Stock tanks and cattle troughs in the garden

‘Whale’s tongue’ agave (foreground) and Agave americana ‘Marginata’ in sunken stock tank (background)

I’ve already sung the praises of stock tanks and cattle troughs as striking yet easy vessels for container ponds and planters. Sold at feed-supply stores like Callahan’s in Austin, these galvanized metal tanks come in any number of sizes…

…from short and round, like the one I just planted my variegated agave in…

…to tall and oval, like the one I chose for a new planter…

…to tall and round, like the 100-gallon tank I use for an easy, above-ground container pond.

Without going overboard on these marvelous silver catch-alls (I hope), I’m in the process of adding another one to the back garden near Green Hall, to replace a rotting wine-barrel planter.

Not only do these tanks look great in the Texas garden, they work as minimalist vessels in clean-lined contemporary or more-exuberant, plant-centered gardens anywhere. If you don’t believe me, check out photos of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams’s garden of Mosaic Gardens in Oregon.

After posting about the new agave planter in my foundation bed, several readers wondered why I used the stock tank. To contain the agave? To separate its gravel mulch from the hardwood mulch in the rest of the bed? To make it easier to plant this spiky monster by raising it up a bit?

Good guesses, but no. I simply used the stock tank to elevate the agave and give it prominence. To set it off as the star of the foundation bed.

Agaves require good drainage, so the stock tank had to be well-drilled with drainage holes. I used a metal bit to drill numerous holes in the bottom, and I also made sure the tank’s drain hole was left unplugged. The 3-foot diameter tank is only 12 inches tall, so my helpful daughter and I dug a circular pit about 8 inches deep, leveled the pit with a 2-inch layer of gravel, and placed the tank in the pit, using a board and a level to make sure it was flat. I spread a 2-inch layer of gravel in the bottom of the tank for additional drainage, and then we shoveled in a mixture of fast-draining soil and decomposed granite. After planting the agave, I mulched it with a layer of decomposed granite.

I haven’t decided how to mulch the bed that surrounds the variegated agave. I usually mulch with native hardwood mulch, which keeps weeds at bay and knits together nicely so that it doesn’t wash away in Austin’s heavy thunderstorms. But I may use decomposed granite for this bed since I planted a number of dry-climate plants around the circle tank. Gravel mulch is so susceptible to weeds, however, that I haven’t made up my mind.

A light but steady drizzle has fallen since early this morning, and more is predicted for this week. We sure do need the rain, and I’m happy to know it’s helping the transplants settle into their new homes.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

9 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    I think those stock tanks would work in a Hoosier garden, too. Lucky you to have some some drizzle to settle in all of your new plantings.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens (where it has been as sunny as can be but brutally cold and over night an inch or so of snow has fallen)

    Yes, I think they would work anywhere. But like Texas, Indiana has the farm vernacular that might make them fit in really well. —Pam

  2. Stuart says:

    It’s looking a little like an Aussie outback garden, Pam. I’m sure us gardeners Down Under would feel very much at home in your garden.

    Is that right, Stuart? I figured Aussies might grow a few agaves too. Do you have any in your own garden? —Pam

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Galvanized stock tanks. Hmmmmm This is giving me an idea. It is that time of year. :)
    It is so nice to be able to see people still gardening while I am waiting for the snow to melt.
    I am gathering ideas like a squirrel prepares for winter. Little nuggets of ideas are being squirreled away.

    It’s fun to squirrel away those ideas. I do that during the summer in Austin, but winter here is the time to act on a few of them. —Pam

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Pam, I went and looked at the garden you had in your post for us to look at and I think I saw this
    garden in a magazine. It is gorgeous. I have thought about that big round stock tank pond many
    times. I like the way they raised the entire area where it is situated.

    Yes, that garden has been featured in lots of magazines. The couple it belongs to used to work at Gardens under James David (whose garden we’re going to see at the Spring Fling). Then they moved to Oregon, created that beautiful garden, and started their own design business, Mosaic Gardens. —Pam

  5. Robin says:

    Pam, I have enjoyed your stock tank pond. I think it might be nice to have one, just so I could grow some of those gorgeous water lilies. How often do you have to clean it and how do you prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the stagnant water?

    It’s very easy, Robin. Mine isn’t situated under trees, so it collects few leaves. Therefore, I’ve never had to empty it out to clean it. Instead I just skim off the few leaves that do fall on the water’s surface before they sink to the bottom. I keep two Comet goldfish in the pond, and they eat all the mosquito larvae before they hatch (I never feed the fish, so they’re motivated to find all the larvae). I had an outdoor GFI plug installed by the pond in order to plug in a small bubbler pump, and I run the pump most of the time, which also helps discourage mosquitoes.

    The only maintenance I do on my little container pond is to add water (from my rain barrel, so as not to hurt the fish with chlorinated water) every other day or so, especially in summer when it evaporates quickly; clean the pump’s filter once every week or two; skim off any fallen leaves; and divide and fertilize my pond plants periodically. It’s a joy to have the water lily (be sure to choose a dwarf variety for a container pond) and to watch the birds and dragonflies attracted to the pond. —Pam

  6. Kim says:

    Pam, what a gorgeous display for that agave! It’s been so fun to see your front bed redo… and I admit, it makes me feel a little better that I’m not the only garden blogger who sometimes rips up a perfectly fine bed in an effort to make it better.

    I have been on the lookout for stock tanks, too, because I think that the oval ones would be perfect for the south side of my house, to add some garden bed area to where the wall meets the driveway. But I think that I’ll have to go “back home” to farm country to find them. Not many sources in Cleveland, as you can imagine. :)

    Thanks, Kim. I know you enjoy ripping up your front beds too. Fun, isn’t it?

    I hope you can find a stock tank. I’d think on the far outskirts of town you could find a farm-supply store, but maybe Ohio has more agriculture than livestock, and little need for stock tanks. —Pam

  7. germi says:

    OOOO, Pam, that picture of the two agaves, foreground and background, send an arrow of love straight through my heart. You know what those spiky beauties do to me!
    I love the way you’ve elevated the A. americana ‘Marginata’ – the rim of the stock tank is like a silver bangle or necklace. Just gorgeous.

    I DO know how you love agaves, Germi. My love for them was late-blooming, but now I can’t imagine gardening without them. I’m glad you like the stock-tank raised bed too. :-) —Pam

  8. Rachel says:


    I’ve been coveting galvanized tanks since I saw this post. Where have you had luck finding these in Austin?

  9. Rachel says:

    oh, oh! Now I see you’ve mentioned Callahan’s. I missed that the first three times. :)

    That’s OK, Rachel. You’ll enjoy Callahan’s. It feels very old-timey, and they have a huge selection of stock tanks. —Pam