By Guest Blogger Troy McGregor
Placing natives in containers won’t win you many points for sustainability and some hard core native plant enthusiasts would happily throw me to the (mountain) lions for suggesting the idea. So why would I encourage you to try it? There are a number of reasons.
Many homeowners have limited space and others have no visible dirt at all. Maybe you’re tired of the heavy clays eating your compost and burping out that once sparkling little plant that would have preferred better drainage. Spring flowering bulbs and perennials that require summer dormancy can be relocated to a shady spot until the rains renew them. Containers allow you to take control of the soil and adjust it to suit the plants that you want to grow.
Pot size really depends on the size you expect your plant to grow to. My Coffeeberry (see picture below) looks a little out of scale in its current pot, but after a few seasons will have filled in nicely. Grasses and bulbs work well in smaller pots (at least 12”x12”) as you may want to lift and divide them after a few seasons to make more plants and renew their vigor.
Potting soil can be tricky as it needs to hold enough moisture during the warm months to keep the plants alive while draining reasonably well in the wet months. I tried a mixture from a soil yard that I thought was a winner but failed me miserably. It was mostly sand with some lava rock for drainage and coconut coir for moisture retention. What I didn’t realize was that the components were far too small which resulted in most of my plants drowning… in summer no less. After some research I added bark and pumice to the mix and now I have happy plants. I’ve attached a link (below) to a forum where this is discussed in greater detail. It’s a little long but well worth reading.
I’m sure I’m not the only gardener to make a boo-boo and mess up a plants cultural requirements… “What’s with that fern turning brown in the sun?” Containers allow us to move plants into parts of the yard that make them happy and satisfy our need for a change of scenery.
Here’s a list of some natives I’ve had success with.
Arctostaphylos spp. (Manzanita)
Remember scale and mature size.
Ceanothus spp. (California Lilac)
‘Dark Star’ and ‘Skylark’ both responded well. Required pruning.
Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape)
A pot is a great way to keep this prickly little bugger in check.
Rhamnus californica (California Coffeeberry)
Both ‘Leatherleaf’ and ‘Mound San Bruno’ do well.
Both the currents and gooseberries respond well in containers.
Rosa californica (California Rose)
Same as Mahonia.
Aster chilensis (California Aster)
‘Purple Haze’ is my favorite.
Dudleya spp. (Live Forevers)
D. brittonii, D. pulverulenta and D. cymosa all do well. Limit summer water.
Epilobium spp. (California Fuschia)
These plants are great in hanging baskets. Hummingbirds-1 Cats-0
Mimulus (Monkey Flower)
Any of the hybrids will work. Also try M. aurantiacus and M. flemingii.
Monardella villosa (Cotote Mint)
Easy in containers with lavender flowers for the butterflies. Smells great.
Romneya coulteri (Matilija poppy)
I have this in a larger container and expect it to do well. Stay tuned.
Salvia apiana (White Sage)
All sages do well but some have extensive root systems. Use larger pots.
Solanum spp. (Blue Witch, Nightshade) (Poisonous)
S. umbelliferum or S. xantii work well. Mine are still flowering now.
Trichostema lanatum (Woolly Blue Curls)
Excels in a container with good drainage.
Verbena lilacina 'De la Mina'
Bulletproof in a pot and a long season bloomer.
Any of our native bulbs do well in pots. Just remember to cut off the water in summer after the blooms have finished.
This list is far from exhaustive and I’ll keep trying new plant combinations as long as I have pots to pot in. Remember, space isn’t a limiting factor when designing with natives. Matching the right plant with the right pot in the right location is the key. Happy (native) potting.