From Lawn to Garden
A lush green lawn … the pride of most homeowners. Turf grass has its uses, but it also has its critics. How much of it do you really need?
Critics says that lawns are virtual ecosystem deserts that require a lot of your time to maintain (mowing, fertilizing, watering, feeding, aerating, overseeding, etc.) and that they offer little in terms of ecosystem benefits.
There's a growing trend to downsize the lawn and create more gardens, especially those that showcase native plants.
If you'd like to explore the notion of downsizing your lawn and instead put in a garden that offers more environmental benefits, this page is for you!
Below are some links to help with the transition from turf to mini-native plant meadow. How far you go is up to you!
A word of caution - check and abide by your local bylaws. And also know that outdated property standards are being challenged throughout the country.
First off, let's clarify what is considered a native plant.
A plant is considered native if it occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. In this watershed, it means prior to European settlement.
Native plants are adapted to the specific local ecosystem, microclimate, soil type, hydrology, and plant community, and have evolved specialized relationships with other species over thousands of years.
Why Plant Native Plants?
Native plants help the environment the most when planted in places that match their growing requirements. They will thrive in the soils, moisture and weather of their region. That means less supplemental watering, which can be wasteful, and pest problems that require toxic chemicals. Native plants also help in managing rainwater runoff and maintain healthy soil as their root systems are deep and keep soil from being compacted.
Where Can I Find or Buy Native Plants?
Try your local garden centre or nursery first. Generally the selection of native plants at garden centres is limited, but if more people start asking for them, they'll start stocking more of them.
This map can help you find places where you can buy native plants. You can even buy them online and have them delivered if you can't find them close to you.
Don't be fooled by advertising: Just because a plant is grown in Canada or Ontario doesn't mean it's native. Remember, a native plant originates from the area you want to plant it in. It has been growing there for hundreds if not thousands of years. You can take a plant from Asia and grow it here too, but that doesn't make it native to our area.
See the section below, Identifying Native versus Non Native: Using Common Name versus Scientific Names, for more information about understanding how to identify native plants.
What is the Eco-Region for the Lake Simcoe watershed?
Knowing what is native also means knowing which area it's native to. If you live in the Lake Simcoe watershed, you are part of the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone and in the Lake Simcoe Rideau Ecoregion (6E).
Identifying Native versus Non Native
Using Common Names versus Scientific Names
Common names for plants and animals are used by local people. Common names may be totally different from one country to another, from one province to another, and even from one county/region to another. Common names change as new people move to an area, or as old common names fall out of favour for one reason or another.
Scientific names, on the other hand, are unique plant and animal names used across the world by scientists and other professionals regardless of the language they speak or write, because scientific names are always Latin or Latinized words. They are standardized, using the same name for the same organism and are always used in published research. Scientific names cannot be changed except by international scientific agreement.
You don't have to be a scientist to use scientific names. Scientific names reduce confusion and make communication much more certain.
If you're unsure of what's native or not, a trusted reference is the Vascular Plants Database of Canada, a free, online database where you can look up plant names and see their distribution. You can look up by both common name and scientific name.
Is There a list of Native Plants I Can Plant?
We've compiled a list of 100 native plants for you to pick from. It's by no means a full list, but it is a starting point.
- Plants that prefer full sun and drier soils
- Plants that prefer part shade and drier to moist soils
- Plants that prefer wetter soils with full sun to part shade
- Alternatives to lawn/grass