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 are 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.

The Plant Nursery, A Cultivated Art

Inexpensive native plant seedlings while supplies last. Order online. Pick up in Vanier.

The owner is a knowledgeable Algonquin College instructor who generously shares her expertise, and can provide advice on plant choices, garden design, soil science, and more.

Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library

Seedlings available from Ottawa area gardeners. Grown from local native plant seeds that were distributed by the Library during the previous fall and winter. You can pick up plants from individual gardeners or at plant swap/give-away events.

Fletcher Wildlife Garden Plant Sale: held in early June. Order by email and pick up plants at Fletcher Wildlife Garden .

This well-run, annual plant sale is held at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, which is located near the Experimental Farm. Inexpensive local native plant seedlings grown by the Friends of Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

You can find a list of plants that will be available on the Fletcher Wildlife Garden web site, along with an order form. When the sale is held as an in-person event, 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 knowledgeable and helpful. I also enjoy her informative blog. Call ahead before you go.

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

Solidago Farm, Wakefield, QC and Ottawa Artisans Summer Market

A vendor at the Ottawa Artisans Summer Market, Sundays (outside the St. Laurent Shopping Centre). See their website for details.

Naturaide, Ottawa

Sells native plants at some local events. Will also grow plants on request.

Connaught Nursery (on Facebook), Cobden

A great source for local native woodland plants and other native plants. Order by email and pick them up at the nursery on a designated day. 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 also a long-time volunteer at Shaw Woods, the only remnant of old-growth forest that remains in the region.

Ferguson Tree Nursery, Kemptville

One of the best places to order native shrubs and trees. Now sells native perennials as well. Plants are grown from local native seed.

This nursery doesn’t normally sell retail, so ‘bulk’ orders of 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.

They now open a temporary retail store in the fall and spring so you can buy plants outside of the regular bulk orders.

Friends of the Farm Sale: annual sale held in early May, 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. I have bought native plants at the Beaux Arbres stall, as well as the Ottawa Horticultural Society tables.

Ontario Native Plants, online only, ships plants

In southwestern Ontario, but ships right to your door. 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. I ordered from them in 2019 and I was very happy with the plants and secure packaging.

Native Plants in Claremont, near Pickering, ships plants

Now shipping plants within Ontario. You can choose from a box of 6 or 18 plants.

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. I was happy with the online store selection and packaging when I ordered in 2020.

Origin Native Plants, Guelph, ships plants

Ships plants within Ontario. They do have a good selection of plants, but I haven’t ordered from them yet.

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.

Natural Themes Farms, north of Trenton, near Frankford

Starting May 3, 2020 the nursery will be open Sundays, 11 am to 3 pm, or by appointment. I haven’t visited this nursery, but it was recommended to me.

Grow Wild! Native Plant Nursery, Omemee

This wholesale nursery also sells to individuals. Peruse their online catalogue, order by email, and then arrange a time to pick them up at the nursery. Also delivers to Ottawa several times during the growing season.

Norton Naturals, online only, ships

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.

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. I have not been to the Market, but I hope to check it out this summer.

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.