Pocket Plantings

Pocket Plantings are a great way to introduce biodiversity in your space. Creating new areas of native plantings, as well as preserving remnant native vegetation, help preserve biodiversity. A 10’x10′ pocket planting can be enough to provide pollinator habitat. 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.

For more year-round pocket planting installation and maintenance information, check out the Resilient Yards Online Learning Series.

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Select your planting location

The first and most important step is to assess your yard. What areas of your yard can be used to install a project?  How large or small do you want your project to be? Notice where trees and existing landscaping are. Examine the type of soil you have. These are all a part of a site assessment.

It can also be a valuable exercise to step back and think about where water goes once it leaves your property. Where is the nearest storm drain? Do you know what body of water this storm drain leads to? The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a useful Watershed Information tool for Minnesotans to find their watershed. You can print a view of your property from your county’s GIS map and draw your site map over it like the image shown to the right.

You’ll also want to 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 rain gardens 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.

Design considerations

  • 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.

Use Blue Thumb’s Plant Finder to search for native plants that thrive in your site’s conditions!

Prepare your site

Before installing your garden, you will need to prepare your site. First, remove any sod that exists on your project area. Some common methods for sod removal include: 

  • Hand digging is a quick but strenuous way to reach bare soil that’s ready to plant. You can do this by hand with a shovel (for very small areas), with a manual sod kicker, or with a sod-cutting machine (rentable from hardware stores). The sod and soil you remove can even be composted, shared with neighbors, or used to help regrade around a settling foundation.
  • Sheet mulching, which requires less muscle but more time, involves applying a layer of cardboard covered with mulch to suffocate the grass beneath. You should first dig out invasive weeds like quack grass, creeping bellflower, and tree seedlings.
  • Solarization works best with a mostly-sunny site and three months or more, but kills the toughest of weeds. It involves covering the area in a clear plastic sheet for several months (usually a whole growing season/summer).

Both sheet mulching and solarization kills the turfgrass underneath, which will slowly break down and add nutrients to the soil. Read more about these site preparation methods and other options in the Xerces Society’s Organic Site Preparation guide.

  • Once the sod is removed, you will want to turn, loosen, and rake the compacted soil. This will make it easier to dig and plant your plants, while also allowing their roots to grow and expand. 
  • Exposing bare soil will likely expose weed seeds that have been stored in the soil. As part of the preparation, you can choose to install mulch or weed suppression material. Mulching your site protects the soil from erosion and maintains the de-compacted soil you created. It is better to mulch before planting so you don’t damage delicate plugs as you’re spreading mulch.
  • We recommend mulching your site with double-shredded hardwood mulch (available in bags or in bulk). This mulch doesn’t float like wood chips and it locks together more quickly, protecting your site better.


Planting with Plugs

  • Before planting, lay out the plants before you put them in the ground so that you’re happy with their spacing.
  • Once you’re happy with the spacing, plant your first plug by moving the mulch out of the way to get access to the soil. With your trowel, dig about 3-4 inches down, as big as the size of your plug.
  • Take your plant out of the container. If the roots are wrapped around, break them down and massage them so they’re not in a spiral position.
  • Put your plug in the soil. Bring all the soil on top, make sure the plug is snug, sturdy, and level with the ground. Distribute the mulch back on top and repeat with your remaining plugs! Water your plants immediately.

Planting with Seeds

  • Aim for seed to soil contact. Spread seeds on top of the soil surface and lightly rake them into the soil to achieve good soil contact. Be careful to plant the tiny flower seeds near the soil surface.
  • After sowing, lightly pack the soil surface after you have spread the seed. Water your seeds immediately. You do not need to provide native plant seedlings with supplemental watering as long as they receive about one inch of rainfall a week.
  • Do not fertilize—native plants are well-adapted to poor soils.

Maintaining your garden

A native garden will need some attention during the first few years of its life to thrive in the long run. It only takes a little time and a few simple habits to maintain your new pollinator planting:


  • For new planting, water a total of 1 inch twice a week, more during especially dry weeks. Watering frequency can be reduced to 1 inch once a week for second year plantings, and 1 inch during times of drought for established plantings. It’s better to water a longer time every few days rather than a little every day. This encourages your native plants to grow deeper roots and become more resilient to drought. 
  • You can use a rain gauge or even an old can marked at one inch to measure rainfall.
  • The best time of day to water is in the morning while the ground is still cool, which helps water soak into the soil. Watering in the afternoon is less efficient as some water will be lost through heat and evaporation, and watering at night should be avoided as water tends to rest in the soil and encourages rot and pests.


  • Plan for a weekly half-hour weeding session during the first year of your pollinator garden, more time if your planting is larger. You can put labeled markers next to your native plants to help tell them apart from weeds. Light weeding every week or two will save you work in future seasons and is much easier than a heavy weeding session once a year. As your garden matures, weeding will become less demanding.
  • You can remove weeds by pulling or digging. One of the best times to weed is a few hours after it rains, when water has had enough time to soak the soil. Grab the weed as low as you can and pull slowly to get all the roots. Do your best to minimize damage to neighboring desirable plants and fill in any holes left after digging. Bag and dispose of weed material—weeds left on the ground can root into the soil and grow back.

Give it patience! Native plant seeds may take months or years to germinate. Small plugs usually take 3 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.

For more year-round pocket planting installation and maintenance information, check out the Resilient Yards Online Learning Series.