Horticulture Magazine

15 Marvellous Alpine Plants For Trough Planters

small white Silene alpestris flowers

Growing alpine plants can be a great, relatively low maintenance choice for many gardens.

And one of the easiest ways to grow these plants is in troughs. But if you have created a trough for alpine plants in your garden, which alpine plants should you choose to grow?

Choosing which plants to place is not always easy. And making the right choices can be even more difficult if you only have a small trough area to play with. Remember, when positioning a trough, that most alpine plants will prefer a full sun location. Though, as you will discover in this article, there are also plenty of alpine plants that are suitable for a trough in partial shade.

When choosing alpine plants for troughs, be sure to think about the growing medium with which you fill your container, and of course, the environmental conditions. It is important to think about exactly where the trough is located – how sunny or shaded the location is, how protected from heavy rains, temperatures, humidity, and how exposed the area is to strong winds etc..

To help you begin to make your plant choices, in this article, we will discuss 15 of the alpine plants that can make fantastic choices for a trough garden.

1. Androsace

Evergreen Rock Jasmine
Androsace sempervivum

The first of our top choices for an alpine trough garden is Androsace sempervivum – sempervivum leaved rock jasmine. This dainty flowering plant is in the Primulaceae plant family. It is an evergreen perennial that forms mats, with sprays of little pinkish or mauve flowers around 1cm in diameter which appear in the spring. These are fantastic for a trough in full sun, with a free-draining medium. Other Androsace also work well in troughs, including A. carnea, A. chamaejasme, and A. pyrenaica.

2. Aquilegia

Many varieties of aquilegia also work extremely well in troughs. One great option, for example, is Aquilegia bertolonii, otherwise known as Bertoloni columbine. This deciduous perennial in the Ranunculaceae family is native to South East France and North West Italy. It has beautiful violet flowers born in groups of up to four on erect stems. The plants grow to a height of around 30cm, and can thrive in either full sun or partial shade. Aquilegia saximontana is another useful alpine plant for a trough that will be located in partial shade.

3. Armeria

Amongst the many thrifts that will work well in an alpine trough, Armeria juniperifolia stands out as an excellent choice. This is a compact perennial. It is evergreen and forms dense mats that spread to around 30cm. In the late spring, pale pink flowers will appear above these mats of foliage on stems that are around 2-5cm in height. Coming from central Spain, this is an alpine suited to a trough in full sun and well-drained conditions.

4. Campanula

Campanula of many species and varieties are go-to plants for many alpine gardens. Birch leaved bellflower, C. betulifolia, Tommasini bell flower, C. tommasiniana and Rainer’s harebell, C. raineri, are all good options to consider, for example. The first of these two can thrive in full sun or partial shade, while the last on this list is best for full sun conditions, and must be protected from winter wet.

5. Dianthus

Dianthus alpinus is another go-to for alpine trough gardens. Alpine pinks are hardy, mat forming perennials with pretty pink flowers up to 4cm wide. Native to the eastern Alps, these flowers tend to be short lived. But they look good and perform wonderfully when placed in a well drained trough in full sun. Other Dianthus to consider for a trough include D. freynii, D. microlepsis, and D. subacaulis, for example.

6. Draba Aizoides

yellow Draba Aizoides flowers
Draba aizoides

Draba aizoides, also known as whitlow grass, is another great plant to consider for troughs. It is another mat forming perennial alpine plant which has bright yellow flowers which bloom in the late spring. It is native to the mountains of south and central Europe, and you may be surprised to learn that it is a member of the Brassicaceae, or ‘cabbage family’. This is another alpine that will enjoy a trough that is free-draining, and placed in full sun.

7. Gentiana

Gentiana also work well in troughs, adding plenty of visual interest with their trumpet shaped flowers. Gentiana acaulis, large-flowered gentian, for example, can be a great choice. It can work well not just for troughs in full sun but also for those in light shade. Like other perennial, evergreen alpines, it is great for forming ground cover (around 30cm across) on a trough or other alpine container. You might also consider other gentians, such as G. saxosa, for example.

8. Globularia

Globularia cordifolia is another of the mat-forming, evergreen perennials that we would recommend for growing in troughs. It forms ground cover with tiny, cute little spoon-shaped leaves, and sends up charming little light purple/ lavender flowers in the summer months. These plants, like so many other alpine plants, will do best in full sun, and require free-draining conditions. Other Globularia, such as G. repens and G. meridionalis, are also well-worth considering.

9. Phlox

pink Phlox douglasii Crackerjack in an alpine garden
Phlox douglasii

Phlox is another rewarding plant genus to look into when you are choosing alpine plants for troughs. Mat forming Phlox douglasii such as ‘Crackerjack’, ‘Rose Cushion’ or ‘Iceberg’ can work extremely well in a trough that is placed in full sun or partial shade. They flower from late spring and through the summer months, with pretty flowers in a range of hues. Phlox bifida – ‘Alba’ for example, can also work very well in similar conditions.

10. Primula

Many Primula are also ideal for growing in an alpine trough. One option that we would recommend that you consider is P. farinosa.  P. auricula, P. ‘Beatrice Wooster’ and P. marginata are all also excellent options to think about. Most primulas will be equally at home in full sun or partial shade, as long as they are provided with suitably well-drained conditions in their trough.

11. Ramonda myconi

The Pyrean violet, Ramonda myconi is another evergreen perennial alpine plant that we would recommend for a moist but well-drained trough that is placed in partial shade. Not just for their pretty flowers which bloom in late spring and summer, but also for their interesting wrinkled and hairy leaves. Grow these on their sides at the edges of a trough to avoid water accumulating In the rosettes, which can cause rotting in winter.

12. Saxifraga

Saxifrages in an alpine trough
Saxifrages in an alpine trough

A huge number of saxifrages are ideal for alpine troughs. Just a few examples of the saxifrages to consider are S. hypnoides, S. ‘Silver Cushion’ and S. paniculata. ‘Lavagreana’, ‘Rosea’ and ‘Venetia’ for example, are three S. paniculata cultivars that have gained the RHS’s Award of Garden Merit. Though of course there are many, many more saxifrages to consider for a trough that has very good drainage, with alkaline or neutral soil.

13. Sedum

Sedums are also go-to choices, and there are many different sedums that can work well in an alpine trough garden. Amongst the sedums that we would recommend are S. spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ – purple spoon-leaved stonecrop – which looks great year round in a sunny or part shaded position. And Sedum acre, such as ‘Golden Queen’. S. cauticola could be another option to consider.

14. Sempervivum tectorum

The common houseleek is a well-known choice. But that is no reason to exclude it from this list. There is a reason why this alpine succulent is such a popular choice – both for use inside the home, and for planting outdoors in alpine troughs and containers. The fleshy rosettes on these plants, with their reddish-purple tinge, look great year round. So though they may not be the most original choice, they are still an excellent plant to consider when planning an alpine trough in a full sun position. Just make sure that the plants are protected from excessive winter rainfall.

15. Veronica prostrata

Last but not least, Veronica prostrata ‘Nana’ is another of the best alpine plants for troughs. This charming speedwell is great for forming ground cover and creating mats of dark green foliage in an alpine garden. Then in late spring/ early summer, the vibrant blue flowers will appear. Placing this in a trough can really show it off to best advantage, and help make sure that its lovely display is not lost amid other vegetation.

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