Planting and establishing your new plant

When you plant a new landscape plant (whether it be a native plant or not, whether it be a tree, shrub, ground cover, perennial, or annual) you need to help it transition from life in a container, to life in the ground (or even life in a larger container).

Just about all plants prefer to be in the ground. Life in a container is a hard one for plants, especially in Arizona. The temperature is hotter, the soil in a pot lacks the beneficial biology that occurs in the ground, and the root systems are constricted to a limited area. Many plants, especially many native plants, prefer to spread their roots out wide. This is prevented in a container, but will occur as your new plant gets established in the ground. 

Some key things to consider before planting

  • Are you giving your plant enough space to grow and do you know the eventual dimensions of the plant you are putting into the ground?
  • Are you giving your new plant enough sun or shade? Does the sun exposure change dramatically throughout the year (think north-facing walls). Make sure you know what kind of sun exposure your plant prefers. 
  • Is your plant deciduous? Are you ok with how the landscape will look when that plant goes dormant? Many people will put deciduous plants in a less conspicuous spot so that when it goes dormant, it isn't so prominent in the landscape. 
  • Do you have a plan for watering? Is this plant going into a larger bed that has berms? If you are planning on going on vacation, especially in the summer, make sure you have a plan for meeting your plant's needs. 
  • Do you have soil amendment? Even with native plants, a 50/50 mix of soil to conditioner is suggested. 
  • Is there drainage? Will you need to deal with caliche? 
  • Will you need to stake the plant? Most plants we suggest not staking but sometimes a tree that has been grown in a container can be weak and need support when it gets established. 
  • In general you want your planting spot to be somewhat larger than the eventual dimensions of the plant. That is, the width of the plant when it is established. 
  • Are there neighboring plants that you are paying attention to--do you know all their eventual dimensions? 
  • Are you planting in the correct zone for your plant? We suggest making your landscape into rainwater zones and planting the appropriate plant into the appropriate zone. See our page on Planting Zones for more information. 


With very few exceptions, most plants do not want to be planted deeper than they were in the container. In almost all cases you will need to amend your soil, even native plants. This is to help transition your plant from life in the container to life in the ground. If there is no drainage, or caliche, you will need to do some extra work ensuring that water does not swamp or pool and become anaerobic (lacking in oxygen). Take into consideration the specific needs of the plants you are planting. We will communicate these needs to you when you purchase plants from us. Or if you got your plant from somewhere else, contact us and ask us what you need to do. We want you to be successful whether or not you get your plants from Spadefoot Nursery. 


Different soil types will demand different treatment regarding soil amendments, but we suggest as a general rule  about a 50/50 mix of soil amendment to native soil. We always recommend using local products that were developed for Arizona, like Tanks Green Stuff 100% organic compost. You can use straw or wood chips as a nice mulch around the plants. This helps keep the heat off the ground, and slows down evaporation. It will save you on water. Also eventually it breaks down and nourishes the organisms in the soil, which is beneficial to your plants. We aren't huge fans of gravel, as this is a mined product, and it doesn't do a lot for the health of your soil aside from keeping some heat off the ground. The wood chip mulch we use at our own home also comes from Tanks Green Stuff and they can deliver truckloads, if needed. 

Watering Your New Plant
Even native, desert plants need to be watered a lot more when they are first planted. In most cases, you will water almost daily (especially in summer and warm parts of the spring and fall). In the winter and cooler parts of spring and fall you may only need to water about every 3 days. But check your plants every day. Different conditions can cause plants to dry out faster than anticipated, like the wind. 

As each week moves on, you can put more time between waterings. Ideally, you want these soakings to be deeper (if watering with a hose, turn it on to a slow trickle and leave it on plant for longer period of time).

We realize this takes more time. But understand that plants are not furniture, they are living things that need to be transitioned. The more care and time you take with your new plant, the more you will be rewarded. 

We highly recommend using drip irrigation on timers. A properly installed irrigation system is more dependable than a human being, and more convenient for you. Watering with a hose can be very inefficient. Make sure that wherever you install your new plant, that you have prepared for the grading of the ground around the plant. If you are using a hose, you must have berms around to assist the water to sufficiently collect up and soak into the ground around your new plant. If you can, grade your landscape so that when it rains, the water sheets toward the plant beds--water from the sky is not only free, it is much healthier for your plants. 

Lastly, as you go through each season, your plant will change. Even "evergreen" plants will take a break. Many plants have a season where they don't look their best. If you aren't sure about what is happening with us, take GOOD pictures and come talk to us (online or in person). Also, don't let every reaction to a problem be something you need to buy or spray. Sometimes all that is happening is natural and you just need to wait it out. Give your plant what it needs and it will reward you. And if you fail, don't worry. Even the most successful gardeners fail. But even upon failure, collect data and try to find out and understand what happened. 

If your plant is being consumed by an organism, please try to resist the urge to spray pesticides. The "pest" might be a very cool butterfly or moth. And most plants can come back from being munched by larvae. But even if it isn't, spraying pesticides does damage to more organisms than just your target. With nature being attacked from all sides, make your backyard a safe place for wild things. Think of your yard as a corridor for birds and butterflies as they travel from mountain range to mountain range. Don't spray pesticides.