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On the hunt for native plants

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

By Pamela Sleightholm


When I first started searching for native plants to add to my garden it was incredibly challenging to find a) accurate information about what native plants really are, and b) the plants.


We had just finished doing renovations on our house and I had hired a landscape designer to help out with planning the gardens. I let her know that I wanted native plants to attract pollinators and wildlife and the plant list I got back had very few native plants, a few invasive species and a lot of ornamental plants. She worked through a large nursery, so her plant selection was limited to the inventory of the nursery. Needless to say, it was frustrating and two years later, my garden doesn’t look much like that original design.

Nodding onions, Allium cernuum


On my own, I was scouring conventional nurseries with my phone in hand, googling “Is x native to Ontario?” Add in “nativars” (cultivars of native plants found in nurseries) and it gets even more confusing.


Fortunately, there are many resources for native plants in Ontario that I’ve relied on to get native species into my garden:

When it comes to finding native plants, conventional nurseries are increasing their stocks of native plants to meet the rising demand. But remember, “Native to Ontario” is pretty broad, and there are considerable differences between the conditions of Sault Ste. Marie, Mississauga and Windsor – not every “Ontario native plant” will thrive in your area. Some of those plants are still going to benefit our pollinators and wildlife, but not to the same extent as those that were localized.

Various stages of home propagation. All photos by Jeanne McRight, 2021.


So where to find native plants?

  • Become a Blooming Boulevards member and join us at our Second Annual Plant Sale on June 19 and 20, 2021.

  • Select Loblaws garden centres carry “In the Zone” plants branded by the World Wildlife Fund and Carolinian Canada. These are raised by native plant nurseries and distributed to the garden centres.

  • The North American Native Plant Society (NANPS) has online resources and an online sale - orders end on May 21

  • Collect seeds of native plants or order them online to start at home – here’s how to get started. Wildflower Farms in Coldwater, ON is a good source of Ontario native seed, but take care to choose only species locally native to your own area.

  • Search for native plant nurseries in your area. There are a few in Southern Ontario that may make a nice weekend drive.

  • Onplants.ca sells and ships native plants to your home.

  • Choose a native plant nursery that sources its seeds closest to where you live. For example, Native Plants in Claremont and Ontario Native Plants are appropriate sources for the GTA, whereas nurseries in northern or southwestern Ontario are in different ecozones than Mississauga and therefore not ideal.

I found it a pretty steep learning curve when I became a native plant gardener. Fortunately, there are many great resources around and experienced gardeners with plenty of knowledge to share. It’s definitely worth the effort to learn about plants that are native to our area and how they support pollinators, wildlife and the ecosystem. Plus, you’ll find some stunningly beautiful plants to take centre stage in your garden!

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