Native Plant Tips & Information

We have developed three info brochures,

How to Plant Native Plants and Watering Requirements for Native Plants and Edible Native Berries

How to Plant Native Plants

Written by Dana

Before you Plant

Make sure the plants you have selected are appropriate for the site you are preparing. Take into consideration how large the plants will get and whether they prefer sun or shade; moist or dry soils. Drainage problems should be corrected or plants chosen that are adapted to soggy sites. If selecting plants from outside your area make sure they will thrive in your climate zone. Consider the amount of maintenance the plants will require. Avoid plants known to be susceptible to insects or disease (or increase your level of tolerance for damage). Fall and winter are the best seasons for planting, but planting can be done year-round as long as plants are irrigated sufficiently. Irrigation, especially during the summer, is necessary until plants are well established. Pruning requirements should be minimal if plants are selected wisely. Natural branching patterns are the most attractive! Ideally, native plants will ultimately require little or no care in their recreated natural habitat.

Soil Preparation

Most native trees and shrubs can be planted into the native soil with no site preparation. Some shrubs, especially rhododendrons and other broadleaved evergreens, benefit from the incorporation of organic matter (at least 6 inches deep) into the soil prior to planting. Compost, Tagro, fine bark, and animal manures are examples of organic materials that can be rototilled into the bed before planting. If a rototiller is not available, organic matter may be incorporated into small areas using the double digging method, where a spade is used to mix soil amendments into the existing soil by systematically turning the soil and amendment together, shovelful by shovelful over the entire area. Herbaceous perennials and annuals, especially those found in the forest understory, will benefit from a similarly prepared planting bed. Note, when amending the soil, the whole area needs to be improved, not just the hole in which you plant the plant.

Finalization of the Design

Set the plants into the places where you plan to put them. You can make changes, even if you are following a plan made by a professional. When landscape designing, nothing helps more than actually seeing the plants in place! Stand back and look from different perspectives. Use the principles of design such as scale, form, texture, color, focus, and balance to envision the most attractive arrangement of the plants in your overall design within the surrounding area. Try to visualize how your landscape will look in different seasons and in years to come. Make sure you space the plants allowing for growth. Adjust the placement of the plants until you are satisfied with the aesthetic appearance of your design.

Fig. 2 Slashing roots

Digging the Holes and Preparing Root Ball

Move the plant out of the way in order to dig the hole. Dig a hole at least twice the diameter and just as deep as the root ball. Pop the plant out of the pot. Any circling roots must be cut and/or spread to prevent the plant from girdling itself in the future and to hasten root growth into the soil of its new location. If the root ball is only lightly rooted, the roots may be gently massaged or spread out with your hands, or fingers (Fig. 1). Plants with a fair amount of circling roots, with some soil still visible, can be slashed with six to eight vertical cuts using an old hand shears, knife or shovel (Fig. 2).

If the roots are totally matted on the outside of the root ball and no soil is visible, it is beneficial to shave away all the matted roots from the sides and bottom of the root ball with a knife. If there are large circling roots they need to be cut away with a hand pruner or lopper and/or spread out so new root growth expands out away from the plant.


Place the prepared root ball into the hole. Adjust the depth of the hole by digging deeper or replacing soil until the plant will be at the same soil level or a little higher than it was originally growing. Planting too deep may cause problems relating to air exchange with roots and/or disease problems when too much moisture is kept in contact with the stem. Back fill with native soil. Backfilling with other soil amendments may create a constantly wet condition leading to root rots or it may inhibit roots from leaving the nicer soil with the result of containerizing the plant,leading again to circling roots and stunted growth. You want the new roots to grow into native soil and become established in its new location as soon as possible. Tamp the soil lightly, making sure any large air pockets are filled. Use extra soil to create a basin around the plant to facilitate water penetration into the soil.

