Here are some tips to help you have success with your native plants.
TEMPORARY CARE FOR PLANTS IN CONTAINERS
If you do not plan to put your plants in the ground immediately, you will need to provide regular water until they are transplanted into the ground. Most need a deep watering once a week. Some may need watering every two to three days. (The smaller the container, the more frequently you will need to water.) Keep in mind that while they are in containers, plants are not particularly drought-tolerant.
NATIVES AS CONTAINER PLANTS
Some of the plants we gave out are appropriate for long term or permanent life in a container. At some point, all of the plants in our giveaway will need to be transplanted to a larger container (pot) if kept that way for the long term. Though different plants have different needs, a good rule of thumb is that the container should be at least two inches in diameter larger than the plant itself. None of the plants we distributed are intended as house plants, but even life on a patio can still attract butterflies and other pollinators. Follow the rules above for watering, remembering that even the most drought-tolerant plants will need more frequent watering when living in a container.
There’s a good reason we held our Native Plants event in November! Fall and winter are ideal times for planting California natives. Cool temperatures and shorter days reduce transplant stress, and seasonal rains reduce the need to water. It is still very important that new plantings be watered deeply and regularly. During dry winters and/or after a light rain, supplemental irrigation is crucial for new plants.
LEARN ABOUT YOUR PLANT(S)
Before you choose where you wish to put your plant, read about its characteristics: size, shape, dormancy period, sun and water requirements, wildlife supported, and other factors. We recommend looking up your plant by name at the Calscape website, maintained by the California Native Plant Society.
SOAK: Water your plants in their pots thoroughly the day before planting. This encourages vigorous growth and reduces transplant shock.
HOLE: Dig a hole that is about twice as wide as the container and approximately one-half inch less deep.
WATER THE HOLE: Fill the hole with water and let it drain to ensure sufficient moisture for the new plant. If soil is very dry, repeat this step. If you have heavy clay soil, it may take an hour or more for the water to drain. This is normal.
PLANT: Remove the plant from the container, disturbing the roots as little as possible. If root-bound, it is okay to gently separate the roots at the bottom and gently rough up the edges of the root ball. Set the plant into the hole. The top of the root ball should be slightly (one-quarter to one-half inch) higher than the surrounding soil to allow for settling. Position the plant and return the native soil to the hole, removing any rocks, twigs, and debris that may reduce the root-to-soil contact after planting. Pack gently but firmly. Optional: If hand-watering, you can create a berm around the plant. For a one-gallon plant, it should be approximately two feet in diameter. If you use drip or overhead irrigation, creating a berm is not recommended.
POTS: To reduce waste, the pot can be reused for another project or in some cases washed and returned to a grower or nursery.
MULCH: Spread three to four inches of mulch between new transplants, leaving at least three inches of clearance around the stem or crown of each plant. Mulch can increase the likelihood of plant survival, as it moderates soil temperatures and helps retain soil moisture. Consider also using a “nurse rock”—a softball-size or larger rock placed on the southwest side of the crown of the plant—to shelter the crown and roots from heat, help the soil retain moisture, and function as a natural drip system as your plant gets established.
WATER: After planting, water the area well. If hand-watering, fill the berm area around the plant and let it drain. Repeat to remove air pockets and ensure wet soil around and below the root ball.
The establishment period for most natives runs around three years. Improper watering is the primary reason for plant loss.
START: Use this general principle and then adjust your watering based on your location, plants, and the factors below. Provide a deep watering to the plant Twice a Month for TWO YEARS. Then switch to Once a Month for an ADDITIONAL YEAR. A five-gallon construction bucket generally provides plenty of water, though a rain-style wand hose attachment is better if you want to be fancy and best simulate nature. Apply water gently, avoiding the base of the plant to minimize soil erosion and root exposure.
FINE-TUNE: Fast-growing plants (such as sages, coral bells, and grasses) establish more quickly than most woody shrubs and trees. Until plants are established, they’ll need frequent attention and regular watering. Though you may not see rapid growth above ground, the root system is developing. It is best to remember this saying: “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!” How often you water can depend on the container size, the type of plant, your soil, sun exposure, and the weather. Sandy soils drain well but dry out quickly, requiring more frequent irrigation. Heavy clay soils retain moisture longer than sandy soils, meaning 1) you will need to water less often, and 2) it will be easier for you to overwater your plants by watering them before they need it. Plants in full sun will need watering more often than those in shady spots. Soil dries out more rapidly in warm or windy conditions than during cool, still, or overcast weather. Most native plants prefer deep infrequent soaks rather than frequent shallow soaks. Though roots should not be allowed to dry completely, some dryness is good. If the soil is moist, do not water. If dry, water slowly until the root area and surrounding soil are completely wetted. To encourage deep rooting and minimize disease, always water thoroughly and deeply—up to five gallons per plant. If you have clay soil or are planting on a slope, check soil moisture again after watering to be sure that the water has soaked in. If runoff is a problem, several short applications on the same day may be needed for adequate saturation.
ONCE ESTABLISHED: After the establishment period, most natives do not need supplemental water, barring extreme drought. To ease the transition, it is best to discontinue supplemental water during the fall/winter season. It is natural for many plants to have a period of dormancy in the late summer. For some species, this can be avoided with supplemental seasonal watering, but there can be tradeoffs in the lifespan of the plant. The end of the establishment period is a good time to review your plant characteristics and needs.
Do you like this page?