Urban Container Gardening for Wildlife

July 11, 2022
Hummingbird in flight sips from a cardinal flower.

By Montana Scott, Environmental Interpretation Fellow

It’s a warm, sunny afternoon and a monarch butterfly lands on a purple coneflower. Next to it, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers, sipping from the bright red blossoms of a cardinal flower.

You might think this is a scene from a local park or a manicured backyard. But it could be in the heart of the city on a small apartment balcony. Many native plants don’t need a big, sprawling space to thrive. They do just fine in a pot or container, adding vibrancy to any space they’re in.  

What’s magical about container gardens is how much they bustle with life, even in the most developed areas. A few potted native plants outside a city apartment can provide respite to wildlife all year long, from the first spring pollen for bees to seeds for birds in the fall.

So, how do you create and pick the perfect native plants for your container garden?

Planning Your Container Garden

When choosing the plants to use in container gardens, first pick ones that complement each other. If one plant needs full sun and the other prefers shade, they are not compatible.

Then, choose a variety of your favorite colors, both for yourself and wildlife. You’ll also want to think about the time of the year when a plant flowers; having plants blooming each season will benefit both you and local wildlife.

Thrillers, Spillers, and Fillers

To maximize aesthetic appeal, try to use thrillers, spillers, and fillers in your pot.

Thrillers are the main event in your container—they draw the eye and dazzle you with their color and form. Prairie blazing star, cardinal flower, and rattlesnake master are all examples of native thrillers.

Spillers cascade over the edge of your container making a lovely statement. Wild ginger, woodoats, and prairie dropseed are excellent spillers.

Finally, fillers will fill out the pot in abundance. Red columbine, hairy wood mint, and wild geranium are all wonderful fillers.

The best part of all this is you can make your container your own—do what feels right! Size doesn’t matter when it comes to native gardening. Wherever native plants are, wildlife—and our environment—benefits. A single pot on a cement patio makes a difference in keeping our natural world healthy!

Want to know more about native plants and using them around your space? Click here to check out our Plant Native web page.