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Gardening in containers makes it possible to grow Rock Stars® in places where there isn’t even any soil, such as on a balcony, patio or deck. In fact, using containers of alpines in leisure areas is a terrific idea, since the little plants are easily viewed from a comfortable height, and they have so many interesting features when seen close up.
When it comes to gardening, caring for an alpine container is about the easiest thing possible. It’s just a matter of keeping it regularly watered, but since the plants are tough and relatively forgiving, if you happen to forget for a day or two it should be no problem. These containers won’t dry out nearly as fast as a hanging basket or a window box, and if they do get too dry the plants are better able to cope compared to the usual range of annual container plants. Other required tasks are only occasional, and we list these in detail below.
Traditionally these were discarded stone or cement cattle troughs, filled with a well-drained soil mix and used to create gorgeous little miniature gardens. Nowadays there are ready-made concrete, stone or stone look-alike containers that are perfect, in a wide range of sizes.
You can also make your own trough, using a special cement mixture known as hyper tufa. There are many recipes for hyper tufa and instructions on how to mould containers, easiest to find by doing a web search on the words: hyper tufa trough recipe.
Other Kinds of Containers
Almost anything that will hold soil and has adequate drainage may be pressed into service, so let your imagination run wild. Wooden boxes, wicker baskets lined with sheet moss, metal, terracotta, fibreglass or plastic pots all have possibilities. Particularly great (and inexpensive) are terracotta clay chimney-flue liners, available in various lengths, shapes and widths from building supply stores. Group three or four of these in various sizes together, fill with soil and you have an instant alpine garden in a very tiny space.
If whimsical gardens are up your alley, consider taking some unusual objects and pressing these into service as containers – anything from a dog bowl to an old pair of boots or a hat, for instance. Keep an eye out for antique parts from farm equipment or industrial machines. Discarded objects like old barbeques or antique sinks can be great finds when it comes to using Rock Stars® to make your garden interesting and personal. See our Wild and Whacky page listed under Rock Garden Styles for even more offbeat ideas.
Once you have a container, drill drainage holes if there are none. Fill with a mix of:
· 50% bagged commercial potting soil
· 25% perlite or granite chicken/turkey grit (available at feed stores)
· 25% bagged compost or loamy garden soil
No additional fertilizer should be required for the first season. Place and plant your Rock Stars®, add a decorative rock or two and mulch the soil surface with decorative gravel and water well.
Selecting Plants for an Alpine Trough
As a general guide, choose plants rated at least a hardiness zone or two colder than where you live. If you live in Zone 5, for instance, then select Rock Stars® with a hardiness range of at least Zones 4 to 9. When perennials are growing in containers, their roots are subjected to more extreme cold temperatures than those growing directly in the ground, so you want to choose some tough plants.
Add interest with shapes, size and colour.
See more in our Photo Gallery.
Think of your trough as being a miniature landscape, and let that guide you when selecting plants. Aim to build a little collection of plants with different forms or shapes. We group Rock Stars® into six distinctive shapes. See our page called Right Plant, Right Place for more ideas on selecting different shapes and plants with a similar rate of growth. It’s also wise to select plants for your trough with different seasons of bloom, so that you can enjoy flower colour over an extended season.
Various kinds of dwarf conifers are readily available at nurseries, and many of these slow-growing evergreens are ideal for combining with Rock Stars® to create a miniature landscape, whether in containers or in the rock garden. They provide some height and structure that is the perfect compliment to lower-growing alpines, as well as interest during the winter months.
This information should get you off to a good start. For additional information including details on the topics below, download our more comprehensive PDF here.
- Watering your Container
- Fertilizing Containers
- Overwintering your Container
- Remaking your Container