Naturalizing your Yard Can Reduce your Ecological Footprint

Go natural!

Native plants can protect your property while reducing maintenance and costs.

How to
3-5 min read

Summer is a great time to enjoy your backyard, relaxing on the lawn, in the garden or at the waterfront. Making smart choices about maintaining your property, particularly if it borders on the water, can keep it looking beautiful while minimizing your property’s ecological footprint.

While we often choose plants and landscape features for aesthetics, choosing native species over imported ones is a good way to have a positive impact on your local environment. Some species of imported plants are invasive, spreading prolifically and overtaking native varieties that would otherwise thrive in the area. Others can be prone to pests and diseases, requiring harmful pesticides. Some need excessive amounts of water or fertilizer, the run-off from which is partly responsible for the growing problem of algae blooms in many lakes in Canada.

Rowboat on lakeshore.
If you live next to water, maintaining a buffer zone between your property and the shoreline helps to prevent erosion.

In addition to saving you time and money for maintenance, there are many other benefits to naturalizing your property. Since native plants are better adapted to your local climate, they require less water and are better able to survive local droughts. They have a higher tolerance for local pests, so you can forego using chemical pesticides. They also attract insects that reduce pest populations, and pollinators like butterflies that help plants flower and produce fruit. 

To find out which plants are native to your area, start with research online or at the library. Talk to your neighbourhood nurseries about what grows well naturally in your region, and what kind of soil and light conditions they need to thrive.

If you live next to water, maintaining a healthy naturalized “buffer zone” between your property and the shoreline helps to prevent erosion. The buffer improves and protects water quality, and can provide essential habitat for waterfowl and aquatic species.

There are many methods for creating a buffer zone, depending on local conditions like slope and bank stability. The simplest approach is to create a “no mow” zone and allow woody debris to accumulate along the water’s edge. Planting native shrubs and trees provides roots to hold soil in place and gives you more control over the look of your landscape.

Purple loosestrife.
Some species of imported plants, like purple loosestrife, are invasive, spreading prolifically and overtaking native species.

If erosion is a problem, you may need to consider putting rock or other structural elements in — but this is best done with professional help and with consideration for maintaining the health of the aquatic ecosystem. It’s also best to avoid retaining walls, which, over time, can cause damage downstream, increase erosion and interfere with shoreline ecology. If an existing wall must be left in place, planting native shrubs around the wall can reduce erosion. In the case of a riprap shoreline, planting between the rocks helps to hold soil in place.

Common Loon.
Buffer zones can provide habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic species.

Before you begin any work on your waterfront, be sure to consult and understand all regulations and bylaws that stipulate what you can and cannot do to property near water in your area, and secure any necessary permits or approvals. 

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