A native garden is like many other gardens as far as basic maintenance in some ways, but different in other ways. Below are a few basic garden maintenance tips everyone should know about.
- Water new plants deeply and slowly for the first full season (spring-fall or fall-spring depending on when you planted.) if the soil is dry after checking the soil with your finger 2″inches down below the mulch. Gradually increase the interval between watering as the growing season progresses. Shrubs and trees need longer term watering, especially during droughts. If watering on a slope, water in short intervals with breaks in between to allow the water to soak in. Wind, temperature, competition from nearby trees, drought and other factors can affect soil moisture in different areas so adjust your watering appropriately. Never walk on wet garden soil since this will compact and destroy the soil structure. Clients, please refer to the detailed watering instructions in your design folder.
- Wait – native plants, especially prairie plants, spend a lot of energy making a good root system the first few years, so they seem to be slow growers compared to non-native plants. Only a few species, called pioneer plants (Rudbeckia hirta, Monarda fistulosa, Ratibida pinnata, etc. ), may bloom the first year. It takes about 3-5 years before your garden will take off, so please be patient. Trees and shrubs may grow in spurts, some years they grow a lot, other years they grow only a few inches. If you’ve planted a larger tree/shrub, it may undergo transplant shock for a few years, so I always encourage planting smaller size trees and shrubs since they do much better and are cheaper. Also, your native garden is very dynamic and will change month to month, year to year according to the weather, wildlife and other environmental forces. For example, when it’s a wet year, plants may be taller and spread more, and during a drought, plants may be shorter, not bloom as much, or go dormant to conserve energy. This is all perfectly normal and makes your garden that much more interesting!
- Weed – weeds are plants that grow in areas you do not want them to grow or in disturbed areas like pathways, new gardens, garden edges. During the first few years, until the native plants fill in, please weed your gardens regularly. Don’t let your weeds take over, especially invasive weeds. Even after your garden fills in, you will still have to do a little weeding because weeds will still develop from seeds or roots already in the soil, nearby weeds, or dispersed by wind, wildlife and people. My favorite way to weed is cutting the tops off with a pruner to minimize disturbance or use a hoe or weed wacker for larger areas when the plants are small. Some weeds may grow back, but keep cutting back and eventually they will decrease. It is important to remove invasive plants like Buckthorn and Garlic Mustard, which are best removed by digging or pulling young plants when the soil is moist. Not all weeds are invasive (ex. Dandelions). Some weeds are host plants for butterflies and homes for other wildlife, as explained in: “Why cant weed be friends”, so be careful not to destroy or damage beneficial insects. If a native plant is spreading too much, you can do some editing. Please read the blog article to learn more: “Rethinking Garden maintenance with Native Plants”
- Watch out for rabbits. They love Purple Prairie Clove, Shooting Star, New Jersey Tea, but they’ll eat anything when hungry. Your garden is a huge salad bowl to them. I spray the plants with Liquid Fence or similar natural product about every 1-2 weeks or enclose plants with chicken wire when rabbits become a problem. In winter, rabbits may eat your trees and shrubs because it is the only food they can find above the snow. I protect my young trees and shrubs with 3′ high chicken wire during the winter. In general, your native plants provide food and shelter for wildlife, so expect a little damage.There are many helpful maintenance articles on Good-Natured Landscapes website’s Notebook page. Many articles include tips for living and encouraging wildlife in your garden. Select the Maintenance category under the Notebook page so see the list of articles. After all, your landscape is just a small part of the bigger landscape called Earth.