Planting Tips: Native Desert Plants

Brittlebush in Bloom

Brittlebush in Bloom

  • Plant in fall to early spring – avoid planting in summer if at all possible.
  • Dig a hole at least twice as wide and half again as deep as the planting container size.
  • Pre-irrigate the planting hole so there is adequate moisture around the root system. Fill the hole with water and allow it to drain.
  • Remove the plant from its container slowly. Most natives will not be the standard size of a nursery-grown plant. They tend to be smaller and not as established while still in the pot. Place your hand on the soil with your fingers spread around the base of the plant. Turn the container upside down, and with a slight tap on the bottom, the plant should slide out. Keeping both hands on the root ball, place it in the hole.
  • Set the plant crown one inch higher than the soil level so that moisture drains away from the stem. Planting too deeply will cause rot.
  • It is advisable to install a deep-water sleeve (3” x 18” perforated drain pipe) beside the new plant to aid in deep irrigation to establish a deeper root system.
  • If you choose to amend the soil, incorporate a well-composed mulch (no manure), and mix it half and half with soil removed from the hole. Back-fill the hole with the pre-mixed soil and mulch. Potting mixes containing synthetic material such as perlite, vermiculite, and supplemental nutrients should be avoided. These materials do nothing to improve soil conditions over time, and do not allow for a smooth transition into the native soil. Keep mulch and excess soil away from the crown.
  • For plants larger than 5 gallons, add water into the hole at the same time as you back-fill with soil to eliminate air pockets. Tamp backfill in gently.
  • The only time you cannot over-water a native is on the day you plant. Provide ample water to each plant and generous water to an entire bed or area of new plantings.
  • Add mulch on the soil surface to hold soil moisture and cool plant roots, but avoid burying trunk or stems. The best mulch to use around most desert plants is rocks or gravel, or even large pieces of driftwood. Desert plants that naturally grow on more shaded north-facing slopes and canyons (holly-leaf cherry, manzanita, scrub oaks, mountain mahogany, sugar bush, etc.), can be mulched with wood chips or chipped bark.
  • Many native plants also like to have a rock placed on their south side to help moderate soil temperature and retain moisture.
  • Because nursery-grown plants are prone to being chewed by the native animal life, it is advisable to provide a temporary wire enclosure for the first season, or until the plant sends out new growth, at which time you can remove the enclosure (except in extremely dry years, when animals are desperate for food).

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