Plant Care FAQ

If you are new to native plants, please read this information and let us know if you have any questions. We hope you enjoy your native plant gardening experience and its constantly changing show of colorful plants and wildlife.

There are MANY great resources out there, online and in books, that explain why native plants are such a great thing. Look through our Wild Ones - West Cook website, under Learn, for guides to planting and growing natives.

When we purchase our plants, we are driven by images from the pictures we have seen of the mature plants though we are often not told about some of the basics about how to ensure that our plants will reach their full potential.  We want you to have a wonderful experience and with these plants, so we wanted to share some of our experiences with them.  


Most of the plants we are offering are young, perhaps one year or maybe two years old.  The benefits are that they are easier to transplant and have pocket-book friendly pricing.  Many of the native plants, especially prairie plants, are long-lived, and can live for decades in optimum conditions.  Since they are long-lived and many put so much of their energy into their extensive root systems (some estimates are that we only see ⅓ of the entire plant,with the other ⅔ underground in the “rhizospere”), they may take some time to mature into those full beauties we see in catalogs.  


Native plants are also advertised as low-maintenance (which they are) if two conditions are met:

  1. Correctly sited, which means they receive the sun, soil, and moisture type they evolved in.  For instance, Cardinal Lobelia cannot survive in a dry situation in full sun.  Woodland plants need leaf cover, meaning they need to have tree leaves in, on, around them all year.  They will push up through the leaves (you can help if you want to), but they need the material that leaves eventually turn into: humus.  
  2. The young plants are cared for properly.  Even drought tolerant plants or plants that prefer drier conditions need water at least for the first couple of weeks; they do not have their extensive root systems yet and are undergoing transplant stress. Make sure the soil is lightly moist; too much water is not healthy either.  If you have rabbits or deer, and plant something that they find palatable and the plants are without proper protection, they may get eaten. Since again they do not have the root system in place, your plants may not come back.  

A note about soil moisture: we are trying to keep the requirements fairly simple, and many plants can tolerate a range of moisture levels (most can take that wetness in the spring, but after that, they may not tolerate it for the rest of the season unless they are a wetland plant) 

  • dry: drains very quickly and does not hold moisture very long or does not receive excess moisture (as in a rain garden or near a gutter downspout)
  • medium: average garden soil, has enough organic matter to stay fairly moist for a reasonable period of time (not a drought though)
  • wet: the moisture level to be expected in a rain garden or near a gutter downspout; watch these for signs of water stress during periods of drought

Sun exposure is also vitally important.  

  • Full sun means 6 hours or more
  • Part sun/part shade means 3-6 hours.  If a plant is listed as Full sun/part sun, it would be happier toward the longer sun exposure.  If it’s listed as part-shade/shade, it will be happier at the lower end of the exposure spectrum. Some plants can adapt to moisture levels too given more or less sun than is their preference.  For instance, Rose or Swamp milkweed loves full sun in moist conditions, but if grown in part shade, it will be happy with less moisture.  
  • Shade means under 3 hours (morning sun is usually preferred for these plants; they would have a hard time in summer afternoon sun but clever planting and placing can provide shade (plant taller/more sun tolerant plants/shrubs around them so that their shadow would cast shade on them in the afternoon sun).  Be sure to mulch too to maintain soil moisture levels.