July 2006 Los Feliz Ledger Column, "Keep It Contained" - Gardening Above Ground With California Native Plants
Ceramic, plastic or concrete pots, galvanized tubs, wooden wine boxes, old wheel barrows and practically anything else one can dream up provide excellent means for starting a container garden.
So if your balcony is bare take comfort in knowing that you, too, can create a habitat, restore a little bit of ecological balance and bring winged friends to your corner of the world.
Follow these few simple steps and your contained native plants should thrive and give you plenty of enjoyment for years.
Make sure that the container to be used can accommodate a few years’ growth of whatever plant you intend to put in it. The roots must have enough room to spread out.
Unless you’re planting a water garden in a container, any vessel that holds a plant should have drainage holes. For many California natives, it is essential that the water has a place to escape after saturating the roots. Don’t allow the pots to stay drenched. Skip a saucer beneath the container; it just inhibits drainage.
It’s best to use standard potting soil that isn’t too thick or dense.
Before putting the plant into the container, cover the drainage holes with pieces of broken clay pots. This prevents the soil from dropping out of the pots and enables water to more easily empty from the container.
Then pack the container with potting soil until it is full enough so you can place the plant in its nursery pot into the new container and the top of the soil in the nursery pot is about 2 inches below the rim of the container. Once that’s determined, pull the plant out of the nursery pot and gently place it in the container. Fill in soil all around the roots of the plant and up to the top of the soil surrounding the stem. Top off the soil with mulch. Natives do well with shredded redwood bark, redwood chips or oak leaves. Desert plants prefer inorganic mulch such as gravel or rocks. Keep it 2 inches away from the stem to prevent rot.
Mulch is a key ingredient to gardening with native plants, even in containers. It keeps the soil cool, moist and deters weed growth. It is especially crucial during the summer because of the intense, dry heat.
There are myriad natives that do well in containers, from bush anemone, buckwheat, tule mint, heuchera, ‘golden abundance’ barberry, ferns, sages and much more.
Important to keep in mind is: even plants that usually require full sun will do better in part shade when living in a container. This is because they do not have the advantage of endless ground in which roots can grow and seek out nutrients and moisture.
One of the advantages of container gardening is that you can move plants around if they start out in the wrong place.
Be sure to water the newly potted plant right after transplanting it and keep an eye out for droopiness during the heat. As a rule, water every other day or so during the heat and much less in the cooler months. If you're not sure when to water, stick your finger two inches into the soil to see if it's dry. If yes, give the plant a nice, deep drink.
Potted natives should get a little fertilizer once a year. Besides a little TLC, they're super low maintenance so sit back and admire the view!