  1. Dig the hole at least 2 times the diameter of the root ball.
  2. Plant should be at least the same level as it was in the pot or slightly higher.
  3. Backfill using native soil.
  4. Construct a basin to retain water. Water immediately after planting.
  5. Mulch to conserve water and discourage weeds.
Fig. 3 Planting on Level Ground
Fig. 4 Planting on Slope

After Planting

Plants should always be watered in as soon as possible after planting to settle the soil and eliminate any air pockets. Mulching with organic mulch (bark, straw, leaves etc.) helps to keep in moisture, prevents erosion, and discourages weeds. Planting spreading groundcovers, although expensive initially, will save you a lot of future labor by out-competing weeds once they have grown to fill in the area. Pruning should only be done to remove dead, diseased, or rubbing branches, or to balance out the canopy. Cuts should always be made to the next biggest branch, leave no stubs! Remember, Topping is for desserts not for trees. Fertilization may help newly planted trees and shrubs, but should be done sparingly. Nitrogen is usually the only supplemental nutrient needed by woody plants. Chemical fertilizers are expensive and if over-applied can leach and pollute watersheds. Organic fertilizers are generally safer, but may take a little longer to show results. If the leaves on a plant are light green, yellow or smaller than normal, application of nitrogen may be indicated. The best time to fertilize is just after plants begin to grow in the spring. Applications may be made in late fall, late winter and early spring but some loss of nitrogen may occur. Do not use fertilizers containing herbicides. Subsequent irrigation of new transplants is necessary whenever sufficient rainfall is absent for several days not just in the summer, (July and August are the driest months in the Northwest. ) Lastly, enjoy the beauty of your plants in your naturalized landscape and any wildlife that may visit the new habitat you have created!


Staking is only necessary if the plant cannot stand by itself or it is likely to blow over in strong winds. Evergreens or deciduous trees with a large canopy are most at risk. Drive two stakes into firm ground and tie the stakes with nonchafing material (Fig.5) Inspect frequently. Stakes should be removed when the root system is firmly anchored, usually after one growing season.

Fig. 5 Drive two stakes into firm ground, making them parallel with the plant and each other (A), so that the stakes and the tree line up perpendicular to prevailing winds ( Top view B).

Fig. 5

Watering Requirements for Pacific Northwest Native Plants

Written by Ingrid

If native plants are growing naturally in the wild in undisturbed habitats, they can survive and thrive with no supplemental watering and fertilization. When these same types of plants are nursery grown in containers, they will need some additional water and fertilizer initially, until they are established in their new location. First one should plant the native plants according to the instructions we have in our info brochure, How to Plant Native Plants. Then the following watering sequence should be followed. In the fall, winter and spring, when we usually have frequent measureable rainfall, most native plants need little or no watering after watering at planting. The exception would be if we have no measurable rainfall for a week and the temperatures reaches 65 to 75 degrees F. These conditions happen every few years. The plants will need watering at least one time per week during such a period. In the summer temperatures can vary from the 60 deg. to 90 deg. The amount of water required will depend on the temperatures. In 60 or low 70 degree weather, watering one time per week is usually adequate. If the temperatures reach the 80 to 90 deg., they will need water twice a week.

When watering, it is very important to get the water on the original root ball. Water does not move between different soil types very well. So even if the soil surrounding the new plant is totally saturated, the original root ball can be totally dry. This is especially true for plants like Salal which have a lush upper foliage that will shed nearly all the overhead sprinkled water away from the original containerized roots. When this happens the plant can die. So how long do the natives need this additional watering? Usually they will need watering at least through the first two summers. After that they should be established. To be established in their new surroundings, their roots need to penetrate into the indigenous soils enough to support the plant with nutrients and water. Subsequently, in a very hot summer, watering once or twice during the summer might be helpful. After that they should be fine, depending on their new habitat. It is important to consider how closely their new habitat emulates their native habitat. Some natives will normally occur in a shady environment, but can survive in a more sunny location if given summer irrigation. The western sword fern and the evergreen huckleberry would fall into this category. So if they are planted in a location with more sun than where they are normally found in the wild, they might require summer irrigation indefinitely. Even then, they would need irrigation maybe once every two weeks during the summer once established. Overwatering of natives is also possible. Some people have irrigation systems that water everything along with the lawn, even though the shrubs do not need and do not want so much irrigation. It can be harmful to overwater plants, leading to diseases of the leaves and/or the roots.

