Contain Your Love of Gardening

A Blog Story About Nature in Our DuPage Forest Preserves

Contain Your Love of Gardening

Posted by Dave Andrusyk | 4/2/19 3:25 PM

I know many folks who are interested in growing native plants but feel they can’t because they don’t have a yard or room in their yard to grow them. 

But virtually any native plant you want to grow can be grown in a container if you can mimic its natural environment. Follow these basic tips and you too can have some native plants beautifying your landscape.


Wild bergamot


Pot or Container Selection

Since we’re talking about native plants that grow in Illinois, remember that these plants have large root systems. Putting them in a shallow little container will not only make it hard for the plants to spread out their roots, it’s going to keep you very busy watering them. Select a pot that can accommodate a 15- to 17-inch soil depth. Also, be sure the pot has a drain hole on the bottom that allows water to flow through and not sit at the bottom of the pot.


Nodding wild onion (Photo by Tricia J)

Location, location, location

Before you decide on the plants you want, look at where you want to place this container. Is it in the full sun or shade? Think about how the area is going to look when the trees leaf out. Areas are considered full sun if they get five or more hours of sun each day, part sun would be 2 – 5 hours of sun per day, and shade would have less than two hours of sun per day. The nice thing about using a container is if it's getting too much sun or not enough, you can always move it to a better location.


Wild columbine

Soil and Moisture

Plants native to DuPage County grow in a variety of different soil types, from dry, sandy soil to wet, silty soils. It’s best to purchase a soil or potting mix for your planters. This is especially important when planting with annuals or nonnative perennials. Gauge your watering based on whether the plant prefers a wet or dry soil, and be sure your container has good drainage.

Fillers, Thrillers and Spillers

When selecting plants for a container garden, the general rule of design is to have a “filler, thriller and spiller:” plants that can fill up the container (fillers), attention-getting plants with striking characteristics (thrillers), and plants that “spill” over the sides of the container (spillers).


Sweet black-eyed Susan

Here are some examples of native species that can work well in container gardens:

Full sun Part sun Shade
Prairie coreopsis Nodding wild onion Wild geranium
Wild bergamot Wild columbine Virginia waterleaf 
Yellow coneflower Purple coneflower Turtlehead
Prairie blazing star Sweet black-eyed Susan Common spiderwort 
Prairie dropseed (grass) Jacob’s ladder Wild ginger
Eastern prickly pear cactus Wild petunia Common oak sedge


Go Native in Your Garden!

Once you've mapped out your native landscaping, you can shop in person for native flowers, shrubs and trees at our annual Native Plant Sale May 13 and 14 at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook! 

Support the Friends of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and purchase a ticket to an exclusive in-person Native Plant Pre-Sale May 12.

This year's sale will be in-person only. Details, including a list of plants and info on tickets for the May 12 exclusive pre-sale, are available at Ticket sales begin April 11 at 8 a.m. for the exclusive early-bird shopping event.


Wild geranium. (Photo by Cranbrook Science)



 Virginia waterleaf


Topics: Insider, Plants, Nature, native plant, Native Plant Sale

Written by Dave Andrusyk

Dave Andrusyk is the Fullersburg Woods campus coordinator at the Forest Preserve District and has worked for the District since 1998. He spent five years working in Natural Resource Management, doing restoration work in the preserves. Dave later taught school, scout and general public programs in the District’s forest preserves. His knowledge of native gardening stems from years of field experience with the Forest Preserve District and working on native plots at his home.