Growing Horsetail in a Container


Can you plant horsetail in a container? It would be a container in front of a west facing wood fence in a North York backyard. How tall would it grow? I’d like to block the fence and the neighbours so the taller the better.
Any other suggestions for growing something very tall as a barrier? There is a locust tree casting shade over the whole area.


My immediate thought is that horsetail ( Equisetum) would not be a good choice for your shady, west-facing, container. I say this since it really likes a wet, damp environment; it will not survive over winter; it will not grow very high in Ontario; it will be hard to find in a plant nursery in our area; and it can be rather invasive and can take over your garden. It will quickly spread from the container into your garden through its spores and rhizomes.  It is, as my sister-in-law, Rebecca Last, a Master Gardener in Ottawa says, a thug!

In discussion, Rebecca and I have the following alternative suggestions for tall plants to grow in your shady, west-facing, container. They all grow tall and can be grown in containers, but they will not overwinter in the container (nothing really manages to survive our winters in containers), so they will need to be started by seed, transplanted seedling, or rhizomb.

  • Canna lilies. They can grow over five feet tall, can grow in containers, can tolerate partial shade, and will provide you and your hummingbirds real joy with their bright red or orange flowers. You can find very pretty varieties with chocolate-coloured or variegated leaves. Their rhizomes need to be brought into the house to overwinter, but start very easily in pots in early March.
  • Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata). The plume poppy will grow in a container, in partial shade, and grow as tall as 8 feet. They have beautiful scallopy leaves and a lovely creamy white plume. Do not let it go to seed otherwise they will spread all over the garden.  The plume poppy also grows by rhizomes and beware that it will “jump” out of your container and get into your garden. On the other hand, its leaves are very distinct so you can identify them early and pull them out if they are in the wrong place, and replant them back into the container next spring. Make sure that the soil in your container drains well.
  • Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). This plant is easily germinated from seed in February. It can be grown in containers in partial shade, and is such a wonderfully dramatic looking plant that it is worth growing as a conversation piece. It blossoms late, but it has never blossomed in my garden. Like the other suggestions, it will not survive over winter, but will thrive in our Ontario gardens. One or two of them is more than enough, though.
  • Variegated Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica var. japonica ). The most important point is that you must only grown the variegated variety; Knotweed is considered an invasive species in Ontario but the variegated varieties behave relatively well.  I caution you that if there are grown close to, and hence can be pollinated by Japanese, Bohemian or Giant Knotweed populations they can produce seeds and will also reproduce vegetatively, and hence will be regarded as invasive. It is a fine looking, long-living herbacious bush, that can tolerate partial shade, and can be grown in containers. But it will need to be brought into the house or a heated garage to survive over the winter.