Pocket Plantings are a great way to introduce biodiversity in your yard. Starting small makes the project more manageable and easier to care for as your garden establishes. As you gain experience, confidence, and (fingers crossed) a desire for more, it is always possible to expand the garden.
First, consider where you’ll be planting
A successful garden isn’t complicated, but it does require some planning. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How much sunlight is there? Some plants grow spindly, leggy or not-at-all in too much shade. Others shrivel up in full sun. There is a suite of plants for just about every site.
- What is the soil moisture of the site? Heavy clay soils will hold a lot more water than light, loamy sand; some plants will drown where others thrive. Pocket plantings can make excellent raingardens if located in a place to capture runoff from roofs, sidewalks or driveways.
- Are these characteristics consistent throughout the site? Conditions may vary even within the site where you are planting.
- How is the site used, and who owns it? Boulevards, for instance, can be great places to introduce pollinator habitat (as long as it doesn’t get too tall). But most cities own their boulevards, and may require you to get permission before you begin digging them up.
Planting design objectives
- Use grasses, flowers, and shrubs. We recommend planting 80% flowers and 20% grasses. Though native grasses don’t provide nectar for pollinators, they offer a host of other benefits: garden structure, ground cover, nesting sites, and foliage for beneficial larvae. Use shrubs as a simple solution to filling a large area.
- Choose a diversity of native plants that bloom throughout the season. The rusty patched bumble bee and many other pollinators need blooming flowers from April to October. Flowers also add visual interest to a garden.
- Consider plant massing or “drifts”. Grouping the same species of plant together has many benefits: it helps you recognize what’s a weed and what’s not, has a higher visual impact, and makes it easier for pollinators to find the flowers in bloom. (Which is easier: locating a tray of freshly-baked cookies or tracking down individual crumbs?)
- Consider plant heights. Think of your garden as a family photo: put the cute little ones up front, and keep the taller ones in the back. That way, everyone can be seen and enjoyed!
- Install borders to reduce weed infiltration and display “intent”. Some people think native plants can look messy. A border made from mulch, stone, edging, or a low ground cover frames your garden and makes it easier for others to see the beauty you’re growing.
- Give it time. Native plant seeds may take months or years to germinate. Small plugs usually take three years to grow to maturity. Even larger plants can spend the first growing season establishing a strong root system before they fill out above the ground.
When the time comes to install your garden, the first step is to prepare the site:
- Sheet mulching is a good option to cover most turf or plants (though you should dig out invasive weeds like quack grass, creeping bellflower, and tree seedlings).
- Hand digging using a sod cutter or spade is a quick but strenuous way to reach bare soil that’s ready to plant. The sod and soil you remove can even be composted, shared with neighbors, or used to help regrade around a settling foundation.
- Solarization works best with a mostly-sunny site and three months or more, but kills the toughest of weeds.