Your Native Planting Journey

How to start a native plant garden
Every journey begins with a first step.

Whether you are introducing native plants to your current landscape or are starting a native garden from scratch, it’s important to begin by learning the ins and outs. The following steps will get you on your way to a beautiful native garden.


If you are considering creating a Rain Garden, or a Bird/Butterfly/Bee Garden, it’s imperative that you evaluate the site. A solid evaluation will help you protect the environment, your project and your investment. Your evaluation may include:

  • A site visit by a trained and experienced ecologist
  • A Natural-Resources Inventory (NRI)
  • Evaluation and mapping of
    • Soils
    • Topography
    • Hydrology
    • Vegetation
  • For larger or more demanding projects, A Geographic Information System (GIS) survey is needed.
  • A land-management plan based on all that information and all applicable regulations
  • If possible, you may want to do some historical research on the type of ecosystem that was present before so you can restore the area back to its original state

[Large Scale Restorations] (link to section about large scale restorations)


Taking the time to correctly prepare your site is the most important part of creating your garden.


  • Your current land use – agricultural, turf or fallow field
  • The kind of soil you have. If it’s dry, sandy soil you will want to plant earlier in the spring. Soil type, whether dry or wet, also affects which species of plants you should use
  • The amount of sun the area receives
  • If the site has a slope; which will help you determine if you need erosion control methods

Seed Prep

Many prairie seeds will germinate more readily if they are subjected to a cool period called “cold stratification.” Planting in the Fall allows he seed to go through a natural stratification process, or you can simulate the process by storing dry seed in your refrigerator for 30 – 90 days


  • If you have bare soil on a slope, you will want to use some kind of erosion control method, such as an erosion-control fabric or mat.
  • If your slope is greater than 3:1 (one foot of vertical height difference for every three feet of horizontal distance) consider calling a professional to assist.

Seedbed Prep

Old pastures, hay fields and previously fallow fields are usually full of weed seed so rigorous site prep is a must.

  • Prepare the seedbed by removing any large debris such as rocks and branches
  • Kill or remove any grass sod
  • Till and rake the soil until an even surface is achieved


Sowing the seed
Small seeds are planted shallow and large seeds are planted deeper.

  • Plant the seed the same depth as the seed’s thickness
  • For example, a 1/16” thick seed is planted 1/16” deep


Use a straw mulch, it’s the least expensive and gets the job done.

  • Spread a light covering of weed-free straw mulch on a relatively flat surface with a slope that is less than 3:1
  • On steeper slopes, a single sided straw erosion mat or professional assistance may be required
  • Do no use marsh hat as it may contain seed from weedy species such as Invasive Reed Canary grass


If you pant in the dormant season or in the spring, water is not usually needed. However, if you sow seed in the late spring or summer months, you may need to water the seedbed.

  • Water just enough to keep the surface damp, not wet
  • Overwatering may damage the seeds
  • Periodic watering during dry years or extended periods of drought will benefit pant survival during establishment


Thistles, cool-season grasses, crown vetch or other types of aggressive or invasive weeds are a concern and you will need to try to control them. But keep in mind there will always be some weeds present in new planting

  • Don’t hand-weed until plants are well established
  • Pulling weeds in freshly seeded areas disturbs the root systems of the natives
  • Natives are perennials and expend most of their energy in the first two growing seasons, developing a good root system
  • The best method for weed control in seeded areas in an occasional mowing the first two season and a third season burn



Mowing helps reduce weed competition, allows more sunshine to reach your young native plants and encourages deep root growth. Every garden is different, and there is no magic number for mowing, but the following recommended mowing amounts is your best bet for successful results.

  • First year mow 2 – 3 times
  • Second year mow 2 times
  • Third year mow once