Now is the best time of year to plant native plants in your garden or into areas you want to naturalize.
In general, native plants often come as very small bareroot starts that will need some extra care to do well. Plants that come with their roots exposed will need to have those roots kept moist at all times. They should be soaked when you buy them and packed in a plastic bag to hold in moisture. Once you get them home, plant them within a day or so. If you can’t, simply plant (or heel) them into an open space in the garden and water well. They will hold for a couple of weeks easily.
If you buy very small starts of shrubs or trees it may be advantageous to plant them in a nursery or holding bed in your garden for a year so they can get some size and a bigger root system before they are planted out in your regular garden. This is particularly important for plants you intend to use to naturalize an area away from your watering system or where there is a lot of competition from grass and other plants.
When planting bareroot stock, dig a hole that is a little deeper than the length of the roots and two to three times the diameter of the roots when they are spread out. The hole should be dish-shaped rather than straight sided. Trim off any broken or extra long roots before you plant. Make a small mound of dirt in the center of the hole and spread the roots over it. Gently backfill the hole with the native soil so the crown of the plant is just below the surface of the ground. Don’t add compost to the soil as it actually hinders the plants getting established. Gently tamp the soil and build a small well around the plant to catch water. If you are planting where there is a lot of competition from grass, clear a space around the plant and lay down a foot square piece of weed block fabric to reduce competition.
Small plants are going to need more water than most sprinkler systems provide through their first couple of seasons. A simple way to do this is lay a soaker hose around each plant and then hook it up to a timer set to come on more frequently than your sprinklers. You might even consider clustering plants close together to make this easier.
If you are planting a naturalized area that eventually won’t have a lot of extra water, consider laying some half-inch black plastic pipe through your plants and then installing a bubbler at each plant. This is relatively cheap to do and only takes a plastic pipe cutter, ordinary half-inch fittings and a screwdriver to install. Set it up on a timer or tie it into your sprinkler system and you are set. If you have deer, wrap the plants with fencing to discourage nibbling.
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