When you think about garden containers, you probably think about annual flowers; plants that you know you will have to replace year after year. But what if you could integrate hardy perennials into your patio garden planters and watch them come back on their own instead? The truth is you can!
Even if you live in a climate with long winters and freezing temperatures like the weather that visits the Traverse City and Petoskey area each and every year, you can still make use of some of the more rugged perennial species successfully. You can have the best of both worlds, and who doesn't want that?
First you will need to think about the size of your containers. Perennial plants have a better chance in larger garden containers like half whiskey barrels or large ceramic or clay pots. The reason for this is twofold: 1) perennial plants spread naturally, so a larger container gives them room to do so, and 2) a larger container provides more protection from the elements than a small pot (which will freeze solid rather quickly).
Next, think about the light conditions where your planter will be located: full sun (at least 4-6 hours of strong afternoon light), part sun (morning and/or evening light, but less than 4 hours in the afternoon), or full shade (less than four hours of morning, afternoon, or late daylight).
If you are planting a full sun container, you can choose from any number of sun-loving, drought-tolerant perennials such as Black-Eyed Susans (rudbeckia hirta); Clary Sage (Salvia scalerea); Purple Coneflower (Echinacea;) Yarrow (Achillea;) 'Autumn Joy' or 'Vera Jameson' Sedum; or 'Stella D'Oro' Daylilies (Hemerocallis 'Stella D'Oro').
When choosing perennial plants for garden containers, you must also keep their flowering period in mind. Annual plants flower all summer so as to produce the greatest amount of seed, but perennial plants can also reproduce by means of runners and roots so some of them flower very briefly. The plants listed above for sun all have very long flowering periods. Most begin to bloom in late June and flower all the way into autumn.
Any of the perennials listed above for full sun grow just fine in part-sun conditions too. Just don't over-water or waterlog them. Perennials that grow well in shade containers in cold climates tend to have a shorter flowering period, mostly confined to May and June.
Shade-loving flowering perennials that do well in Northern Michigan include Columbine (Aquilegia); Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra); Siberian Bugloss (also called False Forget-Me-Not or Brunnera Macrophylla); Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense); and Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientalis). Oriental Poppies also do well in part-sun, so long as the soil stays moist and cool.
Finally, consider ditching annual fillers like ferns and ivy in favor of hardy perennial ground cover varieties that will come back year after year that you can separate, giving you new plants to move to other locations in your yard.
For sun, you can use any variety of creeping sedum (literally hundreds of varieties exist); Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria), Iberis (which briefly flowers white in May and June), and even some of the more cold hardy ornamental grasses such as Blue Stem (Festuca).
For shade conditions, good perennial fillers include Buglewood (Ajuga), Vinca (which has a brief blue flowering period), and for dry shade try Lilyturf (Liriope spicata) or Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis).
Once you have established one or two perennials in your garden containers, fill in every spring with new perennial additions or your favorite annuals. Over time, you will have to divide and rearrange the perennials, and you may even have to give some away.
Now there's a gardening challenge anyone could learn to like!
Check locally to see what birds to expect so that you don't buy a house for a bluebird when there aren't any in the area. Creating an environment for attracting birds and butterflies takes a little planning, but container gardening makes it easy.
Scott Gray is a garden enthusiast who loves to relax taking care of his garden. For more information about garden pots, plastic planters and related gardening information, be sure to visit his site allgardenplanters.com.