LA plants on the cheap
November 7, 2017 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to beautify an ugly concrete slab at the front of my East LA house - I'm thinking potted plants. Where/how can I do this on the cheap? I'm hoping for drought-tolerant plants and also big pots that don't break the bank. Do you have any specific stores or general ideas for cheap pots and outdoor cute plants? the winter gets less full sun but the summer is full sun, and I am not the BEST waterer, so these are the battles the winning plants will have to wage. Thank you!
posted by andreapandrea to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sub-irrigated planters will keep your plants alive. In East LA, you probably want annual vines on the south side giving everything light shade in summer. (Food! Hummingbirds!) Big planters are never both cheap and beautiful, but you can approximate -- or practice -- with a bunch of kinds of plastic semi-trash. 5-gallon buckets, ICBs, see Instructables.

If you're going to buy them, I like the ones at Gardener's Supply. For outdoors, they need overflow weep-holes. If you find pots you like, there are inserts to make the subirrigation chamber. Bigger is better, the plants will have more root and be more resilient.
posted by clew at 12:01 PM on November 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

General ideas for big pots: Habitat for Humanity ReStores, Craigslist, FreeCycle, Big Lots
If you have the space/inclination, there are also a lot of DIY concrete planters (boxes and pots) - here's a Martha Stewart link to get the idea (you'd scale up).

Sunset Magazine's 14 Low-Water Container Plants
I've had luck with lavender in big pots, and there are non-purple lavender plant varieties.

(not the best waterer -- stick with succulents like agave, or snake plants, or look into self-watering systems; here's a cheap inverted bottle trick, you could tuck it behind the plant)
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:03 PM on November 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Studio City here, hot and sunny most of the time. One really easy solution is Mexican sage, which you can get at any local garden shop, including the big box garden centers. You can buy the smallest ones they have because these things grow quickly and easily. Pretty purple flowers too.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:13 PM on November 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, hummingbirds! Try Salvia coccinea (aka scarlet sage or Texas sage), it's pretty and does well in pots. Another hummingbird-friendly plant that would really pop against a concrete slab is Fireweed (which is kind of Napoleonic in its ambitions, when freed from containers).
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2017

How large is the area that you are working on? Is it fronting a blank wall, or are there lots of windows (trying to get an idea about the height of the plants you need)?

Pots are tough in LA, no matter what you have to water them, even if you plant succulents.

Obviously, drought-tolerant is better. Theodore Payne is a good place to start looking at natives. The other local botanic gardens have resources too.

White licorice was stupid easy to grow. Once it was established I literally never watered it (although, it was planted in the ground, but not in a place that ever got watered), and it just grew and grew. The only reason I took it out was that my husband tired of it. It started from a gallon pot and I cut it back once a year, every November. Whenever I cut it, it was always about 5' tall. That was with full sun (southern exposure) for about 8 hours a day.

Salvias are nice as they attract hummingbirds and beneficial insects.

If you want to attract bees try to find something that blooms early. I learned this year that you should not pick or mow dandelion flowers early in the year because they are usually the first flowers to bloom and therefore are the first food that bees find after winter.

Best places to get cheaper plants (if you want to start with bigger plants) is a nursery, but a wholesale nursery that sells to the public is obviously better. They're easy to find on yelp or with a quick google search. If you are not plant-savvy you can call and ask if they label their plants. The one near me that caters to landscapers is super cheap but they do not label their pots and they do not have salespeople - you have to walk the property yourself and you need to be able to identify the plant you want by leaf. You can drag a pot up to the office and ask them to confirm the identity but that's a pain. So you want one that is public-friendly.

If you need something with height you could try a dwarf lemon tree.

You could also break up the space by putting a little bench or statue or (decorative) bird bath and then flanking it with pots, or barrels. Or you could do two or three small groupings of pots, of varying heights. Landscaping websites will always tell you to vary the heights of your plantings (whether it's pots or in-ground) for visual interest.

Eagerly awaiting input regarding pots, I've never found a place that I consider affordable, even at the wholesale places. You might consider CL or yard sales or estate sales. Don't get plastic, it heats up faster than pottery which makes the moisture in the soil evaporate faster and you end up having to water more which is less than ideal if you forget to water (I do too, you're not alone).
posted by vignettist at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2017

I still have nasturtiums in a neglected pot in the corner of the yard doing just FINE with zero maintenance over 1.5 yrs, seeds available everywhere in LA. These are the orange, yellow and red blooms growing on the roadside in the hills - AND THEY ARE GREAT IN SALADS!
posted by jbenben at 12:27 PM on November 7, 2017

For sources for plants: Join your local Buy Nothing Group (on facebook) and NextDoor (app/website). Look for or ask for plants. Many times, people are willing to give you parts of their plants. They can tell you too, how easy to grow said plants are.

Also check out craigslist for free and cheap plants. In my area, lots of farmers markets have plants. There are also native plant societies that hold sales throughout the year. Native plants will do best for your area - meaning they'll need the least amount of work on your part. I found this. Maybe one is near you? In fact, the LA chapter is having a class on how to garden in the drought.

Don't be afraid to buy plants on clearance that look like they're not doing well. Sometimes these just need to get in the ground, and they'll flourish.
posted by hydra77 at 12:41 PM on November 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Concrete planters are really easy to DIY. There are usually places that sell them in most metro areas too. I would imagine there are at least several in LA. They're not as cheap as DIY, but still cheaper and just as nice as terra cotta (bag that expensive-ass noise).
posted by furnace.heart at 1:25 PM on November 7, 2017

If you have a neighbor who has a plumeria--the classic eastside flowering shrub--ask them for a cutting, or pick up a small plant at a local nursery. The stalks will leaf and flower quickly come spring, and they make a lovely fragrant display against a wall.
posted by Scram at 2:54 PM on November 7, 2017

You just missed the Huntington's fall plant sale, but they will have another in the spring, so keep an eye on their calendar. When I lived in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in Los Feliz, my roomie and I filled our equally tiny patio with plants from their sales. The prices are ridiculously low and the plants are healthy, local-climate appropriate, and you can get some cool odd ones that you won't find in a regular nursery. Plus, it is a beautiful place to go and spend a day. You have to pay for admission--but it is really worth it.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:41 PM on November 7, 2017

Also, grow things from seed! So amazing.
posted by clew at 9:37 PM on November 7, 2017

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