This is a typical design which I’d settle for, if I could uproot the front lawn, for minimal maintenance of weeds, watering.
When replacing a lawn for native plants, and with the large amount of snow that gets transferred to the lawn, won’t the plants be stressed, and flattened, at the end of the winter season, or can small plants which don’t grow withstand the weight of snow?
Thank-you for consulting Toronto Master Gardeners with your question.
More and more people in Toronto are choosing to replace their lawns with gardens. This can work very well, even in an area near the street. As you note, the choice of plants must take into consideration the snow piles from shovelling and ploughing, as well as salt. Many plants are able to withstand these difficulties. You mention native plants as your preference. As long as you select sturdy plants that tend to be lower-growing, you should be safe enough. Even shrubs can manage with the snow and ice with a bit of pruning off of damaged pieces in spring. Some popular shrubs you might want to try are: dogwoods (Cornus), Saskatoon berry (Amelanchier), Ninebark (Physocarpus) or Juniper, especially creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis).
In order to minimize the amount of weeding and watering you will need to do, the best advice is to add a good layer of mulch once you have planted the new garden. The mulch should not actually touch the stems and trunks of the plants, but should surround the plants and cover the soil by a depth of about 2 inches (5cm). Weeds are suppressed due to the lack of light, and moisture from rain (or the occasional deep watering) will be retained in the soil underneath the mulch.
The following link takes you to a previous Toronto Master Gardener’s answer to a similar question. The answer contains some useful additional links to further resources and great lists of native plants for you to choose from.
May 6, 2021