Tips for Planting California Natives

Planting can be intimidating sometimes, and it’s understandable! There are many factors involved in making those new additions to the garden, beyond the common question “what color should it be?” In the following we go over some quick pointers to be as successful as possible with your next California Native plant. We touch on some observations you can make that can help you in selecting the best plant, for the best spot. We’ll also cover watering and after care!

When to Plant

  • Fall is a great time for planting California Native plants! The shorter days and cooler weather really help to establish strong root development in spring.
  • By planting in the Fall you are encouraging the root system to develop before they start their vegetative growth cycle. This helps the plant naturalize in your garden and achieve a better success rate through our long, hot summers.
  • Some of our California native plants like Stipa pulchera ( Purple Needle Grass) and Lupinus albifrons (Silver Bush Lupine) have adapted to our short seasons and only grow in these cooler months.

Digging and Drainage

  • We recommend digging your holes before you are ready to plant. Your holes should be about as deep as the root ball. A 1 gallon pot is 7” x 6.5” and a 5 gallon pot is 12” x 10.5”.
  • Square holes are showing to be very effective in helping to establish plants. In some restoration cases we have used a jackhammer to penetrate and help roots get down in those harder soils, but it is better to match your plants to the soils, than have to disturb much of the lower soil horizons.
  • Make sure your hole drains. Fill holes with water and make sure it drains out by the next day. This is also a great way to help chose what is appropriate for that area.
  • If the hole drains slowly, you may not want to plant a species that does not like that kind of moisture. Knowing this, before you get to the nursery, can help us find you a plant that may work better in those conditions.

Picking the Plant & Watering

  • After making sure that your holes drained, you are going to want to match the plants you hope to establish with the drainage in the holes. Share what you’ve learned about your area with us when you come in! How fast the holes drained, what the soil composition in that area is like, and how many hours of sun the area gets are all key points to picking out the best plant for your space. If your soil is fast draining and sunny let’s make sure you get plants to go into this soil like: Ceanothus, Sage and Manzanita. If it’s more silt like and light shade we’ll lean toward: Artemisia, MonkeyFlower, and Blue-Eyed Grass
  • It’s important to make sure that once placed in the hole, your plant sits level with the surrounding soil, neither hilled up nor in a well. We don’t tend to add to much in the form of soil amendments with native plants unless it really calls for it.
  • When finished, water in your planting with a five gallon bucket or water hose, making sure not to cause any erosion. Be sure to knock down any water wells you may have made to retain the water. Water wells can cause the plants to hold too much water as they get older and further erosion can cover up the crown causing it to smother and die.
  • If you are using drip irrigation make sure that the holes are pre-irrigated or your plant may not get evenly watered. After plants have been properly watered in, you can rely on a drip irrigation to do the rest. Watering once a week for a few hours should suffice in most situations, but in gardening it always depends. Check your plants the first few weeks to make sure they do indeed need that water. A great way to do that is to check with a finger. If it is dry at a 1/2 inch depth don’t water. Overwatering and poor drainage are the number one killers of plants!


  • There are many different methods for mulching native plants. One of the best ways we have found is using hard wood chip. We offer bulk shredded Almond bark mulch by the 1/2 yard. Mulch will help retain the moisture for the plants as well as control the spread of weeds.
  • We recommend a 4” layer, and keeping the mulch about 6” away from the plant insuring that you do not cover the crown or you could kill the plant. You can also resource local chips from tree trimmers and arborists, but make sure there is no diseased material.
  • Mulching can also help control the spread of weeds! We’ve heavily mulched several of the demonstration gardens here at the nursery recently. First clear away unwanted weeds and removing piles left over. Here’s where saving cardboard comes in handy! Remove any packaging and tape prior to garden use. Cut your boxes at their seems and lay them wide and flat directly on the soil. Cover all the cardboard with 4 inches of mulch and wet with a sprinkler or hose. Wetting the mulch will help the chip and cardboard stay together.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: