NATIVE PLANTS FOR CONTAINER GARDENS
Many native plants can be grown as outdoor container plants. Keep in mind that even drought-tolerant natives need regular water in containers and do best with some protection from hot midday sun. Keep in mind that the pot is not a plant's natural environment. Like an astronaut in space, special care and consideration is needed to keep them alive.
- Carex species (Sedges) some species have a tufted look, others are more upright. All like water and some shade.
- Equisetum hyemale (Horsetail) shade and water-loving, upright and modern looking, good in planters against blank walls
- Festuca species and cultivars (Fescue) blue-green cultivars are especially nice, such as ‘Stony Creek’ and ‘Muse Meadow’
- Juncus species (Wiregrass) very upright and structural. Good for a modern look.
- Leymus ‘Canyon Prince’ (Giant Wild Rye) ornamental grass with blue-green leaves.
- Muhlenbergia rigens (Deergrass) ornamental bunchgrass with a dramatic spray of seedheads
Cacti and Succulents (drought-tolerant)
- Agave shawii (Shaw’s Agave), A. desertii (Desert Agave) beautiful agaves, good in full sun
- Dudleya species, all do well in containers with minimal water and care
- Opuntia species (Cholla) very spiny cactus, good in full sun
- Sedum (Stonecrop) best in part sun or shade
- Yucca whipplei (Chaparral Yucca) placement is key! Leaves are sharply pointed --best placed away from paths and doorways.
Perennials and Small Shrubs
- Armeria maritima (Sea Thrift) does best in part shade. Adorable pink pom-pom flowers!
- Berberis repens (Creeping Barberry) attractive green, purple and red tinged foliage
- Calliandra (Fairyduster) desert plant with red or pink bottlebrush-like flowers
- Ceanothus ‘Diamond Heights’ lovely variegated foliage and trailing habit
- Epilobium species (Fuchsia) a fall bloomer with red flowers loved by hummingbirds
- Erigeron (Seaside Daisy) sweet daisy-like flowers year-round
- Eriogonum arborescens (Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat), E. crocatum (Conejo Buckwheat)
- Heuchera (Coral Bells) good for small containers, does best in shade
- Iris does best in part sun to shade
- Penstemon species, does well in full to part sun, very showy in spring
- Salvia species (Sage) this fragrant native grows quickly and blooms in spring
- Symphoricarpos (Snowberry) a deciduous perennial with ornamental white berries in summer
- Verbena lilacina (Lilac Verbena) easy to grow, attracts butterflies and blooms almost year-round!
Plants that hang or trail over containers
- Arctostaphylos groundcovers, there are many to choose from, all have the characteristic red-brown bark
- Epilobium canum ssp. canum (Hoary Fuchsia) good for hanging baskets--food for hummingbirds!
- Eriogonum arborescens, E. ‘Theodore Payne’ (Buckwheat) good for full sun and butterflies
- Salvia ‘Terra Seca’, S. ‘Green Carpet’ (Sages) fragrant low-growing cultivars
- Sequoia ‘Nana Pendula’ unusual trailing form of Coast Redwood. Does best in shade.
Large Shrubs and Trees
- Arctostaphylos shrub varieties (Manzanita) slow-growing and sculptural
- Berberis aquifolium (Oregon Grape) does best in part shade, slow-growing
- Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar) fragrant evergreen tree
- Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud) deciduous tree with showy spring flowers
- Cupressus species (Cypress) fast-growing evergreen tree
- Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon) large shrub with showy red berries in winter
- Myrica californica (Pacific Wax Myrtle) large shrub with fragrant leaves
- Rhamnus californica and cultivars (Coffeeberry) nice evergreen shrub, best in part shade
KEEPING CONTAINER PLANTS HAPPY
THE POT: Glazed ceramic, metal, thick clay and plastic pots retain much more water than traditional terra cotta and require less water. Terra cotta pots are excellent because they allow plants to “breathe” and because they help prevent overwatering. Remember that they can dry out very quickly, especially in the heat of summer. For full-sun locations, avoid dark-colored or metal pots that can heat up and damage roots.
THE SOIL: Choose a potting mix that is friable and drains quickly, such as a “cactus mix”. Avoid using your own garden soil, except in small quantities added to packaged soil mix. Make sure that your mix has at least 25-30% by volume of perlite, a light mineral that aids drainage. Small rocks and/or horticultural sand (NOT builder’s sand) also improve drainage.
THE WATER: Container plants grow best when they are watered regularly (except for cacti and succulents, which generally prefer less water). Aim to keep the soil barely to slightly moist at all times, allowing the top inch or two of soil to dry out between waterings. Never allow the soil to entirely dry out, even on plants that need no summer water in the wild. If soil becomes desiccated and compacted, break up the surface with a fork or cultivator, then soak the plant in a bucket of water until the soil is thoroughly moistened.
PRUNING: Stem-pruning of container plants can be done at any time. The best time to root-prune is before active growth resumes, generally in the Fall. Some plants will eventually outgrow their container. If you want to keep them in the same container, you will need to prune the plants roots. When root-pruning an evergreen, make sure to prune stems and leaves as well to compensate for water loss.
FERTILIZING: Many potting soils have almost no nutrients and must be supplemented. Fertilize sparingly as growth begins in Spring. Do not fertilize during dormancy or immediately after transplanting. Make sure the fertilizer is complete and has chelated iron. White chalky matter on the outside of a pot is a symptom of unhealthy salt and fertilizer build-up.