Latest Event Updates
We are excited to announce that last Friday marked the last day of planting for our new Oakville Backyard Tree Planting Program!
We are delivering the program in collaboration with LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests), and the pilot project is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Full-Service program includes a yard consultation with a certified arborist, a 5 to 8 foot tall native deciduous tree (or 2 to 4 foot conifer), delivery, planting service and tree care information, all for a subsidized price. There is also a Do-It-Yourself version of the program for those who wish to plant in their front yard or just want to get their hands dirty and plant their own tree! The program offers native shrubs and garden kits for delivery as well.
We received an extremely positive response from Oakville residents this spring, and have delivered and planted 66 trees and 70 shrubs in yards all over Oakville since the program launched last October. The trees and shrubs are all native species, and were chosen for each yard based on their suitability for the yard’s conditions.
Thanks to funding from the Town of Oakville, we will be continuing the program in the fall, and our fall planting season will run from late September through November. We are continuing to conduct yard consultations over the summer for those who wish to have trees planted in the fall – you can sign up at www.yourleaf.org. The program is first-come, first-served, so sign up early to have your pick of species!
Last night marked the final session of the first ever Oakville Tree Tenders Volunteer Training, a course designed to teach participants all about trees and urban forestry. The response to the course was overwhelmingly positive, and many of our graduates told us they now look at trees through new eyes!
The course was delivered by Oakvillegreen and LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) with funding from the Town of Oakville. Throughout the 4 sessions, our 24 new Tree Tenders learned about tree biology, urban forest benefits, soil, tree stresses, planting, tree care, tree policies and all the ways they could get involved in urban forest stewardship. Here are some highlights from the course:
On Day 1, we started off by talking about Oakville’s urban forest. We learned that Oakville currently has about 2 million trees, giving us a canopy cover of ~28%. But the urban forest isn’t just about trees – it’s a whole ecosystem that provides us with almost 3 million dollars worth of ecosystem services every year! Our urban forest improves air quality, reduces our energy use, stores carbon, decreases stormwater runoff, provides habitat and food for wildlife, improves our economy and keeps us physically and mentally healthy! Because of all those benefits, the Town of Oakville has a goal of increasing our canopy cover to 40%.
Much of this growth in canopy will need to occur on private property, which contains most of the town’s ‘plantable space.’ In order to grow our canopy, we’ll also need to overcome the many challenges that our urban forest faces, including a lack of age, size and species diversity, invasive pests and plants, and the everyday pressures that we put on urban trees, like soil compaction and road salt. The take-home message: we have to care for our trees if we want them to care for us!
Next, expert instructor Tooba Shakeel gave a great overview of tree biology. Our Tree Tenders particularly appreciated all the samples of leaves, bark and twigs that Tooba brought with her. We reviewed how trees use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. We also learned that trees breathe (respire) just like us, and that they act like giant straws, sucking water out of the soil through their roots and releasing it into the air through their leaves. Next, we talked about the 5 organs of a tree: leaves, stems, roots, flowers & fruit. Finally, we learned that trees grow from the top and that they don’t SEAL, they HEAL. Another important take-home message: tree roots are closer than you think – most are found in the top 2 feet of soil!
During our second session, we learned all about Tree ID with Jeff Dickie. Jeff taught us that trees can be identified by their leaves, growth form, bark, flowers, fruit, twigs and buds. When looking at these features, we should be noticing things like shape, arrangement of leaves and twigs on the stem, texture, colour, and even hairiness! Habitat can also give us clues on which species we might be looking at.
After being rained on during our first attempt to go outside, we took shelter and practiced using dichotomous keys to identify the samples that Jeff had brought with him. Once the skies cleared, it was back to the trails to try to identify some of the trees in the ravine. We learned that white oak can be distinguished by the shape of its leaves, and white pine has needles in bunches of 5.
Many of our Tree Tenders were even tasting black locust flowers by the end of the session! Jeff really encouraged us to pay attention to detail and look at the whole tree when attempting to identify it.
