When and how a California native is planted can make all the difference in the plant’s survival, and the overall success of a new landscape.  Time of year, plant size, treatment of the plant and planting hole, and mulching are all important factors to consider when starting out.  Below are suggestions for planting a California native plant.  Be sure to check with the nursery or plant grower for specific plant needs or requirements.

When to Plant

The ideal times to plant California natives are in late fall, winter, or early spring.   Hot summer or early fall conditions are a difficult time to start most plants, and it’s best to plant right before or during winter rains so they have time to establish before the summer heat. Planting in the summer is possible, but planting in the fall/winter during the rainy season is ideal for conserving water and ensuring the plant has the best chance of survival in the garden.

What Size to Plant

It’s usually best to start with 1 gallon (or smaller) plants.  Within 2-3 years after planting, they will be as big as the plants that started out in 5 gallon containers.

Root-bound plants should not be planted as they will never develop a healthy root structure even after planting, and are not likely to live long.

Credit Greg Suba.
Credit Greg Suba.

How to Plant a California Native

When putting your plants in the ground, dig a hole that is twice as wide and half again as deep as the container.  If planting on a dry bank or slope, it’s best to create a flat area around the hole too, at least twice the diameter of the hole.   It’ll help the new plant retain just a bit more water.  Fill the hole with water and let it soak through before continuing.  Rough up the sides and bottom of the hole so the roots will be able to dig in as they grow.  Put back enough loose dirt in the bottom of the holes, so that when you put the plant in the hole, the root ball is about 1″ higher than the surrounding grade.

Don’t rough up the roots of native plants when you take them out of the container.  It’s best to leave their roots as undisturbed as possible. Tamp loose dirt gently into the gap around the plant, but don’t push down on the root ball itself.   Then smooth out the remaining dirt so the root ball is about 1/2″ higher than the new grade.

Mulching and Finishing Touches

Put mulch and/or rocks around the plant.  Although native plants don’t need fertilizer, they do benefit from mulch of various kinds. The two basic types are organic (bark, leaves, etc.) and inorganic (rocks, gravel, etc.). Chaparral, woodland and forest plants prefer organic mulch, preferably with some rocks as well.   (Rocks placed just outside the root ball are always helpful.  The bigger the better).   Plants from the seashore, desert, and rocky outcrops prefer inorganic mulch. You can also check the Calscape.org plant pages for information about which mulches different plants prefer.  Don’t cover the root ball with mulch, or the plant won’t be able to breath properly and will often die.  Do spread generously over the area surrounding the root ball.

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