Gardening for Wildlife: 10 Native Plants You Need in Your Yard this Spring

Wednesday, February 26, 2020
The white stuff is still on the ground, but the birds are starting to sing, and their calls are saying spring is on its way! For many of us, spring means getting our hands dirty and planting beautiful gardens to enjoy for months to come. With the shocking news we received in 2019 of a 29% decline in North American bird populations - heavily due to habitat loss - there is no better time to consider the birds & other wildlife species when planning our gardens. We can create habitat that we have taken away, and promote biodiversity right in our own backyards. We are fortunate in Ontario to have a plethora of native flora available to us to not only make our yards pleasing to the eye, but to create habitat for our wildlife species to thrive in. Why choose native over non-native? Native plants help to stabilize soil, and typically require less water and management in comparison to non-native plants. Native plants know the land. They know our wildlife, and our wildlife knows them. They co-exist with our natural species, rather than compete with them. To celebrate the coming of spring, and help you decide what to grow in your backyard habitat this year, here's our top ten Ontario-native plants you need in your yard this spring.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) feeding on Smooth Oxeye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
Photo by Jen St. Louis Photography
Smooth Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides)
Description: Grows 3-5' tall with stiff green stems. Flower heads are 2" across and a beautiful yellow with raised yellow centers. Earliest sunflower to bloom beginning in June.
Benefits to wildlife: Nectar feeds butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, moths, & other pollinator species. Plant also serves as food for Silvery Checkerspot butterfly caterpillars. From autumn into winter, birds such as blue jays and chickadees feed on the heavily seeded flower heads.
Growing conditions: Full or part sun; sand, loam, clay soil; average moisture

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) on Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Description: Grow up to a metre tall and can bush out in equal width. Clustered flowers with white petals and deep yellow centers, long green leaves covered in fine hairs that give them a "pearly" appearance. Blooms through summer to early autumn.
Benefits to wildlife: Loved by butterflies and used by Painted Lady butterfly as host plant. Plant is also said to help repel some insects considered pests in gardens.
Growing conditions: Full or part sun; sand, sandy loam, gravelly soil; average to dry moisture

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Description: Grows 1-2' tall on arching green stems. Bushy plant that forms in clumps, with bright orange, yellow, or red flowers. Blooms from late spring to late summer.
Benefits to wildlife: Nectar and pollen-rich flowers attract & feed hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other insects. May be used as host plant for Monarch Butterflies.
Growing conditions: Full sun; will grow in any soil type; dry, average moisture
*Note: Does well in Southern Ontario; it is recommended for cooler climates to mulch in the fall to help survive winter

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) Photo from University of Maine
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Description: Grows up to 47" tall, and can spread out equally as wide. Plants form large bright green feather-like leaves (fronds) "the size of ostrich feathers". Blooms in early spring.
Benefits to wildlife: Large leaves produce excellent ground-cover, providing shelter for a variety of wildlife including birds, reptiles & amphibians, and small mammals. Some elements of the plant may also be used by birds as nesting material.
Growing conditions: Shade tolerant, but will grow in part sun; any soil type; average to high moisture
*Note: In early spring, the tops of Ostrich Ferns known as fiddleheads, can be harvested for human consumption. Yum!

Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina)
Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina)
Description: Grows nearly 3' tall. Compact plant with thorny stems, and fragrant pink blooms with vibrant yellow center. Blooms in early summer.
Benefits to wildlife: Blooms attract and feed pollinator species such as butterflies & bees. In the fall, nutrient-rich rosehips serve as food for fruit-eating birds like Cedar Waxwings, and some mammal species.
Growing conditions: Full sun or part shade; any soil type; average to high moisture

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Description: Grows up to 2' tall on thin green stems. Bell-like flowers are typically nodding, and a striking combination of red/pink and yellow in colour. Blooms early spring.
Benefits to wildlife: Nectar and pollen-rich flowers provide an early spring food source for hungry hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
Growing conditions: Full or part sun, also shade tolerant; sand, loam, rocky soil; dry to average moisture

Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Description: Grows 5'+ tall on solitary green stems. Flower heads are small and arranged in loose, elongated clusters. Blooms around the same time as look-alike ragweed, and is often mistaken as such by allergy sufferers, though goldenrod does not cause seasonal allergies.
Benefits to wildlife: Vital food source for bees and butterflies, particularly in late summer and early fall when food sources may be hard to come by.
Growing conditions: Part shade, full sun; clay, loam, sandy soil; dry to high moisture

Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus)
Description: Grows to 5' tall, and can spread from 6'-12' wide forming a large patch. Canes are hollow and thornless, with large pinkish-purple flowers with light yellow centers. Fruit is red to purple and rounded.
Benefits to wildlife: Flowers are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators, and their hollow stems provide nesting sites for our native bees who nest in cavities (30% of our native species!). The raspberries produced are a highly valuable food source to a variety of birds, mammals, and insects.
Growing conditions: Sun, part shade, full shade; sand, loam, gravelly soil; high moisture

Swallowtail Butterfly on Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) Photo from
Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Description: Grows to 6' tall on unbranched green stems. Flowers are densely-clustered, small, and white, formed in the shape of spikes. Blooms from spring to summer.
Benefits to wildlife: A favourite of many pollinator species such as bumblebees, mason bees, moths, and butterflies. Provides excellent shelter for many wildlife species thanks to its height.
Growing conditions: Sun, light shade; loam, rich soil; average to high moisture

Bumblebee on Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Description: Grows up to 4' tall on thin, green, open-branched stems. Flowers are tubular and boast a light purple-pink colour. Blooms throughout the summer months.
Benefits to wildlife: A favoured food source of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and attractive to many other pollinator species. Known to be deer resistant.
Growing conditions: Full or part sun; sand, loam, clay soil; average to dry moisture
*Note: Wild Bergamot is prone to mildew, but will not harm the plant.

Certify your yard as wildlife-friendly!
The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Garden Habitat Certification recognizes those who make their home, school, business or community gardens suitable for wildlife by certifying their outdoor space as a “Wildlife-friendly Habitat”. Certified gardens raise awareness, inspire others with examples and are added to an online map that shows our collective impact across the country. No matter your location, level of experience, garden style or budget, your garden can be beautiful and beneficial for wildlife. Those who certify are eligible to purchase an exclusive sign for their garden and will be among the first to learn about new garden content and opportunities from CWF. Learn more here.

Want to learn more? Check out the Canadian Wildlife Federation's Native Plant Encyclopedia for a wealth of information about our native flora. However big or small your space, remember that a little can go a long way for our wildlife!

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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