Lessons from Naturalizing Richmond Hill’s Urban Forest

Throughout May and early June, LEAF staff members were busy bees naturalizing public lands in the City of Richmond Hill. As a first-time tree planter, I was amazed that we were able to plant over 700 native trees and shrubs in just seven days! As I reflect back on the planting days, every day was unique and offered new learning opportunities for me. Here are three lessons I learned as a first-time tree planter!


The tree-mendous world of tree names!

For the first few days, I was still learning how to identify many of the species we were planting. I admit, trying to remember the names of tree species can be daunting! However, having the opportunity to get close to each tree helped me develop new tools to remember their names. For example, I noticed that silver maple leaves have deeper lobes and are white or silver on the backside. Sugar maple leaves, on the other hand, have more shallow lobes and are the same green colour on both sides.


Amp-leaf-ying the wildlife!

The sounds of chattering red-winged blackbirds filled our ears with each new tree that we planted. As I listened to them, I was reminded of the many ecological benefits our trees would provide for the urban forest and wildlife! As the trees mature, they will provide a rich source of food and shelter for more birds, insects and pollinators. Seeing so many birds and butterflies out and about gave us hope that the sites will thrive with wildlife well into the future.


Ants: Friends or Foes?

At one of the sites, when I started digging, I noticed that the ground was covered in ants! There were so many crawling around that I was hesitant to start planting. I learned that ants actually help the environment in many ways and will be beneficial to our trees as they settle into their new homes. As the ants move around in the soil, they aerate it. This provides plant roots with the oxygen, water and nutrients they need to survive. So, not only would the native trees bring value to the sites, but the existing wildlife would also be assisting our trees as they mature. It’s a win-win situation!

Every day brought new experiences and learning opportunities for me. I was learning how to identify native tree species, about the ecological interactions happening in the environment and how to properly plant a tree.


It brought me joy to see the native trees and shrubs we had just planted, because I knew that they would continue to provide many socioeconomic and environmental benefits to the City of Richmond Hill for years to come! 


If you’re interested in learning more about native plant species and how to help grow our urban forests, check out our volunteer page to get involved.




Simran Mehmi is the Naturalization Assistant at LEAF.


Our community planting and stewardship events are supported by the City of Richmond Hill, the Regional Municipality of York, Ontario Power Generation and GrandTrees/Canadian Trees For Life.