Design Techniques and Layout

Native plant design and layout can be a subjective topic.  It really is a matter of taste and how you want the area to look.  There are three basic approaches however - Mixed Planting, Mass Planting and a Hybrid of the two.

Read about the advantages of each type of planting and see which might match the style you envision for your planting. 

In all three styles, we highly recommend using at least one third grasses and sedges.  This is both for better ecological function and better aesthetics.   Grasses and sedges help to prop up flowers as well as provide landing sites, nesting material and food sources for small insects and mammals. 

For spacing information and calculations, please see our section on Planting and Installation.

Mixed Plantings

Mixed plantings are one of the easiest methods for planting a native garden.  This requires the least amount of design input and is particularly suitable for larger-scale restoration projects where ecological function is a priority and a number of workers or volunteers may be helping.  With this approach you more or less randomly scatter each species across your planting area (or across the appropriate habitat zone within your planting area), usually in small groups of three, five, or seven plants. 

This method is probably the most ecologically stable because all of the different species growing in close proximity compliment each other and help to fill in spaces within any given area. 

Mixed plantings can be considered the most natural and natural-looking plant community structure.  


Mass Plantings

The most common method of planting native areas is massing.  This works very well for smaller plantings, especially those in a more conventionally landscaped setting.

With this approach each individual species is grouped all together in one area of the planting.  Or with substantially larger massed plantings there may be two or three large groups of each species.  These groups may be upwards of 16 to 32 plants each. 

We recommend creating a mix of long, narrow masses and more globular masses--think of them as “swaths and blobs.”  This approach requires some more thoughtful design input but will yield a more domestic appearance.

This method of large patches of the same species is beneficial for pollinators to easily find a food source and feed from flower to flower.

This style can also be ideal for a novice native plant gardener to weed since there is just a single species to recognize and watch out for in an area.

Mass plantings could lead to more weeds because of the monocultural nature of each group.  But strong maintenance for the first few years and a solid plan for continued care, should prevent this from happening.

Partially Mixed / Hybrid / Matrix Planting

A hybrid between Mixed and Mass planting is a great option.

For example - one area may contain mixed plantings of one species of grass and two or three species of flowers.  And an adjacent area would have a different species of grass and two or three other flower species.

This is sometimes referred to as matrix planted because the flowers are planted within a matrix of grasses or sedges.

A Hybrid approach has the benefits of both Mixed and Mass plantings.  Grasses and sedges are next to flowers to prop them up when they get too big and the larger groups of plants make work easier for the pollinators.

Hybrid plantings yield a much more natural-looking and naturally-functioning native plant community.  This method also provides you with a lot of exciting potential for experimental garden design.