Tree Planting Has Lasting Effect on Biodiversity and Communities

This fall, with support from Ontario Power Generation’s Regional Biodiversity Program, we launched a new project to increase biodiversity on public lands in York and Durham Regions by the year 2022. We’re happy to announce a great start to this project! This fall alone, we planted 1,617 native trees and shrubs in and hosted a virtual tree tour, attended by 90 people.



The goal of this project is to convert public land with low biodiversity value into healthy and sustainable additions to our urban forest through:

  1. Naturalization of public lands by planting 6,000 trees and shrubs native to the area.
  2. Monitoring and stewarding of the planting sites to adaptively manage and improve our naturalization efforts.
  3. Planting of native shrubs on private property through free shrub giveaways to local community members.
  4. Annual educational events that engage local community members and foster a deeper understanding of and connection with our urban forest.

1. Naturalization of public land

This fall, we hosted seven planting events at three sites in the City of Richmond Hill. Small groups of LEAF volunteers and staff members planted and provided mulch to 1,617 native trees and shrubs across 5,650 square meters of public land.

The planting sites were visited by LEAF staff ahead of the planting days to select which species to plant. Conditions such as sunlight, soil, human infrastructure and established plants were all taken into consideration to create our planting plan.

When we do our community planting events, we introduce native species that support local biodiversity. We planted 23 different species of native trees and shrubs this year, among them were:

  • Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) this tree is the host plant to the hackberry emperor butterfly
  • Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) the flowers of this tree bloom early in the season and provide much-needed nectar to spring-emerging pollinators while its acorns offer a nutritiously rich food source for birds and mammals.
  • Common ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) and American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) two shrubs that produce fruits and seeds that persist in the winter, providing an essential food source for overwintering birds.

The benefits these trees and shrubs will provide for wildlife and the local community will grow for years to come!

We will continue this work in 2021. If you are interested in helping us increase plant biodiversity in York and Durham Regions, consider becoming a LEAF volunteer and join our future community tree planting events!

2. Monitoring and stewarding of the planting sites

Prior to each planting day, LEAF staff visited the three planting sites to collect data on the number of tree and shrub species present, as well as the abundance of invasive plant species. After the planting was completed, data was collected again to capture the changes to site plant composition. We will return to these sites again in two years and five years.

3. Planting of native shrubs on private property

While our shrub giveaways are scheduled to start in 2021, our community tree planting efforts have already inspired residents to plant on their own property!

As you can imagine, it is hard to be discreet while planting hundreds of trees in parks and other public spaces and so we had several residents come out and ask questions about our work. Everyone was tremendously grateful that we were increasing the number of trees and shrubs in their community. And, at least one resident was so inspired that they applied for our Backyard Tree Planting Program to incorporate native species into their own backyard! It means a lot to us that our small group could motivate others to continue to grow the urban forest.

4. Annual educational event

The Virtual Lake Wilcox Tree Tour was an innovative way for local residents and nature enthusiasts to learn remotely about the native tree species in Lake Wilcox Park. It was great to hear that people were excited to take what they learned and apply it at home. One attendee commented, “I really liked […] how I could translate the information learned into my own gardening.” As people learn more about native tree species, they become more inspired to introduce those species on their own property, which supports the urban forest ecosystem.

While we are so proud and impressed with the impact our stewardship program has had this year, we are even more excited for the lasting effects our activities will have had on community members and the environment well into the future!


This blog is the final part of a four-part series on the work we’re doing in York and Durham Regions to naturalize public land.


Brian Millward is the Stewardship Coordinator at LEAF.


Our community planting and stewardship events are supported by Ontario Power Generation, the Regional Municipality of York, the City of Richmond Hill and Grandtrees Climate Solutions.


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