Starting a Native Plant Garden
Step 1: Plan your garden
- Get to know your site.
- How much light does your garden get?
– Full sun: 6+ hours of afternoon sunlight.
– Part sun: less than 6 hours, morning or evening.
- What kind of soil do you have? Is your site well-watered or dry?
- How much light does your garden get?
- Visit local natural areas to see native plants in their natural setting, throughout the seasons. Pick natural areas that match the conditions in your yard.
- Consider adding natural items to provide shelter for insects, such as mulch, logs, and leaf litter. Plan to add a shallow dish of water for pollinators.
- Get to know more than 600 local native plants by exploring Glen Lee’s superb website Saskatchewan Wildflowers. Consider plant heights, remembering that they may be different in your garden than in nature.
- Plan with a succession of blooms in mind – crocuses in spring through to asters and goldenrods in the fall.
- Choose plants that support caterpillars of moths and butterflies and/or that are rich in nectar. See our Top 10 lists below for suggestions.
- Check out the simple requirements to register your garden with Pollinator Paradise YXE here.
Photo by Lois of her Pollinator Paradise garden – Pictured here: fleabane, gaillardia, harebell, yellow coneflower, purple prairie clover, echinacea, bergamot
What is a native plant?
“A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction.”
– National Wildlife Federation
Top 10 plants for pollinators: full sun
1. Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
2. Common Sunflower Helianthus annuus
3. Many-flowered Aster Symphyotrichum ericoides
4. Stiff Goldenrod Solidgo rigida
5. Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
6. Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea
7. Smooth Aster Symphyotrichum laeve
8. Giant Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
9. Prairie Coneflower Ratibida columnifera
10. Meadow Blazingstar Liatrus ligulistylis
Top 10 plants for pollinators: part sun
1. Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
2. Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
3. Smooth Aster Symphyotrichum laeve
4. Many-flowered Aster Symphyotrichum ericoides
5. Giant Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
6. Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis
7. Early Blue Violet Viola adunca
8. Stiff Goldenrod Solidgo rigida
9. Wild Strawberry Fragaria virginiana
10. Yellow Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis
Step 2: Sourcing plugs & seeds
Plugs (bedding plants)
- Well-rooted 1st or 2nd year plants.
- Pros: Planting exactly where you want them. Immediate results with the potential of blooms in the first year.
- Cons: More expensive. Less variety available.
- Can be started indoors in the late winter. Some seeds require stratification (cold cycle) or scarification (abrasion or soaking).
- Broadcast straight into the garden in spring or fall.
- Pros: Greater choice in variety. Cost effective.
- Cons: If broadcast your plants may not grow where you want them to. May take 3-5 years to fill in. Challenging to identify seedlings when they first come up. Is it a weed or a native plant?
- Do not dig up plants from the wild.
- Confirm the species you are planting in your native garden are in fact native. Many plants that grow in the wild may seem like they’ve been here forever, but they are in fact introduced plants and some are even noxious weeds.
- For Saskatchewan plants view Glen Lee’s website to view different wildflowers. Make sure to read the bottom of each page to confirm it is not an introduced species. Or check out the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan plant list for the Northeast Swale.
- Avoid horticultural varieties – source native plants that grow in your location.
- Beware of “wildflower” seed packets. They are mostly wild elsewhere and some are invasive here.
- Plant a mixture of plugs and seeds for cost effective and some immediate results.
Choosing native plant seeds and native plants that are grown locally is important because they are regionally adapted for local climates
- Blazing Star Wildflower Seed Company (Aberdeen, SK) – seeds and plants
- A Prairie Bouquet (Near Asquith, SK) – plants
- Prairie Garden Seeds (Humboldt & Cochin, SK) – seeds
- Prairie Originals – only ships seeds and flowers, not plants (Manitoba)
- ALCLA (Alberta) – seeds and plants
- Wild about Flowers (Alberta) – seeds and plants
- Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan – Native Plant Material and Services Supplier List
Step 3: Prepare your site
- Once the sod is removed, you do not need to add fertilizer or any other soil amendments. Most native plants will do well in what looks like poor soil.
- Avoid pesticides & fertilizers.
3 ways to remove lawn
You’ve decided to replace all or part of your lawn with native plants. Hooray! Start small, say a space 1 meter x 1 meter. Make a plan and add to it in stages.
