Six easy steps to planting a wildlife-friendly garden

It’s that time again – planting season! So, as you start thinking about what plants you want to bring your garden to life, consider native plants.

That means plant species that have been living and growing in your region for thousands of years — they’re adapted to your local conditions and have deep co-evolutionary relationships with wildlife, including pollinators.

And this year, if you live in southern Ontario and southern Quebec, it’s easier than ever to find locally grown and ethically sourced native plants! Our In the Zone program has partnered with Loblaw Companies Ltd. to bring native plants to their garden centres from Windsor to Quebec City.

Read on to see why native plants are so important — and how you can introduce them to your garden or balcony.

Bumblebee at the Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto
Bumblebee at the Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto © Sarah Pietrkiewicz

 

Southern Ontario and southern Quebec are heavily developed with vast urban, industrial, and agricultural areas. That intense human activity has led to stressed and fragmented habitats which are home to a variety of wildlife, including many at-risk species like the snapping turtle, Jefferson salamander, and Western chorus frog.

What You Can Do to Help

Much of the land in this region is privately owned, making large, intact, and connected protected areas difficult to implement. But did you know that your green space — no matter how big or small — can be part of the solution?

Your garden, backyard or balcony can help native wildlife recover and thrive. By including native plants in your green space, you can create living habitats that offer food and shelter to bees, caterpillars, butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

In addition to being crucially important for supporting wildlife, native plants are also beautiful and hardy. And through the wonders of biodiversity, there are native plants that will flourish in a broad range of conditions — from sunny to shady to wet.

Perfect pairings include:

  • New England Aster and Canada Goldenrod are an iconic pairing and make a great choice for sunny gardens.
  • Plantain-leaved Sedge and Wild Columbine are wonderful options if your green space is shaded.
  • Joe-Pye and Blue Flag Iris can be part of your garden palate if your garden gets very wet.

 

Platebande d’immeuble aménagée
Landscaped condo beds © Ryan Godfrey

Whether you’re a gardening novice or a green thumb looking to try new species, you might be wondering, “How do I care for native plants?”

Don’t worry, here are some tips to keep in mind as you create your wildlife-friendly garden:

  1. Get to know the plants, including their names. Use field guides and online resources like iNaturalist to learn about the native plants that grow near you. You can practice every time you go for a walk!
  2. Match your garden to a wild spot nearby with similar conditions — the native plants that grow in your reference spot will likely do well in your garden, too.
  3. Start with a broad range of species in a test plot, observe what does well and what doesn’t, learn from your observations, and build your knowledge year after year. Try, fail, learn, and try again!
  4. Plan for seasons and succession because timing is everything. Continuous blooming is a great way to attract pollinators.
  5. Think of your garden as a habitat that includes people. What role will humans play? What harvest can you reap? And how will you pay that back in gratitude? Don’t just watch, get involved!
  6. Grow it to know it. Recognize that much of what you have to learn can only be achieved through hands-on experience, and there’s no better time to start than right… now.

And don’t forget about trees!

Planting a native oak, for instance, builds habitat for hundreds of species of insects, birds and mammals while sequestering carbon, cooling the air, stabilizing the soil, helping manage water runoff, and literally transforming a landscape.

By growing native plants in gardens at home, in parks, along our streets and throughout our communities, together we can grow Canada’s biggest wildlife garden.