The Plant Native

I’m nervous. What if I mess something up?

Chances are, you are going to plant something in the wrong spot. Something will be too tall, or too short, or struggle in the area you plant it in. You might lose plants to a frost or the lawn mower. It’s totally fine! You can move plants around, buy new seeds, or even replant your lawn as a last resort. Native plants are not finicky—they are easy. You can recover from any gardening mistakes. Here’s how.

What to do if you make a gardening mistake

Heuchera looks great as a border; sometimes you may have to move it to make sure it's not hidden

It’s going to happen: you are going to make a gardening mistake. You’ll plant something in the wrong spot, something will block a window, or you will realize you should have put it on the left instead of the right.

Don’t worry about it! It’s so easy to fix a garden mistake!

Just like ordering the wrong dish at a restaurant, it’s easy to recover from a garden mistake. There are so many easy ways to change up your garden and recover, including:

  1. Move plants to new spots
  2. Replace plants with freebie plants from neighbors and garden groups
  3. As a last resort, you can always replant lawn

Let’s dig into these ways to recover, shall we?

It's easy to dig up a plant after it's planted, and move it

Fix #1: Move plants to new spots

If you make a mistake and plant something in a “bad” spot—maybe it’s too wet, too sunny, or too shady—you can simply dig the plant up and move it. Yes, it really is that easy!

All you need is a shovel or trowel

Plants are easy to move around—all it takes is a shovel or trowel to move most plants. Dig deep enough to scoop up as much of the bottom roots as you can, and make a hole wide enough to get as much of the side roots as you can. And then simply lift out the plant from the bottom, dig a hole in its new spot, and move it. Voila! For most plants, it really is that simple. And gardeners move plants around their yards all the time.

There are a few plants that are difficult to move around because they have a very long root system that is challenging to dig up. However, only a small amount of native plants have this challenge. Plants like Rattlesnake Master have a long single root that looks like carrot. Plants with this type of long root are great for withstanding drought (they store up water in their carrot-root) but are not easy to move since that single root is so long and easy to disturb. But these carrot-like plants are the exception. Most other plants like Coneflower, Golden Alexander, or American Beautyberry have roots that are easily moved around.

These obedient plants were dug up by a neighbor and gifted one spring—for free!

Fix #2: Replace plants with freebie plants from neighbors and garden groups

When you lose a plant to frost, heat, or the lawn mower, don’t despair—check out local plant groups to find a replacement. Chances are, there will be someone who can offer some freebies from their garden or advice on where to go to find replacements.

An awesome secret of native gardening is that lots of neighbors and garden groups give away native plants, for free. All you have to do is post or search local garden boards on Facebook, join a local gardening group, or even just strike up a conversation with a neighbor whose garden you admire, and suddenly—free plants!

There are three reliable ways to find native plants if you’re looking for replacements:

1

Buy from a local plant nursery

Your local nursery will have native plants to buy, especially at the end of spring / early summer. Whenever possible, buy native plants from local nurseries. Home Depot and Lowes cannot beat the plant selection at local nurseries.

2

Find a local plant swap

Many native plants are easy to dig up and give away. Search local gardening groups on Facebook to find local gardeners who often give away plants during the spring and fall.

3

Visit local plant sales in the spring

Almost all local plant organizations and gardens host plant sales in the spring. These plant sales often include plants that are not available at conventional nurseries. Check your local garden websites for dates.

Fix #3: As a last resort, you can always replant lawn

It can feel like a huge, scary step to dig up lawn and replace it with a native garden. What if it dies? What if you don’t like it? What if you simply change your mind?

The truth is that it is very easy to replant lawn with seed or sod if you feel you made a mistake. Although lawns are much more work than native gardens, there are billions of dollars worth of landscapers, grass seed, and lawn tools in ample supply. So don’t worry about digging up your lawn—go for it! If you want to go back to lawn, you can, and easily. 

Native gardens are easier than lawns

Native gardens are cheaper and easier than lawns—we have a post on pros/cons to prove it! There is less work, less water, and less fertilizer when you plant a native garden. It’s easy to see stacked up:

Lawn

Basic needs for a suburban lawn
2 hours Weekly
  • Needs water during drought periods
  • Reseeding in spring/fall
  • Weekly mowing
  • Requires weeding (or chemicals)

Native Garden

Basic needs for a native garden
0-30 mins Weekly
  • Only needs rain
  • Perennials come back year after year
  • No special care after plants are established
  • No weeding with mulch or gravel

It’s easy to recover from a gardening mistake. You can move plants, find new plants, or replant grass as a last resort. Native gardening is a very forgiving process. You can bounce back from any gardening mistakes you make.

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