Saturday was a jam-packed day full of talk about soils, stress, selection, planting and care! Instructor Alex Satel started the day off talking about soils. By the end of his talk, everyone had a better understanding of just how important soils are for tree health! Soils are made of mineral material formed from rock, but they also contain organic matter and billions of microorganisms! Soil can have different textures – clay, sand and silt – and this texture will influence which species can grow in the soil. The texture and structure of soil can also influence the amount of micropore and macropore space available, which in turn affects the amount of air and water available to a tree’s roots. We learned that urban soils tend to lack organic matter and be highly compacted, which can be challenging for tree roots. Alex concluded by telling us that damaged soil is difficult to remedy, so preserving soil is key for tree health!
After wrapping up our discussion about soils, Alex moved on to talk about tree stresses. We learned that trees can become stressed due to a number of factors, including soil compaction, construction work, inadequate nutrients, too much or too little water, insect pests, diseases, competition or physical injury. Alex reminded us, however, that trees rarely die due to a single stress. Instead, a combination of factors can lead to tree decline and death. We also learned that while some insects can do serious damage to a tree (think Emerald Ash Borer), most insects are more of an aesthetic issue than a true health concern, and can be managed without the use of chemicals.
On our outdoor walk, we witnessed some tree stresses, including sapwood rot, weed whacker damage, improper planting, structural defects, EAB and compacted soil. We learned to recognize stress by both signs and symptoms. Alex urged us to consider cultural measures (the way we manage trees) when trying to reduce tree stress, as many of the stresses are caused by human behaviour and improper management in the first place!
To finish off the day, we headed back inside where Mara, Oakvillegreen’s Tree Planting & Stewardship Coordinator, talked about tree selection, planting and care. We discussed how native species are adapted to our climate and soil and support our local ecosystem, so we should try to choose native species when possible. There is a huge diversity of beautiful native trees, with different species suited to different soil and light conditions. Even in tough compacted soil, species like the Freeman maple, honey locust and hackberry can survive and start to grow canopy in newer developments.
When planting trees, we learned to make sure the root collar is level with the soil surface and to spread the roots out so they don’t girdle the trunk as they grow. In terms of care, young trees need regular deep watering (about twice a week with 6 gallons each time) and can benefit from a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch. Just don’t pile the mulch against the trunk of the tree!! When pruning, we found out that we shouldn’t remove more than a quarter of the canopy in a single year, and we should make pruning cuts just outside the branch collar to allow the tree to seal the wound. After a full day of learning about trees, our Tree Tenders were eager to go out and share their knowledge with the world!
For our last session of Tree Tenders, Tom Pearson and David Burgess from the Town of Oakville came to talk to us about local tree by-laws and policies. We learned what we can and cannot do near town-owned trees, and about the application procedure required for doing work (e.g. driveway widening) near town trees.
Then, we moved on to talk about tree removal permits for both public and private trees. Any tree greater than 15cm in diameter at breast height (1.37m) requires a permit for removal. Most permits are issued with the condition that new trees must be replanted to replace the canopy. However, the exact conditions depend on the health, size and species of tree being removed. We also learned that when rebuilding houses, putting on additions or constructing pools, homeowners need Tree Protection Plans for their trees, which usually include Tree Protection Zones to protect the tree roots from compaction. All of these town policies and bylaws are in place to maintain our tree canopy, and it was clear that Tom and David were passionate about preserving trees!
We finished off the session with a presentation by Mara and Erica (from LEAF) on stewardship opportunities. Our Tree Tenders learned about opportunities to participate in Adopt-A-Tree programs, demonstration gardens, tree planting, invasive species removal, outreach and more in both Toronto and Oakville. The clear message was that no matter what your particular interest is, you can have a positive impact on our urban forest!
Tree Tenders is just the beginning!
We hope that this course will be the start of more community involvement in caring for our urban forest, and encourage our new Tree Tenders graduates to share their knowledge with their friends, family and neighbours! When everyone is aware of the benefits and needs of our urban forest, we all benefit!
Happy Tree Tending!
On Saturday we were finally able to hold Day 2 of our ‘How to Plant a Pollinator Patch’ Workshop Series, after being forced to cancel it in April because of the ice storm. There was certainly no ice rain in sight this time around – it was a beautiful day that made everyone excited to be talking about gardening!
We kicked off the workshop with an amazing presentation by Sean James, of Sean James Consulting & Design. Sean is a Master Gardener with over 30 years experience and was named by GardenMaking magazine as one of “20 making a difference.” He focuses on eco-gardening techniques and believes in gardens that are both beautiful and biodiverse, so we were extremely grateful to hear from him.
