Gardening in the southwest is nothing like you see in home and garden magazines. In fact, cities like Austin are amongst the top cities that really dig gardening. So, living in a more dry climate, you likely don’t have a verdant backyard with miles of green grass and lush foliage. To the contrary, you need to create a landscape that complements–and accommodates for–the desert landscape.
You don’t need to resort to succulent-only planting and rock garden arrangements quite yet. Container gardens are a great way to incorporate some greenery into your backyard without acquiring a sky-high water bill. You can arrange containers in any formation and bring indoors on exceptionally warm, dry, or cold days or nights. Here are some suggestions for the best native plants for container gardening in the southwest.
Desert agave is a pretty succulent that can be grown easily in a container. These beautiful evergreen plants form fleshy rosettes with ample spines. They tolerate most soils, requiring minimal fertilizer and water. Furthermore, agave plants hold up to crowded conditions quite well and don’t mind sharing space with other plants or residing in small containers.
Blue flax is a wildflower native to the region and grows indigenously in many areas still today. This vibrant cobalt flower blooms from May to October in most areas, producing hundreds of flowers that die off every day. This plant is great for container cultivation, as it can easily spread out of hand and grow prodigiously in undesired spots. Planting in a container ensures that you will keep it exactly where you want it–nearby so you can enjoy its cheerful colors!
Autumn sage produces beautiful flowers and is also left alone by most pests. It can tolerate shade or full sun and attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds. Best yet, it is drought tolerant, only needing water about once a week. Make sure you plant it in a well-draining container so it doesn’t become too waterlogged.
Texas lantana produces a delightfully sweet fragrance that attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies.There are multiple varieties of lantana, in all sorts of colors and sizes.
It can easily be grown in containers, although anything besides dwarf varieties will need to be planted in larger pots. Avoid crowding it with other plants in a single container but it makes a striking statement on its own.
There are several types of coneflower, but purple coneflower is arguably the most striking. This flower belongs to the aster family and is easy to care for in a container. A drought-tolerant perennial, it prefers full sun and good drainage.
Santa Rita prickly pear
This low-rise cactus develops in large clumps, producing intense reddish pads that can grow up to eight inches. This native cactus tolerates colder temperatures than many similar plants and is drought-resistant.
Texas ranger plants are a favorite of more eclectic landscapers because you can prune them in any shape or size. It blooms in summer and can grow in the most difficult conditions. Sometimes referred to as the “barometer bush”, it becomes more vibrantly colored after the rain.
Desert savior, also known as Echeveria, are some of the least fussy plants and can easily be grown in a pot or even a large glass. These are best grown in containers because they are vulnerable to scorching sunlight and winter rain. If they receive too much moisture, they will experience foliage rot, as they have shallow roots. Planting them in a container makes it easy to bring them inside during especially hot or rainy conditions.
There are many varieties of mint, but wild mint, or field mint, is native to the central and southern United States. It produces a strong fragrance and can be used, just like cultivated mint, for beverages and flavorings. Although it is a nutrient-hungry plant, it does well in containers. Wild mint is one of the most invasive plants that can be planted in a garden and can overwhelm entire acres within just a few years. Keeping it confined to a container allows you to reap the benefits of herb gardening without losing your entire garden.
Scarlet star, also called bromeliads, can be potted or even survive attached to a host plant. This plant is slow-maturing, taking three or four years to reach a blooming stage. However, it produces a series of ornamental stacking leaves as it develops. It prefers very light watering, making it optimal for growth in a six to eight-inch pot.
As you are selecting plants for your southwestern container garden, keep in mind that these species still need adequate sunlight, water, and soil conditions in order to grow properly. Just because a plant is in a container does not mean it doesn’t need to be fortified with nutritious soil or watered regularly. Remember that although your plants are portable, they are still vulnerable to the conditions of the desert.