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Planting and Maintaining Your Native Landscape

To ensure the survival of your plants

Here are some general guidelines for planting your native landscape and keeping it healthy for years to come. These guidelines work for most plants; however, some have specific planting and care instructions. Consult a native plant nursery or other specialist for additional information.

Bare-root plants

1. Keep roots damp and covered until planted.
2. Carefully separate plants.
3. Prune any dead or damaged roots.
4. Dig hole deep enough for roots to remain straight.
5. Set seedling in hole so that previous growth depth is maintained.
6. Make sure trunk is straight.
7. Tamp soil to eliminate air pockets.
8. Water and mulch, keeping mulch away from trunk.



Container-grown or balled and burlaped plants

1. Keep plants out of the wind during transport to the planting site.
2. Prune any dead or broken branches.
3. Dig hole two to three times the size of the container; break up any large clods of soil.
4. Support roots so they are not damaged, remove plant from container; if roots wind around, pull them loose and/or prune roots lightly as needed.
5. If you have a balled and burlaped plant, detach burlap from trunk, loosen potting medium around roots, and set plant in hole at height it grew in the field. Alternatively, you can plant with the burlap as long as it is an untreated natural fiber.
6. Backfill with soil, making sure trunk is straight.
7. Tamp soil to eliminate air pockets.
8. Stake large trees in windy areas. Remove staking after one year.
9. Water and mulch, keeping mulch away from trunk.



Native grasses and wildflowers grown from seeds

1. After selecting a site, till only when there is little chance of erosion due to flooding or runoff. In an erosion-prone area, use a no-till planting method. Do not till on steep slopes or adjacent to water.
2. Distribute the seeds according to the package or nursery instructions.
3. Apply an adequate cover of straw over the seedbed to prevent erosion and hold moisture.
4. Seedlings should appear in 10 to 14 days. Keep seedlings moist until well established.
5. Reduce annual weeds without harming perennial wildflowers by mowing two to three times the first year. Never mow native grasses less than eight inches.
6. Have patience; plants can take up to three years to flower or become fully established. Be prepared to weed the meadow frequently.



Type of Plant When to Plant
Bare root Winter
Container-grown Anytime
Balled and burlaped Late fall, early winter
Native grasses and wildflowers from seed Spring, early summer, fall


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Maintaining your native landscape

Because native plants are adapted to regional conditions, they require much less time, energy, and money to maintain. Once they are established, mowing, watering, fertilizing, and use of pesticides are greatly reduced or completely eliminated. However, maintenance such as watering and controlling competing vegetation is critical during the first few years.

The following section offers some guidance for native plant maintenance to ensure the success of your waterfront landscape.

First year

  • Label each plant when planting or soon after. This will help you identify your plants when it’s time to weed.
  • Weeding is important during the first year when small plants can be overrun by competing plants.
  • Two or three inches of mulch, such as shredded bark or pine needles, will hold moisture and control weeds. Be sure not to place mulch close to the stem or trunk. Mulching may not be practical close to waterfronts or in wet areas prone to flooding. Do not use the nugget style of mulch; the nuggets wash away easily.

image of plantingSecond year

  • Water plants during periods of extended drought.
  • Pull weeds once a month, or more frequently if needed.
  • Keep invasive exotic species under control.


  • Control undesirable/invasive plants.
  • Inspect your waterfront property after major storms, or at least once a year. Watch for invasive plants and new areas of erosion; address these problems as quickly as possible.
  • Leave leaf litter on the bank for natural mulch.
  • image of plantingOnly fertilize if a soil test indicates a deficiency of a necessary nutrient. Contact your county’s agricultural extension agent for more information.
  • Prune dead wood out of trees and shrubs only when it creates a hazard. Dead wood provides homes for wildlife, especially birds and the insects on which they feed. A TVA permit is required for cutting or trimming trees on TVA land.

Illustrations by Dede Christopher

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