bare soil between the rocks and plants and it will also stop the plant foliage from coming into contact with wet earth, which can cause the leaves to rot.
- Some alpines are adapted to absorb heat from the rocks they grow on. Mulch also suppresses weeds; weeds can be a problem in a rock garden because of the gaps between plants.
Maintain your rock garden.Rock gardens aren’t intended to be high maintenance. You may need to attend to weeding. It’s important that your plants don’t drown in their planter. If drainage is a problem in the trough, consider sheltering it during the wetter winter months.
- Consider feeding the plants in the springtime. Many of the alpines and sedums used in rock displays are very drought tolerant. However, you should consider watering during dry spells, depending on which plants you chose.
- If you are planting in shade, consider protecting plants such as hostas from slug and snail attack.
Video: Make Your Own DIY Rock Garden | Outdoor | Great Home Ideas
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