By Cindy Weiner, Butte County Master Gardener, September 11, 2015.
While it's certainly possible to start native perennials, shrubs and trees from seed, most people buy plants that are growing in pots to transplant to the yard.
By far the best time for planting natives is mid- September through late winter. The weather is cool and nature helps with irrigation. The roots have time to grow before the weather turns hot again. If the soil is very soggy, let it dry out a little before planting. Spring can also be an acceptable time for planting although you'll need to pay close attention to the plant's water needs. It is possible to plant during the summer, but expect many plants to be lost to the heat. The roots will be unable to satisfy the plant's water needs.
Howard McMinn Manzanita by C. Weiner
Most natives are adapted to well-drained soils with little nitrogen. In fact, some natives cannot tolerate nitrogen-rich soils. Generally, no amendments are necessary except to improve drainage. If your soil is very heavy, choose natives that are adapted to clay soils or dig in some ordinary topsoil to form mounded areas that will drain better. Organic amendments like compost may be necessary if you are planting in a new development where the topsoil has been removed by grading.
Unfortunately, native plants are just as susceptible as non-native ornamentals to damage from pocket gophers. If you have gophers in your yard, consider planting in wire baskets that protect the roots until your plant is established.
Dig a planting hole that's twice the diameter and the same depth as the pot. Carefully remove the plant from the pot, keeping the root ball intact. Many natives have delicate roots. Avoid disturbing them except to straighten out encircling roots. Gently tease out any matted root fibers on the bottom. Add water to the hole and let it drain. Set the plant in the hole to check for depth, and add or remove soil as necessary. Set the plant back in the hole and fill with native soil, carefully pressing the soil with your hands to remove air pockets. Add more water when the hole is about half filled and then add more soil to the top. Firm the top with your hands. Make sure the crown of the plant is about one-quarter of an inch above the ground and that the ground slopes slightly away from the plant. Rain should drain away and not collect around the crown. If water pools around the crown it may cause the plant to rot. Water the plant thoroughly; making sure the root ball is moist.
California Fuschia by C. Weiner
Mulching the planted area will help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch, keeping it 6 inches away from the base of the plant. If you are using organic mulch (such as bark), it will need to be renewed periodically as it breaks down.
Paying careful attention to the planting process will give your native plants a good start.