Top 5 gardening tips for a changing climate (and a beautiful property)

Apr 2024

Our climate is changing, but there are lots of ways your outdoor space can continue to look beautiful while helping Mother Nature deal with a warmer, drier and less predictable environment. Here are some suggestions.

Native plants

Native perennials, shrubs and trees or those that have become naturalized to the region are best suited to a changing climate because they are already more attuned to the extremes of weather in eastern Ontario than exotic imports.

Plants that continue to thrive in a changing climate can also better support pollinators throughout the spring and summer season.

Bearberry, wild columbine, dogwood and serviceberry are among the many native plants recommended on the City of Ottawa’s website. A gardening centre expert can also help with your plant selection.

Rain gardens & more

Have you noticed how summer rainstorms seem more intense than they once did? Coupled with the generally drier conditions predicted to accompany climate change, the heavy downpours can result in soil erosion and flooding of streets and properties.

A rain garden can help absorb that excess water by directing water from a downspout over a runway of rocks and plants like black-eyed Susans and native grasses that don’t mind a good soaking.

More information on rain gardens, permeable pavement to increase ground absorption and other water mitigation ideas here.

Summer droughts

Seasonal droughts are nothing new in eastern Ontario, although climate change will likely increase their length and severity. The temptation is to turn on the sprinkler to keep your lawn green and your gardens lush.

But why go to the trouble and expense, not to mention drawing on our precious water supply? Lawns go dormant in droughts but bounce back when the rain returns, and there’s no law saying our properties have to be green all summer.

Vegetable gardens, flowers, shrubs and trees do need water to remain healthy, but rather than spraying them, try a soaker hose (trees should be watered thoroughly out to the canopy line) or a permanent irrigation system like those sold by Lee Valley that direct water to the roots, where it’s needed. Water collected in a rain barrel during summer storms can be used here.

Tip: Mulching keeps soil moist and weeds under control, but insist on an organic mulch like cedar or straw, which will add nutrients to the soil as it gradually decomposes.

Helping the pollinators

It’s no secret that bees, butterflies and other creatures help keep us fed and our planet green and healthy by pollinating plants. Climate change, pesticides and loss of habitat are among the man-made enemies of pollinators, reducing, for example, some bee and butterfly populations.

Goldenrod, milkweed, prairie smoke and black-eyed Susan are among the profusion of plants that pollinators love and that add variety, native growth and natural beauty to your property. More plant suggestions for the Ottawa area here.

Bonus: If you plant milkweed, keep your eyes open for the brilliant Monarch caterpillars that spin a chrysalis on the plants in August, emerging as gorgeous  butterflies late in the month. Learn more here.


Trees absorb climate-altering carbon dioxide, release oxygen, reduce the temperature around them, serve as wind breaks, and provide homes for insects, birds and small animals. Add their beauty, and it’s no wonder we love them.

Development and agriculture have reduced our tree coverage, so it’s up to us to restore it.

What kind of trees and where you plant them will depend on the size of your property, how you use your front and backyard, distance from overhead utilities and other factors. Check with an arborist or a reliable nursery or garden centre before selecting a tree. There are also good tips here and here.

Tip: A crab apple tree is not only stunning when it flowers in the spring, it also produces abundant fruit that you can turn into delicious crab apple jelly. Make sure you specify you’re looking for one that produces large fruit, not just an “ornamental” crab, when you make your purchase.


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