Local Growth

Container Gardens Dazzle With Plants Native to the Area

By Katie Kuchta | Posted on 03.16.18 – Diversions, Lifestyles

Container gardening is ideal for those with a small outdoor space such as a balcony or a postage-stamp lawn. Pots overflowing with flowers can also add colorful accents to gardens, porches, patios, pool decks—wherever you want to take your landscaping additions. Even the design possibilities are limitless with containers in every size and shape available.

But how about giving your container garden a definite local appeal by choosing among the variety of native plants that flourish in Maryland? By using native plants in your container garden, you are choosing plants that are completely adapted to the climate and have natural defenses against local pests and diseases. They also are usually unaffected by air pollution, a real benefit for urban gardens.

Here are five beautiful plants native to Maryland and perfect for container gardens.

Galaxy Petunia

Botanical name: Petunia Night Sky

Color: Blue, purple, white

Height: 10 to 16 inches

Width: 24 to 36 inches

Sunlight need: Likes sun

Moisture need: Consistent

Wildlife attraction: Butterflies, hummingbirds

Whereas this is a special variation of the ever-popular petunia, “Night Sky” is unlike any other petunia—or any other flower, for that matter. The plant produces a profusion of plush, trumpet-shaped indigo-blue flowers splashed with bright white specks. Think of the nighttime sky filled with glittering stars. Incredibly, no two flowers are alike. The star-like appearance is due to the difference in temperature between daytime and nighttime. The plants need warmth in the daytime and much cooler temps at night. This sun-loving plant blooms from May through September with pointy green leaves that gently spill from the container.

“The best plants for busy gardeners are natives and perennials,” says Gene Sumi, education coordinator for Homestead Gardens near Annapolis. “It’s hard to go wrong with old standbys like black-eyed Susans, coneflowers and perennial geraniums.”

Cardinal Flower

Botanical name: Lobelia Cardinalis

Color: Red

Height: 3 to 4 feet

Width: 1 to 4 feet

Sunlight need: Full to partial shade

Moisture level: Moist

Wildlife attraction: Hummingbirds

This flower is named after the vivid red color of the Roman Catholic cardinal’s robe. The brilliant red of the flowers bloom when most other perennials are fading in the summer heat. The tall spikes of exotic, brilliant red, trumpet-shaped flowers rise above rich green, lance-shaped leaves tinged with bronze.

The cardinal flower plant, which can grow to four feet high, overflows with blooms during summer and sometimes into early fall. Cardinal flower can be grown in perennial borders but can also be naturalized and grown in wildflower meadows. Since the trumpet-shaped flowers have long necks, it depends on the hummingbird for fertilization, so it’s the perfect plant for a hummingbird garden.

Pruning it will bring about a second round of flowers. Or, if you want them to spread, let the seeds fall to the ground for self-sowing. If you want seedlings, you will need to pull back the mulch so they can grow.

Intenz Celosia

Botanical name: Celosia Intenz

Color: Reddish-purple

Height: 10 to 14 inches

Width: 12 inches

Sunlight need: Likes sun

Moisture need: Average

Wildlife attraction: Bees, butterflies

Intenz celosia is easy to maintain as long as it has its place in the sun. The flamboyant flowers, startling reddish-violet plumes, bloom all summer long and add remarkable texture as well as intense color to the container arrangement. It’s considered drought-tolerant and is a great choice for an xeriscape application or a low water garden. But, if it’s in a container or basket, it may need more frequent watering.

Greenhouse manager Carrie Engel says the intenz line will stand up to Maryland’s summers. “They are great for July, August when it’s still hot outside.” The plant is compact, only 10 to 14 inches tall, and its upright growth makes it compatible with any number of plants. For a real showstopper, combine it with the lime-green of “envy” zinnias. Intenz doesn’t need pruning, as such; simply pick off the old flowers as they begin to fade to keep the plant looking tidy.

Blue Mist Shrub

Botanical name: Caryopteris x clandonensis

Color: Powder blue

Height: 2 to 3 feet

Width: 2 to 3 feet

Sunlight need: Full Sun

Moisture need: Average

Wildlife attraction: Butterflies

Blue mist shrub is light and airy with clusters of powder-blue flowers and blue-green leaves from late summer to early fall. The leaves are further enhanced by their silver undersides. This shrub has a fine texture that makes it stand out from the crowd, and is used to its best advantage in the center of the container surrounded by smaller plants. Blue mist wants to be in the sun as much as possible. It is drought-tolerant so it only requires the average amount of water, but if it’s over-fertilized, it will become disorderly and overblown. Only prune when it begins to grow leaves in the spring. In fact, the entire shrub can be cut back to the ground, which will give it a more even shape and spruces it up. Blue mist shrub can grow to three feet tall and has an average lifespan of 20 years.

Local gardener Ann Bowie Addison says, “Being a Maryland gardener, I will say I love blue mist shrub as it’s one of the late summer/early fall flowers. It takes the heat and humidity around the D.C. area and has beautiful flowers to boot.”

Blue Sedge

Botanical name: Carex flacca

Color: Evergreen

Height: 2 to 3 feet

Width: 2 to 3 feet

Sunlight need: Full sun to light shade

Moisture need: Ranges from moist to dry soil

Wildlife attractions: Birds

Blue sedge with its quirky, bright, variegated foliage is a dramatic addition to a container garden for its waterfall effect. The foliage ranges from slivers of strands to thick straps, and the variety in texture and distinctive shades of color make a stunning display, particularly in a plant that is as compact as blue sedge. It grows well in the shade, sometimes better than in the sun, so move your blue sedge around until it finds its bliss.

It’s drought-tolerant, almost maintenance-free and easy to grow. The plants can be transplanted easily, usually don’t need fertilizer, grow rapidly and crowd out invasive species. Remove the old leaves before the new ones arrive, as it looks best when it’s neatly trimmed.