Thanks for your purchase of one of our Wild Roots Pollinator Garden Kits!
Whether you’re replacing part of your lawn with beneficial native plants or just adding to existing garden beds, you can look forward to year-round beauty and increased wildlife activity around your home.
Your kits are made up of landscape plugs, and if you’ve never worked with them before, you may find yourself thinking, “Wait, you mean that 1 foot wide tray holds enough plants for a whole garden?” Yup, that’s exactly what we mean. Plugs are one of the most economical and easiest ways to quickly establish a full scale planting. Yes, they’ll take a little longer to reach full size. But with their well-developed root systems, most will reach flowering size in one growing season, they’re easy and fast to install, and they’re a fraction of the cost of container plants.
Establishing your Pollinator Garden – Dense Planting is the Key
You want your garden to look great and to form a functional plant community that supports wildlife, promotes healthy soils, and crowds out weeds. If you leave too much space between your plants, you won’t be able to meet those goals. Each plant is different, but we recommend 12-inch spacing for the plants in our kits. This allows individual plants to support one another and form an intertwined plant community, which they aren’t able to do if they’re too isolated. The goal is that once your plants are firmly established, you don’t want to be able to see any bare soil in the garden bed (this may take up to a year).
We’ve included some sample layouts in the brochure you received with your kit, but obviously you shouldn’t feel limited by these, especially if the shape doesn’t match your area. The plants in each kit were selected to be suitable for a wide variety of soil conditions in Jersey yards and to provide a succession of blooms throughout the season, along with interesting textures, colors and forms throughout the year.
For a naturalistic yet orderly look, we recommend massing flowering plants of the same species together in groups of 3-5. In our sample designs, we’ve suggested using the grass species (sun kit only) as a matrix throughout your garden, but if you’d prefer to mass those, that looks great too! We also recommend avoiding placing your plants in rigid grids – these are wildflowers after all, not rows of corn.
And of course, while all the plants look similar now, pay attention to the mature heights so you don’t block any of the shorter species with the taller ones – keep taller plants in the middle of beds that will be viewed from all sides or in the back of beds that will be viewed from just one side. None of these are hard and fast rules of course, but they’re good ways to achieve the striking visuals that wildflower gardens are capable of.
Planting Your Plugs
Don’t wait too long to plant your plugs after receiving them. As we move closer to the summer, higher temperatures and less frequent rain adds extra stress to newly planted plugs. Just keep the trays watered if you can’t plant them right away.
If you’re planting into an existing garden bed, make sure it’s weed-free prior to planting. There’s no need to till the soil – that will disrupt the community of microbes and bring weed seeds to the surface.
If you’re replacing existing lawn with a pollinator garden (good for you!), you’ll need to get rid of your turf and the roots – simply tilling it will lead to roots resprouting new grass. It’s best to avoid herbicides like glyphosate as they pose a danger to other plants, beneficial wildlife, your newly planted plugs, and any humans in the area. For large areas, you can rent sodcutters to remove turf, but for smaller beds, a good shovel will do the job. Just dig down a few inches, then slide the shovel blade under the turf roots to pry them up. Be as thorough as you can. The work goes much easier if you sharpen your shovel blade with a file and wet down the turf you’re removing with a hose (it will be heavier, but come up easier).
Once your planting area is ready, it’s easiest to lay out your plugs prior to planting. Once you’re satisfied with the placement, just dig holes as deep as and slightly wider than the plugs, gently slide them in, and fill in and pat down the soil around it. You may want to loosen up the roots of the plug and flare them out a bit before planting to allow them to reach out into your soil. With hardy native plants, you won’t need soil amendments. Thoroughly water each plant, making sure to direct water to the roots until the soil is thoroughly moistened (and any air pockets in the soil are filled)
We recommend applying a light layer of mulch (an inch or so) between plants to keep the soil from drying out and help keep weeds at bay. Too little will allow weed seeds below to germinate, and too much will keep water from draining into the soil (and overly moist mulch can germinate weed seeds as well). Make sure that the mulch does not come within an inch or two of the stems or leaves of the plants themselves, but merely covers the bare ground between them. Shredded-leaf compost makes great mulch, or you can use pine needles or finely shredded hardwood (avoid those dyed mulches – they’re made of shredded pallets and wastewood which often contain pesticides and other harmful chemicals)
Plants will require regular watering until firmly established – even species that are drought-tolerant. Water every day or two for the week (unless it rains), and less frequently as they become established. During the heat of the first summer, you may need to water occasionally during especially dry spells. During the second year, the plants are well on their way to being established, and will likely need no water at all barring unusually extreme weather conditions.
As fall approaches, your plants will enter dormancy. We recommend leaving them as is. The dried stalks and seedpods will provide winter interest to your garden, not to mention food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. In early spring/late winter, cut down all of the stalks to about 4 inches or so. Better still, go over the bed several times with a mulching mower set at its highest level (watch out for shrubs that might be nearby). The shredded plant material will act as mulch and will be just enough organic material to feed your plants.
Your plants will reemerge in the spring ready for another season.
The sample designs in your brochure are merely suggestions on our part. Feel free to get creative, and obviously adjust as necessary based on the layout of your site. Space individual plants at 12 inches on center (so a 25-plant kit will fill 25 square feet). If your site is bigger, we recommend keeping the planting tight, rather than stretching it out to fill your space. That way the planting will stay dense and form vibrant plant communities. Your plants won’t be as happy if they’re too spread out (plus you’ll be more likely to get weeds in the gaps) – you can always expand the garden later or even divide many of the plants as they mature over the years.
We included designs for amorphously-shaped stand-alone beds and for narrower beds that you might have along a path or next to a building.
More Full Sun Kit Tips
If you want to go for a more wild look (almost like a meadow), you can distribute species randomly. But for a more ordered yet still naturalistic look, we recommend massing species together. The exception is the grass, which works great as a matrix in which your other plants can thrive (that is, plant them individually between masses of your other species). Of course, that’s just our suggestion, they do look great in masses of their own.
More Shade Kit Tips
Shady plant communities function a bit differently – many plants act as spreading groundcovers. The coral bells, foam flowers, and blue wood aster in particular work best when massed together, rather than distributed randomly. If you have more space to fill, they’re good spreaders, so they will work well on the edges of your plantings (they’re not too aggressive though, so if you need to keep them contained, it won’t take much effort). Additional care note: coral bells may need to be divided every three or four years to rejuvenate growth.
Next Step: Get Certified!
Now that you’ve got native plants in your garden, you’re well on your way to creating a thriving wildlife habitat. The National Wildlife Federation’s ‘Garden for Wildlife’ program provides resources for maximizing the wildlife value in your backyard. They can certify your yard in recognition of the support you’re providing to the local ecosystem. Learn more at nwf.org/certify.
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