Container Gardening with Native Plants

Virtually any native plant that captures your fancy can be grown in containers. The following guide includes container recipes, as well as provides an alternative selection of native plants that make excellent container additions. The plants are divided into three categories: Thrillers (plants with some striking characteristics that will draw attention to your container), Fillers (plants to add mass to your container), and Spillers (plants that will drape over the sides of your container). Combine plants from all three categories to achieve desirable container combinations.  

Use your imagination when thinking of containers filled with natives but do follow this rule: never dig wild plants by thinking they will thrive in your location. Two negative outcomes usually result from such attempts— a dead plant in your landscape and another plant that has disappeared from the wild. Instead, select plants that can be grown from seed or purchased from reputable nurseries. 
 
For more great examples, visit Shaw Nature Reserve’s Whitmire Wildflower Garden or the Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden where you can find combinations of native plants in various containers and settings. For more information, we recommend the Containers for Growing Plants visual guide, as well as, the Grow Native! guide: Missouri Native Plant Container Designs. 

Container Recipes for Sun 







Container Recipes for Shade





 

 

 

Alternative Plant Choices 

Thrillers

Amsonia illustris
Blue star
Herbaceous perennial

Commonly called Ozark bluestar or shining blue star. A clump-forming plant that features pyramidal clusters of soft light blue flowers.  Grows 2-3’ tall. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 fee

Carex grayi
grey sedge
Rush or Sedge

Grows best in moist soil in full sun or light shade. Greenish yellow to brown seed heads look like spiked clubs. Grows to 2-3’ tall. Fruits remain on plant in winter. Grass-like leaves are semi-evergreen. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet

Ceanothus americanus
New Jersey tea
Deciduous shrub

Grows in full sun to part shade.  A compact, dense, rounded shrub which typically grows 2-3’ tall. Cylindrical clusters of tiny, fragrant, white flowers appear on long stalk in late spring.  Dried leaves were used as a tea substitute in American Revolutionary War times. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 3.00 to 4.00 feet

Chelone glabra 
white turtlehead 
Herbaceous perennial

Likes moist to wet soils in part shade. This species of turtlehead is stiffly erect and typically grows 2-3' tall. Snapdragon-like white flowers tinged with pink bloom from late summer into autumn. 

Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet

Chelone obliqua 
turtlehead 
Herbaceous perennial

Best grown in moist soils in full sun to part shade. Hooded, snapdragon-like, deep rose flowers appear in late summer into autumn reaching 2-3' tall. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet

Eryngium yuccifolium 
rattlesnake master 
Herbaceous perennial

Likes full sun and dry, sandy soils. Features bristly-edged, sword-shaped leaves that resemble yucca plants. Whitish flower heads appear in tight clusters atop stiff stems typically rising to 3-4’. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 4.00 to 5.00 feet

Iris fulva
copper iris
Herbaceous perennial

Likes fertile, slightly acidic, consistently moist soil in full sun.  Tolerates part shade. Commonly called copper iris because of the unusual copper color of its flowers that appear in late spring. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet

Liatris pycnostachya
prairie blazing star
Herbaceous perennial

Typically growing 2-4’ tall, this liatris species is the tallest in cultivation. It features rounded, fluffy, deep rose-purple flower heads atop thickly leafed, rigid flower stalks. Blooms in summer. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2.00 to 5.00 feet

Lobelia cardinalis
cardinal flower
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in hummus, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Needs constant moisture.  Features cardinal red flowers on stalks rising typically to a height of 2-3’. White and rose-colored forms are also available. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet

Rudbeckia subtomentosa
Sweet coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

Grown in full sun to part shade. Typically grows 3-5’ tall and features daisy-like flowers with yellow rays and dark brownish purple center disks on branched stems. Long summer-to-early-fall bloom period. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium 
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet

Schizachyrium scoparium
Little bluestem
Ornamental grass

Grown in full sun. Tolerates heat and humidity. This ornamental grass grows 2-4’ tall with slender green leaves with a tinge of blue at the base. Purplish bronze flowers appear on stems rising above the foliage in August. Attractive seed heads and bronze foliage color last into late fall. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet

Verbena stricta
hoary vervain
Herbaceous perennial

Easily grown in full sun. A vigorous, clump-forming perennial with gray-green leaves and stems. Grows to 2-4’ tall and features blue-purple flowers. Flowers are densely packed and bloom a few at a time from bottom to top, May to September.

