Whiskey barrels, typically cut in half across the center when used as planters, add a touch of Southern charm to your yard. Large enough to hold several varieties of herbs, these barrels are heavy when filled with soil. Plan your location carefully so you won't need to move the barrel, for at least the rest of the season. Placing it close to the kitchen gives you easy access to the herbs and makes it simple for the kids to help you tend the plants.
Turn the barrel over and make drainage holes in the bottom, if none exist. Use a drill with a large bit, such as 1/2 inch. Drill a hole in the center of the barrel and then make four or five additional holes spread evenly around the barrel bottom.
Choose the right location for the whiskey barrel. Herbs need plenty of sun, so choose a bright location. If you must choose an area that gets shade part of the day, pick a spot that gets late afternoon shade so the herbs are shaded only during the hottest part of the day. Because the barrel will be too heavy to move after you fill it with soil, choosing the right location initially is key.
Measure the bottom circumference of the barrel and arrange several bricks in a circle on the ground slightly smaller than the barrel's size. Place a brick in the center of the circle for extra support.
Set the empty barrel on top of the bricks. Make sure it sits securely without wobbling. The bricks keep the wood off the ground, which delay rotting, and they improve drainage from the barrel.
Fill the barrel with potting soil, stopping about 2 inches from the top. Herbs need a well-draining soil, so look for mixes that include about two-thirds sand or loam. Potting soils with perlite, bark chips or vermiculite work as well. Herbs enjoy nutrients from compost, so mix some with the soil if you have a compost pile.
Plant your herbs so that the tallest sit on one side of the barrel and the short varieties sit on the other. This ensures all plants get the sun they need. For example, group rosemary (Rosemaryinus officinalis) and sage (Salvia officinalis) in the back of the barrel with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and chives (Allium schoenoprasum) in the front. Most whiskey barrels can support up to 10 herb plants, so add several of each of your favorite herbs, or place the herbs close to the center of the barrel and fill the outer edge with a draping plant, such as trailing verbena (Verbena canadensis), to add some color. Trailing verbena grows as an annual in many areas of the country, but it can live as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10. Be sure to tell your children that the verbena isn't an herb -- it's just for looks.
Container herbs need water and fertilizer more often than those planted in the ground. Water the herbs daily during the hot summer months and at least every other day as you move into fall. Sprinkling a time-release fertilizer, such as a 10-20-10, feeds your herbs as they grow, but supplement every couple of weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer as well.
Many herbs won't survive the winter, so harvest the leaves regularly to flavor your family's favorite dishes without worrying about killing the plants. Plant more herbs the following spring in the whiskey barrel. You don't need to change the soil every year, but add more time-release fertilizer before you plant new herbs.