1. Dig it up. If you are feeling energetic, you can dig up the lawn with a garden fork or spade, taking care to remove the roots. Shake the soil off the clumps of turf and compost what’s left. (Digging up lawn is a bit of a work-out, but we’ve done it, so we know it’s possible.) Alternatively, you may want to rent a sod-cutter or hire someone to cut the sod and roll it up. Use it upside down for mulch or compost it.
2. Sheet mulch the lawn by covering it with pieces of overlapping cardboard with all tape and staples removed. Wet down the cardboard before topping it with 3 to 4 inches of wood mulch. You may want to add a few strategically placed stones to keep the cardboard in place. You can plant plugs immediately or wait until next spring to plant them. Cut through the cardboard to make a planting hole and move the mulch back from the new plant. You cannot plant seeds using this method. The downside to this method is that sheet mulch (until it breaks down) impedes air and water transfer between the soil layers and atmosphere.
3. Solarize the lawn by covering it with a black plastic tarp, or heavy black plastic, using rocks or other anchors to hold it in place. The sunlight heats the black surface and in one or two summers, the grass, weeds and seeds should be dead. The downside of this method is the heat also sterilizes the soil life (beneficial microorganisms in the soil).
The method you choose will depend on your site (size, soil compaction, condition of lawn), your time energy, resources at hand and finances. Once the sod is removed, you do not need to add fertilizer or any other soil amendments.
Photo by Amy Nixon. Removing lawn.
Photo by Irene Mickelson. Solarizing lawn.
Step 4: Get planting!
- Plant seeds in the early spring or late fall.
- If growing your own plants from seeds, make sure you harden them off before planting them out in the garden.
- Avoid planting plugs in the heat of the day.
- Plant plugs in late to early summer up until around August, thoroughly water your plants in.
- Keep your plants watered for the first year or two.
Photo by Amy Nixon. Buena Vista Community Association planting their Pollinator Paradise Garden in early June.
Step 5: Register your native plant garden with Pollinator Paradise
To join Pollinator Paradise YXE, your native plant garden (or schoolyard or park) needs to meet four basic requirements:
1. Flowering plants – At least one kind of plant that is an important food for caterpillars, one wildflower species that provides pollen and nectar for pollinating insects, and a succession of blooms through the growing season.
2. Nesting and wintering sites – Insects need places to nest and overwinter. Leave the stems of plants, and mulch your garden such as wood chips, leaves or rocks.
3. Water – Wild bees and butterflies need a source of water, provide a shallow pan (or upside-down frisbee) with a few stones in it.
4. Ongoing care – Weed, water, and tend.
Step 6: Maintenance
Ongoing care of your native plant garden
- In the first year or two watering will be required to help your new plants establish
- Mulching and weeding the garden to keep unwanted plants from growing
- Divide fast growing plants – thinning and moving plants is okay. Share your excess!
- Do not use poisons
- In fall, collect seeds to start more plants or share with friends to start their own native plant garden
Photo by Amy Nixon. Buena Vista Community Association Pollinator Paradise Garden
- Adventure guides
Growing With Native Plants – focusses on why it is so important to grow native plants and includes lists of plants that support the highest number of butterfly and moth larvae, as well as those that provide nectar for large numbers of pollinators.
City Wildflowers Tour – focusses on our 2022 Spring Garden Tour and includes lists of plants for part and full shade, as well as tips on removing lawn.
- Video guides
A Complete Local Guide to Growing Native Plants
Bringing Beauty Home: Growing Native Plants from Seed
- Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan – Plant Sources
- Landscaping with Native Plants in Saskatchewan – Facebook group
- Glen Lee Saskatchewan Wildflowers – Wildflower Identification
- Canadian Wildlife Federation – Native Plant Encyclopedia
- Alberta Wildflower – Growing Tips
- Alberta Wildflower – Establishing Native Wildflowers
- Xerces Foundation – Pollinator Conservation Program
- Bees of Canada
Benefits of native gardens
- Help maintain biodiversity
- Less maintenance
- Conserve water
- Combat climate change
- Provide habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and more!
- Create healthy spaces for humans and other critters
Photo by Joanne Blythe. Black-eyed susans and harebells.