Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Paul O'Hara on planting your pollinator garden and acting on behalf of bio-diversity

“There is so much we can do to bolster the bio-diversity of our cities and towns,” Paul O’Hara of Blue Oak Native Landscapes told a well-filled room of community members last Saturday, at the Church of the Nazarene (Ottawa Street).

Building a connected network of pollinator friendly habitat is one such way. O'Hara's workshop offered participants ideas and tips on planting and maintaining a pollinator garden at home: from elements of design, structure to what to grow where, O'Hara covered the basics in under two hours.

O’Hara impressed the room by his expertise, artful garden designs and reach of his work -- including an extensive corporate naturalization/meadow project in Mississauga.
Photo Credit: Madeleine Kay
O'Hara emphasized three main things we should be thinking about when managing our properties:

1.Invasive species are a real problem.
Species like white mulberry, buckthorn, non native honey suckles, garlic mustard, tree of heaven etc as well as invasive insects are challenges that we face. “We should be concerned about the native red mulberry whose genetics are being compromised,” O'Hara said. The Norway maple is in vicious competition with our native maples.

2. Plant asters, goldenrods and milkweeds. 
Participants learned that there were well over 35 species of goldenrods and asters: smooth aster, flat top aster, swamp aster, New England for attracting bees, beetles and butterflies. Grey goldenrod will grow on gravel and zigzag goldenrod in shady areas.
"Blue stem goldenrod is in almost every garden I plant," O'Hara pointed out.
O'Hara showed us photos of his garden in October, where bumblebees and other insects are feeding  on blue stem goldenrod as a back up as they prepare for winter: "Even into December, my garden is very much alive," O'Hara told the audience.

3.Plant native trees and shrubs.
"We have filled our city with Norway maple," O'Hara lamented. That we have. What do we do about it?
O'Hara reported having spotted many original, heritage trees (which are getting rare) all across the city that have survived development, backyards, highway corners etc. We should be collecting seeds from these native trees when we see them--trees like the red oaks, oak savannah, black oak, sugar maples, back cherry and so on. "Start a group with your neighbours. Seek out the original trees, plant the acorns, plant them in your backyards," O'Hara said.


  • Match garden elements to the size of your property.
  • Put in structure first.  Plant little plants, American hazel, red ciders, conifers, dogwood for structure. These are you foundation plants. Shrubs and trees will tolerate pruning: “Best time to prune when you have a pair of prunners in your hands," O'Hara said.
  • Evergreens are nice on corners to soften them, purple flower raspberry to fill out the spaces.
  • When you plant, it needs to look a little empty. You need to know how big the plant grows.
  • Use sedges (over 100 species) and ferns.
  • Water features are great for attracting wildlife; just a birdbath or puddling area (muddy depression for moths and butterflies).