Woodbrook Native Plant Nursery , 253-265-6271 , 5919 78th Ave NW, Gig Harbor, WA 98335

Edible Native Berries

Written by Dana

The Pacific Northwest is ideal for growing many kinds of edible berries. There are many native species that produce delicious berries that people go out of their way to collect. Many people have favorite berry patches that they return to year after year to harvest natures bounty. By planting these species in your landscape, you can have quick access to these flavorful treats!

Native peoples ate berries fresh and dried (like raisins), cooked, mashed and dried into cakes, or they preserved them in fats such as oolichan grease made from a small, smelt-like fish, their olive oil! Today we may eat them fresh, in desserts, baked into muffins or pies, or made into jams, syrups or wines.

Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis, is one of the earliest berries to ripen; some patches have tastier berries so keep sampling! Blackcap Raspberries, R. leucodermis, are good in jellies and syrups. Thimbleberrries, R. parviflorus, are seedy, but can be eaten fresh or dried. Dewberry or Trailing Blackberry, R. ursinus, is our only native blackberry, its small, sweet berries are refreshing in late summer.

Oval-leaved Huckleberries, Vaccinium ovalifolium, are highly regarded; they fruit early in July after Salmonberry. Black Huckleberry, V. membranaceum, is one of the most delicious, found mid-summer to fall at middle to high elevations. Cascade Huckleberry, V. deliciosum, also found in subalpine meadows, is worthy of its species name. Dwarf Blueberry, V. caespitosum, found in low elevation bogs and subalpine wet meadows is said to be the most preferred blueberry. Red Huckleberry, V. parvifolium, is a favorite, on-the-trail, snack for hikers. Lingonberries, V. vitis-idea, are well-liked by natives of Alaska and BC as well as Scandinavia. Small Cranberries, V. oxycoccus, are found in bogs along the coast. Evergreen Huckleberries, V. ovatum, although usually small and black, some are bigger, like blueberries; they are said to taste sweeter after the first frost.

Along with Evergreen Huckleberry, Salal, Gaultheria shallon, is one of our most plentiful natives. It is very sweet, but its texture is rather mealy. It is good mixed with other, tarter berries in jellies or preserves.

Saskatoon Serviceberries, Amelanchier alnifolia, are sweet, eaten fresh, used in baking or made into jams or jellies.

Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, and Low Oregon Grape, M. nervosa, have tart berries. They can be mixed with other sweeter berries and be made into jelly or wine.

All of our strawberries produce edible berries, albeit smaller (but often more flavorful) than commercial strawberries. Coastal or Beach Strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, is used in hybridizing and is a parent of many cultivated varieties. Many prefer Wild Strawberry, F. virginiana. Wood Strawberries, F. vesca, are dry, but are good added to pies!

Currants native to the east side of the Cascades such as Golden Currant, R. aureum, and Squaw (or Wax) Currant, R. cereum, are good-eating. Black Swamp Gooseberry, R. lacustre , Wild Black Gooseberry, R. divaricatum, and Stink Currant, R. bracteosum, are also edible.

Blue Elderberries, S. caerulea, are used to make a tangy jelly or wine. Because raw berries cause nausea, the berries should always be cooked.

Pacific Crabapple, Malus fusca, and Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum edule, were both harvested by natives in fall and stored in boxes with water and oil, the tart fruits became sweeter over time. Highbush cranberries can be blended with other cranberries to make sauces and preserves.

Soapberries, Shepherdia canadensis, although bitter, can be mixed with water, whipped to a froth, and then sweetened with salal berries.

Always be careful when eating wild berries. Make sure they are identified correctly before you enjoy the eating any of these flavorful fruits!