Preparing and Maintaining Your Native Plant Site


Ready, Set, Go

You’ve evaluated your site, created a plan, selected plants, and are ready to plant. Remember that site preparation is crucial to the success of the project.


Even if you’re planting a bed of native forest plants, you must kill competing vegetation first. You can dig out competitors (if there aren’t too many) or kill them with a glyphosate herbicide.

For small areas, you can cover the area with newspapers. Without light, weed seed cannot sprout and growing vegetation will die. If you are using seeds, put the barrier in place at least two months before planting.

If containerized plants are used, you can put the barrier down and plant at the same time. Cover the newspaper with finely ground mulch for a finished appearance.

If seeding a large area, site preparation should begin in the spring followed by seeding in early winter.

For best results:

  • In May, apply non-selective herbicide.
  • If (or when) weeds sprout, mow them before they produce seed heads.
  • In September, evaluate the site. If a healthy stand of vegetation is present, apply a second application of non-selective herbicide.
  • In December, plant native grass and forb seed.


Decide whether you’re going to plant or seed. Small projects are best established with plants or plugs, and larger installations are best done by seeding—either by broadcasting or drilling.

If you plant in December, freezing and thawing will work the seed into the ground. For spring installations, follow seeding with a roller to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Water until the planting is established.


Any time soil is disturbed, a burst of weed growth is triggered. These weeds can quickly shade your new native seedlings. For weed control in small plantings of containerized plants, apply mulch immediately after planting to a depth of 2 inches. Remove clods that might allow light to penetrate the mulch and hand weed anything that might escape.

For large areas, mowing is the best option.

  • First year: mow when vegetation is 6 to 12 inches high. Native plants are sending down roots and will be shorter than nondesirable vegetation. It may be necessary to mow several times to keep vegetation below 12 inches.
  • Second year: continue to mow, but less frequently.
  • Third year: native grasses and forbs should be able to hold their own.
  • After three years: plan to burn or mow every third year.
Additional Resources