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Image: Tahu Taylor-Koolen | DOC


Follow the four basic steps of – plan, prepare, plant, protect – for a successful native garden.

Before you begin planting out your native garden, why not spend a bit of time first working out how it will look when the plants are fully grown?

Getting things right and ready at the beginning will produce the best results. Follow the four basic steps of – plan, prepare, plant, protect – for success.


  • Visit a nearby reserve or a patch of native forest and look at the planting associations (how the heights, colours and shapes of the different species work together).
  • Choose an area of your garden where native plants can grow to full height without blocking long term sun or views, or interfering with power lines, driveways, etc.
  • Draw a plan of the area you want to plant showing existing trees, paths, underground services, overhead power lines, etc.
  • Try to picture your native garden in five to ten years time. How big will each tree or shrub be? Then think about other native plants that you would like to plant when the canopy above will provide frost and wind protection to other species, such as ferns and frost tender plants.
  • Place your plants in groups with a spacing between the larger trees of 2.5 metres - 3 metres, and between the small trees, shrubs and herbs of 1.5 metres - 2 metres.
  • The final plan should show the name and location of each plant. This will help you to place your plants at planting time.


You will need to prepare the site well to ensure plant growth and survival. This should be done some time before planting. For the average home garden situation, removing the grass cover will be best in the long term.

  • Cut / mow lawn or grass area 
  • Mark out the area to be planted
  • Lift turf out by cutting 1.5 spade widths wide (place cut pieces outside the area) 
  • Use lifted turf squares for composting or cut them in half and place them inverted around the trees after planting 
  • Add well rotted manure or compost 
  • Aerate soil by forking or digging 
  • Keep the site weed free until planting time

Remember to keep the area weed free - native trees don’t compete favourably with weeds for moisture and nutrients. 


The best times of the year for planting are during the autumn months of April to May or late winter - spring (August - September). Planting outside the cooler winter months means that a lot of watering may be required to keep plants alive. Planting should be not be done on bright sunny days or very windy days in case plants dry out.

  • Before planting make sure that the site is moist but not water saturated.
  • Keep the plants cool and moist until you are ready to plant.
  • Mark with a stake where the plants are going to be planted.
  • Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the plant's roots to spread out. 
  • Remove plants from pot by squeezing the sides of the pot, then hold the plant upside down and lift the pot off.  This can also be done by banging one of the top corners upside down against a hard surface and the pot will lift off.
  • If the roots are evenly spread, place plants straight into planting hole (or cut the root ball with a knife down the length of the roots).
  • Cover the roots with fine soil, firming layer by layer.
  • Plant at same depth in the soil as the soil line at the base of the stem in the bag.
  • Leave the surface with a loose texture and water thoroughly.



Native trees and shrubs grow naturally with a deep litter mulch of decaying vegetation, such as old leaves, covering the ground around them.

After planting, spread out wet newspapers, cardboard, old carpet (wool) etc. and cover with wet straw, bark chips (untreated) or compost to 90 -120 mm depth. This will protect roots, trap moisture and control or suppress weeds. Keep mulch away from the stems of the plants.


If planting practices have been followed and mulch applied, watering will only be necessary in dry, hot conditions. Watering should be done thoroughly but not often (once a week maximum).

After care

Until the plants are established (2 to 3 years) and start shading and covering the ground, it might be necessary to control weeds and replace mulch. Once cover is established and it is no longer necessary to weed, spontaneous germination of natives might occur.
When the planted trees and shrubs have reached sufficient height and spread to provide shelter and shade (approximately 3 years), more tender plants can be planted underneath: e.g. ferns, pigeonwood, kawakawa, māhoe etc.

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