Quick Start: Gardening with Native Plants
Every Plant Counts
Whether you have an acre or a balcony, every garden can make an impact. The most important thing you can do is start!
Look for a space in your garden that you see daily and can care for easily, in terms of size, shape and location.
Choose 2-3 different plants and plant them in clusters or drifts of 3-9 plants of each type, or try a native wildflower seed mix.
Consider height, spread and bloom time to get a good variety in your pollinator buffet.
Finding a Spot for Your Pollinator Garden
Plan and plant small sections for planting in stages to learn as you go and keep your project manageable.
Pick and measure your space. Allow for about 12-18" of space between each plant. Some larger varieties may need more.
Note the amount of sun. "Full sun" is 6+ hours of direct per day, "partial shade" is about 2-6 hrs, and "shade" is dappled sun or less than 2 hours of direct light.
Assess the moisture level of your soil. You will need to water even drought tolerant plants a little during very dry spells.
TIP: If you have a large space and your budget allows, enlist the a landscape architect who can help lend expertise. You can also connect with an experienced pollinator gardening neighbor for support to help with seed or plant sharing and planting.
TIP: De-lawning a section of grass is an ecological way to create space and reduce future watering and mowing needs. Container gardening works well for patio and balcony pollinator gardens.
Choosing Plants Suited to Your Space
Many online nurseries like Northeast Pollinator and American Meadows sell well-designed native pollinator plant packs or seed mixes based on light and water needs.
How big does this plant get? What will be its height and spread (side-to-side)?
Does this plant need sun or shade?
Will I need to water it regularly or does it like drier conditions?
TIP: We tend to think first of flowering perennials, but many low-maintenance native shrubs and trees provide excellent food and habitat for pollinators!
TIP: View a beginner's quick start list by bloom time, light requirements and size.
Prepping and Planting Your New Plants and/or Seeds
Prep your space so you're ready to sow seeds or get young plants in the ground at the best time.
Clear the area of any weeds or plants you want to remove, by hand or by smothering grass or weeds for larger areas ).
Add mulch (i.e. store-bought, free woods chips from a local tree company or even leaf litter) to help your plants roots to stay cool and retain water. Mulch also breaks down over time and becomes nutrients for your plants.
A little compost goes a long way, but a big benefit to planting native pollinator plants is that they are "designed" to live here and don't need special soil or fertilizer.
If using container gardening, calculate the amount of soil you'll need to have on hand, and then fill with soil as you plant.
Water immediately and regularly to establish new plants and ensure seeds will germinate. Don't let the soil around newly planted seedlings dry out completely.
TIP: You can prep a new space by smothering existing grass or weeds in the fall to create a "clean slate" that's ready to plant in spring.
Boosting Pollinator Friendliness
Every plant counts, but there are a few things to make your pollinator garden extra inviting for pollinators when possible.
Add at least 3 of each type of plant if planting plugs or seedlings. It's recommended to create swaths or patches of each plants together in odd numbers (3-9 of each plant). The groupings help pollinators find the plants they need more easily.
Try to go for 2-3 different types of plants at a minimum.
Look at a bloom-chart to choose plants that will bloom at different times to keep your pollinator buffet open all growing season.
Leave perennial plants in place when they die off fall or winter weather to help pollinators over-winter and offer seeds or berries for birds.
Do not apply pesticides. Native plants tend to be well-suited to cope with native pests. Pesticides are harmful to all insects - including pollinators - as well as our water supply and environment.
Want Professional Help?
You can also get help by Check out our list of eco-minded landscape architects.
And it always helps to get some inspiration by visiting a local professional garden.