Native Plants

How to Build a Native Plant Garden

native plant garden

As a new year begins, a new native plant garden emerges in my North Carolina garden. After more than a year of planning, the ground has finally been broken on our neighboring property, known on Air BNB as the “Carolina Garden House”. It is an exciting time as we embark on building a brand-new space focusing on North American native species. This year I will be sharing that journey with you through these articles.

When presented with the opportunity to purchase the house next door and the subsequent half-acre of flat, full sun, blank canvas property, my husband David and I didn’t hesitate. With the home renovations complete and the property steadily rented, we have officially taken on the front yard!

This is the fourth personal garden I have built from scratch in my twenty years of living in the Triangle. A lot of lessons have been learned, and my strategy for creating this space is quite deliberate and efficient. My mantra is “work smart not hard” and so far, the installation is going great. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind before you start building a new garden.

Get to Know the Space

It is important to understand the environment in which you are building a garden. In this case, it is easier than most since we have been gardening next door for more than a decade. But even with our intimate knowledge of the sun patterns and soil texture, the original design plan has changed dramatically as we better understood the flow of traffic and use of the space. In the long run, giving yourself time to fully examine the land and your realistic use of it will pay off.

Identify the Tools Needed

In previous garden builds I skipped this step, and it made the process much harder. This time around I made a list of what needed to be done, then figured out the appropriate order and what tools would make each job simple. Spoiler alert: you may not own all the tools you need. There is nothing wrong with renting equipment or hiring professionals to make the process efficient. In our case, we hired an arborist last winter to remove and stump grind all the existing trees, including undesirable Bradford pears, a sick red maple, and an inappropriately placed river birch. This left me with a blank slate to design any way I wanted. When it was time to get the beds created, we rented a sod cutter to easily remove the centipede turf which we then used along the driveway.

Invest in Bed Preparation from the Start

Everything is easier when you do it right the first time, and this is especially true with garden bed preparation. Note we removed existing grass including the root system and didn’t just lay cardboard over it. That is because when you have vigorous, warm season turf (such as Bermuda, centipede, and zoysia) the layering method doesn’t work. Trust me, I have tried. With the turf completely removed, it is easy to layer organic matter in the bed before planting. Since this garden will be planted with native species that prefer lean soil, I am using a mix that is three-quarter sand and one-quarter compost. This will ensure that plants don’t grow too vigorously and flop over time.

With the beds ready the real fun begins – shopping. Be sure to read my next article where I dive deep into plant selection. From trees and shrubs to perennials, annuals, and bulbs, this new garden will be brimming with native vegetation that will provide beauty and habitat as well as being climate resilient. You can also follow our progress through the Brie the Plant Lady YouTube channel.

Feature image: Removing the sod to build the garden / Brie Arthur.

Brie Arthur is a bestselling author and horticulturist dedicated to garden education. She shares practical advice through her YouTube channel, Brie the Plant Lady and offers a wide variety of virtual classes through her website BrieGrows.com.

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