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7 Mistakes Gardeners Make When Planting Native

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

shovel in the dirt

Gardening is an art expressing our love for nature's beauty and our desire to create a flourishing oasis right at home.

For those who've started planting native, the journey goes beyond mere aesthetics.

Native plant gardening is a conscious choice, a commitment to restoring ecological balance and preserving biodiversity.

This article will delve into the fascinating world of native plant gardening, uncovering gardeners' most common mistakes when planting native.

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a novice enthusiast, join us as we review habits that can hinder your garden and cause unnecessary labor.

Let's get started.

Mistakes Gardeners Make When Planting Native

1. Amending the Soil

One common mistake native plant gardeners make is amending their soil with compost or fertilizer.

It may seem counterintuitive, but what can be unproductive soil for your vegetables is actually perfect for native plants. Natives have evolved to thrive in a region's specific soil conditions and don't typically require amending.

amending the soil

If the soil is too rich in added nutrients, natives can grow unnaturally tall and thin, causing them to flop over from their own weight.

If you want your native plants to thrive, pick ones meant for your region and soil, then there will be no need for the added labor and cost of soil amendments.

2. Irrigation

Another common mistake is having an irrigation system for your native plant garden.

While non-native plants require regular watering to stay alive, native plants are adapted to the local climate and don't require much, if any, help from us.

Native plants grow deep root systems to access water from deep in the soil. Some plants, like Big Bluestem, can even grow roots up to twelve feet deep!

garden irrigation

While no additional water is a general rule, there are two exceptions. The first is with first-year plantings, which are still developing their root systems. They might need additional water as they're getting established.

The second exception is if unnatural drought conditions are occurring. Keep an eye on your plants; if they appear to be struggling, feel free to give them some extra water. Other than that, there's no need for irrigation with native plants.

3. Planting in the Wrong Season

Another mistake gardeners make is planting during the wrong time of year. Each plant species has unique growing requirements, and failing to plant at the right time can lead to stress, weakened, or even unsuccessful growth.

In general, planting native plants during extreme temperatures, such as the scorching heat of summer or the freezing cold of winter, is a no-go. It can shock the plants and make it difficult for them to establish their root systems.

native plant installation time chart

Before adding new plants to your native garden, research the ideal planting times for each species. Most native plants thrive when planted in the spring or fall when temperatures are moderate and soil moisture levels are more favorable for root development.

Planting during these optimal times gives your plants the best chance of acclimatizing and thriving in their new environment.

4. Too Much Spacing

While giving each plant room to grow is helpful, too much spacing can result in wasted garden real estate, a less impactful overall design, and space for weeds to establish.

Native plants have evolved to fill every available inch of soil, helping support each other and fostering healthy competition.

native plant garden with close spacing

Before planting, thoroughly research the growth characteristics and spread of each plant you want to include in your garden. Consider a plant's mature height, width, and tendency to spread via rhizomes or self-seeding.

With this knowledge, you can strategically plan their spacing to optimize their growth and cover the soil. You can also incorporate native annuals and ground covers to help fill an area.

Thoughtful research and planning will ensure your garden flourishes into a thriving sanctuary for biodiversity while taking full advantage of the available space.

5. Pulling Weeds

Weeds are nature's opportunists, always seeking to exploit any available space and competing with native plants for water, nutrients, and sunlight.

In the battle for garden dominance, you may be tempted to pull them out as we were traditionally taught, but this can also worsen the problem.

When you pull a weed, you disturb the soil and bring the underlying seed bank to the surface to germinate. Some of which can be more weed seeds.

pulling weeds

If you've planted your native garden with close enough spacing, as previously discussed, try snipping the weeds to the ground instead.

Cutting the weeds back prevents them from flowering and going to seed, which has the same effect as pulling them but leaves the underlying seed bank undisturbed.

It will also weaken the weeds until your natives have fully grown and covered all the available garden space. Once this happens, the weeds won't be able to compete and die off naturally.

6. Preventing Change

Change is a natural part of life, and embracing it in native gardening is essential for your garden's long-term success and sustainability.

While it's understandable to desire a static and unchanging garden design, preventing change altogether can hinder your garden ecosystem's dynamic and resilient nature.

raking the soil

Over time, plant communities evolve, and new species may naturally establish while others decline or disappear. This shuffling is the natural process of plant succession.

Observe and embrace the natural succession process in your native plant garden. Allow for the emergence of new plants, as they contribute to your garden ecosystem's overall biodiversity and resilience.

Instead of eliminating all new seedlings, manage them by strategically allowing some self-sown plants to flourish while removing excess seedlings in desired areas.

By selectively thinning self-seeded plants, you can maintain control over the garden's aesthetic while reaping the benefits of natural regeneration and introducing new genetic variations.

7. Controlling Insects

The greatest mistake gardeners can make when planting native is spraying to control insects.

Insects are integral to any garden ecosystem, playing vital roles as pollinators, decomposers, and even natural pest controllers.

While insect treatments claim to target insects deemed as "bad," they inevitably harm beneficial insects like bees and butterflies too.

bee on coneflower

Spraying also disrupts the natural predator-prey relationships that eliminate some problem insects, negatively impacting the overall biodiversity of your garden.

Instead, foster a thriving ecosystem where native plants and beneficial insects coexist harmoniously. Our goal is to reverse declining pollinator populations, don't make the mistake of killing them as they arrive.


Creating and maintaining a native plant garden is a fulfilling journey that offers countless rewards.

As you embark on your native plant gardening journey, remember to stay open to learning, adapt your practices as needed, and find joy in the process.

With patience, knowledge, and deep respect for the interconnectedness of nature, your native plant garden will flourish, bringing you years of beauty, tranquility, and a sense of pride in contributing to a healthier planet.

We hope this article has helped you become aware of some common mistakes that can hinder the success of your garden.

Are there other mistakes you've made in your native plant garden? Let us know in the comments below! It can help other people avoid them as well.


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