Fill up the tank!

If you’re visiting because of my article on the gardening page of the Austin American-Statesman, welcome! Regular readers of Digging know that I’m a huge fan of using stock tanks in the garden, and I can never resist the chance to show a few more pics of the shiny troughs in my own little eden.

Manfreda ‘Macho Mocha’ anchors this stock tank planter, accompanied by ‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Black Heart’), squid agave (Agave bracteosa ), silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea ), and purple heart (Tradescantia pallida ).

To show off the dramatic, writhing shape of this Agave americana ‘Variegata,’ I planted it in a partially sunken stock tank. It wasn’t as much work as it appears because this particular tank is only about 18 inches deep. Since agaves need excellent drainage, I drilled a lot of holes in the bottom of the tank as well as unscrewing the stopper, spread a layer of gravel in the bottom, and planted it in a fast-draining soil that contains decomposed granite, which is what I mulched with.

Stock tanks are designed to hold water, so making a container pond is a straightforward matter of filling it up and setting your plants in. A couple of Comet goldfish live in my 100-gallon tank, eating mosquito larvae and adding flashes of orange color. To top it off as it evaporates, I use rainwater collected in a nearby rainbarrel, which contains no fish-harming chlorine.

If you like the look and you live in Austin, you can find stock tanks in a dozen different shapes and depths at Callahan’s General Store. Have fun filling up your tank!

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

27 Responses

  1. Sheila says:

    I love it! I’m a big fan of agaves and always looking for interesting ways to display them. Thanks for the ideas!

    Stock tank planters definitely get agaves up off the ground and help you control drainage and moisture level. But because they’re closer to eye level in a container, you’ve got to consider the safety of your visitors and yourself. Remember to keep the spiky ones out of reach. Enjoy your agaves, Sheila! —Pam

  2. Well, isn’t that just the coolest. So happy for you about the article. You know how much I love those silver stock tanks with your silver-leaved, heat-loving, drought tolerant plants. You go girl.~~Dee

    Thanks for the words of encouragement, Dee! —Pam

  3. vanillalotus says:

    I love how your stock tanks are always changing everytime. I love the silvery ponyfoot with the purple heart

    I find that silver ponyfoot goes beautifully with almost anything, Vanillalotus. But I do love it with purple leaves and flowers. —Pam

  4. Diana Kirby says:

    Pam – Congrats on the article – it’s really fun and very well written. And I love getting to see your tanks. I never tire of the interesting displays you make of them and around them to enhance your “eden.” I hope they get filled up with rain tomorrow!

    Oh, me too, Diana! The sky is pretty sunny right now, but I can’t help hoping for stormy weather. Thanks for your kind words about the article. —Pam

  5. cindee11461 says:

    I really enjoy your stock tank plantings. I wondered if you drill holes in the bottom of the tanks too? I wondered how the agaves got the drainage they required. I really am thinking of doing more agaves here instead of flowers that just wilt and dry up in the hot summers we have.

    I feel that holes drilled along the base of the tank drain better than holes in the bottom of the tank, which can get plugged if your tank sits on clay soil, as mine do. There are so many varieties of agaves and yuccas and manfredas and succulents, Cindee. Even if you don’t care for the really spiky ones, I bet you’ll find plenty of softer-leaved ones to add to your garden. They stand in for evergreen shrubs in a hot climate and provide beautiful, wide-leaved interest all year long. —Pam

  6. Pam, congrats on the Statesman article! It’s very well written and your creativity really shines. You’ve now convinced me of the grand use of these containers that I grew up with, though then they were used for – drumroll please…watering the horses! Oh, that’s right, they ARE stock tanks! Now, how do I creatively put one in my sunny side yard so I can grow a passion vine so that it doesn’t look silly standing out there?

    Thanks, Robin. I believe casual planters of all sorts look best when placed in a garden bed rather than out on the lawn all by themselves. Perhaps when you create your sunny side garden you can put a stock tank planter in there as the focal point? —Pam

  7. Chookie says:

    I have a giant laundry copper (except it’s not copper, but galvanised iron). The bottom is rusted but that just improves the drainage :-) I haven’t quite decided where to put it, that’s the problem, and it’s so big it will be very hard to shift once filled. When you next talk about your tanks (soon! I love them too!) will you please tell us why you placed them where you did?

