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Native Landscaping

Native landscaping can mean a number of things to different people, but generally refers to the use of plants that are native to a particular area such as Durham Region or more broadly to southern Ontario. By "native" we mean those plants that were growing in the region before European settlement. Many people would be surprised by the number of plants that now thrive here that did not originally grow in Ontario.

Due to extensive changes in our local environment resulting from residential and industrial development, agriculture, and introductions of non-native species, some plants that were common in the past are rarely seen these days. By using plants in your garden that are native to the area, you are providing food and habitat for native wildlife.

Native Landscaping
Large-flowered Bellwort Photo: S. Pernanen
Native Landscaping
Spotted Joe-Pye Weed Photo: S. Pernanen

With this in mind, the native plant gardener would, ideally, not use pesticides if insects are observed feeding in their flower garden. See the photo of Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (left) as an example of insect use (note the holes in the leaves). In fact, certain butterflies have very specific feeding requirements for their larval stages. For example, the extirpated (that is, extinct in Canada, but still found in the US) Karner Blue butterfly larvae only feed on native Wild Lupine plants.

Growing native plants also provides many benefits to the gardener:

  • Once established and if placed in appropriate locations, native plants generally do not need to be watered except in the worst droughts
  • Native plants do not need artificial fertilizers, although some will benefit from compost/mulch applications
  • Because native plants have evolved to the local conditions, they are usually easier to grow than non-natives
  • The flowers and foliage of many species are quite beautiful

Although native plants are not available as widely as common, non-native species, the number of commercial growers of native plants has been increasing steadily. Please ensure that the nursery/grower follows ethical guidelines, that is, the plants have not been collected from the wild, except under certain circumstances such as a salvage operation where an area is being developed. The Ontario Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration publishes a Native Plant Resource Guide that lists most native plant growers in Ontario. There is a small fee for this guide.

There are native plants suitable for all the possible conditions found in your yard. Some of the nurseries provide lists of habitat requirements for the native species that they sell, for example, whether they do well in sunny or shady locations. Other sources of information about native plants are wildflower field guides, such as Wildflowers of Ontario (a Royal Ontario Museum publication), Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and the Peterson series A Field Guide to Wildflowers to name just a few.

Native Landscaping
Blueflag Photo: S. Pernanen
Additional Resources
Native Landscaping
Harebell Photo: S. Pernanen

North American Native Plant Society

Evergreen Home Grounds

Wild About Gardening

Sources of Native Plants in southern Ontario

Backyard Habitats from Canadian Wildlife Federation

Ontario Nature Website


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