tips for creating native plant container gardens

By Rosie Kean

Photographer and garden designer Marcia Tate shared tips for creating native plant container gardens during a presentation to the Silver Spring Garden Club at the Brookside Gardens on Monday, June 18.

There are many benefits for choosing native plants for your garden, Tate said. These plants can better adapt to local conditions, require lower maintenance, and handle stress well. In addition, once established, native plants can help conserve water and provide natural habitat for other critters.

A native plant is one that grew naturally in an area before humans introduced different plants. In this case, “native” means anything that naturally grew between the Rocky Mountains and along the Eastern Seaboard, Tate said.

Containers can showcase these native beauties and serve as points of interest throughout a garden. Pots and other containers are the perfect place to experiment with a new plant or variety of flower. They also keep plants that like to spread contained.

Some of Tate’s favorites to put in containers include heuchera and phlox. A good list of native plants for our region can be found on Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve’s website.

Many different types of materials can be used to create a container garden. Some options include terracotta, ceramic, plastic, or metal pots or buckets. Tate encouraged gardeners to be creative—feel free to spray-paint a pot or use odds and ends like old tires or boots as containers. You do want to make sure there is a hole for drainage in whatever container you choose.

When it comes to choosing what to put in your container, consider color, texture, fragrance, and how the plants will look in each season. Tate likes her containers to have at least “a couple seasons of interest.”

When planting in a pot, don’t use the same soil from your garden. Fill your container with potting soil (without added fertilizer/salts) and mix in compost. To care for the plants, Tate recommends cutting them back in spring and adding a bit of extra compost every once in a while.

Marcia Tate native container talk demo
An important part of making container gardens is experimentation. Tate often stuffs a container to the brim with different types of plants and “lets them duke it out.” When she was demonstrating how to make a container garden, she packed in about 10 different plants in one average-sized pot. Some will do better than others, but piling in plants helps you get a sense of how they will grow, and it mimics the way they would grow in the wild.

Experimenting with native plants is especially important with climate change affecting local temperatures, Tate reminded the audience.

“You are all now citizen scientists trying to determine what will grow in your gardens,” Tate said.
About the author:
Rosie Kean is a senior multiplatform journalism and English major at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is from Macungie, PA. This summer, she is an editorial intern at Washington Gardener.

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