The County of Prince Edward recognizes the positive impacts naturalized areas can have on biodiversity. These areas are landscaped with native and non-native plants instead of turf grasses, and they are not maintained by mowing.
To support this approach to yard design on private property, Prince Edward County Council amended the Grass and Weeds By-Law on April 13, 2023.
Under the amended by-law, County residents who want to create naturalized areas (not containing turfgrass) are exempt from the requirement to maintain their lawns at a maximum height of 20 cm.
Importance of lawn naturalization
Traditional turfgrass lawns can have negative impacts on the natural environment in the following ways:
- They require large amounts of water as well as herbicides/pesticides
- Their typical shallow root systems promote poor stormwater infiltration compared to other deeper-rooted alternatives
- Gas-powered lawnmowers used to maintain lawns generate greenhouse gas emissions that negatively contribute to climate change
- They support a low degree of biodiversity compared to naturalized spaces
The process of naturalization can create usable habitat for a multitude of species, which helps combat the loss of biodiversity in urban and suburban areas. Naturalized areas are especially beneficial for pollinator populations such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, and others.
What's not allowed
Noxious weeds listed under the Weed Control Act are not permitted. Click here to see the list.
The County has also identified the following local noxious weeds that are also not permitted:
- Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) – NCC: Glossy buckthorn (natureconservancy.ca)
- Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) – Himalayan Balsam – Profile and Resources | Invasive Species Centre
- Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica var. japonica) – Japanese Knotweed – Profile and Resources | Invasive Species Centre
- Phragmites (Phragmites australis subsp. australis) – Invasive Phragmites – Profile and Resources | Invasive Species Centre
Homeowners wishing to naturalize their yards are still required by municipal by-law to keep their property free of noxious and local weeds. Naturalized areas found to be harbouring weeds may be mown at the owner’s expense if not removed upon request.
How to naturalize your yard
There are many ways to naturalize your yard, either in full or in part. These can range from changing the ground cover to a more natural alternative up to altering the nature of your yard completely through landscaping and strategic planting with perennial species. Deciding where to begin can be difficult. Here are a few suggestions.
Naturalized, pollinator friendly gardens or permaculture gardens – These can be designed to range from naturally regenerating low maintenance areas such as woodland, wetland, or meadow habitat, to manicured landscaped gardens. When planted with a diversity of perennial plants, these become naturally recurring, low maintenance alternatives to lawns that have the ability to bloom from spring to fall. The following image depicts a few native Ontario pollinator friendly plants that could be incorporated into a garden.
Rain Gardens – A shallow depression designed to catch stormwater runoff from downspouts or driveways, these gardens retain water and allow it to soak into the ground as opposed collecting in storm drains. They reduce the potential for flooding and recharge the groundwater. Designed appropriately they can attract butterflies and beneficial insects and enhance the beauty of the surrounding neighborhood.
Planting Trees -The simple action of planting trees can also support biodiversity by creating wildlife habitat. This could include creating woodland habitat on a portion of your property. Creating a natural woodland habitat on your property will require taller trees, smaller shrubs and vines, and a ground layer of wildflowers and plants. A list of recommended tree species can be found here. Oaks are commonly known to be one of the best supporters of biodiversity.
Borders or hedge rows – Create borders or hedge rows along the edge of your yard using native species such as eastern white cedar, Saskatoon serviceberry, chokeberry, or beaked hazelnut. These areas provide a safe habitat for wildlife to nest, breed, hibernate and travel, and can offer crucial food sources in months of scarcity. For more information: Canadian Wildlife Federation: Hedgerows (cwf-fcf.org)
Mini Forests: Also known as Miyawaki forests, mini forests are small dense, diverse native tree plantings typically the size of a tennis court. In a mini forest, native trees and shrubs are planted randomly and close together to increase competition and promote accelerated growth. Plants are selected for a good distribution into several categories: canopy trees, subcanopy trees, understory trees, and shrubs. They are often grown in rich, amended soil with the additional of mulch.
Food forests – Creating a food forest that includes a variety of native plant types that produce berries or seeds for the wildlife to enjoy. For more information: How to grow edible perennial plants – David Suzuki Foundation
More information on implementing these options can be found in the references section.
