Abundance is an important population state variable for monitoring restoration progress. Efficient sampling often proves difficult, however, when populations are sparse and patchily distributed, such as early after restoration planting. Adaptive cluster sampling (ACS) can help by concentrating search effort in high density areas, improving the encounter rate and the ability to detect a population change over time. To illustrate the problem, I determined conventional design sample sizes for estimating abundance of 12 natural populations and 24 recently planted populations (divided among two preserves) of Lupinus perennis L. (wild blue lupine). I then determined the variance efficiency of ACS relative to simple random sampling at fixed effort and cost for 10 additional planted populations in two habitats (field vs. shrubland). Conventional design sample sizes to estimate lupine stem density with 10% or 20% margins of error were many times greater than initial sample size and would require sampling at least 90% of the study area. Differences in effort requirements were negligible for the two preserves and natural versus planted populations. At fixed sample size, ACS equaled or outperformed simple random sampling in 40% of populations; this shifted to 50% after correcting for travel time among sample units. ACS appeared to be a better strategy for inter-seeded shrubland habitat than for planted field habitat. Restoration monitoring programs should consider adaptive sampling designs, especially when reliable abundance estimation under conventional designs proves elusive.