WHAT ARE NATIVE PLANTS?
They are wildflowers, grasses, ferns, vines, shrubs and trees growing here before European settlers arrived with seeds from ‘home’. Native plants are the plants native birds, bees and other pollinators generally prefer and ‘fit’ in our local ecosystem.
WHY HAVE A NATIVE PLANT GARDEN?
Native plants provide places for wildlife to nest, reproduce and overwinter to thrive in our city.
Native plants attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
Native plants provide a more interesting landscape.
Native plants support a healthier quieter cleaner environment.
Native plants support Toronto’s Biodiversity Strategy.
Native Plants support Toronto’s Pollinator Protection Strategy.
Native Plants help reduce climate change.
WHY REPLACE YOUR LAWN WITH NATIVE PLANTS?
Lawns are a monoculture. Highly maintained lawns are net carbon emitters because of their need for chemical fertilizers and the use of gas powered mowers, trimmers, leaf blowers.
Since lawns produce no seeds, nectar, or fruit, few creatures use them as habitat.
Lawns displace green space that could be used instead for native plants including shade-producing trees.
Lawns require frequent watering.
SUGGESTED PLANTS FOR STARTING A NATIVE-PLANT GARDEN
Start with easy to grow plants like bee balm, black-eyed Susan, butterfly milkweed, evening primrose, prairie smoke, wild geranium or one of the wild roses. These will grow almost anywhere except in full shade.
For shady areas, try Virginia bluebells, Dutchman’s breeches, false Solomon’s seal, foamflower, mayapple and wild ginger. Native ferns and some sedges are great too.
Small native trees for city gardens include Canada plum, pin cherry and pagoda (or alternate-leaf) dogwood. Shrubs include red osier dogwood, nannyberry and serviceberry.
WHERE TO PLANT THEM?
In any garden, even among your non-natives.
Dig up some lawn and or shrink hard surfacing and create a new native plant bed.
Look any space where there is an opportunity to locate native plants. In containers on your balcony or patio.
Take care that the plants selected grow in the selected location’s conditions: light, moisture and soil type.
HOW TO ATTRACT BIRDS, BEES AND BUTTERFLIES
Look for opportunities on your property to grow native plants
Transition your conventional landscape to a natural one or completely changeover one season by replacing non-native plants with native ones
Consider replacing parts of or all of yours with native grasses, sedges and or other native plants.
Let twigs, grass clippings and leaves remain in flower beds to decompose into nutrient rich compost which also deters weeds, helps retain soil moisture and reduces watering needs. It also protects beneficial insects living on the ground or below it.
Never blow leaves out of flower beds. If you have a gardener, instruct them not to do so either. (see also link to LPRO Newsletter July 8/20 Leaf Blowers, Pollution, and COVID-19): lpro-e-newsletter-july-8-2020
Keep leaf blowers off your property. Their hot exhaust and GHG emissions blasted at 200 mph kill beneficial insects, remove valuable organic matter and disturb wildlife.
Reduce lawn area with native herbaceous plants, grasses, sedges and shrubs and trees.
ABOUT NATIVE PLANT SOURCES
Most plants sold in commercial garden centers sell non-native plants that attract much fewer pollinators than native ones. Although most commercial nurseries have historically carried very few native plants this is changing.
Visit the North American Native Plant Society (NANPS)’s website for native plant growers selling plants: http://nanps.org/commercial-growers/
WWF-Canada has partnered with Loblaw to source native plants for 35 of Loblaws’ Garden Centers across southern Ontario.
Sustainable Gardening Information Sources:
TRCA, HOME AND GARDEN https://trca.ca/get-involved/home-garden/#resources
Healthy Yards Program: Pollinator Protection Strategy https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/water-environment/environmentally-friendly-city-initiatives/reports-plans-policies-research/draft-pollinator-strategy/
Tips to Create a Pollinator-Friendly Garden: Wild About Bees: What you can do to help native pollinators.
THE ORIGIN OF LAWNS
Just how did society end up infatuated with lawns?
Late 12th and early 13th century – turf grass was used for sports.
In England and Europe they removed trees and created grass-filled areas around castles to make it easier for watchmen to scan for intruders.
“Bowling greens”, the forerunner of current turfgrass lawns, were used for tennis & croquet courts and for putting greens.
By the 16th century, elites had large elaborate formal gardens.
During and after the 16th century, wealthy landowners used much of their grassland for livestock production with the lawns surrounding their homes maintained by servants with hand scythes. Lawns became associated with great wealth.
By 1890 mass production of mechanical mowers made them affordable for the public. Lawns became middle-class status symbols.
