First, Study Your Space:   

Before selecting your final plant list, you need to get a sense of your space’s constraints and advantages. 

A major determining factor is sunlight. Spend a clear day checking on your future garden every hour or two to ascertain which areas receive light and shade as the sun moves across the sky.

This is especially important if you live in a dense area with tall buildings or fences that block the sun.

You can make use of the darker spots, too, by opting for species that thrive in shade. 

For areas that soak up a lot of rays, plan to choose sun-loving plants. 

In shady situations, select plants that are sensitive to heavy sun, like those that grow in forest under-stories.
Also find out how tall your plants can grow, and whether they will shade out neighboring vegetation. Then, map accordingly.

Container gardens are easy to fit in tight spaces, from window boxes and hanging baskets to perches on stoops and railings. 

Let Your Container Gardens Go Native:

Choose plants that reflect the woodlands, meadows, and prairies of the American countryside for a rustic effect.
These small gardens are a perfect way to use natives when space is at a premium.

You will increasingly find nurseries and growers that specialize in all sorts of native plants. 

Planting Natives In Containers:

Growing ornamental plants in containers expands planting areas, adds color, and raises gardening levels. 

Growing in large pots also allows many condominium and apartment dwellers to grow natives.

Container gardening provides imaginative and effective ways to create small native gardens with esthetic charm and plant appeal.

Washtubs, half barrels, window boxes, and boxes made of rough lumber are just a few of the choices. (Be sure they include drainage holes.)

Place plants that can’t take the sun in a shady area and plants that prefer moist soil where you can keep them well-watered.

For planters in full sun, choose natives of prairies, glades, and open fields. For shadier sites, choose woodland natives, plants that naturally grow in dappled shade. 

Plan to group plants that have the same cultural requirements together in the same

Designing For You As Well As Wildlife: 

You probably aren’t getting into gardening just for the birds, so be sure to think about how you want your container garden to look. 

Maybe you want bright flowers, or maybe you’re more into a minimalist style. 

Perhaps you want to go tall to screen out your  neighbors. Or maybe you need short plants for a window box that won’t block your view. 

You’ll also want to mix different types of plants to keep the space interesting. This idea holds for growing multiple plants in the same pot, if space allows. 

A good principle for designing beautiful individual containers is: “thriller, filler, spiller.” 

First, pick something that grows tall and showy; then, add something that fills the horizontal space of the container; and bottom it out with something that spills over the sides. 

A mix of foliage types and flowering times will keep your garden lush week after week.

Dig In:

Once you’ve chosen your plants, get your dirt, seeds, and plants and get digging. 

Water your plants regularly, as the small volume of soil in containers tends to hold less moisture. Plants exposed to intense sunlight may need to be watered multiple times a day. 

Most importantly, be prepared for a little trial and error. You may want to start small and see which plants thrive.

Know what you want from your space and how you plan to useit. Be ready to experiment. 

Then plant your containers and wait for the birds to discover your new garden.

Much of this info and more can be found at the Audobon website


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  1. I love seeing photos of your patio, and I think that's the biggest photo I've seen that shows most of the space! I'm guessing you shot that with a wide angle lens? I keep meaning to buy one of those. Looking forward to seeing what you do with the patio this year!

  2. Please tell me the name of the plant spilling over the side in picture #3 and again in #5. Your patio space is so lovely. I LOVE the special touches you add (little bird on the driftwood). Just looking at the picture is relaxing. Thank you, Brenda.

  3. Wow, that seems like a huge patio for an apartment "cottage". I could live with that!

    I love the metal angel shown in the one container. I'd love to find one just like her.

    Thanks for a very informative post.

  4. You are certainly one heck of a gardener, talk about green thumb. Your patio is so pretty, takes a lot of work to keep it up so well would imagine. Looks like you enjoy time out in your lovely yard, your own oasis.
    Hope you have wonderful Easter

  5. Great tips! I know I have gone to containers around my larger yard for color, with the backdrop of greens, bushes, and perennials. Being able to move them around really makes your yard a dynamic chance to change with the light available. Chicago is north so the sun arcs far north and to far south during the growing season. Great post, Sandi

  6. I like the phrase "thriller, filler, spiller." It reminds me of another gardening axiom, "sleep, creep, leap." I heard that phrase applied to perennials — the first year in the ground they don't do much, just sleep. The next year, they just grow a small amount, and seem to creep. Then, in the third year, they really take off with a big leap. It's a good thing to remember when planting, because it's easy to be impatient with plants, but the waiting usually pays off. It looks like patience — and some hard work — has paid off on your patio!

  7. Your patio space is such a pretty little oasis for you and your dogs, Brenda! I'm just today seeing the tips of some of my perennials poking through, but with cold weather in the forecast, I don't think they'll be in a hurry to grow.

    Happy Easter!

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