Sean started off by reminding us not to focus too much on what we’re doing ‘wrong,’ and instead focus on the positives – after all, gardening is supposed to be a hobby! Sean believes that gardening can help solve many of our most pressing problems. He noted that gardening contributes to carbon capture, improves food security, increases biodiversity and so much more!
We learned that including early and late season blooms are especially important for pollinators, because flowers tend to be more scarce at the beginning and end of the growing season. Sean suggested species in the willow family, such as early pussy willow, dwarf arctic willow and trembling aspen for early blooms. He reminded us that trees tend to be the earliest bloomers, so they should be incorporated if possible. Some great tree and shrub species include redbud, serviceberry, red maple and grey dogwood. For late season blooms, Sean suggested the Autumn witch hazel – it has a beautiful fall colour in addition to being a very late bloomer.
We also found out that bees don’t just eat pollen! Bees will also nibble on fungal food sources, and urban bees have even been found to eat honeydew (a.k.a. aphid poop)! Plus, we have to remember that the early life stages of some pollinators (e.g. caterpillars) need to eat the leaves of their host plant. This means we need to tolerate gardens with hole-y leaves. After all, plants that host insects are nature’s bird feeders!
In addition to food, pollinators need habitat, or as Sean called it, refugia.
Refugia are places for creatures to live, hide or take refuge, and in the case of pollinators, they may take the form of holes in the ground or the insides of woody stems. While a pile of sticks or leaf litter may not be very attractive, it can be a really important shelter or nesting spot. Sean suggested that if you don’t like the look of these refugia, you can just leave them behind some shrubs or in a back corner so that they’re hidden from view. Other suggestions include only cutting your woody stems to 6″ above the ground in the spring to give insects a place to nest.
Another really interesting topic that Sean covered was how diverse native gardens can support native predators, which in turn reduce non-native garden pests! There are many insects, like hoverflies, that will prey on pests in addition to pollinating plants. Sean told us that he once went to collect a Japanese beetle in one of his gardens, but he couldn’t find a single one! Yet another point on the scoreboard for native gardening!
Sean also gave us a number of general tips when it comes to designing and planting pollinator gardens:
- Go native when you can, but non-invasive exotic plants can also be appropriate in certain settings
- Try to find plants that fill different niches (roles or functions) within the garden
- Plant in ‘drifts,’ which are basically linear clumps or patches of the same species – drifts are aesthetically pleasing and good for pollinators because they don’t have to fly as far from plant to plant
- Go for plants that have good texture – flowers come and go but texture remains throughout the season
- Rather than spending all your money in one shopping trip, visit the garden centre or nursery throughout the season so you can choose plants with beautiful blooms at different times
- Choose plants with a variety of flower shapes – pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, so your flowers should too!
- Don’t pick dandelions from your lawn – they’re great for pollinators! There are also many lawn alternatives you can try that are more biodiversity – friendly than traditional sod
- Set realistic expectations – your garden may not look like much when it’s first planted, but be patient and in a couple of years it will be stunning!
- Plant the right plant in the right soil – it’s way easier to choose plants for your soil than to amend your soil to suit specific plants
- Native plant gardens come in many styles, including ‘naturalized’ gardens, formal gardens and even hedges – design to your taste!
Here are some of the plants that got Sean’s gold seal of approval for pollinator gardening:
- Milkweed – there’s a species for almost any location!
- Native grasses, such as Panicum and Andropogon
- Plants in the carrot family, such as fennel, parsley and lovage (but not Queen Anne’s lace – it’s weedy!)
- Purple flowering raspberry – it’s shade tolerant and has beautiful blooms!
- Solomon’s seal – attracts hummingbirds and is shade tolerant
- Sneezeweed / Helen’s flower
- Larch – beautiful fall colour and great for rain gardens
- Birch – there are many species (white birch is more short-lived than others); suitable for rain gardens
- Trembling aspen – early blooming; suitable for rain gardens
- Red maple – early blooming; suitable for rain gardens
- Grey dogwood – flower stalks are bright red for winter interest and fall colour is beautiful; berries are also great bird food; suitable for rain gardens
- Red osier dogwood – bright red twigs; suitable for rain gardens
- Goldenrods – many species but zig zag goldenrod is a favourite because of its texture; some species are suitable for rain gardens
- Buttonbush – great for rain gardens
- Early pussy willow – early blooming and suitable for rain gardens
- Dwarf arctic willow – early blooming and suitable for rain gardens
- Autumn witch hazel – late blooming; great fall colour
Plants to avoid or plant with caution:
- Bee balm / wild bergamot – a native species and attractive to pollinators but can be aggressive; best planted in poor soils
- Canada anemone – a beautiful native plant but aggressive; will likely require maintenance to prevent it from taking over
Sean ended on a positive note, telling us how’s he’s seen first-hand how planting diverse native gardens can bring back all kinds of wildlife, including birds, bees and even the twice-stabbed lady beetle! We were all feeling very encouraged and ready to get planting by the time he was finished!
