Installing Native Plants

Planting a native garden can be done anytime the ground isn’t frozen!

If planting in the spring, wait until the danger of frost has passed.  For fall planting on moist or wet ground, do not wait until the last minute.  Frost-heaving over the winter can occasionally push new, unrooted plugs out of the ground.  And if you need to plant in the middle of summer, just plan on watering more.


We highly recommend mulching the planting area.  Mulch will help keep the weeds down and hold in moisture.

What to Use?

Chopped leaves are our favorite mulch to use for native plantings, especially on sandy soils.  Chopped leaves help build up a hummus-rich layer on the surface of the soil that will help to promote better plant growth.  

If chopped leaves aren't available, a commercial shredded natural wood mulch also works well.  

How Much Mulch?

To determine how much commercial mulch you need to start, take the square footage of the area you want to cover and divide by 6.  This will give you the number of cubic feet you need to buy to cover the area 2” deep.

How to Mulch?

Mulch can be applied before or after planting.  

If you are doing a large installation, laying the mulch first would be a lot easier than spreading mulch around each individual plant.  For smaller plantings, either before or after planting work just fine.

Be careful not to pile the mulch right up against the stems of the plants.  Give the plants a little space.

When applying mulch, plan to spread at least a couple of inches for the first year.  A fresh layer can be added annually.  If using wood mulch, topdress with a thin layer the next year or two, until the weed are well under control.  Past this initial establishment phase, transition away from the wood chips, unless you are looking for a formal look.  At this point, your native plants should be filling in naturally, and a dense, healthy native planting will do pretty well at keeping the weeds out in the long run.

If the area is too steep to hold mulch or is especially prone to erosion, you may want to use a nurse crop of Annual Rye or Oats.  This can be sown from seed over the area with or without the use of erosion control netting.


The easiest way to plant is by using a soil auger that attaches to a power drill.  A 1.75” to 2” auger works well for our 2” pots.  A 3-4” auger can be used for our 4” pots.  If your soil is rocky or really full of roots this approach may not work so well, and you’ll have to dig by hand.

Plant Spacing

Plant spacing can be anywhere from 12-24”.  We strongly recommend using 12” spacing on Dry or Medium-Dry soils.  Medium soil plants can be 12-18” apart, and Medium-Wet to Wet plants 18-24” apart (Wetland plants tend to be much more robust).  The chart below shows how to calculate the number of plants needed for a given area at different spacings.  Your choice of spacing depends primarily on how quickly you want your planting to fill in and how much money and labor you want to invest, or on grant or permit requirements.

Plant Spacing 12"      14"      16"      18"       24"
No. of plants per sq. ft. 1 0.74 0.56 0.45 0.25
No. of plants per 100 sq. ft.    100 74 56 45 25
No. of sq. ft. per plant 1 1.4 1.8 2.2 4


Once you are ready to start planting, lay out all or most of the plants before you start drilling holes.  This is particularly helpful for smaller, carefully designed plantings.  But try not to lay out more than you can plant in one day because it is difficult to keep the remaining potted plants watered.  

Try to dig or drill the holes the same depth as the soil plug so that when the plant is stuck in the hole its soil surface is at the same level as the surface of the soil you’re planting into.  Don’t bury the stem or leave the soil plug sticking out of the ground.

If the area is a sandy soil, you’ll probably want to drop a little organic fertilizer in the bottom of the planting hole--just a hearty pinch is enough. 


Once all of the plants are in the ground, you’ll want to give the area a thorough watering to help settle the soil down around the roots.  How often you need to water after this depends entirely on your soil, light conditions, and the weather.  If it’s hot and sunny and sandy soil you may need to start off watering every other day.  In general some supplemental watering will be needed for the first season.