Native Plants

Why use native plants?

Native plants are those that naturally grow in an area, as opposed to those that have been brought from somewhere else. There are many reasons why these plants are a great option for your garden:

  • Better resources for local wildlife. Because native plants evolved alongside local insects and animals, these plants are more likely to be used for shelter and food by these creatures than non-native plants. This means that your garden will better support local ecosystems. [1]
  • More adapted to local conditions. Similarly, these plants have evolved to survive in your local climate. This will mean they need less watering, which will save you time and money as well as helping to preserve this important resource. [1]
  • Prevents the introduction of invasive species. Invasive species are non-native species that out-compete native species, allowing them to overtake natural areas. This can pose a threat to endangered native species, and even once the invasive species is removed, native plant growth may still be inhibited by chemicals it released into the soil. By planting only native plants, you eliminate the risk of accidently introducing a new invasive species. [2]

How to plant a native garden

1. Consider your site

First, take a look at your site and its conditions. Is it a large space or a small space? How much sun does it get? How wet is the soil? Take note of these characteristics and anything else you think might be important.

2. Determine what plants to use

Now that you've determined the growing conditions of your site, use them and your location to decide what types of plants are the best fit for your site. Below is a table of wildflowers native to Southern Ontario organized by water and sun needs, but for other regions you can consult this guide (reference 2 below) for other parts of Ontario, or this site for the rest of North America, excluding Mexico. You can also check with your local conservation authority for a list of plants.

Table of native plants by sun and water needs [1][3]
Full Sun Part Sun Full Shade
Dry soil Wildflowers:
Pearly Everlasting
Butterfly Milkweed
Smooth Aster
Sky Blue Aster
Pale Purple Coneflower
Longleaf Bluets
Wild Bergamot
Evening Primrose
Hairy Beardtongue
Virginia Mountain Mint
Black-eyed Susan
Heath Aster
Hoary Vervain
Big Bluestem
Sideoats Grama
Red Oak
Canada wild rye
Switch grass
Little bluestem
Heath aster
Wild strawberry
Common evening-primrose
Foxglove beard-tongue
Hairy beard-tongue
Virginia mountain-mint
Gray goldenrod
Not commonly found
Moist soil Wildflowers:
Wild Strawberry
Sweet Ox-eye
Dense Blazing Star
Foxglove Beardtongue
New England Aster
Common Milkweed
Little Bluestem
Kalm’s Brome
Virginia Wild Rye
Switch Grass
Indian Grass
Bottlebrush Grass
Staghorn Sumac
White Birch
White Ash
Eastern White Pine
Fringed Brome
Canada Wild Rye
Wild Red Raspberry
Tulip Tree
White Spruce
American Bittersweet
Running Strawberry Bush
White Baneberry
Poke Milkweed
White Snakeroot
Large-leaved Aster
Canada Mayflower
Hairy Solomon’s Seal
Heart-leaved Aster
Purple Flowering Raspberry
Maple-leaved Viburnum
Sugar Maple
Wet soil Wildflowers:
Swamp Milkweed
White Turtlehead
Spotted Joe-Pye-Weed
Blue-eyed Grass
Ohio Goldenrod
Blue Vervain
Tall Ironweed
Canada Bluejoint
Bebb’s Sedge
Porcupine Sedge
Fox Sedge
Riverbank Wild Rye
Hard-stem Bulrush
Soft-stem Bulrush
Prairie Cordgrass
Red Osier Dogwood
Highbush Cranberry
Butternut Walnut
Black Walnut
Eastern Cottonwood
Largetooth Aspen
Swamp White Oak
Bur Oak
Pin Oak
Spotted St. Johnswort
Michigan Lily
Cardinal Flower
Great Lobelia
Bee Balm
Green-headed Coneflower
Rough-leaved Goldenrod
Tall Meadow Rue
Dutchman’s Breeches
Hop Sedge
Silky Dogwood
Common Elderberry
Red Maple
Silver Maple
Bitternut Hickory
Black Maple
Red Ash
Eastern Hemlock

Once you have your list of species, you can start collecting your plants.

3. Obtain plants

There are two main ways to start a wildflower garden: from seed or from living plants. Which you choose will depend on the size of your site and the amount of time and money you're willing to spend.

Planting from seed:

Planting native pants from seed is usually the cheapest option, and may even be free. It is also often an easy option, especially for larger sites. However, it may take a while before you are able to enjoy your garden.

The cheapest way to obtain wildflower seeds is to collect them yourself. Find a local area with native plants, such as a park or a friend's property, and use a field guide to identify and collect seeds from the native species you chose. It's important that you only collect a small amount of seeds from each plant so they can reseed themselves in this area. Because of this restriction, this method is probably only a good idea for planting smaller areas. It is also time-consuming, especially because not all flowers go to seed at the same time, which means you will need to visit multiple times to collect seeds from different species.

The other option for seeds is to buy them. This is a much more time-efficient option than collecting them, but care must still be taken. "Wildflower" seed packets from the grocery store may seem convenient but often contain many non-native plants or cultivated varieties that are not found naturally. For best results, seeds should be bought from a local native plant nursery, which will ensure they are actually native to your area. You can purchase seeds for individual species, or you may be able to buy a mix for common species you can simply spread across your site. [1]

Planting living plants:

While more expensive, this option will give you a beautiful garden very quickly. It is also a good option if you are looking to plant shrubs and trees, or if you just want to add a few native plants to an existing garden.

Unlike with seeds, pulling live plants from the environment is usually not a good idea. It disturbs the existing habitat created by the plants, which means your native plant garden will actually be hurting the environment. Instead they should be bought from a native plant nursery to ensure they have been grown sustainably. [1]

4. Plant your garden

Now that you have your plants or seeds, the final step is to actually plant your garden. Starting in the spring, clear out any non-native species from your site. This will prevent them from competing with your native plants. After this, you can begin to plant your plants. For seeds, scatter them across your site and cover with soil, following the package instructions. For live plants, first determine where you would like each plant to be, keeping in mind the full size of each plant, then get to work digging holes and planting. [1]

5. Care for your garden

Once you have everything planted, care is relatively easy. Since they are native plants, they will likely not need any fertilizer or pesticides. They will need some watering periodically to help them start their growth, but after the first year they should only need watering in cases of drought. It is important, however, to continue to remove non-native plants, to ensure the native plants have the resources they need to grow. [1]

6. Enjoy your garden!

Now that your garden is planted, you can enjoy the beauty of your native wildflowers and the wildlife they attract!


1. Delaney, K., Rodger, L., Woodliffe, P. A., Rhynard, G., & Morris, P. (2000). Planting the seed: A guide to establishing prairie and meadow communities in southern Ontario. Environment Canada.

2. Sun, Y., & Junod, A. (2017). Invasive plants differ from native plants in their impact on native communities. Journal of Vegetation Science, 28(6), 1250-1259.

3. Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. (2007). A guide to celebrate Niagara peninsula's native plants.