Wild Things…
Small Container Gardens
By Karen Vizzi
    You really don’t need a big piece of land with lots of acres to have a wild garden. One of the coolest gardens I ever made was in pots on a second story balcony. Not only visually appealing, this garden was very successful at attracting several species of butterflies, as well as birds and other insects. So if all you’ve got is a few square feet of space you can still make a small garden that is attractive to wildlife and fun for yourself.
     However, gardening for wildlife in containers does have special challenges. The first challenge is design. I like the look of different shapes of containers grouped together with different plants in each. Someone else may prefer the sleek look of identical containers and coordinated plantings. Regardless of shape, pots for the wild container garden should be large so that they can be planted with a lot of plants. Remember that birds and butterflies will be more attracted to large groupings of one type of flower as opposed to small patches of different flowers.
     In terms of container material, you may want to look for containers that are lightweight. In many cases, this wild container garden will be on a deck, balcony or even a roof and you don’t want to add extra weight to any man-made structures. Terra cotta and stone are beautiful, but impractical in this case. There are some really good faux terra cotta pots being manufactured out of plastic and sturdy foam, so be sure to look for them. 
     Another decision to make is the type of soil to use in your containers. One of the downsides of container gardening (wild or otherwise) is the fact that pots dry out much more quickly than the ground. If you are going to garden in containers, you must be very diligent about watering. For most of the season, your pots will require daily watering, and in the heat of summer, maybe even several times a day! Select a potting mix that is very heavy. I mean literally very heavy when you pick up the bag, as these mixes tend to contain the right materials for good water retention. Some of the other lighter mixes may be easier to drag home, but they also contain a large amount of peat, which dries quickly and is hard to re-wet. There are some products on the market that can be added to the lighter soils to help increase water retention, but I think you’re better off just getting the heavier soil.
     And finally, because pots need to be watered more frequently, nutrients will leach out of the soil more quickly too. This means fertilizing on a regular basis. An alternative is to use a slow-release fertilizer, which comes in pellet or stick form. 
     When selecting plant material, stick to the “Annuals” section at the garden center. Precious few perennials would ever survive a Western New York winter in containers. Factor in the short bloom time of perennials and it’s not worth the cost.  Annuals such as cosmos, zinnia, heliotrope and lantana are good choices for butterflies. Fuchsias and red salvias are a must for hummingbirds, and nicotiana will attract beautiful moths. Be sure to regularly remove flowers as they fade (call “dead heading”) throughout the summer. But once your container garden has stopped blooming in autumn, leave the last batch of flowers alone so migrating songbirds can eat the seeds.
     Bird Brainers: Leftover dry dog food can be moistened slightly and offered to your feathered friends. It contains plenty of protein and they will appreciate the treat.
     Butterfly Bullets: Don’t forget to put your leftover or spoiled fruit out on a dish for the butters! Question Marks and Red Admirals adore watermelon rinds.
     Plant Pointers: Perennials have a relatively short blooming period (on average, only 2 to 3 weeks) but you can make the most of it by removing spent flowers.

 
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