No-mow seed mixes and lawn alternatives – These contain a wide variety of plants such as fine fescues and wild flowers and can make a suitable, lower maintenance alternative to turfgrass. Here are just a few suggested species:
|Clover||The most common species of clover used for a turfgrass alternative is the White Clover (Trifolium repens). It is a low growing (7-15 cm) perennial that produces a white flower in late spring. It is a hardy, fast growing plant that can withstand moderate foot traffic.||Clover lawns require very little maintenance. It can grow in partial to full sun and, although it prefers moist, well-draining soil. It is drought tolerant. There is also no need to fertilize a clover lawn because clovers are nitrogen-fixers that naturally replenish the soil.|
|Creeping Thyme||There are two main varieties: mother of thyme (Thymus Praecox) and wild thyme (Thymus Serpyllum). They are a low-growing (9-10 cm) perennial that produces purple, white, or pink flowers in late spring to mid-summer. It grows in dense clusters, which allows it to outcompete weeds and withstand heavy foot traffic.||Creeping thyme prefers full sun. Although it can tolerate cooler temperatures, it may require frost protection. Once established, these plants can tolerate short drought periods of up to two weeks. No mowing is necessary due to limited growth height.|
|Sedges (e.g. Rosy, Bristle leaf, or Pennsylvania Sedge)||Grass-like plants that grow best in cool seasons (spring/fall). There are 248 native species in Ontario, and they grow anywhere from 30 cm to 120 cm and can handle moderate foot traffic. The species you choose to use will depend on the area and the amount of maintenance you are willing to do. Popular species used as a turfgrass alternatives are Rosy Sedge (Carex rosea) and Bristle leaf sedge (Carex eburnea). These sedges have thin, soft foliage.||Different species of sedges have differing sunlight, water, and soil requirements. The rosy sedge grows best in partial or full shade. Can grow in almost any soil type and prefers light to moderately moist soil. This sedge grows to 30 cm and therefore will require mowing based on your height preference. Leaving it long is best for wildlife biodiversity. Bristle leaf sedge thrives in soils that receive consistent moisture, but also will grow in drier sandy or rocky soils. Grows in part to full shade. Spreads via rhizomes. Pennsylvania sedge grows in similar conditions to the other sedges. Enriches soils.|
|Moss||Mosses are low-growing (maximum of 10 cm) plants that form a spongy carpet along the ground. Moss is also more durable than people may think and can withstand light to moderate foot traffic. There are several species of moss that grow in a variety of conditions. Choosing which species to use will depend on the conditions of the area.||Moss can be established in almost any soil type and have low water needs. Most moss species prefer partial to full shade. There is no mowing required; however, the moss must be kept clean of debris such as fallen leaves in order to avoid being smothered.|
|Poverty Oatgrass (Danthonia spicata)||Danthonia spicata is a species of grass known by the common name poverty oatgrass, or simply poverty grass. It is native to North America, where it is widespread and common in many areas. The species is distributed across much of Canada and the United States, and its distribution extends into northern Mexico.||Plants are indigenous to dry upland sites including open woods, dry prairies, limestone and sandstone glades, balds, thinly wooded bluffs, rocky slopes and roadsides. In general, this grass prefers dry uplands with sparse vegetation and few fallen leaves. This species occurs commonly in ecosystems maintained by frequent fires.|
|Blue Violet (Viola sororia)||A highly adaptable, fast growing groundcover that grows to approximately 20 cm. It often gets a bad reputation because of this, however it is a very versatile plant if used correctly. best used as a groundcover under taller plants as it can overwhelm small plants. It greens up and flowers very early in the spring. Use it as a solitary groundcover or pair it with Wild Strawberry. If grown in-between turf grass it can tolerate medium foot traffic while increasing the biodiversity of your lawn.||Shade to sun, dry to average|
|Barren Strawberry (waldsteinia fragarioides)||An adaptable, evergreen groundcover with glossy green leaves and yellow spring blooms. grows to <15cm tall and spreads quickly by rhizomes to push out weeds, even in shade. Good for covering slopes to prevent erosion. Attractive fall foliage! Tolerates light foot traffic.||Full sun to part shade, dry to average, prefers rich soils.|
|Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)||Virginia Strawberry or Wild Strawberry is a ground-hugging plant rising from a fibrous, perennial root system. Hairy leaf petioles, up to 15 cm long, each bear a single trifoliate leaf. The hairy flower stalk gives rise to a loose cluster of small, five-petaled flowers followed by tasty, wild strawberries.||Sun/Partial shade, thrives in dry soils.|
|Stonecrop/Sedum||A variety of drought resistant plants available in a myriad of colors, shapes and sizes.||Full sun and well drained soil|
|Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)||Also known as spotted/wild cranesbill, this plant is an easy-to-manage perennial that has uniquely dissected leaves that turn red and orange in the fall.||Prefers medium to wet conditions and tolerates most light conditions.|
|Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)||This low, colony-forming perennial grows only 10-20 cm high. Each plant bears a pair of large, velvety, heart-shaped leaves. Growing at ground level in the crotch between 2 leafstalks is a single darkish red-brown to green-brown flower. The solitary flower is at ground level, hidden below the leaves.||Tolerates partial or full shade and prefers moist growing conditions Andrich soils.|
|Field Pussytoes (antennaria neglecta)||A ground-hugging, super drought tolerant, evergreen groundcover with silvery-green foliage. Spreads quickly by runners. Attractive spring blooms that become fluffy seed heads. Host plant for painted lady butterflies. Great for erosion control in the driest of sites. Easily overwhelmed by taller plants. Salt tolerant and tolerates medium foot traffic.||Dry sunny sites with little competition.|
|Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)||Commonly called pussytoes, plantain-leaved pussytoes, plantain-leaved everlasting and ladies' tobacco, is a perennial which typically grows in acidic soils on dry or rocky slopes, prairies and glades. It is a stoloniferous, mat-forming, woolly plant, with all of the leaves and flower stalks being woolly and grayish. Somewhat non-showy, fuzzy, whitish flower heads tinged with pink bloom in spring.||Best grown in lean, gritty to rocky, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Does not do well in fertile, humusy soils, particularly if drainage is poor. In optimum growing conditions, however, it can spread by stolons to form an attractive ground cover.|
Where can I get help with naturalization?
Designing and implementing a lawn alternative can require a lot of research to get the perfect fit. Residents may wish to retain a landscape architect or designer who specializes in naturalization to assist with making the switch. Joining the local County Garden Club is also a good way to connect with individuals who can provide advice and assistance with naturalizing your yard.
References and Resources
The following references provide additional information for those wishing to incorporate natural areas into their yard.
Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC: Native gardening 101 (natureconservancy.ca)) Native gardening
Ontario Invasive Plants (NorthernGMI_2014_FINAL.compressed.pdf (ontarioinvasiveplants.ca)) Invasive species to watch out for in stores and what you can use as a native alternative
In Our Nature (Native Groundcovers for Ontario | In Our Nature Native Plant Nursery — In Our Nature) Native groundcovers for Ontario
David Suzuki Foundation (Ditch the grass! Convert your lawn with these nine alternatives – David Suzuki Foundation) Lawn alternatives.
The Prince Edward County Horticultural Society has a number of members with experience in naturalizing lawns and selecting native plants.
The Toronto Zoo’s Pollinator Friendly Plant Guide includes a list of native Ontario plants and characteristics to assist in selecting plants for naturalization.
Preserving Grass Land Ecosystems – Grasslands Ontario – provides useful information for preserving existing or converting or larger properties in to grasslands. The organization provides supports to those interesting in pursuing this approach. https://grasslandsontario.ca/#who-we-are
A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee by Lorraine Johnson and Sheila Colla
100 Easy-to-grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens by Lorraine Johnson
Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy
Naturalization of County public spaces
There are several examples of naturalized spaces on public property in Prince Edward County. You can view them at:
- Wellington Heritage Museum perennial garden (290 Wellington Main Street) — A Wild by Design project
- Community Living PEC gravel gardens — A Wild by Design Project
- Benson Park perennial gardens (56 King Street, Picton) — A Wild by Design project
- James A. Taylor Millennium Lookout (244 Church Street, Picton)
- Delhi Park (Lalor Street, Picton, next to the eastern foot bridge)
- County Road 4 (just south of County Road 34)
- Salem Road Rest Stop (2550 Salem Road)
- Station Road Rest Stop (Intersection of Station Road and the Millennium Trail)
- Jasper Storm Water Pond (North of Jasper Avenue, Picton)
- White Chapel Rest Stop (County Road 49 and the Millennium Trail)
- Prinyer’s Cove Boat Launch (County Road 7)
- Jasper Park (66 Jasper Avenue, Picton)
- Bakker Road beach access (the end of Bakker Road)
Planting at these locations was made possible through volunteer efforts from the members of the County Garden Club and the public. Plants for many of these gardens were purchased from Natural Themes Native Plant Nursery. Funding for many of these were provided by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and financial, as well as plant donations from the County Garden Club.