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet

Zizia aurea
Golden alexander
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in full sun to part shade. Features flat-topped clusters of tiny yellow flowers in late spring atop stems growing to 3’ tall. Has simple, heart-shaped basal leaves. It is a larval food source for the Missouri woodland swallowtail butterfly (Papilio joanae). 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height:  1.50 to 3.00 feet

Fillers

Allium cernuum
nodding onion
Bulb

Easily grown in average, dry to medium soil in full sun to light shade. Plants typically grow 12-18” tall. Clumps feature narrow, grass-like leaves and tiny pink (to lilac) bell-shaped flowers which appear in loose, nodding clusters. Blooms in summer. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet

Antennaria parlinii
pussy toes
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in full sun to part shade. One of the few native Missouri plants which grows well in dry, shady locations. Non-showy, fuzzy, whitish flower heads bloom in early spring. Flowers are crowded into terminal clusters. Commonly called pussytoes because of the supposed resemblance of each tight flower cluster to the soft pads of a cat’s paw. Great addition to trough gardens. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet

Aquilegia canadensis 
columbine 

Herbaceous perennial

Wide range of soil tolerance if drainage is provided. Prefers light to moderate shade.  Features drooping, bell-like, red and yellow flowers. Delicate foliage remains attractive throughout the summer if soils are kept moist. Flowers are quite attractive to hummingbirds. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet

Carex albicans
oak sedge

Rush or Sedge

Part to full shade but will grow in full sun.  Features dainty, grass-like, bright green leaf blades. Flowers bloom in late spring on stems rising to as much as 20” tall. 

Sun:  Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet

Coreopsis lanceolata
lanceleaf coreopsis
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in full sun. Prompt deadheading of spent flower stalks encourages additional bloom. Typically grows to 2' tall. Features solitary, yellow, daisy-like flowers with flat yellow center disks.Blooms in summer. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet

Cuphea viscosissima
blue waxweed
Annual

An annual best grown in full sun. Plant new seeds in containers each year around the time of the last spring frost date. Produces purplish red flowers from July to October roughly 10-20” tall that are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet

Echinacea angustifolia 
coneflower 
Herbaceous perennial

An adaptable plant that is tolerant of heat and humidity. Removal of spent flowers promotes reblooming. Grows 1-2’ tall on rigid, upright, hairy stems. Flowers feature light pink to pale purple petals with orange-brown center cones. Blooms in June and July. Goldfinches are attracted to the seeds. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet

Geranium maculatum
wild geranium
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, hummus soils. Forms a mound of foliage that grows to 24” tall and 18” wide withpink to lilac flowers in spring. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 1.50 to 2.00 feet

Helenium flexuosum 
purple-headed sneezeweed 
Herbaceous perennial

Easily grown in full sun. Avoid overfertilization which may cause plants to grow too tall. Cut back in May-early June to reduce plant height and to encourage branching and more flowers.  An erect, clump-forming plant that branches near the top. Typically grows 1-3’ tall. Daisy-like flowers (to 1.5” across) with drooping, bright yellow rays and brownish purple center disks. Blooms from summer to fall. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium to wet
Height: 1.00 to 3.00 feet

Helianthus occidentalis 
willow-leafed sunflower 
Herbaceous perennial 

Grows in full sun. One of the shortest of the many native sunflowers. Basal leaves form a 4-8” foliage clump. Sunflowers with orange-yellow rays and yellow disks appear on stiff flower stems 2-3’ tall. Blooms from mid-summer to fall. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet

Heuchera parviflora var.puberula 
littleflower alumroo
Herbaceous perennial

Best grown in organically rich soils in full sun to part shade. Best foliage color may occur in sunny spots with some afternoon shade. Foliage grows in a basal mound to 12” tall with slender flowering stems that rise to 18”. White to pink flowers appear from late July to September. . 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 0.75 to 1.00 feet