After Sean’s talk, it was time to head out to the site of our new Butterfly Wing Garden at Oak Park! At the site, we heard from Donna Doyle, Senior Environmental Policy Analyst at the Town of Oakville. She told us that the Town is very committed to support pollinators and biodiversity, and continues to work with Oakvillegreen and many other groups to preserve and enhance biodiversity in Oakville. In particular, she highlighted the town’s initiative to create an Oakville Biodiversity Strategy, which is in the works right now.
Next, we moved on to focus our attention on the new Butterfly Wing Garden! We told everyone about our plan to create two patches full of pollinator-friendly native plants. We then got to work filling out our Site Assessment Forms. This was a great chance to practice evaluating a space and taking down important information that’s useful when designing a patch and choosing species. Our site assessment form included characteristics like:
- Soil: we used our soil auger to pull up some reddish, sticky, compacted soil, which we determined to be clay
- Sun: it was an open, south facing slope so it received full sun (6+ hours)
- Moisture: due to the slope, it is a fairly dry, well drained site
- Dimensions: we used the measuring tape and recorded the dimensions, which would later be used to calculate the area (important when ordering soil/mulch and buying plants)
- Water source: we’ll be using a hose connected to the nearby Wellspring House – it’s important to think about the water source when designing the patch
- Site prep: participants were able to see the ‘newspaper & mulch’ method first-hand, as we had already prepped the large patch. We also explained our plan to strip the sod and bring in soil and mulch to prep the smaller patch. These methods differed because the existing vegetation was much weedier in the larger patch.
- Important notes: in our case, it was important to note that we were on public property (meaning we had to get permission) and that lots of people visited the area (meaning we would need educational signage to tell passersby about the patch). We also noted that the patch may be difficult to access for those with mobility issues, due to the slope.
- Patch design: participants were free to walk around and sketch their ideas for how the patch might look, including general shape, any paths or subsections, bee houses, benches, etc! This is where you can really use your imagination!
We spent so much time at the site that when we got back to the community centre our workshop time was up! We explained to our participants that the next step would be to start thinking about species selection. There are many ways to go about this, but we suggest consulting a number of different native species lists and/or pollinator plant lists. It’s a great idea to use your general sketch of the patch and start filling it in with colours, growth forms or other characteristics you think would look good in different spots within your patch. Once you’ve chosen species that match those characteristics, you can assign a number or symbol to each species and fill them in on the sketch. Remember to aim for diversity and choose species that bloom at different times to make sure you’re providing food for pollinators all throughout the seasons!
We’ve included links to some of the lists and sample garden designs we brought to the workshop below – check them out for inspiration!
Halton Butterfly Host Plant List and Planting Plan List – Conservation Halton
Halton Native Wildflowers by Season – Cathy Kavassalis
Native Plants for Pollinators – Pollination Guelph
Native Plants for Pollinators – Credit Valley Conservation
Selecting Plants for Pollinators – pollinator.org
Sample Garden Design – from ‘Roadsides: A Guide to Creating a Pollinator Patch’ (Ontario Horticultural Association)
Possible Planting Plan for Butterfly Wing Garden – Cathy Kavassalis
The Elliott Community Native Cut Flower Garden – Healthy Landscapes, City of Guelph
Sample Site Assessment Form with Patch Design Example – Oakvillegreen
We hope everyone enjoyed the workshop and is feeling inspired to create their own pollinator gardens! We’ll also need help planting and maintaining our new Butterfly Wing Garden – click HERE to sign up for our volunteer list. Finally, remember to spread the word to your neighbours so we can get everyone buzzing about pollinators this spring!
Check out these links for more info: