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Why You Need 38 Native Plants

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

The benefits of native plant plug flats

You have a couple of options when you shop on our website: you can buy plants individully, or you can buy a tray of plants called a plug flat.

Our standard individual pot is a "quart" pot, which is a square pot 4" wide and 5" deep. This is a nice size pot that lets the plants get big and develop a substantial root system without taking up too much room in the greenhouse (our greenhouse may be a tad too small for the number of plants we produce).

Before they are potted into quart pots, almost all of our germinated seedlings spend time in a plug flat. A plug flat is a molded tray with 38 cells. Each cell is about 2" wide and 5" deep. The plants can still develop their roots vertically, but they are packed a bit closer together up top. Plug flats allow the all-important roots to develop while conserving greenhouse space. We use plug flats for garden kits and mixed flats like our Swale Mix, but usually the plug flats contain 38 of one species.

Most of our large clients who do restoration projects or whole-site landscaping buy plants in the plug flat stage. But plug flats aren't just for big projects, and new this year we are offering many of our species by the plug flat on our website. Here's why you might want to get 38 of a single native plant:

1. Best Price

Everyone loves a bargain. Our base price for the 38 plants in a plug flat is $65, which works out to a mere $1.71 per plant. Some of the plants which are fussy to grow or for which we have trouble sourcing seed are a bit more, but still, you get more than three times the plants for the same amount of money. To see which of our plants are available by the plug flat, visit our Shop.

2. Insurance

A chipmunk popping up out of its hole
So cute! Such sharp little teeth.

People frequently come to me and sadly say that the chipmunks ate their only Blazingstar, or that the deer wiped out their small sunflower with one bite. Nature is hungry, and one way to make sure you get to enjoy some of your flowers is to plant in abundance. You will still have to make an effort to protect the plants until they are large enough to withstand some browse, but planting in bulk can help cushion against a brief failure in your bulwarks. For natural ways to protect plants, and more importantly, a different way of thinking about plant and animal relationships, check out the work by Nancy Lawson, the Humane Gardener.

3. Style

Have you heard about planting in drifts? This is when a large number of the same plant are planted together, making a grouping of one texture and color that is stunning. Drifts can be large squares or circles for a formal look, long ribbons to really draw the eye and shape the space, or free-form meanderings that narrow, widen, and pool in the way that plant colonies spread in nature. Do a quick web search for how to plant with drifts and you will find lots of resources. Here is one article with compelling pictures by garden designer and author Benjamin Vogt.

Even if a massive drift is not for you, most native plants look best in groupings of three or more. A plug flat of Purple Coneflower would allow you to plant a number of small groupings for best effect. Whatever your planting goals, plug flats allow you to achieve them for a reasonable price.

A flower garden with patches of flowers and a path
Drifts - "Garden by Piet Oudolf, Dutch Landscape Architect" by Melinda Young Stuart is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

4. Function

Grasses and sedges growing up between paving stones at the edge of a garden
Matrix plants - "High Line (Piet Oudolf) - Manhattan NY {juli 2012}" by westher is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

There are a couple of functional reasons to plant many of the same plant. First, you can plant more densely. Whether you are planting in drifts of a single species or mixing things up, planting at a 12" or even 8" spacing will create a bed that fills in more quickly and controls weeds better, saving you time weeding and money spent on mulch.

Another thing that is easier to do when using plug flats is matrix planting, or planting in layers. This is a landscaping idea that mimics nature by having feature plants or groupings surrounded by and underpinned by dense "understory" plants, like sedges, or low flowers such as Wild Strawberry, Black-eyed Susan, or Spotted Bee Balm. This method eliminates mulch deserts, reduces weeding, and creates layers of habitat - greatly increasing the amount of resources available for bees, birds, butterflies, and other life. The fast-growing, smaller plants will fill in holes while the larger accent plants are coming up to size.

Plug Flats

Screenshot of a website filter menu
Filter our shop pages by "Size"

Whether you want to explore drift planting or maximize habitat by working in a matrix layer, it is easier and more cost-effective to use native plant plugs. One of the nice things about plugs is that you don't need to dig a big hole. In fact, bulb planters work really well. We have one that attaches to our cordless drill and (in areas without tree roots or dense grass) makes planting plugs a breeze. However, a basic hand-held bulb planter works just fine. Each of our plug flats will come with an instruction sheet on how to work with plugs.

Thinking about creating a soft landing zone under your established trees so the butterfly larvae and firefly larvae have someplace to drop down and overwinter? Plugs are perfect because they can be worked between tree roots without having to dig a big hole, potentially damaging the tree. If you don't want your soft landing zone to be a plug flat of a single species, our garden kits also utilize the plug flat format and provide a mix of plants.

Native Plant Month Special

Don't forget! Now through the end of April we are celebrating Native Plant Month with $12 off a purchase of $48 or more. That odd amount was selected to let you get 7 quart pots for the price of 5. But the coupon works for plug flats too, allowing you to get $12 off your first flat - that's $1.39 per plant. Enter code April23 at checkout. Happy planting!

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