You can raise your own native plants for a natural garden, and the approaching fall is the perfect time to begin. To accelerate germination before planting, dampen the seeds, put them into plastic bags, and store them somewhere cold, at around 34 degrees Fahrenheit, for 60 days. These conditions simulate winter and prepare the seeds for germination rather than dormancy. Plant these seeds using a 50/50 mixture of sand and potting soil in flats or peat pots. By midspring, some of your native plants will be ready to transplanting into your natural garden, but before you do so, be certain that their roots are well-developed and that the plant has a minimum of 4 or 5 leaves.
Planning Your Natural Garden
First, make sure that there are no local ordinances against “wild” planting or tall grass prairie plantings. See our previous post, Start an Organic Garden, for tips on planning your new natural garden.
- Pick a site with the appropriate amount of sun for the plants that you have chosen. Prairie plants in particular require full sun
- Choose an organic shape for your garden, such as curves and rounded corners. Avoid straight lines, pointed corners and rows
- Place plants that will be tall when full grown in the back or interior of the planting so that they do not obscure shorter plants
- Choose a diverse variety of plants so that you will have blooms throughout spring, summer and fall, and plant species in clusters, for best effect when in bloom
Create Your Natural Garden
Remove turf from your chosen site. Cultivate the bed in early spring with a garden tiller to bring weed seeds to the surface. Once these weeds have sprouted, pull them to reduce competition with your chosen native plants. Plant your site with seeds or transplants.
Maintaining Your Natural Garden
An established natural garden requires little maintenance, but you should remain vigilant to potential problems.
- Weeds may be persistent for the first year or two. Pulling weeds by hand is the best strategy, as herbicides are just as likely to kill your native plants as they are to kill weeds
- Some native species, particularly prairie grasses, can become very tall. Support these plants with stakes
- Natural prairies were subject to grass fires that would remove thatch, or dead vegetation, and encourage new growth. Simulate these natural conditions by mowing or using a weed whip in earliest spring to cut last year’s dead vegetation to ground level, before the plants begin to grow, and remove thatch at this time