Written by Kim Smerek

Native plants have a reputation for being too plain for the garden. Not true! Some of our prettiest trees, bushes, vines and wildflowers grow right here in Southern Ontario. More people than ever are using environmentally responsible practices and planting native gardens.  

Benefits of Planting a Native Garden
• Native gardens protect local ecosystems. Cross pollination of hybrids or exotics with native plants can have detrimental effects on local habitats. 

• Native plants are adapted to the local climate; rainfall, fluctuating temperature patterns of spring and fall. Some non-native plants that originate in climates with longer growing seasons i.e. Europe & Japan seem to struggle with Ontario's spring and autumn climates.

• Some native plants have a high resistance to insects, disease and drought. 

• Many natives provide habitat for wildlife, attract pollinators, bees, birds and butterflies. 

In order to give any plant the best opportunity to thrive to its fullest, we need to consider a few conditions like light, moisture and soil type. We can never perfectly replicate conditions in the wild and  the proximity of lawns, buildings, and other conditions in our gardens will affect native plant growth. Here's a list of a few native plants and what they need to best thrive. 

Native Trees 

Pagoda Dogwood – Does well in part shade. Will tolerate full sun if the soil stays moist and cool. Not a large tree, it can grow to 20 feet, but it will take its time as it's a slow grower. 

Highbush Cranberry Viburnum- Highbush cranberries can thrive in a wide variety of conditions. They will do well in almost any soil and both full sun or partial shade but will do the best in moist well-drained locations and will provide maximum yields in full sun. Often used in landscaping because of its attractive white spring flower and red fall foliage. Grows to 10 feet. 

Kentucky Coffee Tree – Kentucky coffee tree has the largest leaf of any native tree. Twigs are very thick and stout. Its tolerance to pollution and a wide range of soils makes it a suitable tree for urban environments. This tree bears leathery, reddish-brown seed pods that add winter interest to our Southern Ontario landscape. It grows up to 25 m tall and prefers sun and deep, rich, moist to moderately dry soil.

Native Vines 

Virginia Creeper - A vigorous and fast growing vine, Virginia creeper is an outstanding plant for nearly any soil and light situation. Growing a Virginia creeper vine provides a nearly carefree addition to the landscape. Virginia creeper maintenance is limited to light pruning and tying up. 

Native Wildflowers 

Black-eyed Susan – With their bright yellow petals and dark centre disks, Black-Eyed Susans  (Rudbeckia) love the sun, and prefer a well-drained soil. They can tolerate some drought and are very attractive to the bees, flies, butterflies, and beetles that feed on its nectar and pollen. They can grow from 1-3 feet tall. 

Bee Balm– With its beautiful blooms of red, pink, purple or white—not to mention the fragrant foliage, Bee balm is a great addition to a pollinator garden. The flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees; and the seed heads will attract birds in the fall and winter. Given its height (2-4 feet), bee balm makes for an excellent background plant in a pollinator garden. It loves full sun.    

Echinacea– Also known as Purple Coneflower, this native is really not fussy and is adaptable to most garden conditions as long as they get at least 5 hours of full sun a day. It's flowers are long-lasting and very popular with both bees and butterflies. 

Butterfly Weed– Like its name suggests, Butterfly Weed (Asclepias) is loved by all pollinators, and not only butterflies! The more sun the better for this native. Very hardy and drought-tolerant. Grows to about 2 feet high, and is low-maintenance. 

If you long for a vibrant garden full of all sorts of different plants, but don’t have a ton of spare time to devote to regular maintenance, consider planting a garden full of Ontario native plants! You’ll love the colour and fragrance they bring to your garden—and the local wildlife will thank you too!