Trees Please Hamilton

Green Solutions to Air Pollution

Everything you need to know about gardening with native plants

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Master gardeners and botanists Charlie Briggs and Bev Wagar delivered an informative and practical presentation at last Tuesday’s workshop, showing us how it is easy and necessary to change the norm and garden with native plants.

We need to go beyond the old style of gardening purely for aesthetics; taking plants from around the globe, highly cultivating them, with no thought for the existing ecosystem.  This starts with a better understanding of the ecosystem, its components, and how we influence it.


In Hamilton, we live in the Carolinian zone, and the second most diverse forest region in Canada, with 73 distinct tree species and many different perennials and annuals.  Why do we need to plant native plants?  These species have co-evolved with our fauna, with the proper food and life cycle support for our wildlife and pollinators.  With the habitat destruction and degradation in the city, our urban gardens become safe havens.  By planting native plants and feeding our caterpillars and pollinators, we also protect our birds, and help create a healthy soil environment.  Urban gardens offer safe havens for pollinators; as there is a pesticide ban outside of farming areas in Ontario, our gardens should be pesticide- and herbicide-free.  Urban areas also have extended bloom growing seasons because of the city heat effects.  Along the needed culture shift and changing perception towards a typical manicured garden, we need to remember that leaves being eaten by caterpillars is a good sign, indicating that our plants are being visited!  Here are some plants you can include to cater to particular butterflies throughout their life cycles:


Consider this: Red Oaks are mighty, playing host to over 500 of species of insects.  Non-natives, like Forsythia and Weigela, may only host one or two in our area.  Gingko biloba, a living fossil tree, has zero associations after its only ones have long since gone extinct, yet this is a commonly planted street tree in Hamilton.

Native plants are simply better for our pollinators.  They are also hardier in this region, and there are plenty of varieties from which to select a beautiful garden.  However, contrary to common misconceptions, not all natives are drought tolerant or maintenance-free, nor are they all aggressive or “invasive”!  Find the species that work in your garden.


Before planning a new garden, observe the sun and shade patterns, map out the wet and dry areas, and note the soil conditions.  Most importantly, figure out your needs and what is important to you!  Create a garden with deep borders, at least 4 feet, to allow for a full range of growth.  Begin with the trees and shrubs before filling in with flowers of all shapes and sizes.  Choose carefully to ensure something is blooming at all times, and that the plants will be suitable in your garden’s conditions.  Plot your choices on a design chart, making sure you have at least one species from each category, ex:


Plant in curves, creating destinations, and remember to incorporate weeding access, such as stepping stones.  Keep a photo record so you can observe the progress, and remember that a garden is never finished!


Get certified and proudly display your pollinator sign in your yard, letting your neighbours know that your garden is more than just gorgeous.  Enter your beloved garden into year’s Monarch Awards competition, joining the ranks of the most beautiful and beneficial pollinator paradises across the city.


You can see last Tuesday’s presentation here, along with a spreadsheet of favourite native plants for the Hamilton area.  Huge thanks to Charlie and Bev for their brilliance!


Author: treespleasehamilton

A project of the Hamilton Naturalists' Club and Environment Hamilton. Funding by Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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