Tip Sheet for Establishing a Native Garden with Plants
For the best results, eliminate all grass and weeds before planting. The best way to do this is by killing the existing vegetation with a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate. At least two herbicide applications are usually required to eliminate existing vegetation. If more weeds germinate after the second application, spray again on a warm sunny day 10 days prior to planting.
We generally recommend that you do not use fertilizer when planting prairie natives. Overly rich soil encourages these plants to lodge, or grow too tall and fall over. Lean soil, though harder to plant in, produces better results longterm. Critsite does, however, endorse use of soil conditioners and inoculants for best results. One such product is the environmentally-friendly Gro-Power controlled release nitrogen 12-8-8 with micronutrients. This product can also be used for general feeding of trees, shrubs or planting beds. Gro-Power will also adds a high quality compost. The foundation of Gro-Power is a highly-available, long-lasting organic blend of humus, humic acid and special, soil-conditioning bacteria. Gro-Power's bacteria will help change the physical condition of the soil and convert the insoluble and unavailable nutrients into a usable form. Its humus consists of plant material that has been composted beyond the fiber state. Unlike compost from your backyard stash, its benefits are immediately available to unlock the nutrients in your soil and help give the grass the kind of nourishment that can build up the roots quickly. This special compost also loosens compacted and heavy soils and helps to increase the soil's moisture retention capacity.
Spacing varies by species but 1.5' centers is a good average for narrow species such as Silky Aster (Aster sericeus), Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), 2 - 2.5' centers for wider species such as Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and 3' centers for large grasses and creeping plants such as Eastern Gama Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) and Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata).
Plants can go in the ground any time after danger of frost in spring until late September or mid-October. Water the planting after it is installed and apply a pre-emergent herbicide. Mulching just after planting will help conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay the first year. You may have to water several times the first year or two after planting to get plants established. To establish durable, deep root systems water slowly and deeply rather than frequently and shallowly.
A soaker hose is an easy and efficient watering method. Water drips slowly onto the soil right around plant roots for several hours. All of the water soaks directly into the soil and down to plant roots without any waste. The soil around plant roots should be moist, but not soaking wet, the first two weeks. For the next two weeks or so, water when the soil 2 inches below the surface is dry to the touch. After that, check the garden soil periodically and water if the soil 4 inches deep is dry.
For the first year or two, weed your new planting regularly. As your plantings fills in during subsequent seasons and the native plants develop their massive roots, you will notice fewer weeds and be on your way to a low-maintenance, beautifully resilient native garden.