What Plants do You Recommend for Containers?
Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts
By Dan Songster, 2012 March
This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. This Issue’s question was: What native plant do you enjoy and recommend for use in a container?
Christiane Shannon-“In my garden planting in containers is reserved for annuals because the annuals don’t do well at all in the ground since the soil in the flower beds is too rocky and sandy. Three of them have really done well for me since introduced a few years ago, coming back from seeds every winter. I only have to keep watering the pots. To make my task easier I use pots with a double bottom and the annuals live in these until early summer. They are Phacelia parryi, Mimulus guttatus, and Silene lasciniata.”
Bob Allen-“Just one? Oh, that’s difficult. Let’s say stream orchid, Epipactis gigantea. It’s easy, beautiful, and has interesting pollinators—native flower flies.”
Bart O’Brien-“Short answers: Dudleya spp., Trillium chloropetalum, bulbs, and ferns.”
Alan Lindsay-“I love seeing my Giant Rye (Elymus condensatus) ‘Canyon Prince’ in its large terracotta container because I know, in there, it won’t be taking over my garden (like it has in the past.) Low maintenance, I only water it when it looks like it’s dying.”
Laura Camp-“I don’t like to water much, so Dudleyas, Yuccas, Agaves and cacti are my favorites.”
Greg Rubin-“Hard to beat any of the Dudleyas. Eriogonums like umbellatum and kennedyi are great, along with penstemons and even mimulus. Zauschnerias (Epilobium) have also been very stable in pots as well.”
Gene Ratcliffe-“I don’t do a lot of containers anymore because of the extra work, but I have a number of special natives in containers, mostly non-local species that need richer soil or more water than the rest of the garden: Torreya, Pellea and other ferns, and slow species like Pinus monophylla that can stay in pots for years.”
Barbara Eisenstein-“Once again, too many to choose from! I have put so many native plants in pots, with a lot of success, so I think I will just suggest the one in my garden that has looked great in a container, for the longest period of time, with the least care. And the winner is…(drum roll)…California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica).”
Thea Gavin-“My one-and-only native in a container is a Dudleya. I planted it in a big pot couple of years ago, with some interesting rocks for companionship, and it does just fine with no summer water. Of course it hunkers down in the dry times, but part of its charm is how quickly it plumps up in response to fall rain (which I supplement throughout the winter with occasional hose-drenches).”
I have grown natives in large containers (14-24″) for several years and have had my best luck with spp. that are inherently small-growing & relatively long-lived.
“Heuchera spp. & cultivars best in high light shade, where they have much better soil & drainage than in my clay dirt. For sunny locations, Eriogonum crocatum is one of the best; others: Verbena lilacina, Ceanothus ‘Diamond Heights’ (gets 1/2-day shade), Epilobium ‘Rte. 66,’ Eriogonum parvifolium, and Baileya multiradiata. Not strictly California native but good for summer color in sun: Hunnemannnia fumariifolia, Chrysactinia mexicana, and Salvia ‘Hot Lips.’”
Drew Delaney-“I have only a small SSW facing balcony with a 4’ wall around it to cultivate. All my plants are in containers of various sizes up to 16”L x16”W x48”H. I can recommend many plants but in my opinion the two MUST haves for a balcony container garden are Epilobium canum and Gambelia (Galvesia) speciosa. The plants are beautiful in bloom and hummingbirds cannot resist visiting.”
Dan Songster-“My favorite native for containers are small to medium-sized Manzanitas. With excellent drainage from a cactus mix (unlike my clay soils) they live! And when pruned a bit they can be placed on a patio for close up viewing of their fine form and in winter, flowers. (Second place-Calochortus.)”