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Native Plants: A Plethora of Possibilities in Pots

Containers for all purposes

native perennials in container aster, bluestem, hyssop

I always tell friends with newly planted plants, the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap. And then my friends need to remind me of the exact same thing! One of the great gifts of gardening is learning more patience.

Today’s post is more about instant gratification though. I know, I know. We need less of it in the world but since we are talking about plants, I don’t feel as badly?

You can see immediate results in your garden with containers. And, for some, all gardening is in containers. Whether you plant in containers for the long haul or like to change them up seasonally, native plants excel in containers. You can create containers for pollinators, for shade, for sun, or for fun.

I prefer perennials, shrubs and trees for containers. Whether you ultimately move those plants from containers to the ground or keep them year after year, planting something perennial can require less effort over time. There are countless ways to use native perennials, shrubs and trees in containers.

native hairy lip fern in container

Sometimes a plant is so amazing, it easily stands on its own. Hairy lip fern (Cheilanthes lanosa), yes, yet another native plant in need of rebranding, is one of those. The delicate fronds belie the toughness of this fern. Another, in an even smaller container, will go into its fourth winter this year with no problem so far. It grows in sun or part shade and is fairly drought tolerant. It is also semi-evergreen to evergreen depending on location.

native plant heuchera 'autumn bride' in container

Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’ (Heuchera villosa "Autumn Bride') is an incredibly versatile native perennial. It grows best in dappled to full shade and medium moisture. When in bloom, even a single plant is so graceful.

native plants in container rush low bush blueberry, dogtooth daisy, heuchera

Sun lovers, common rush (Juncus effusus), dogtooth daisy (Helenium autumnale) and low bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) combine here with champagne heuchera (Heuchera 'champagne') for a very autumnal combination. This is most likely a temporary planter as the common rush needs moist to wet soils and the heuchera needs part to full shade. It’s always good to remember that to keep a container going through multiple seasons, use single plants or groups of plants that grow in the exact same light and moisture conditions for long term success. For a temporary fall container though this will work as plants aren't really putting on much growth in fall. I'll move the heuchera to a shady location before winter.

native bluestem, hybrid aster and hyssop in container

These newly planted perennials are all sun loving, have similar moisture requirements and are hybrids of natives. The aster is Wood's Pink. The agastache is Hyssop Purple Haze. The grass is little bluestem (Schizachyrium 'Standing Ovation.') This container should work year to year.

native sedum in container with heuchera bronze wave

This is a long term combination for dappled shade. The center plant is a heuchera (Heuchera villosa 'bronze wave') and the sedum growing from the side pockets is three leaved stonecrop (Sedum ternatum). Both grow best in moister soil.

native container with inkberry, foamflower, heuchera and lobelia

Also for dappled shade, a small evergreen inkberry (Ilex glabra) is planted with foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), a hybrid of native lobelia (Lobelia x speciosa), heuchera (Heuchera 'frosted violet') and zizia (Zizia aurea). I intended this to be a year round container. Foamflower blooms in spring and trails over the edge through summer. Zizia blooms in early summer. Heuchera adds color until the lobelia starts blooming in late summer. The inkberry is evergreen through winter. This isn’t going to work as a year after year container though because zizia grows more strongly than the other plants and will soon take over. This is a good reminder that to last over time, plants in containers have to grow at the same rate. If you read that a plant is aggressive, or a vigorous grower, it should be planted with other plants that are the same. This can be somewhat of a trial and error endeavor and I am looking for another early summer bloomer to replace the zizia.

native horsetail in container

Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) is such an architecturally interesting plant. I think of it as the native bamboo. Towards fall, the upright stems bend yet still have their own unique look. This plant is an aggressive grower. You will frequently see it planted in rain gardens because it thrives in wet soils. You may also notice those rain gardens are typically confined by sturdy walls because the plant can be so aggressive. This makes it perfect for a container. You can easily give it the very moist conditions it likes and it should not spread anywhere.

These are two Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana). The smaller one is a volunteer seedling from several very mature cedars nearby. The larger served as a holiday tree last December indoors and still needs a permanent spot. Neither will live forever in these pots but should be ok for another year or two.

Concocting combinations of natives in containers can be creative. You control the soil, the moisture and amount of sunlight so you may be able to grow plants you might not otherwise be able to.

I hope you have a moment to garden sometime soon!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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