Native plants for your garden
Great blanket-flower (Photo by Elizabeth Ouimet, CC BY-NC 4.0)
Beautify your garden and help local biodiversity with easy-to-grow native plants suggested by our regional experts
From coast to coast, frosty, hard ground is giving way to the green-up unfurling across the country. What better way to welcome the change of seasons than by preparing your planting space so you can look forward to a thriving garden? Whether you’re starting from scratch or expanding your gardening efforts, adding easy-to-grow native plants not only beautifies your yard or balcony, it also benefits your local ecosystem. Gardening is also a great opportunity to breathe in fresh air, move your body, focus on the physical environment and even see some wildlife. Before you plant, ask your local native plant nursery or regional native plant society for guidance on whether your plant choices are truly local to you.
Winter currant (BC)
Winter currant is a deciduous shrub that does best in moist, well-drained soil. Native to BC’s south coast, this plant thrives in a sunny spot, but does tolerate some shade. Its drooping clusters of pink flowers attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds and bees. The plant produces edible blue-black berries that are great for jams, syrups and pies.
Canada buffaloberry (Photo by Richard Staniforth, CC BY-NC 4.0)
Canadian buffaloberry (AB, BC, MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, QC, SK, YT)
Canadian buffaloberry is a native deciduous shrub found throughout North America, including the boreal forest, aspen parkland foothills and grassland regions. This hardy, medium-sized shrub (1–3 metres tall) will tolerate poor soil conditions. It produces attractive, edible — though bitter — red fruit, which is also a food source for small mammals and birds.
Canada anemone (AB, BC, MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK)
Canada anemone is a low-maintenance perennial forb that produces cup-shaped white flowers. It grows in cool and humid woodlands and cool moist prairies, but can tolerate a variety of other types of soils. It makes a nice ground cover on its own or among milkweeds and between shrubs, but can spread in gardens and create full ground cover. Canada anemone attracts bees and other pollinators, as well as predatory wasps, which control common insect pests.
Ostrich fern (Photo by Alain Maire, CC BY-NC 4.0)
Ostrich fern (AB, BC, MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT)
Ostrich fern does best in moist, relatively rich sites, full sun or full shade, but may spread aggressively. This plant will grow under the dense, maple-heavy canopies of urban backyards or in rain gardens. It can be planted as borders by streams or ponds. Young fronds can be harvested and eaten, if cooked properly, before they unfurl; the taste is comparable to asparagus
Great blanket-flower (AB, BC, MB, SK)
In the mixed grassland region, great blanket-flower is a herbaceous perennial that tolerates well-drained, nutrient-poor soil. It blooms all summer, with flowers that last a long time. It is easy to find the native variety (as seeds and plants) in local nurseries. Both bees and butterflies (and other pollinators) use this plant. The entire plant is covered in fuzzy hairs, which can be an irritant for some people.
White turtlehead (Photo by charliedesgagne, CC BY-NC 4.0)
White turtlehead (MB, NB, NL, NS, ON, PE, QC)
White turtlehead is found in wet locations in the wild, but adapts well to average garden soils if kept watered. The species grows in partial sun, and moist to wet gardens, and blooms from late summer to fall. Plants divide and transplant readily, and once established are virtually troublefree. They are a good late-season nectar source for pollinators and the primary host plant for Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.
Choke cherry (AB, BC, MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, ON, PE, QC, SK)
Choke cherry is a shrub that can grow up to six metres tall. It produces clusters of red cherries that are very sour but edible. Choke cherry does best in rich, well-drained soil and can grow under light shade to full sun. The fruits are a preferred food source for a variety of birds, including pileated woodpecker, eastern bluebird and cedar waxwing. Mammals, such as red fox, skunk and chipmunk, may also browse the twigs and buds for food. This plant is resistant to salt and can be planted along shorelines or roadsides.
Oblong-leaf serviceberry (NB, NS, PE, QC)
Oblong-leaf serviceberry, also known as chuckleberry, is a deciduous shrub with edible dark-purple berries. It’s an excellent early flower for pollinators. Many bird species feed on its berries, as they are an important food source before migration. This shrub grows well in a variety of conditions and is resistant to air pollution.
Best time to get plants in the ground
A general rule of thumb is to wait until after the last frost to plant native flowers and grasses. In some parts of the country, this can be as early as April, while in other areas it may be late May. If you’re starting from seed, some native species require a cold–moist stratification (when seeds go through a period of cold temperatures) to break the seed’s dormancy. You can mimic these conditions at home using moist, sterile substrate (such as perlite) in a sealed bag in the refrigerator (ideally a few weeks before the last frost).
This story originally appeared in the spring 2022 issue of the Nature Conservancy of Canada Magazine.
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