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🌻 Natives in Containers

Living in the city has many pluses, however, having big backyards for gardening is not always one of them.  Small backyards are common, and many are completely covered in brick or concrete; for someone who has aspirations for a lush garden, this can be a challenge to obtain.   I have been able to grow over 70 different types of native plants, and 10 different types of trees and shrubs in my 500 sq ft backyard.  It’s not a lot of space, but I’ve been able to maximize my footprint with the help of container planting.  I’ve experimented using containers for small trees and shrubs, as well as native perennials.  Containers are easy to maintain and can overwinter well too, and since perennials come up every year, this saves a lot of money versus buying new annuals every summer.  For those who have bricked over or concrete outdoor patios, container gardening can transform the space while attracting butterflies, fireflies, bees, and hummingbirds.  Below are a few plant recommendations and tips that I’ve found work well for potted native perennials.

This is a photo of my neighbor’s potted garden, it’s a mix of annuals and native perennials: Blazing Star and Blueberries. Photo by Emily Starr.

Here are a few native perennials that do well in containers: 


For sunny spots

Perennial flowers: Nodding onion, Lance leaf coreopsis, Anise Hyssop, Blazing star, and Little Bluestem

Shrubs: Blueberries and Spicebush


For shady spots 

Perennial flowers: Foam flower, Coral bells, Goatsbeard, Alumroot, Cranesbill, Turtlehead, Blue lobelia

Shrubs: Inkberry


More ideas on native perennial container recipes here


Get the right planter: 

Container plants can dry out faster than ones in the ground, so it helps to either purchase or make a self-watering planter (there are several easy DIY videos online if you want to make your own).  These planters help retain moisture for the plants without creating root rot and can reduce the need for frequent watering. 


Winter maintenance: 

The best thing about perennials is that they can survive cold winters. When left outside in the elements the snow gives them water so that they don’t dry out.  In the fall, I’ve found it helpful to take fallen leaves to cover the base of the plants in the pots.  This gives them a cozy blanket of organic matter to keep them warm and give them nutrition during their dormant months.  In the spring, I scoop out the leaves and watch them sprout again.


This summer Rust Belt Natives (RBN), a local native plant nursery, will have a pop-up plant sale in my garden: July 20th, August 10th, and September 7th from 10a to 1p, on the corner of N. Pacific and Gem Way in Garfield.  Several of the plants listed above are represented, growing in pots.  Feel free to stop by to ask questions and pick up native container plants to transform your patio into a lush space of your own.


Note from the author: This article is also featured in the July 2024 Bulletin, for the Gardening Advice and Earthly Delights column

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