By Ali Miller, Seasonal Naturalist
Native plants support wildlife more than any other plants. If you’re like me and only have a small patio and love native plants, there are ways you can still grow them successfully in pots. You can have beautiful plants and support native wildlife without having a yard. Choosing the right plant, pot, and soil are all important pieces to give your native plants the best shot at surviving. If you choose native perennials and pay attention to the plant’s needs, they can survive winter!
Picking the right native plant is an important first step. Pay attention to how much sun (e.g. full sun, part sun, shade) your patio gets and pick native species that do well in that condition. Prairie species will do well in full sun, but some (e.g. butterfly weed) will do okay in part sun.
Make sure you pick the right pot. Choose big enough pots to allow the roots to grow enough to survive the winter. Drainage holes are extremely important too. Many times, pots will come without a drainage hole which means that no water can escape, and the roots of your plant will die. You can always drill a drainage hole or add more holes for extra drainage for dry soil loving plants.
Research your native plant’s soil preference. Some plants do well in sandier soil while others prefer soil with clay. You can mix construction sand into the soil to make it sandier. Potting soil is more sustainable if it does not contain peat. Removing peat from peat bogs releases greenhouse gasses and it is over harvested.
My personal journey of growing natives in pots in part sun has many successes and a couple failures too. I have had several plants from last year return this year. My violets and bergamot are surviving, but they are much smaller than you find them in the wild at this time of year. I think my bergamot would do better with more sun. My common milkweed and lance-leaved coreopsis are doing great and look much better than they did last summer. Two more milkweed plants came up this summer than I had last year. My coreopsis is as tall as the ones at Deer Haven Preservation Park and has beautiful blooms.
If I was doing it again with what I know now, I might not have lost a few plants last year. It is difficult to find information about growing natives in pots, so you might have some trial and error before getting it just right. This makes the process more exciting for me because I am experimenting with something less commonly done. I hope this inspires you to give it a try!
If you need inspiration, visit the parks this summer. The prairies are exploding with color, and if you want to see examples of native plants that you can add to pots or in your own garden, check out the pollinator garden at Deer Haven Park. It is spectacular!