Planting & Watering Guide for California Native Plants
1. Collect what is needed for planting:
- A one gallon potted plant, a spade and a source of water
- Backfill soil, from the hole dug for the plant, plus some additional soil.
- A trowel can be helpful
This is a one gallon Cercocarpus betuloides, Mountain Mahogany, usually 12’-15’ high x 6’ diameter when established. It was sited 6’ away from the fence, pathway and other plants; see the following picture of a similar plant one year after planting.
2. Site your plant allowing enough space for it to grow to mature size.
The above 7’ tall Mountain Mahogany was planted from a one gallon pot less than one year prior to the photograph. The tomato cage was used temporarily to encourage upward, rather than spreading, growth.
3. Dig a hole about the same depth as the soil in the pot.
If you are using a gopher cage, dig a hole as big as the gopher cage, less two inches. Place the cage in the hole, leaving about two inches of the wire mesh above ground.
Gopher cages are usually bigger than the root ball and soil to be planted.
4. Fill the hole with water and wait for it to drain completely.
5. Remove the plant from the pot.
Hold the top of the soil in the pot with the spread fingers of one hand, then turn the pot upside down and rap the bottom and sides of the pot with the heel of the other hand. You may need to rap hard, several times. The soil and root mass should fall against your other hand. See sequence of photographs.
Note the bag of supplemental garden soil with the minimum of fertilizers and amendments. Soil dug from another part of your land is preferable. Here’s an example of general purpose garden soil.
6. Place the plant into the hole (or gopher cage) with the lower end of the stem about ¼ inch higher than the surrounding earth.
Fill any space between the edge of the hole and the root ball with soil – the soil you dug out to make the hole – carefully pushed down. It’s usual not to have enough backfill soil. Take additional soil from your yard or use purchased garden soil, without amendments or fertilizers. Tamp the areas down and fill all air spaces with soil.
If you are using a gopher cage, you will have space around the plant root ball and the wire mesh. It is important to fill these areas, leaving no air spaces. Roots cannot grow in air.
7. Walk around the plant to help eliminate air spaces.
8. When planting on a slope, consider making a small berm on the downhill side of the planting area.
A berm stops water running off downhill during irrigation, keeping the water closer to the root area.
9. Water the plant and follow the instructions for continuing care on the subsequent chart.
An irrigation system is not necessary. Hand-watering is an excellent option as CA native plants thrive on deeper watering given infrequently and prefer this to the shallow, frequent watering common to some irrigation systems.
The above is the minimum required to give most CA native plants what they need to survive the transition from pot to in-ground planting.
Continue reading to give your plant an even better chance of survival.
1. Check how much the water penetrated into the soil.
If in doubt, give more water as the first watering is crucial to survival. In very dry conditions or when planting on sun soaked banks or slopes, it may be necessary to water the area deeply for a few days before planting day.
2. Tidy the area and mulch.
Oak leaves or chipped oak tree trimmings are an appropriate mulch for most CA native plants. The mulch in the picture above is shredded redwood bark, widely recommended for CA native plants. A purchased bag of ‘forest products’ mulch may be used. Do not use rubber or plastic mulch around plants. Place mulch at least three feet in diameter around the plant to reduce the rate of evaporation of moisture from the soil, to suppress weeds, and to insulate the soil from extreme temperatures.
3. A rock – the size an adult can carry comfortably – placed on the south or west side of the plant will provide a cool, moist area beside the developing root ball.
4. Keep the area weed free; mulching assists with this. Do not amend or fertilize the soil.
5. Learn about the plant.
If the plant is deciduous at some time in the year e.g. milkweed, it will lose its leaves and dry up. Do not pull it out or overwater during this phase. Some plants show summer (heat) stress e.g. Ceanothus species may show a few yellowing leaves. Do not try to compensate for this by overwatering. Some plants are slow to grow when first placed in the ground e.g. Rhus ovata, sugar bush, may stay the same size as at planting for six months or more, surprising its anxious gardener with fast growth in a subsequent year. Understand the plant’s normal behavior.
6. CA native plants dislike hot and wet; water slowly and deeply in the cool part of the morning.
For detailed information on a variety of topics related to CA native plants, the following are recommended:
Las Pilitas Nursery
Tree of Life Wholesale Nursery
California’s Own landscape design, Greg Rubin
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden