Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Step-by-step instructions for creating a native plant garden

When properly planted, native plant seedlings will take off quickly. This bed at the Washington State University Spokane County Extension Office was planted last summer and in a year has grown into an impressive display.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Last week I wrote about the challenges of creating a native plant garden. This week, I want to share the steps to creating a garden using native plant seedlings.

Step 1: Native plant gardens take a bit of planning and site preparation before planting can begin. The year before you plan to plant, clear the area of weeds, tall grass or lawn grass. Don’t till the area as that brings up new weed seed. Spend the rest of the season controlling existing weeds to reduce competition for the new seedlings next year. On small areas, cover the area with cardboard, compost or wood chips for the growing season. The following spring, you can plant straight through the mulch and rotted cardboard. For large areas, it might be necessary to repeatedly spray glyphosate on the area to reduce the weed load at the soil surface.

While you are controlling weeds, research what plants you want to install. Visit native plant gardens in the area like the water wise garden at the Washington State University Spokane County Extension Office to observe how they grow and flower. Research the soil and water requirements of the plants so you know what they will need when planted. Visit local native plant nurseries to determine what they have in stock and ask questions. Begin mapping out your planting area. Planting single varieties in clumps mimics nature.

Step 2: Set target planting dates and order your plants early in the year. Nurseries usually have their catalogs set by early January so you can check availability. Popular plants go quickly, so order early. Set up your shipping date so the plants arrive between mid-April and mid-May while the weather is cool and there is lots of moisture in the soil.

Step 3: Planting your seedlings correctly ensures a successful garden. In a bucket of water, soak seedlings for a few minutes to moisten the roots before planting. Follow the spacing instructions from the grower as many native plants don’t like to be crowded.

The ideal planting hole will be twice as deep and wide as the seedling container. Do not amend the soil as most native plants prefer native soil and may even find amended soil too rich. Gently remove the plant from its pot so as not to disturb the roots any more than necessary. Plant each seedling at the same depth as it was planted in the pot and water them in. Create a small dip around the plant to help capture rainfall and guide water around the plant roots.

Step 4: Once your seedlings are planted, you will need to water them for the first couple of years during the hottest part of our summer, usually from mid-July into September. A deep soaking every two weeks will be enough to force the plants to send down deep roots. After that, they should do fine on rainwater. Check the planting for errant weeds several times through the season so they don’t overtake the slower growing natives.