Drought-busting Tips From The Australian Native Plants Society

Tips from the Australian Native Plants Society (formerly ASGAP)

Navigating the first year can be tough for seedlings, especially if we have a dry spring and summer. These easy hints will help you give your trees the best chance at growing into a wonderful natural haven for wildlife and an oxygen factory for the planet.

Selecting The Plants

Plants grow best in soils they are suited to, so it is critical to find out not only what the local plants in your area are, but where they grow best. This includes determining soil type, aspect and position; for instance, some may grow better in swampy areas, others preferring better draininage found on the tops of hills and either a sunny or shaded site.

Healthy growing plants tolerate adverse conditions better than those that are struggling.

Seek advice from your local council or local native nursery or find your local branch of the Australian Plants Society, Bushcare, Greening Australia or Landcare group for trees suitable for your local area, position and soil.

And finally, remember to include shrubs and small plants because these understorey plants are really important for food and shelter for native animals.

Preparing The Site

  • Clear the weeds. Weeds compete with your plants for water and nutrients. Dig them out gently by the roots. Wherever possible, add weeds to your mulch (remove those that seed readily, like onion weed and moth vine). Make sure you only remove plants that are weeds! If in doubt, do not remove any plant that you cannot identify as a weed. Ask your local Bushcare Officer or Environment Officer at your local council.

Planting The Trees

  • Before planting, soak the seedlings in their containers in a tray of water
  • Fill the hole with water (before the plant goes in) and allow to drain
  • Trim any roots protruding from the bottom of the plant container. If you have to do this, also tip prune the plant to reduce stress and dehydration.
  • Shape the soil surface to make a shallow depression 3cm around the plant. This will collect water from rain and hand watering. The depression should hold at least half a bucket of water.
  • Water in gently, up to half a bucket per plant depending on soil dampness. Apply water upslope from the plant, not directly onto the root area.
  • Check that roots are not exposed to watering. Add more topsoil if necessary.
  • Mulch lightly around the plant to conserve soil moisture. Suppress weeds that may compete with the plant for water. Use dead leaves, compost or contact your local council for supply. Avoid heaping mulch against the plant as this can bring on stem rot and insect attack.

Maintaining The Trees

  • Monitor the new plantings for wilting. In sandy or loamy soil, you may need water at least once a week - half a bucket of water or more. In hot weather, water every 2-3 days for the first month until the plants are established.
  • In clay soil, water less frequently - once every week to 10 days for the first month.
  • Water early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce evaporation.
  • Less frequent deep soaking is better than more frequent light watering. A good soak encourages plants to develop strong, deep roots, which eventually reach the watertable. Shallow, light watering encourages roots to grow towards the surface, leaving them vulnerable to wind and dry periods.
  • In clay soil, be careful not to overwater. Clay soil traps moisture and too much water will cause roots to rot.
  • It is best not to stake plants. Staking can alter growth shape and encourage smaller root systems. When you have to stake a tree, use three stakes and soft material like an old stocking, forming a triangle. Remove the stake as soon as the plant will stand upright on its own.
  • Surround the plant with a milk carton with the bottom cut out or a plastic guard held in place by 3 small stakes. This will create a humid atmosphere around the plant.

For more planting tips visit our How To Plant page


Kidd, R. 2001, Coastal Dune Management. A Manual of Coastal Dune Management and Rehabilitation Techniques, Newcastle: NSW Department of Land & Water Conservation, Coastal Unit [The planting and maintenance sections of this leaflet draw heavily on p. 87 of this book.]

Bradley, J. 1991 Bringing Back the Bush. The Bradley method of bush regeneration, Sydney: Ure Smith [Weeds: p 15]

Buchanan, R 1989, Bush Regeneration: Recovering Australian Landscapes, Sydney: NSW Technical & Further Education Commission, Open Training & Education Network [Site preparation, planting techniques: pp86-88]

Getting Started (Leaflet produced by APS Central Coast Group)