With winter on the way, now is the time for us to think about planting California native plants. When we plant in the winter, or rainy season as I like to call it, we take advantage of the moist soil conditions to help establish our plants. Plants planted in the rainy season do most of their growing underground with root development. When spring comes, they respond to this establishing period by sending out new shoot growth. By summer, they are ready for the long dry months ahead and will survive on monthly waterings.

There are some basic guidelines to follow when planting natives. We can break these guidelines into five steps.

Step one: plant selection
step two: hole size
step three: soil amendments
step four: planting
step five: watering

Most people have an idea about where they want a plant to go in their yard. This is where the problem of what plant is best for what location comes into play. The best advice I can give here is to do your homework. There are many good books available which cover this subject; also, you can ask your local nurseryman for advice if you need a quick answer.

Digging a hole for your plant can be a serious problem, especially if you live on top of a rock pile or some kind of impervious clay layer. The best rule of thumb is to dig a hole, twice the width of the root ball and at least that same amount of depth. You might have to add water and let it soak in to be able to achieve this goal.

Amending your soil is something that has become a personal choice. Lately some studies have indicated that this might cause problems when plant roots leave the amended area. I am inclined to amend when the soil is very poor, such as pure sand. You can amend your soil by adding some kind of nursery product, such as redwood soil conditioner, or by adding an organic product.

Planting is the most important part of the five steps. Care must be taken when removing the plant from its container. A gentle tap on the bottom of the container will usually loosen the plant. If this does not work, the container can be cut and the plant removed. Inspecting the roots is done at this time. If the roots are tightly bound, loosen them gently with a tool. Mix the excavated soil with soil amendments, if desired; place soil in bottom of the hole so that the top of the root ball is slightly higher than the surrounding soil. Fill hole half full with soil and firm soil in with a stick. Fill remaining portion of hole and firm soil in again. Build a water basin with the remaining soil.

Watering your native plant is the fifth step. Care must be taken to water deeply, but infrequently once established. Newly planted natives must be kept moist until established or watered adequately by rainfall. Once established, monthly waterings throughout the summer may be required.

Good luck and Happy Gardening, John Nowak, Plant Sale co-Chairperson