How do I select plants and know what plans are right for my garden
Native plants, like any others, have preferences for varying levels of sunlight, water and soil types. First know your garden and figure out the general characteristics of the space your planting in. Is it sunny or shady? Does it slope? Dig a hole to figure out what kind of soil you have. Does the water drain through the sand? Compacted construction debris? Or is there clay that retains moisture? Once you have the basics figured out, try out a few plants that match your yard. The Audubon database of native plants is a great way to sort through your requirements.
Should I use seeds, root plugs, or mature plants?
Depends on how much you crave instant gratification versus the slow satisfaction of watching things grow in place. Most natives on Long Island are perennial plants or trees. They like to lay down a deep and vigorous root structure in the first year to survive the winter. They bloom well from the second season onward … though this varies a lot. Unlike annuals they will give you many seasons of pleasure, but require that initial window to mature.
Seeds require experience with gardening. Your yield will vary depending on the varietal and the quality of the seed. So it’s definitely not a matter of sticking the seed in the ground and being assured of a plant. On the other hand, if you have a nice indoor seed setup, this can be a great activity for winter when there is little to do outdoors.
A plug is a small plant that has germinated and put down roots. Working with plugs requires patience. But you can get plugs for the fraction of the cost of a mature plant. If you are a financially minded person, you will revel in the thought that the plug is giving you a 200% return on investment or more compared to buying a more mature plant. On the other hand, if you are flower-lusting gardener, you’ll think “Where are my darn flowers?”
A mature plant has the advantage of filling spaces instantly. We prefer them for public situations, for example library gardens, where there are compelling reasons to keep up appearances.
For garden plantings, we recommend a mix of plugs and mature plants to better balance cost with aesthetics.
What type of maintenance do native plants need?
Like all other plants, native plants require water, soil fertility and sun. Till they are able to fight off the competition, they also appreciate your help in removing hostile neighbors (aka “weeds”). There is no miracle there.
But native perennials and trees have deep roots. So they can gain access to nutrients and water even where shallow rooted plants may die. For this to happen, the native plant must enjoy sufficient care so that it can develop the resources required to survive with minimal care!
If you plant small plants or plugs, do take care to weed around them and water them correctly till they mature.