Heuchera richardsonii 
alum root 
Herbaceous perennial

Best grown in full sun to part shade. Features a 12-18" tall basal clump of heart-shaped green leaves. Tiny, greenish, bell-shaped flowers develop in open, airy panicles on slender, wiry stems to a height of 18-24" in spring to early summer. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet

Iris cristata 
crested iris 
Herbaceous perennial

Best grown in moist, well-drained soils in part shade. Will tolerate close to full shade. Pale blue, lilac,or lavender iris flowers with gold crests on the falls are borne on very short stems. Narrow, sword-shaped, medium green leaves arise from a network of branching rhizomes. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 0.50 to 0.75 feet

Maianthemum stellatum 
false solomon’s seal 
 Herbaceous perennial

Best grown in part shade. Plants grow to 10-20” tall on an arching single stem.  Each is topped in May-June with white to greenish-white star-shaped flowers.  Fruits mature from green with blue-black stripes to blackish- red to black. 

Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet

Polemonium reptans 
Jacob’s ladder 
Herbaceous perennial

Likes moist, well-drained soil in part shade.  Typically grows to 12” tall. Features light blue, bell-shaped flowers in loose, terminal clusters on weak stems in mid to late spring. Oval leaflets are arranged like the rungs of a ladder. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium 
slender mountain mist 
Herbaceous perennial

Easily grown in average well-drained soil in full sun to part shade.  This erect, many-branched perennial grows 2-3’ tall with needle-like leaves and profuse clusters of small, white flowers.  Blooms in late summer. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet

Rudbeckia missouriensis 
Missouri Coneflower 
Herbaceous perennial

Easily grown in dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun. Typically grows 2-3’ tall and features daisy-like flowers with yellow rays and black center disks on branched stems. Blooms from summer to early fall. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 
aromatic aster 
Herbaceous perennial

Grows best in full sun. A bushy, compact plant with hairy stems. Forms mound 1-2’ tall with small daisy-like flowers with violet blue rays and yellow center disks. Blue-green leaves are fragrant when crushed. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 1.00 to 3.00 feet

 

Spillers

 
Asarum canadense 
wild ginger 
Herbaceous perennia

Features two downy, heart-shaped to kidney-shaped, dark green leaves. Cup-shaped, purplish brown flowers appear in spring on short, ground-level stems. Flowers are attractive but bloom singly on or near the ground, usually hidden by the foliage. 

Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium to wet
Height:  0.50 to 1.00 feet

Callirhoe involucrata
purple poppy mallow
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in well-drained soils in full sun. Typically forms a low foliage mound from 6-9” tall.  Solitary, poppy-like, magenta flowerscontinuously appearing from mid-spring to fall. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet

Fragaria vesca 
wild strawberry 
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in medium-moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. A small-fruited, wild strawberry. It forms a compact, stemless, 4-8” tall plant that spreads by runners. Small, 5-petaled white flowers with yellow centers appear throughout summer. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 0.25 to 0.75 feet

Glandularia canadensis 
rose verbena 
Herbaceous perennial

Grows in well-drained soils in full sun. It is a clumping, sprawling plant that grows to 6-18” tall. Flat-topped clusters of 5-petaled, rose-pink to rose-purple flowers appear atop stems in late spring to late summer. 

Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Height:  0.50 to 1.50 feet

Phlox bifida 
sand phlox 
Herbaceous perennial

Can be grown in well-drained soil in light shade but performs best in full sun. A mat-forming phlox that grows to only 6” tall and spreads by trailing. Produces pale blue to almost white flowers in spring.   

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
Height: 0.25 to 0.50 feet

Waldsteinia fragarioides 
barren strawberry
Herbaceous perennial 

Grows in full sun to part shade. Prefers hummus, slightly acidic soil. An ornamental, strawberry-like plant. Mat-forming growth habit which spreads by runners and will spill over the rim of the container. Features 5-petaled yellow flowers which bloom singly or in clusters in spring. Foliage is evergreen. Fruits are inedible. 

Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Height: 0.25 to 0.50 feet