    The American South has a tradition of using big cast-iron tanks in the garden, Chookie, similar to your Australian laundry copper, it seems. You are right about their placement being semi-permanent. The only way to move a big container is to empty it and start over. I’ll be happy to post about placement—thanks, good idea! —Pam

  8. meems says:

    Pam, Loved this post (the title is perfect) and the Statesman article. You are such a gifted writer making everything you write come alive and easily understandable. Always a joy to read AND view with the beautiful photography. The explanation of the small pond was intriguing to me. I think one (or two) of these might easily fit into my garden. It would possibly satisfy my desire for pond plants and solve my problem of paying $6,000 for the in-ground pond I really want but can’t seem to get hubby to buy into the idea. I’ll have to do some research to see if they can be purchased somewhere closer to me maybe… to avoid excessive shipping.

    Well done on the design in the containers as well, Pam.
    Have a great weekend.

    Meems @Hoe&Shovel

    Many thanks for your kind words, Meems! A container pond would look beautiful in your garden, and as you point out, they are so much cheaper than an in-ground pond. Not to mention easier to achieve. While my container pond is fairly small, I’ve seen much bigger ones, even 8-foot diameter tanks. You can satisfy your urge for a pond quite nicely with one of those. I hope you can find a local source in Florida. —Pam

  9. Lori says:

    I wish I knew the secrets to growing manfreda and silver ponyfoot. Despite planting in well-drained soil and not overwatering, I’ve killed one manfreda already this year, and don’t ask me how many flats of ponyfoot I’ve killed these last two summers (I’m the fleet-footed ponyfoot killer, ki-yi!).

    Your manfreda is looking more and more fabulous every time I see it, which tempts me to give it another try. I seem to remember you saying that you water that container once every two weeks?

    Not in this brutal weather, Lori. I give it a good drink once a week, and it gets partial shade. Have all your manfreda and ponyfoot deaths occurred this summer? Then don’t blame yourself. It’s been a difficult summer to keep even well-established plants alive. Don’t blame yourself anyway. Everyone kills plants. When you try again, maybe give them a little shade and see if that helps. —Pam

  10. Another Austin garderner says:

    Pam, congrats on the article. Your blog is always full of great ideas. I’ve been wanting to put in some agaves and the stock tanks seem like a great way to display them. I’ve added in another rain barrel so my plants are staying nice and watered in our brutal summer. Can’t say the same for the grass but it’s overrated anyway. Garden on and thanks for the lovely photos.

    Hi, Austin gardener, and thanks for the nice comment. I hope you can find a way to add a stock tank or two to your garden. Happy digging! —Pam

  11. gail says:

    Pam, You already know how much I love stock tanks…I still hope to be able to get one in the garden before too long; siting it is still at issue! I see a stock pond in my future! Yours are fabulous and showcase your plantings superbly! Now I must be off to read your article! Wonderful post, btw! Gail

    Hi, Gail. I hope you can find a place for one in your garden too. They’re so fun and easy. Thanks for the kind words. —Pam

  12. Libby says:

    Great work, Pam. The Statesman should make you their regular garden columnist. Great how-to and suggestions for us home gardeners.

    Thank you, Libby. I’m flattered! —Pam

  13. Jan says:

    I like the idea of gardening in stock tanks. In our town, they use the tanks planted with annuals to beautify the downtown area, and they are very attractive. I have wanted a water garden, and after seeing yours, I just may get one from our local feed and seed and start a water garden.

    Always Growing

    It’s so easy to make a container pond, Jan. Good luck with yours. Let me know how it turns out. —Pam

  14. eve says:

    I am thrilled to find your blog. That is such a great idea. We have a farm supply store not to far from us. I am checking that out. What happens when it rains on your little goldfish pond? Wouldn’t it overfill and the fish float out? Sorry, but I am more than a little dumb about water features.

    Hi, Eve. I’m glad you like the idea. Hey, there are no dumb questions here. To answer your question, yes, it occasionally overflows when we get a big rain, but it doesn’t gush out. It just kind of sheets over the rim on all sides (this is why it’s important to make sure the tank is level). The fish have never floated out in all the years I’ve kept them. —Pam

  15. kate says:

    Your stock tanks are a wonderful idea. They look stunning. I love the Agave americana – beautiful plant. Great to hear about your article!!

