Looking for a very specific plant
February 8, 2016 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a drought resistant, shade tolerant, tall (at least 4 feet) perennial that can survive in a metal planter.

Ok, y'all, I'm looking for a very specific type of plant. I have a very tiny side yard (maybe 5 or 6 feet wide?) and have found a metal filing cabinet that I'm turning on its side to make a planter outside my bedroom window. I want to create a non-fence screen so the neighbors can't see into my window.

I was originally thinking of planting bamboo in the planter as that is pretty tough, and the container will contain it, but I'm afraid it might all turn brown if I don't water on the regular. I can, in theory, water whatever goes in this planter, but if I don't have to that would be amazing.

I live in Austin (zone 8b), so minimal rain, but the side yard is all shaded. I think that's all the relevant details, but I've only had one cup of coffee this morning ;)

Any ideas?
posted by theRussian to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Must it go in the planter? Can you plant it in the ground under your window?
posted by purpleclover at 9:44 AM on February 8, 2016

Response by poster: I guess it doesn't have to, no. I could plant something along the chainlink fence, but I also don't want to have to mess with keeping it contained (for my orig bamboo idea). Though, right now the side yard is being filled with road base and gravel to aid in drainage so planting something outside of a planter will be much harder.
posted by theRussian at 10:08 AM on February 8, 2016

A metal filing cabinet will rust almost immediately, and, if it's thin metal, the rust could go all the way through in zero time. I don't think bamboo would stay contained for long. Plus, you can do better.

Here's a database listing of plants for dry shade in central Texas.

Good luck! I think that listing is only for native plants (which grow wild, so you know they can succeed with zero attention).

If you're interested in expanding to non-native plants, you might call your area's extension service or see if you can find a knowledgeable person at a nursery. (unless other AskMe answers give you the perfect idea first, of course).
posted by amtho at 10:15 AM on February 8, 2016

If you need to shield a window that's at or below the height of that chain link fence you mention, try one of the vines in the list of Texas-tolerant plants and natives. I see Clematis texensis on the first page of the list, which would be a good option (although it's a bit slower growin than you'd want).

I live in California and grow Thunbergia alata as a screen. Worked great in LA and in SF. Handles quite a lot of shade, grows crazy fast, very drought tolerant, etc. You could easily grow it in a container under your window and try to train it up over your view. It'd go crazy if you can get it in dirt along a fence, though, especially if the fence gets a little sun (I've got some growing under a hammock, and it's climbed all over the hammock structure, blooming copiously).

Is the fence in full/part sun, or just as shaded? If it gets some sun, Gelsemium sempervirens might do the trick (I grew up in wetter Arkansas, but the house I grew up in used this plant as a fence screen in partial sun).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest a local nursery as well (not like Home Depot). Specifically one that specializes in drought tolerant plants or xeriscape.
posted by cecic at 11:59 AM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

American Beauty Berry and Turks Cap grow to about four feet tall in good conditions and they do pretty well in shade. I would skip the file cabinet idea because the roots won't be able to get established enough to support the plant during dry times. Drought tolerant plants usually have either a wide spread of roots or a REALLY long tap root to help them get water when moisture is scarce. Keeping the plant in the file cabinet along with very little sun will probably stunt or kill it.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:47 PM on February 8, 2016

I think if you line the file cabinet with heavy landscape plastic you can use it. There are some ornamental grasses that get pretty tall and are drought resistant. They don't need much water at all, because they're basically weeds that look pretty. I'd find some native to your area and plant them in your file cabinet. Since you're in a drought region, I totally wouldn't worry about your file cabinet rusting any time soon, though you might consider painting the outside of it with some exterior paint just to hold off the whole rusting thing. You know, just in case you get a wet winter or something.
posted by patheral at 7:06 PM on February 8, 2016

Response by poster: Ok, I will make a trip to the local nursery for a consult as that looks like my best bet. It's such a narrow space I think I need to stick with a planter of some kind (or put up a taller fence for some climbing plants to grow on).

If I plant directly in the ground the plants would have to be close to 6-8 feet due to the height of the window, but that usually also means a wider plant, which there isn't room for. Plus with that gravel down now I don't think I'll be hitting dirt again on that side of the house for a long time.

And yeah, the filing cabinet has been out there for a long time (I'm not great at finishing projects) and is only a little bit rusty. Painting it some is probably not a bad idea.
posted by theRussian at 8:11 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have had good luck with shrimp plants in a dry, sunless bed. They get a little leggy in the shade, but they have neat dark-pink blooms that do look a lot like shrimp. You could intersperse them with Turk's cap like WalkerWestridge said for a little variety.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 11:15 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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