For the last few centuries, turf grass lawns have been a status symbol. Industry marketing has convinced the public that lawns are important.
Isn’t it time to disrupt this archaic thinking? Is it time to shift our views and reduce our lawns?
Today, some consider fake grass or “artificial turf” the panacea for the perfect lawn. Requiring no watering, weeding, fertilizer, or maintenance, its acceptance is growing.
According to a 2015 Star poll, asking: “which is best; fake or real turf grass?” 58.56% loved the idea, 24.66% replied No, never and 16.78% said maybe. These results don’t bode well for biodiversity or climate change. From an environmental and sustainability standpoint fake lawns are the least desirable approach but that doesn’t mean we should embrace real grass as it has its downside too.
Artificial turf has serious environmental drawbacks. According to environmental journalist Adria Vasil: Fakin’ it: the pros & cons of artificial lawns
“You can’t get away from the fact that synthetic lawns are made with non-renewable petroleum-derived virgin plastic – not a particularly sustainable material,….. Most are made of polyethylene, polypropylene and/or nylon and backed with polyurethane.” She goes on to enumerate fake grass’s other problems. Rather than the cooling effect turf grass can produce on air, fake grass emanates heat.
Artificial turf is environmentally problematic:
It deprives beneficial insects of habitat;
It cannot perform photosynthesis like grass and other “real” plants and absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen;
There is concern that the earth below fake grass compacts and exerts pressure on natural plant roots that help funnel rainwater underground;
As of 2015 there has been no research on whether crumb-free, fake grass releases any contaminants into water or air;
Most fake grass is manufactured from petroleum derivatives such as polyethylene, polypropylene and/or nylon and backed with polyurethane;
Fake grass could contribute to the heat island effect and this makes our neighbourhoods warmer.
Toronto Public Health’s April 2015 Report, Health Impact Assessment of the Use of Artificial Turf in Toronto” states:
“Some of the major ecosystem benefits provided by natural surfaces include: rainwater entrapment, retention and water recharge; climate regulation; soil building capacity; oxygen generation; carbon sequestration; and absorbing pollutants from the air ….. Natural surfaces also provide a habitat for insects and other organisms. Artificial turf on the other hand, does not have these ecological benefits and provides no organic biodiversity due to its compacted base structure. Artificial turf can also compromise tree development.” and
“… a study done for Upper Canada College when it installed its artificial turf field estimated that the total GHG emissions from the manufacturing, transporting, installing, maintaining and disposing of a 9,000 square meter artificial turf field over a 10-year period would emit 55.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide while the construction and maintenance of a natural grass field of the same size was would remove 16.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide ….The study estimated that 1,861 trees would need to be planted to achieve a 10-year carbon-neutral artificial turf field at this site”
WHAT ABOUT REAL LAWNS?
Real lawns are water intensive and require gas powered mowers, leaf blowers and edgers that emit noxious fumes, GHGs, deafening noise and PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter).
They are also unsustainable. According to Dr. Douglas Tallamy, Chair Dept. of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, U. of Delaware:
“..We have proceeded with garden design …..with no knowledge of the new role our gardens play—and, alas, it shows. All too often the first step in the suburbanization of an area is to bulldoze the plant assemblages native to our neighborhoods and then to replace them with large manicured lawns bordered by a relatively few species of popular ornamentals from other continents. Throughout suburbia, we have decimated the native plant diversity that historically supported our favorite birds and mammals.”
A MORE SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPE
A better solution would be reducing the amount of grass (real or fake) and introducing native plants to attract pollinating birds, bees and butterflies, reduce water consumption, cut GHG emissions and boost biodiversity. The ideal solution would be a 100% naturalized landscape composed entirely of native plants. With unprecedented extreme weather, ice caps melting and wildfires we must do better. See also:
WHAT'S THE LEGAL LIMIT FOR "ARTIFICIAL TURF"?
Toronto’s zoning by-law says that a single family residential lot with a frontage of 6 to 15 metres or a townhouse at least 6 metres wide require a minimum of 50% of the front yard to be landscaping but excluding a permitted driveway or permitted parking pad.
Toronto’s Zoning by-law defines “Landscaping” as:
“an area used for trees, plants, decorative stonework, retaining walls, walkways, or other landscape or architectural elements.”
The city’s website clarifies this:
“Driveways and areas for loading, parking or storing of vehicles are not landscaping. Artificial turf is not acceptable or considered to be soft landscaping and is, therefore, not permitted.” (waiting for clarification)
The above pollinators were photographed in one native plant garden in Lytton Park.