Soil Preparation and Native Plant Planting

prepare soil for plants


The simple instructions below will help guarantee that the plants you grow will flourish for many years. See the complete directions below, and contact us to help prepare your soil for native plants in the Midwest!


Site Preparation

  • Remove all loose debris from the area you plan on digging your holes for planting, such as leaves, pebbles, and branches.
  • Dig a large hole to allow the roots of the plants to spread for healthy root growth to ensure you are not crowding them.
  • Dig the holes where you are placing your plants at the proper depth. A rule of thumb is to plat them at the same level the plant was at in the starter pot.
  • Remove any existing roots from other plants from the hole. 
  • Pile the soil next to your planting hole, be sure the area you place the soil is clear of debris. Remove any plant roots or grass clumps from the soil used to fill the hole.
  • If the walls of the hole seem slick, roughen them up.


planting natives soil prep

Plant Preparation

Until planting, keep all plants moist and cool. Do not keep inside!


If you purchase in pots or without soil surrounding the roots (bare-root plants). See instructions for each kind below.


Plants in Pots: Make sure the dirt in the starter pot is damp before tipping it to the side and gently pressing on the pot to dislodge the plant. Next, remove the plant gently by grasping the plant at the base of the stem. 


  • The roots of the majority of plants will be visible. Pull out loose roots and trim or straighten the roots that are surrounding the root ball (roots that are circling the root ball will grow in a circular motion which can cause them to have poor growth or potentially die).
  • Place the plant in the hole and position the roots to point outward.
  • Be sure to place the plant you’ve positioned at the proper depth. Make sure that you are not planting too deep.
  • Store the roots in damp soil or compost until you are ready to plant them and keep them moist. You may also soak plants in water for 1 to 2 hours, but never over six hours. 
  • Before you plant, trim back any significantly injured, bent, kinked or jagged roots to sound wood.
  • When planting, make a tiny mound of earth in the hole’s bottom.
  • Arrange the plant’s roots around the small mound, ensuring the roots are pointing away from the plant.
  • Position the plant so that earth covers the roots but not the stem above the roots.
  • Use the native dirt from the hole to backfill the hole, or from a nearby hole if you need more soil. 
  • Filling the hole with store-bought dirt may lead the roots to grow just to the hole’s border.
  • Ensure that the dirt you are placing in the hole is free of debris such as rocks, twigs, grass, and leaves. 
  • You should not need to add compost or fertilizer to hole where you are planting.
  • Push dirt into the hole surrounding the roots without upsetting the root arrangement.
  • Firmly press the dirt down to eliminate air pockets.
  • Build a dirt ring around the border of the planting hole to contain water and ensure that water is draining away from the trunk area. 
  • Finally, pull on the plant gently by holding on to the base of the stems to allow dirt to allow all dirt to engulf the roots.


Bringing It All Together

As soon as your plant is in the ground, and the hole is filled, immediately water the plant to help settle the soil and aid in the removal of air pockets. Fill any holes that form with extra dirt.


Mulch or compost should be applied on top of the soil in a circle, at least as broad as the roots, but without touching the stem.


Using Manure for Native Plants 

Manure is typically required for clay soils to disintegrate. You should also ensure that soil levels are elevated to aid with water drainage. Sandy soils benefit from being adequately mulched with organic matter.


Building garden beds or installing subsurface drainage might benefit your native plants.


Use Caution with Soil Improvers

Most natural plants thrive in acidic soils. Missouri soils are acidic; thus, the pH levels are unlikely to need to be altered.


However, soil improvers like dolomite or lime are renowned for raising the pH of the soil and should be avoided. If the levels are too high, your native plants cannot absorb soil nutrients.


If you have clay soil and wish to boost its nutrients, use Gypsum instead because it does not affect the PH.


soil preparation planting natives

What is the best compost for native plants in Missouri?


First, to be fruitful, the soil must be nutritious. As a result, appropriate soil resource management is critical to maintaining and sustaining Missouri’s agricultural resources. 


Producers have depended significantly on soil testing to offer current information on the state of their soil to manage fertilizer and soil amendment inputs.


The MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory analyzes hundreds of soil samples each year to offer agricultural community members excellent information on soils throughout Missouri. In addition, the lab constantly analyzes university faculty research to give the most current and accurate information, as well as fertilizer recommendations.


The laboratory can offer information on soil pH, textural analysis. organic matter, ammonium acetate, neutralizable acidity,  calcium, and magnesium, extractable potassium (K), extractable sulfate, Bray 1-Phosphorus (P),  nitrate, micronutrients, boron, ammonium, and electrical conductivity after a sample is submitted.


This data, however, is unique to the location where the specimen was obtained and may not reflect standard patterns in other neighboring regions or places.


To provide basic geographic information, the MU lab’s soil data from 2007 to 2017 were collated and published by counties in this overview. A total of 315,504 specimens were used.


Soil pH values in Missouri are generally categorized as medium (5.4-6.0) or high (6.1), except for south-central counties, including the Ozark Mountain range.


In general, phosphorus levels are modest (22 lb./ac). However, several counties in west-central Missouri’s Missouri River valley, the southwest prairie region, and the heavily farmed southeast delta region have medium (23-45 lb./ac) to incredibly high (70 lb./ac) soil P levels. 


The majority of the state has medium potassium levels (111-220 lb./ac). However, residual soil K levels were high (221-330 lb./ac) and extremely high (331 lb./ac) in the state’s heavily cropped northwest and southeast areas.


soil prep native plants

In Conclusion…


Native plants are a vital part of our ecosystem and play an essential role in the health of our 

environment. By adequately preparing your soil and planting them in the right place, you can help these plants thrive and grow into healthy mature specimens that provide beauty and sustenance to our community. 


If you’re unsure how to get started or if your soil needs preparation for native plants, give us a call! We would be happy to help assess your property and give you advice on the best way to plant natives so they can flourish.