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Ask Extension: Can I landscape my yard with perennials in containers?

Container at the Mn Landscape Arboretum.
Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension
Q: I want to landscape my yard with perennials in containers. I live in the Brainerd Lakes area. I wonder if you have articles about what perennials would be successful in containers, how to plant and care for them, and how to winter them. I have both sunny and shady spots in my yard. 

A:  It can certainly be done, and it's a great option for gardeners who don't have the space, or the physical capability to garden in the traditional sense.

But let's talk about overwintering your containers first--because this will have a big impact on how you going about creating a container garden like this. Brainerd is a 3b-4a growing zone but this can be misleading for container perennials because the roots get colder than if they were in ground. 

Water transport can be impaired and plants are more susceptible to drying out with cold winter winds. The major risk you have for each of these is that:
  • The soil dries out around the roots over the winter.
  • The air is much colder above ground than under, and winds will dry out the container and freeze the roots.
That said, if you follow these tips, you can get around these potential problems.
  1. Water well throughout the fall until the plants go dormant. 
  2. Add mulch on top of the soil at the top of the pot(s) will help. 
  3. Pack the containers in cardboard boxes surrounded by dense compost will help protect the pots, partially burying the containers, moving them to a garage, or somewhat heated boathouse will help protect the roots from freezing. Some people handle the containers like roses, encircling them with lightweight fencing filled with leaves or straw.
  4. In the spring cut off dieback.

Container Gardening Tips

Here are some resources to check out that will help you container garden successfully!

Anything you can grow in a vegetable garden, you can grow in a container. But what size do you need? 
Get the right container for your veggies! (UMN Extension)
The University of Illinois Extension made this chart to help gardeners choose a container.  

You can also try planting vegetables in straw bales: 
Straw-Bale Gardening Gains Popularity (Minnesota State Horticultural Society)

Container plants often require a bit more attention than plants growing in a garden. Read care tips in these Extension articles:

Fertilizing and Watering Container Plants

How to keep the blooms going!
Container gardening 

Local garden designers give suggestions on how to make attractive displays.

Fresh ideas for container gardens with pots that pop  (Star Tribune, May 14, 2018)

And finally, you can also try growing plants in a raised bed.
Raised bed gardens

Author: Gail Hudson, Y&G News Editor (with contributions from Hennepin County Master Gardener Steve Miles)

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