Creating a native garden


Hi there! I would really like to take the leap and naturalize (as much as possible) my front yard. I would like an organized “garden” look, but am hoping to introduce as many native species as possible. I have no idea how to start. I live in central Etobicoke, and have many large oak trees on the property. We have the originally planted yew/hosta/euonymus shrubs in our front garden. We have a sun/shade mix in the front. The house is West facing. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.


Dear Gardener,

thank you for such a terrific question. You certainly have a marvelous winter project, planning your new naturalized garden for the front of your house. May I reassure you that there is lots of information readily at hand to help you.

The Toronto Master Gardeners have many resources related to native plants and creating a naturalized garden on our website. Across the top of our main webpage is a tab for Native Plants. On this page, you will see a list of resources including Toronto Master Gardener Garden Guides. These guides will give you principles and practices for you to follow when it comes to creating and maintaining your native garden. These guides provide lists of plants that are appropriate for your partly-shady, west facing garden with trees. They give you lists of books and websites for you to read and visit. And they also link you to lists of plant nurseries where you can buy native seedlings and plants.

Gardening with Native Shrubs

Native Plants for Habitat – Native Plants of Interest

Native Plants for Shade

Native Perennials for Shade: Your Living Landscape

Here are some basic suggestions to get started:

  • Start small, and slowly expand your native garden each year. This will give you a chance to experiment with different plants and see how they thrive in your space, and whether you like how they look. It will also give you a sense of your comfort with maintaining a neat, attractive, and organized front garden.
  • My suggestion is to not remove your lawn from the space you want to naturalize. Turn the grass under (flip it up-side-down) so that you do not lose organic matter from your garden.
  • Place a good layer (2”-4”) of top-soil, compost, or composted manure on top of your flipped lawn, and let the garden bed settle for a few weeks before planting, to give the grass time to compost under the added soil.
  • When you choose your plants, keep in mind how much space they require. You will not get the best from your plants if you crowd them too much. Plant native ground cover between the plants while they grow and fill their space.
  • Choose a diversity of plants: flowers, shrubs, grasses and ferns (you have trees) to provide variety in height and texture. But depending upon your space, we suggest planting a number of the same plant in clumps, rather than one plant from each species. This is more visually attractive as well as providing a better target for pollinators.
  • Choose plants that flower at different times of the season from early spring to fall. In this way you will have continuous colour and flowers throughout the season to attract and feed pollinators.
  • Water regularly especially as the plants get established since they will be competing with the roots from your trees. You should not need added fertilizer for native plants.

When it comes to designing your native garden, you can always get help from a landscaper. Landscape Ontario has lists of registered landscapers. They also have a nice page on creating a landscape with native plants. Interestingly, it includes a list of native gardens that you can visit for inspiration.

Finally you mention you live in Etobicoke- see Etobicoke Master Gardeners for their upcoming events.