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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - February 10, 2012

From: Arlington, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Container Gardens, Shade Tolerant, Cacti and Succulents, Ferns, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Container plants for Arlington TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Mr. Smarty Plants, I just moved to Arlington, TX. I am trying to create a container garden on my apartment balcony. What flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit combinations can I put together that will thrive in a hot, but shady (very little sun) area. The area size is 4 1/2' by 2 1/2'. I want it to be very colorful but would love to be able to have some fresh berries and vegetables to eat out of it. Also, I am allergic to very "smelly" flowers like lilies so I know I can't have anything like that.

ANSWER:

This particular member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team gardened in Arlington for 38 years, but very little in containers. Now, I am gardening in Austin with a 6x12 cement porch, so I can share some experience.

First, we want to tell you that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Mr. Smarty Plants are committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow naturally. Unfortunately, a large number of the plants suited for small space or indoor container gardening are non-natives. Next, that is a VERY small space for anything; fruits, vegetables, berries - they would all need much more space than you have. Another problem, which we share, is the small amount of sun and great amount of heat. The hard surface exterior walls around your plants will collect and radiate the heat of a Texas summer, and even daily watering may not keep the plants alive. One last thing - very few fruits and/or vegetables are native to North America, and both require a lot more sunlight and dirt than you are going to have space for.

We have two articles in our How-to Section that we would like for you to read: A Guide to Native Plant Gardening and Container Gardening with Native Plants.

We realize that we have done nothing but discourage you and we are sorry, but we would like to save you the time, money and resources that you would expend trying to get something going. That is, as we mentioned before, a very small space. We would suggest selecting one or possibly two plants that can tolerate the conditions and make a real statement, and then make yourself a small seating area, in the shade, with colorful cushions on outdoor chairs. When you go to a nursery, you will have difficulty finding natives that fit your requirements and will be offered a whole lot of other stuff that is probably non-native and likely will not survive in your situation.

So, plan ahead. If you see something you like, write down whatever name you can find for it, trade name or scientific name. Go home, and try first searching for it on our Native Plant Database. If it is not there, it probably is not native. Then, go to the Internet and search. Look at several sites on the plant and avoid nursery ads; they will tell you all the reasons why you should buy the plant but not whether it can survive in your conditions. Heat and the lack of sunlight will probably be the two main limiting factors. Since we have access to the semi-annual Plant Sales at the Wildflower Center, we have collected some plants that will tolerate the conditions. Some of our selections are succulents, which will tolerate a surprising amount of shade. We have also picked some salvias and ferns; most of these plants will be attractive year round. Again, you may have to go to a non-native to find something. Follow each plant link to our Native Plant Database webpage on that plant to learn what is necessary for the plant to survive.

Plants for Container Garden in Arlington, Texas:

Manfreda maculosa (False aloe)

Manfreda sileri (Siler's tuberose)

Yucca rupicola (Twistleaf yucca)

Adiantum capillus-veneris (Southern maidenhair fern)

Athyrium filix-femina (Common ladyfern)

Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon fern)

Thelypteris kunthii (Wood fern)

Salvia coccinea (Scarlet sage)

Salvia roemeriana (Cedar sage)

 

From the Image Gallery


False aloe
Manfreda maculosa

Siler's tuberose
Manfreda sileri

Twistleaf yucca
Yucca rupicola

Southern maidenhair fern
Adiantum capillus-veneris

Common lady fern
Athyrium filix-femina

Cinnamon fern
Osmunda cinnamomea

Wood fern
Thelypteris kunthii

Scarlet sage
Salvia coccinea

Cedar sage
Salvia roemeriana

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