A few months ago one of my landscaping clients texted me that he’s “not getting any bees” in his garden (an urban roofdeck oasis in Chicago). He wanted me to plant flowers for him that would be long-lasting and attract tons of bees and butterflies… so I helped him source some heavy duty planters, and filled them with pollinating perennial flowers.
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People asking me to “get more bees” in their garden is not a normal request. What I’ve found in the hundreds of people I’ve worked with is that bees are the second least popular bug (spiders being the first)…. Which is really sad because we need to care about our bees and save them from total bee annihilation!
Bees aside, perennial planters are where it’s at for urbanites with little space, or anyone with a deck. With the right size planter, the right type of soil and hardy perennial flowering plants, you can invest once in a planter and enjoy it for years to come. Take my advice below.
Pick a Wide, Deep Container
Perennials will last for years in containers, but only if they have enough root space to establish themselves. They need enough room to grow strong roots, along with enough insulation from the surrounding soil to stay alive through winter in a planter. What you’re going for is a container at least 20″ TALL and 12″ WIDE.
There is no “perfect” planter for perennial flowers in cold climates. There are some really nice double-walled planters made by Crescent that are super expensive but will last forever and will protect your plants better than most other planters. These are used in many retail and restaurant spaces. The planters I used for my rooftop Chicago client are as heavy duty as these:
Use High-Quality Potting Soil
Just like your veggie garden, your cut flowers will only be as healthy as the soil you plant them in. Flowers require organic matter and fertilization very similar to that of fruits and vegetables… So don’t be cheap. If you shop at Home Depot, they do have a good organic mix made by Dr. Earth. My main advice is to buy organic soil that has been enriched with mycorrhizal fungi.
Fill Your Planters 50-75% With Something Other Than Soil
I pride myself on my jerry-rigging abilities. I actually wrote that in a cover letter for a job application once. I didn’t get a call back for that job, but I’m telling you, I’m really, really good. For my above-mentioned client, I knew I needed to fill his planters with something other than soil so he could move them around (wet soil = heaviest sh** on earth). I didn’t think toting a garbage bag full of empty plastic bottles to his home would impress him or be remotely appropriate, so I discovered these perfect, light-as-a-feather weatherproofing rolls in Home Depot’s lumber department for $10 each. I bought 9 of them and stacked them up three deep per planter and topped each with a circular coconut liner. Then dumped the soil on top. Jerry. Rigging. Genius.
Listen to me: You are going to want to fill your TALL, WIDE planters about 50-75% with something other than soil. Something lightweight so you’ll actually be able to move them around. Think sweeping, shoveling, future deck painting, future repairs that need to be made… If you plan on moving them for any reason whatsoever, you’ll really regret not doing this.
Super cheap options for fillers: Empty plastic gallon milk jugs. A ton of empty water bottles. Empty cans. Literally any plastic garbage you can save from your recycling bin will work.
Choose the Right Plants!
Kicker. If you don’t do your research or read your plant labels, and you don’t know anything about plants, chances are: they gonna die. Sorry to be so harsh.
First thing to do is determine what Hardiness Zone you live in – you can determine that here.
Second thing is to Google a chart of perennial pollinator flowers for your zone.
Since I’ve lived in Zones 5-6b, I can say these are my favorites for perennial planters due to their extreme hardiness, beauty, and plethora of pollinators they attract:
Finally: Insulate Your Planters Over Winter
Not entirely necessary, but if you have spare blankets or burlap (or even a cardboard box!) around your house, use it to cover your planters over the winter. We have very unpredictable weather patterns nowadays due to climate change. We never know what we’re going to get.
Last tip. Refrain from cutting your plants back until spring.
Feast your eyes on my current favorite flower farmer/florist books!