Santa Barbara Home & Garden Guide for 2019

May 2, 2019

Carolina Starin

Native Plants for Pots

Which Indigenous California Species to Grow When Your Space Is Limited

“Many natives do great in containers,” says Betsy Collins, the director of horticulture at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. “But you have to treat them like they are in containers.” That may sound obvious, but it’s worth being reminded that even potted natives require a little extra attention —  especially in California, where gardeners face a grueling 365 days of maintenance. “In colder climates you get a little break,” said Collins. “Here, gardening can be exhausting.”

One trick is to taper off watering in the summer to let the natives go dormant; that replicates the natural summer state when it’s dry and growing is dicult. “Even in pots,” she said, “they want a little bit of a rest.” Imported plants range from troublesome to devastating for native ora and fauna, so cultivating natives, in pots and elsewhere, is an essential part of maintaining healthy natural relationships. Here are a few potfriendly species that are also beautiful to look at.

Monkey Flowers: “They are stars in pots,” said Collins, noting the range of available colors and that they tend to ower frequently. “It’s hard to beat a monkey ower as a pot candidate.”

Manzanita: Manzanitas are also very slow growing, so they don’t like a lot of fertilizer or water. “When I prepare my own potting soil for natives, I take a standard potting mix and add pumice and a little sand,” said Collins, who uses two-thirds potting soils and one-third pumice and sand. For containers, try the groundcovering species over the taller versions.

Bush Anemone: These showy natives are marked by a delicate white ower with a small rose shape and dark green leaves. “A container is a very much not natural environment for a plant,” said Collins, explaining that native species need more water in pots than if in the ground. “If I water my plants once a week, then they are living large.”

Ceanothus: There are 50-60 varieties of this short-lived, vibrant wild lilac, so ask a specialist which one is best for a specic environment. Collins notes that natives like a more mineral soil and notes that owering plants tend not to like fertilizer higher in phosphorous.

Redbuds: “They are going to want big pots,” said Collins of the tree with bright pink owers. “People always talk about whether they are good gardeners or not, but it’s really all about knowledge,” she explained, recommending gardeners pay close attention to their plants and ask questions about what they see. “Then all of a sudden you’re an expert gardener.”

Coffeeberry: This native has a dark leathery leaf with medium black berries. “I put compost on my pots every year,” she said. “You can use mulch to keep the soil moist.” Container plant roots are not insulated, so in a really hot space with no breeze, it’s best to choose a tough plant and water it a little more.

Pick some of these species up during the Botanic Garden’s annual native plant sale, which runs until May 5.

 Patrick O'Hara


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