Garden Detective

Garden Detective: Wheelbarrow a fine planter on the go

Old wheelbarrows make good containers for shallow-rooted plants.
Old wheelbarrows make good containers for shallow-rooted plants. Sacramento Bee file

Q: I plan to use an old wheelbarrow to plant herbs this summer and, after cleaning, I still have residue from cement and rust. Can I line it with clear or black plastic before adding my soil?

Vicki Dodge, Sacramento

A: According to UC master gardener Eleanor Dong, the biggest obstacles to your project are assuring proper drainage and picking plants that will feel comfy in a shallow wheelbarrow.

There is a question of what herbs you are planting because the root lengths of the herbs you have in mind could be a factor in your choice of plants, Dong said. Shorter-rooted herbs such as thyme or oregano would be less of a problem than longer-rooted ones such as rosemary.

Other shallow-rooted herbs that would work include chives (their roots are only 3 inches deep), tarragon, basil, parsley, cilantro and summer savory.

Also, drainage is a factor to consider. Without adequate drainage, roots could rot and thus lead to the death of the plants.

In Dong’s opinion, both the wheelbarrow and the plastic would require a large number of holes throughout to provide adequate drainage.

Editor’s note: The plastic does help protect the metal and makes the wheelbarrow planter last longer before totally rusting out. Plans for wheelbarrow planters suggest lining the bed with thick plastic and pulling it through any rust holes. Then, snip the plastic that pokes through those holes to create drainage.

Most herbs are pretty adaptable to growing spaces. Here’s a possible solution to improve drainage without punching a bunch of holes through the bottom of the wheelbarrow: After lining the wheelbarrow with plastic, create a layer of rocks or gravel at the bottom. Then, fill with potting soil.

This method works especially well with succulents, too; these portable planters look spectacular with succulents spilling over the sides.

Wheelbarrow planters also can be adapted to shallow-rooted vegetables and flowers such as lettuce and pansies. Such a repurposed planter makes an attractive and portable garden accent. Just wheel it to a sunny spot and enjoy.

In past summers, several wheelbarrow gardens have been displayed at the California State Fair’s Farm. These portable gardens were mostly school projects that could be wheeled in and out of classrooms.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

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