Buying native plants

Local native plants aren’t as easy to find as you’d think they would be. Most native plant nurseries are small operations, and located some distance from Ottawa. All have different opening times, plant availability, and some have minimum purchase amounts. You’ll need to plan ahead, so here’s what you need to know.

Rare and Unusual Plant Sale, Mother’s Day, 9:00 – 1:00,
Neatby Building parking lot, Experimental Farm

This annual sale is run by the Friends of the Experimental Farm. It features a variety of vendors of non-native and native plants. You can find native plants at the Beaux Arbres stall, as well as the Ottawa Horticultural Society tables.

Fletcher Wildlife Garden Plant Sale, 1st Saturday in June, 9:30 am, Fletcher Wildlife Garden

This well-run, annual plant sale is held at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, which is located near the Experimental Farm. It’s my favourite place to buy native plants; they’re locally native, inexpensive, and grown by the Friends of Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Beaux Arbres nursery sells plants there too. While these plants are more expensive they are larger and more mature.

Before the sale, you can find a list of plants that will be available on the Fletcher Wildlife Garden web site and on the Beaux Arbres Native Plants web site. Get there early, even before it opens, for the best selection. Knowledgeable volunteers are available to answer questions.

Beaux Arbres Native Plants, Bristol, QC and Westboro Farmers’ Market

See the nursery’s Events page for a list of Saturdays when they’ll be at the Westboro Farmers’ Market, at the Byron Linear Park on Richmond Road.

This nursery is about an hour from Ottawa. Great selection of local native plants and some interesting non-native plants. Plants are mature, so they’ll bloom in their first year. The owner, Trish Murphy, is very helpful is a native plant expert. I enjoy her informative blog. Call ahead before you go.

Beaux Arbres also sells native plant seeds at the annual Seedy Saturday, the first Saturday in March at Ron Kolbus Centre, near Brittania Beach.

Connaught Nursery, Cobden

A great source for local native woodland plants, and more. Order by email and pick them up at the nursery on a designated day. Also inquire by email for plant suggestions and availability.

The owner, Grant Dobson, has impressive experience and knowledge of native plants, ecology, and wildlife, with a special interest in pollinators. He documents the natural wonders of his rural property with incredible photographs and educational annotations at The View From Connaught Pond Facebook page. He was a long-time volunteer at Shaw Woods, the only remnant of old-growth forest that remains in the region. I enjoyed his engaging photos on the Shaw Woods Facebook page, which sadly no longer seems to exist.

Make It Green Garden Centre, Kanata

Conveniently located near Ottawa. Now has a few tables of native perennials for sale, as well as shrubs (cultivars and species), and a section of native tree seedlings.

Fuller Native and Rare Plants, Belleville

Following the May and June 2019 season, this nursery will be closing permanently. The display gardens are still open for viewing, but the nursery is only open by appointment during May and June. You can reserve plants on the web site for pick up at a designated time. Sold by the tray of small pots, and you can mix plants in each tray.

GreenUP Ecology Park, Peterborough

At the GreenUP Garden Market, you’ll find plants native throughout Ontario, plus a few non-natives. Open Thursday to Sunday from May to October.

Ferguson Tree Nursery, Kemptville

Offers trays of 20 plants per tray. They have a tray for pollinators, or you can choose your own plants (with a minimum of 20 small pots, and with a minimum or 4 of each type of plant). This nursery doesn’t normally sell retail, so ‘bulk’ orders of at least 20 plants are required. Orders are open in the fall and winter, and can be picked up at the nursery in May. There should also be a designated pick-up time and place in Ottawa.

This is the first year Ferguson Tree Nursery has offered perennials, so I have not ordered from them yet. Plants are grown from local native seed.

Norton Naturals, online only

Located in Tamworth, near Kingston. Sells a small selection of native plant tubers and bulbs intended for permaculture. Ships in October and April, but sells out before then. Order early.

Ontario Native Plants, online only

In Hamilton, but ships right to your door. This is the only native plant nursery in Ontario, that I know of, that ships plants. Tree and shrub pre-orders begin in March to be shipped in April. Perennials will be available around beginning of April to be shipped in mid-May.

You can keep up with activity at the nursery on their Facebook page. It also includes an interesting video showing how they pack plants for shipping.

Native Plants in Claremont, near Pickering

We stopped in at this nursery on our way home from Toronto. You can also buy their plants at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto.

Don’t dig up wild plants

Don’t poach native plants from wild spaces. Indiscriminate digging of native plants has decimated some natural populations. Habitat destruction is a big enough problem without people digging up plants for remaining intact habitats.

Buy seed-grown native plants from reputable nurseries to ensure that you aren’t buying plants dug from the wild.

If you collect seeds in the wild, collect only a few. If you forage, be sure to leave lots of berries/leaves/mushrooms for the wildlife that depend on it.

Be wary of pollinator plants at big box stores

There have been numerous news stories about so-called pollinator plants at big box stores actually containing harmful pesticides. Pesticides are commonly applied in the nursery trade to combat pests like aphids that can spread quickly greenhouse growing conditions. Even if they’re sprayed early in the plant’s life at a greenhouse, the pesticide remains in the plant tissue after it’s been transported to a store. While the store may not be spraying, the source nursery may have.

In 2017, Friends of the Earth tested plants from Ottawa Rona, Canadian Tire, and Home Depot stores and found banned pesticides. See this CBC article, Banned pesticides found on flowers in Ottawa stores, environment group says, for details. Don’t risk harming or killing the pollinators that you’re trying to help by buying plants that may be contaminated. A recent survey of major big box chains shows that they have made progress: Good news for Canadian bees, other pollinators and gardeners — major garden centres shut down use of neonic pesticides. Plants were not tested this time.

You may find packs of plants at big box stores from the Canadian Wildlife Federation. These are safe to buy and include in your pollinator garden.