Native Plant Care

Native Plant Care

Planting, Watering & Pruning Native Plants

Native Plant Planting Tips

One of the most important aspects of successful landscape gardening is planting correctly. Extra time and effort at this stage will pay dividends later on as native perennials or shrubs grow and mature. The use of quality plants, proper pruning, adequate water, fertilization and lime seldom compensate for poor planting.

Selecting Plant Material

Decide on the type plant you want, selecting one that is hardy in your area. Consider its ultimate size and average growth rate. Landscape characteristics such as form, color, texture, foliage, and fruits and berries should be considered. Whatever the reason for planting, select healthy, well-shaped, pest-free plant material.

When to Plant

Most nursery-grown plants are balled and burlapped (B&B), bare root or container-grown. Container and B&B plants can be brought and planted successfully anytime during the year as long as adequate water is provided. Bare rooted plants (having no soil around the roots) are generally handled while the plant is dormant. Our best planting season begins around October and continues until December. January through March can be a suitable planting season if soils aren’t too wet or frozen. Only plant in April through September if forced to. High temperatures make watering tricky and plant survival a real challenge.

Planting Procedure

A modern trend in landscaping is to plant shrubs in large beds. When this design concept is followed, it’s best to prepare the entire bed versus digging individual holes. In many areas the soils are poorly drained so we recommend planting trees or shrubs slightly above grade in raised beds or mounds. Finish with 3 – 4 inches of an organic mulch on the surface to conserve moisture, discourage turf and increase growth and survival.

  • When planting field-grown (B & B) material, use as much native soil in the backfill as possible. Don’t plant too deep! Position the rootball on solid, undisturbed soil. Setting the ball on backfill, may lead to settling and a rootball too deep. Before backfilling, remove all wires or nylon strings from the ball. Cut away the burlap from at least the top half of the rootball. Synthetic fabrics are sometimes substituted for burlap. These will never decay and should be removed as completely as possible after setting the rootball in the planting hole. Don’t plant too deep!
  • When planting container-grown plants, be sure to disturb the root zone area of the plant, especially if it’s “potbound”. Breakup the ball gently with fingers and thumbs. Again, don’t plant too deep! Because container plants are usually grown in high organic soil mixes, we recommend adding organic matter to the backfill. Be sure to blend this into the backfill, again using as much native soil as possible.
  • When planting bare-root plants, be certain to prepare a planting area wide enough so roots can be straightened out and separated. Prune off roots which are damaged or ones which may later girdle the plant. Work the backfill around the roots to ensure that no air pockets remain. Firm the soil lightly and water thoroughly. Form a saucer depression around the plant to facilitate later watering. Position the plants so that the highest roots are about one inch below the soil surface and no deeper.


If lime is needed to raise the pH of the soil, it should be mixed in at planting time. This is also the perfect time to add phosphorus and potassium if needed. A soil test will tell you the amounts you need. Soil test kits are available from our office and at some of the local garden centers. In lieu of soil testing results, add a half cup of lime and fourth cup of 5-10-10 or equivalent per bushel of backfill soil. Don’t add lime if planting acid-loving plants. Don’t place fertilizer into the planting hole in concentrated amounts as it can seriously injure the roots. Do your first surface fertilizations 6 to 9 months after planting, but never in the summer. Use a complete organic fertilizer with a maximum of 10% nitrogen at a annual rate of 3 to 4 cups per 100 square feet of ground. Split this amount into 2 half applications in spring and early fall.

Wrapping and Staking

Recent search has put doubt on the value of tree wraps and have even shown greater damage in some trees with wrap versus unwrapped trees. One approach to reducing sunscald is to plant the tree oriented in the same direction to the sun as it grew before digging.

Staking may be needed with larger trees, especially bare-root and container grown. Support trees with staking only if needed and as little as necessary. Research has shown that unstaked or lightly staked trees develop trunk taper and larger root systems quicker, and do not encounter bark rubbing or girdling. If you do use stakes or guy wires, be sure to maintain them as the tree grows and remove them when their job is done.

Watering Your Native Plants

Water your plant thoroughly once at home and let the water soak through the soil. If you cannot plant it within a few days of receiving it, you can leave the plant outside in partial sun and monitor its moisture.

Water your plant well after putting it in the ground, and make sure it stays well watered for the first year to let it get established. The best time to water your garden is early in the morning, before the sun is high. If you live in a humid climate, watering at this time lets the sun evaporate the standing water from the foliage of your plants, preventing mildew. And in all climates, you will lose less water to evaporation by the sun’s rays if you apply it early in the day.

  1. The best method of watering shrubs is with a soaker type hose or to use the end of the hose to insure that the roots of the plants receive a thorough watering. It is best to keep water off of the foliage because it can cause plant diseases.
  2. If you have a drip irrigation system you have to be sure that the soil has adequate moisture, as drip irrigation does not do a good job once the soil has been dried out. Check around the plants to ensure that they are receiving the right amount.
  3. Buy a moisture meter. This inexpensive device will allow you to check the moisture not only in your shrub beds, but also in your lawn, house plants, and vegetable garden. A moisture level of 50% or greater is recommended.
  4. Watering After Planting. Water must be applied during the first growing season. Wet the soil thoroughly enough to soak the entire root system at least once every 5 days during drought conditions and possibly less often under milder temperatures. Rainfall will not substitute for direct application of water to the rootball, however, it may allow you to lengthen the watering interval a couple of days.

Pruning Your Native Plants

  1. The key to pruning your trees and shrubs is identifying the type of plant it is, and the appropriate time of year to prune it. We suggest calling us if you have any questions or concerns.
  2. On some shrubs, after flowering occurs the bud for next season is formed. Therefore these plants should be pruned immediately after flowering. Azaleas, dogwoods, forsythia, hydrangea, viburnum, wisteria, climbing roses and rhododendron fall into this group.
  3. Shrubs that bloom on the current year’s growth should be pruned during the dormant period in winter or early spring.
  4. Hedges: It is best to prune hedges every time the new growth reaches two or three inches. It is best to bevel the sides and make the hedge 1 ½ times wider at the bottom than at the top, tapering them from a broad base to a narrower top.
  5. It is always best to trim out any dead or diseased wood, suckers and any areas of the plant that are misshapen and tangled.

Good luck and let us know if we can help!