Obtaining Plants and Seed
Plants and seed may be obtained from any
of the nurseries or seed sources listed in our nationwide
of Native Plant Nursery. Using this directory, you
can find a plant or seed source near your home or office.
Note: if you are aware of a nursery
or seed source that sells natives and is not listed in our directory,
please let us know.
Unlike an industrial plant nursery, that is, a nursery that sells the
same standard industrial horticulture plants, native plant nurseries may experience greater shifts in their inventory. This is
because the industrial plants are mass produced and there is normally plenty to go around, but native plants
are specific to a particular region and fewer are produced, leaving inventories more subject to the effects of supply and demand.
That said, it is always a good idea contact a native plant nursery in advance to make sure
they will have the plants you want to plant when you want them.
Plants may be planted as seeds or as an existing or "live" plant. Most of the plants listed
in our Regional Plant Lists are commercially available as existing plants, while a few (some grasses and
some other herbaceous plants) are more readily obtained as seeds. We will discuss planting an existing plant first,
followed by sowing seed.
The best time to plant a plant is during its dormant season. In North America, this will typically
be late fall through early spring. Planting at other times of the year is OK (as in the case of industrial
horticulture plants), but will often require more assistance such as watering (irrigation), fertilizers
and/or hormone growth enhancement, etc. Planting in the dead hot of a dry summer is not recommended. Fall is
particularly the best time to plant trees and large shrubs. It lets their roots get established during the winter
and increases their chances of surviving a hot dry summer.
Plants will typical come bare-root or containerized, though some
trees may come balled and burlapped. Bare-root plants tend to be available only
from December to March.
Bare-Root Plants - Rooted in Sawdust
Bare-root plants are a rare beast. To
many of us that have purchased containerized plants
our whole life, the thought of buying a plant without
soil around the roots might seem strange. Shouldn't
a plant with "naked" roots be dead? The bare-root
trade takes advantage of the fact that some plants go
dormant during the winter months. These plants can be
grown in a loose soil medium and extracted from that
medium for transport and sale. The attractive feature
of bare-root plants is that since they have no soil
around their roots, they are much lighter and can be
shipped at a much higher density. This results in real
costs savings to the growers and this cost savings is
passed on to the buyer, making bare-root plants much
less expensive containerized plants.
The two most imporant thing to remember
about bare root plants is that (1) they are only available
in the winter months and (2) the roots must
always be kept moist (though not necessarily wet).
This latter point can be achieved by placing them in moist saw
dust or compost or mulch, etc.
When planting bare-root plants, the hole should be at least as large
as the root structure and preferably about 1.5X its size. When
back-filling a hole for a bare-root plant, mixing-in
some organic matter such as leaf mulch, peat moss or potting
soil may be beneficial for moisture retention. Containerized
plants will often already contain this material. Root growth hormone could also
be used, particularly if there is reason to believe that the plant
will have difficulty getting established. Root growth hormone is available
from most retail nurseries.
When planting containerized or "balled
and burlapped" plants (particularly trees), a hole 1.5X
to 2X the width of the root ball is recommended. Transplant
shock or growth hormones may also be provided, but is less important
with containerized plants as compared to bare-root plants. Plants should be
planted such that the base
of the main stalk or trunk, often referred to as the crown,
is flush with the level of the soil.
If planting a tree, it may be beneficial
to create a small circular dam around the hole
to hold water during watering. The area defined
by the dam may also be covered with mulch to retain
moisture and block growth of weeds or other "competing
It may also be beneficial to stake
the tree until it is established. This may be
done by inserting posts and tying loosely fitting
loops between the tree and posts. Alternatively,
the loops may be staked directly to the ground
Plant seeds are an effective way
are transporting new plant material to a site.
They may also be preferred to existing plants
in that sowing is easier than digging holes and
seeds tend to cover a large area than multiple
plantings of individual plants. Some grasses and
some other herbaceous plants are often more readily
and more economically available as seed than as
containerized or bareroot plants. They may be
used to create a sunny meadow or to form the herbaceous
layer of a shady space. They also serve the advantageous
function of blocking out most weeds.
Note that establishing a weed free
herbaceous layer may take a season or two as
the desired plants get established and you remove
the weeds that were there.
Seed outlets are listed in our
Plant Nursery Directory. Look for the "S"
or "Sells Seed" designation in the nursery description.
Seed packets for native plants may be a little
more expensive than commercial grass seed, though
it should be recognized that seed of native plants
is often collected by hand. The Theodore
Payne Foundationis a good place to start a search for native plant seeds if you
live on the West Coast. Regardless of where you go for native plant seeds, be sure
to investigate the origin of the seeds. There are many unscrupulous seed vendors, particularly on the web, that
will allege to sell native plant seeds and/or "wildflower" seed mixes
that are not in fact native and that often contain invasive exotics.
Since sowing directions may vary from plant species to plant species, please follow the
directions provided with the seed packet or contact the seed provider if no instructions are
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