Container Gardens

A few tips will set you up for success with growing native plants, waterwise herbs, and succulents in pots.
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Container Gardens

Why Consider Container Gardening?

Sometimes planting in the ground is just not an option. Whether you have only paved spaces to work with or are a renter unable to change the landscape, many waterwise and native plants grow well in containers and can still provide benefits to local butterflies, birds, and pollinators.

California Native Plants in Pots

Potted native plants provide important nectar and pollen sources for hummingbirds, butterflies, and pollinators.

Native perennials and small shrubs tend to do the best in pots, though some smaller trees can be kept happy in a large pot, at least for a few years.

Some of our favorite native plants for pots include Eve Case coffeeberry, Jelly Bean monkeyflowers, Margarita BOP penstemon, De La Mina lilac verbena, and red buckwheat.

Mediterranean Herbs in Pots

Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, oregano, rosemary, and bay are easy to grow in pots and can supply an abundant harvest. We recommend large (18”–20” in diameter) plastic pots, with only one plant per pot. They can then grow in to fill the pot and last for years. Crowding too many plants together in one pot usually results in less-healthy, shorter-lived plants.

Succulents in Pots

Most succulents are easy to grow in pots. Some of our favorites include aloes and California native dudleya. Dudleya require partial or full shade, and are great under covered patio spaces.

Top Tips

Choose a container about the same size that the aboveground portion of the plant will be when fully grown. Note, you may have to prune the plant to stay smaller than the size it would get if grown in the ground. Native plants and succulents tend to thrive in terra cotta or unglazed pots, which can help them resist becoming overly moist. Edible herbs tend to thrive in plastic or glazed ceramic pots, which help retain moisture. ALL plant pots must have holes in the bottom for drainage, or the plants will rot.
California native plants, Mediterranean herbs, and succulents all require well-draining soil. Any brand of “cactus mix” potting soil usually works well for all these plant types. Potted plants will benefit from a layer of either wood chip or gravel mulch on top of the soil to help prevent evaporation from the soil surface.
Even plants that thrive in all-day sun will appreciate some afternoon shade during the hot part of the year. Pots have a smaller area for the roots to gather moisture from. If plants will be in all-day sun, larger pots provide more moisture-holding capacity. Don’t be afraid to carefully move potted plants around your space until you find the spot where they are happiest. If moving pots, do so before watering rather than after, and use a dolly and team work to safely move heavy potted plants.
Even waterwise plants that need only occasional watering and no fertilizing when planted in the ground will need more regular watering and fertilizing when in pots. The frequency of watering will vary significantly based on the plant species, sun exposure, weather, and pot size and material. You will want to water established potted plants once the top 2–3 inches of soil are quite dry, but there is still some moisture beneath that. Use your finger to check. In general, plan to lightly fertilize (e.g., half the recommended amount) with an all-purpose organic fertilizer 1–2 times per year, either just in the fall or in the fall and spring, by lightly scratching the fertilizer into the soil surface, underneath the mulch layer.

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