Planting for Biodiversity in the Time of COVID-19

Throughout the month of October, LEAF staff and volunteers worked together to naturalize 5,650 square meters of public land in the City of Richmond Hill. Together, we planted over 1,600 native trees and shrubs! It’s a great start to our bigger goal of planting 6,000 native trees and shrubs by 2022 with support from Ontario Power Generation’s Regional Biodiversity Program. Sites will be selected across York and Durham Regions. Below, we share information on our naturalization efforts and photos capturing our activities.


This fall, we hosted seven community planting events at three sites in Richmond Hill. Typically, our events are open to the public. But, this year, to ensure the health and safety of participants, we limited attendance to LEAF staff and volunteers.  We also included some new rules to our safety protocols. Every attendant brought their own face mask (which they were required to wear at all times), gardening gloves and adhered to strict physical distancing guidelines. Participants were given their own set of buckets and shovel, which were sanitized after each use.

Signage displayed throughout the planting event site

The three sites where we planted were Humber Flats Eco Park, Toll Bar Park and Elgin West Channel Lands. All three sites are located near important waterways and ecologically significant areas. Thankfully, despite some rain, our volunteers were eager to plant as many trees and shrubs as possible.

Humber Flats Eco Park

  • Located along East Humber River within the Humber Watershed and Oak Ridges Moraine
  • Near the Red Cardinal Trail and two elementary schools
LEAF Program Assistant, Lianna Lopez, after planting in the rain at Humber Flats Eco Park


Toll Bar Park

  • Located along the German Mill Creek within the Don Watershed and Oak Ridges Moraine
  • Adjacent to a wetland area and two stormwater retention ponds
Volunteers planting along the slope of Toll Bar Park

Eglin West Channel Lands

  • Located along a tributary of the Rouge River within the Rouge Watershed
  • Within a large natural corridor near the Oak Ridges Trail and the Oak Ridges Moraine
  • Site was surrounded by mature black walnut trees, so our arborist selected species tolerant to their juglone toxin
Two volunteers planting a high bush cranberry at Eglin West Channel Lands


The difference these plantings made is evident at Humber Flats Eco Park. This site was previously covered with invasive species such as Queen Anne’s lace, bird’s foot trefoil, goutweed and field horsetail. After planting, it has now been transformed into naturalized parkland. Staff and volunteers planted basswood, bur oak, eastern white cedar, white spruce and other native plant species. Once the trees and shrubs mature, this site will become a healthy and thriving addition to the urban forest.

Humber Flats Eco Park before and after the naturalization event.

Naturalization plantings are not only valuable to wildlife, but also for the community who is engaging in its stewardship activities. Our volunteers appreciated this opportunity to go outside and make a positive impact in their community in a meaningful (and safe) way! We also had local residents approach our teams curious about the work taking place in their communities.

Volunteers planting at Eglin West Channel Lands

After each planting event, LEAF staff counted the native species and invasive species at each of the designated monitoring plots. The data collected through the monitoring program over the next few years will be used to reveal survivability, species diversity and invasive plant prevalence. 

LEAF Program Assistant, Janice Lam, monitoring a plot after the planting event

Thank you to all the LEAF Volunteers that joined us this planting season! We could not have accomplished such a great milestone without our amazing team of volunteers. Find out how you can join our volunteer team next year by visiting our Volunteers page.

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




This blog was written by Janice Lam, a Program Assistant 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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