    Hi, Kate. Thanks for your words of support. Can you grow the Agave americana up in your neck of the woods? —Pam

  16. Brenda Kula says:

    Oh Pam, I really want to do this! I didn’t realize the goldfish would eat the mosquito larvae. So that’s how you do it without the mosquitoes. Thank you!

    Hi, Brenda. Yes, fish are the key. There’s also a native fish called gambusia, or “mosquito-eating fish,” that you can use. —Pam

  17. Les says:

    I have never had the opportunity to visit Texas, but when I see pictures of stock plants in glossy magazines or gardening books, I know we are in the Lone Star state. What a great idea and what good photos.

    Howdy, Les. Stock tanks aren’t just for Texas anymore though. I’m seeing garden-magazine pictures of them in Oregon, San Francisco, and elsewhere. —Pam

  18. I have never thought of stock tanks for containers. Thanks for the inspiration.

    You are welcome, Mother Nature! —Pam

  19. It was good to see you in the Statesman again, Pam! When you write an article it’s definitely Austin, and you know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen your stock tanks in person and they look great with the colors of your house and garden.

    About Lori’s question – my ponyfoot has also survived in this weather both in containers and in the ground. I don’t water it much and also have it sited where it doesn’t have to deal with hot, baking afternoon sun.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thanks for your generous words, Annie. About the ponyfoot, I agree that it likes some shade to look its best. —Pam

  20. Cindy says:

    Even though I just had my pond renovated, I still want a stock tank pond, too. I also love the idea of a kitchen garden planting in a stock tank … well, shoot, I love all the ideas you mentioned! The Statesman article gave me some things to think about and the clear, concise directions on how to create a pond or planting will be very helpful when I finally get make it happen. Thanks, Pam!

    You’re welcome, Cindy. I’m glad you found some ideas to your liking, and if you use any stock tanks in your garden, I’d love to hear about it. —Pam

  21. Barbee' says:

    I love your tank planters of all shapes and sizes! They are attractive the way you plant them and use them. The nearest thing I have is galvanized wash tubs, but they aren’t pretty. So, I will look at yours. Thank you for sharing.

    Thanks, Barbee. The wash tubs are more casual, but I’ve seen them used to pretty effect with old-fashioned, flowery petunias or pelargoniums spilling out of them. Maybe you’ll find a place for both of these galvanized containers. —Pam

  22. Layanee says:

    Great article and congrats! You know I love your tanks. They are cool, collected and running over with great plants.

    Thanks, Layanee! —Pam

  23. Great story Pam. I’ve been using a lot of stock tanks in my Tucson design work and I’m thrilled to see ranchscaping catching on elsewhere. I have a section on stock tanks in my forthcoming book, The Hot Garden (Rio Nuevo *is* sending you a review copy).

    Hi, Scott. “Ranchscaping”—that’s a great term. Yes, that look is quite popular here in central Texas, even with retail buildings. I look forward to reading your latest. —Pam

  24. jenny says:

    Things are still looking good in the garden. I love the purple sweet potato. It just lights up the agave and the other plants.
    Now I wonder where i could fit in one of those?

    Oh, I’m sure you’ll find a place somewhere in your beautiful, walled gardens, Jenny. —Pam

  25. Excellent article Pam, well written and well thought out. As you know I love these modern troughs and I love that trailing ponyfoot especially. What’s is its botanical name? BTW I’m amazed that you still have so much green in your garden after that heat wave. Here everything is greener than green courtesy of all that darned rain. You’re getting too little rain and I’m getting far too much and not nearly enough sunshine, it’s not fair is it?

    Thanks, YE. The botanical name is Dichondra argentea, and it is a pretty, little thing, isn’t it? The salvias and agaves are tough as old boots and will remain green even in our summers, and of course I do irrigate to keep things from browning up too much. We did get some rain this morning—yea! —Pam

  26. Neelima says:

    I love your garden Pam. Very beautifully designed and the plants thrive so well under your nurturing.
    I enjoy posts on your website. I dream of gardens like yours.

    Neelima, thanks so much for your kind words. I’m in the process of leaving this garden, but I’m glad to know it will live on here at Digging. —Pam

  27. […] eden and enjoy a pleasant visit. Mid-month, I continued to laud stock tanks in the garden with an article in the Austin American-Statesman. Then I surprised myself and some of my readers by announcing that I was moving and leaving Green […]