Last week I went to a native plant propagation workshop presented by Justin Kroening, owner of Stone Silo Native Prairie Gardens in DePere, Wisconsin. Justin is a charming presenter. He made the workshop enjoyable and the information sharing easy. One of the new things I learned lends itself well to container gardening.
When filling a container with the slightly moist soil into which you are going to transplant a seedling or even more mature plant, always gently drop the container a short distance to settle the dirt before plugging in the plant. This simple step serves to not only compact the dirt just enough so the roots can dig in, but also to rid the soil of any trapped oxygen. By doing this you shouldn’t be tempted to press down hard to compact the soil after you’ve planted your seedling.
As I man my Wild Ones chapter display at various events within my community, a statement I hear fairly frequently is “we’ve downsized” or “we now live in an apartment and no longer garden.” My response always is “have you tried container gardening with native plants?” Invariably I get a look of surprise, but typically a glint in their eye and a smile that says “I could do that!”
To grow native plants in containers, plan to use pots that will hold soil at least 18 inches deep and are at least 3 feet in diameter or bigger. Depending upon the type of native plants you choose to plant, make sure you place the pot in appropriate light conditions; do not mix shade and sun-loving plants in the same pot! Watering will be up to you, so plan to water according to the plants moisture needs; do not mix short grass prairie with wet-mesic prairie plants!
Some examples of plants that should work well in partial sun to sunny containers for spring and early summer blooming:
Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), Early Meadowrue (Thalictrum dioicum), Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Penstemons (Penstemon ovatus or smallii), Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and Wild Geranium (Geranimum maculatum). Also, Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) and Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica). Or if you’re into vines, Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) or Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana).
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus), Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis). Also, Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Copper Shouldered Oval Sedge (Carex bicknellii) and Vanilla Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata). And if you’re into vines, you might give Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) a try with a trellis or Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
Anise Scented Goldenrod (Solidago odora), Heath Aster (Aster ericoides), New England Aster (novae-angliae), Obedient Plant (Ihysostegia virginiana), Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus), Zig Zag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis). To keep these plants at three feet or under, you might want to pinch them back mid-June and possibly again in mid-July. Also, Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and Side Oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula).
If you don’t mind the taller plants, this would be a good time to plant any of the sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides or Helianthus spp), You shouldn’t have to worry about them becoming too aggressive.
To keep the plants from becoming too tall, don’t hesitate to pinch them back mid-June/early July. Also, plan to deadhead some of the earlier blooming plants once they’ve blossomed. Often this results in a second bloom period.
Because most prairie plants have extensive root systems, they likely will not be able to stay in the container for more than a few years. So when the time comes, donate the plants to a local native plant learning facility and start all over again.
Don’t hesitate to try other native plants in containers. Let me know how they work out.
Here’s a good article on container gardening with native plants from the Wild Ones Journal.