Introductions of biocontrol beetles (tamarisk beetles) are causing dieback of exotic tamarisk in riparian zones across the western United States, yet factors that determine plant communities that follow tamarisk dieback are poorly understood. Tamarisk-dominated soils are generally higher in nutrients, organic matter, and salts than nearby soils, and these soil attributes might influence the trajectory of community change. To assess physical and chemical drivers of plant colonization after beetle-induced tamarisk dieback, we conducted separate germination and growth experiments using soil and litter collected beneath defoliated tamarisk trees. Focal species were two common native (red threeawn, sand dropseed) and two common invasive exotic plants (Russian knapweed, downy brome), planted alone and in combination. Nutrient, salinity, wood chip, and litter manipulations examined how tamarisk litter affects the growth of other species in a context of riparian zone management. Tamarisk litter, tamarisk litter leachate, and fertilization with inorganic nutrients increased growth in all species, but the effect was larger on the exotic plants. Salinity of 4 dS m−1 benefitted Russian knapweed, which also showed the largest positive responses to added nutrients. Litter and wood chips generally delayed and decreased germination; however, a thinner layer of wood chips increased growth slightly. Time to germination was lengthened by most treatments for natives, was not affected in exotic Russian knapweed, and was sometimes decreased in downy brome. Because natives showed only small positive responses to litter and fertilization and large negative responses to competition, Russian knapweed and downy brome are likely to perform better than these two native species following tamarisk dieback.