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Planting on a Steep Bank

by Jim Fry

I have a few fairly steep hillsides where I wanted to plant some deciduous azaleas but I was held back because the hill is fairly steep and I didn’t want to make an elaborate bulkhead.

I decided to make a barrel planter that would be easy to build & erect and wouldn’t take a lot of money to do it.

For the Barrel hoop I used 3/8" diameter hot roll steel rod. Clamping one end to a small steel drum, I bent it around the drum so the distance between the ends was approximately 24". I welded two large nuts on the ends through which the steel anchoring rods will go.

The Barrel staves were made out of CCA 2x4s. I cut diagonal corners off these pieces so the back-fill wouldn’t run out between them. This also allows the barrel staves to move back and forth during temperature changes. If you don’t have access to wood working tools, you can use straight planks. Just lap them so the gaps between them are not exposed to the back-filled soil.

After I had all the materials I placed the hoop where I wanted it. Through the nuts at the ends of the hoop I hammered steel rods straight down into the ground.

Next, I scooped out the inside of where the barrel was going to go. Be careful to not disturb the bank outside the barrel. Dig down so the first stave is several inches into the ground and is supported by the hoop at the top. One by one, place additional staves into place until the barrel is complete.

Fill the barrel with well-draining material. Stones, sand and rocks on the bottom and rhodie-friendly materials on top.

Scoop out the bank above the barrel so water will be directed into it. Soak everything down with water and let it sit for several weeks so everything has a chance to settle.

Plant the rhodie or azalea so the roots will be encouraged to climb the hill rather than stay in the barrel.

Cross-section of barrel planter