Theodore Payne California Native Plant Database

Planting Guide

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Lawn/Weeds: Remove all grass and weeds prior to planting. If possible, water soil after removing lawn to allow remaining grasses and weeds to resprout so that these can be removed before planting.

Soil: Do not till the soil since that brings more weed seeds to the surface to germinate. Do not add any soil amendments or fertilizers. Natives prefer “nutrient-poor” soils. Fertilizers often harm these plants.

Soak: Water your plants in their pots thoroughly the day before planting. This encourages vigorous growth and reduces the shock of transplant.

Hole: Dig a hole that is at least twice as wide as the container and ½” less in depth than the soil level in the container.

Water hole: Fill the hole with water and let it drain to ensure sufficient moisture for the new plant. Repeat 2-3 times if soil is very dry.

Plant: Remove plant from container, disturbing the roots as little as possible. (If root bound, it is okay to gently separate the roots.) Set plant into the ground so the stem is slightly higher than the surrounding soil level. Position the plant and return native soil to the hole. Create a berm around the plant—approximately 1 foot radius—for watering. Note: take special care when handling Carpenteria, Dendromecon, Romneya, Fremontodendron, and Trichostema. These plants have sensitive roots and do not respond well to having their roots disturbed.

Mulch: Spread 2-4” of mulch around landscaped area. Leave 2-3” clear around the stem of each plant. Mulch is critical to plant survival because it moderates soil temperature and helps retain moisture.

Water: After planting, water the area well. If hand watering, fill the berm area around the plant and let drain—do this 2-3 times. This removes air pockets created by digging and ensures wet soil.

Establishment: The establishment period for most natives is anywhere from one to three years. Some plants (such as salvias) may establish faster than others. It is best to remember this saying: “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap.”

Fall and winter are the ideal times to plant California natives. Temperatures are cool, reducing stress on the plants, and seasonal rain reduces the need to water. It is still important to make sure that new plantings are well watered. During dry winters, it is very important to give supplemental water to both new and established plants.

Planting in spring and summer can present challenges, especially for inland gardeners. If you live near the coast, you have little to worry about—just remember to water occasionally. If you are inland, you will need to give special attention to plant selection and watering. Grasses, water-loving riparian plants, shade-loving plants, and desert plants should transplant just fine. You may want to consider NOT planting the following until fall: Ceanothus, Arctostaphylos, Penstemon, Fremontodendron, and Trichostema. Plants that are native to our deserts and streambanks, where they are accustomed to summer moisture, are easier to plant this time of year. Whatever you plant, you will need to water through the summer in order to get them established. How often you will need to water will depend on your plants, your soil, and the weather. Sandy soils drain well but dry out quickly, requiring more frequent watering. Heavy soils retain moisture for longer than sandy soils, meaning (1) you will need to water less often and (2) it will be easier for you to over-water your plants.

Watering natives correctly is very important. Incorrect watering is probably the number one reason for plant loss. Twice a week check the root area of new plants 2-3” below the surface. If dry, water slowly until roots are soaked. If not dry, do not water. While the roots should not be allowed to dry out entirely, some dryness is good. Do not allow the crown of the plant (where the stem meets the soil) to stay wet—this will lead to rot. If you have clay soil (or a slope), check the soil after watering to be sure the water has soaked in. Drought-tolerant native plants prefer infrequent deep soakings (eg. 10-30 min. once a week), rather than frequent short soaks (eg. 2-5 min. every other day). Only place plants on automatic watering after establishing plant water needs. If the weather changes, change the watering regime to accommodate plant needs.

The water requirements described on your plant labels are for established plants. All new plants will require additional water.

Drought-tolerant: Requires no supplemental water
Infrequent: Every 4-6 weeks
Occasional: Every 3-4 weeks
Moderate: Every 10-14 days
Regular: Every 3-7 days

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