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First Forays: Native Plant Container Gardening In St Louis

Imagine: grandmothers’ gardens. City front porches. Old churches replete with ornate stonework where nary a garden bed is to be found. We often think of such environs when we think of container gardening. And what kinds of plants adorn these containers? Begonias, impatiens, mums – perhaps an ornamental grass for the more intrepid grandmothers out there. It’s almost always the showy, and it’s almost always annuals, the plants that die every year and have to be replanted the next.

But what about leveraging perennials for container gardening? More specifically, what about native plants? In an effort to continue transforming my small city lot into a mecca for wildlife (the good kind, mind you, such as butterflies, bees and birds – not the evil bunny rabbit), I have just now begun the process of swapping out some annuals in my container garden for native plants. While not a novice to native plants, I am quite the neophyte to using them in container gardening. Below are some initial considerations I have for my native plant container gardening strategy:

1) Container Size. Our native plants tend to have extensive root systems. Ergo, I had to employ pots that will hold enough soil to allow for such root systems.

2) Non-flowering interest. Sure, many of our native plants have WONDERFUL flowers – some of the showiest out there. But: what do they look like when they are NOT in flower, which is the majority of the growing season? Container gardens, even more so than a standard garden bed, must look good at all times. So I had to select natives whose foliage is pleasing to the eye when they are not in flower. Think: plants with foliage that is very fern-like or has smaller leaves.

3) Soil type. I had to make sure to use potting soil that is very lean. L-E-A-N. Our native plants tend to like lean soils with little fertility. (Not all of them, but many.)

Some initial plant selections were Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Eragrostis spectabilis (purple love grass), and Glandularia canadensis (Rose verbena). I am excited to see how these fare. Do let me know if you have your own native plant container garden and what works best for you!

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