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Native Tree Giveaway

Restoring Biodiversity - Tree by Tree

We all can plant another native tree in our yard and play an active part in making the world a better place for us, future generations and wildlife alike. Native trees don't only benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. One Bur Oak, Northern Red Oak, or Sugar Maple sequesters over 3200 kg of CO2, mitigates about 513,000 litres of stormwater and removes around 77 kg of air pollutants during its life. They provide privacy and increase property value by up to 20% for your property and neighbourhood. Best of all, they provide great shade in summer and, through transpiration, reduce the City's heat island effect by a good 5ºC. As a windbreak, they also save heating costs in winter. Their green appearance, beauty, and scent reduce stress, increase school performance, and contribute to our overall health and well-being.

The City of Toronto has the visionary goal of a 40% tree canopy cover by 2050 to become one of the most livable cities in the world. The City has made this event possible by generously providing all trees through a

Community Planting & Stewardship Grant for this Neighbourhood Tree Giveaway. 

Therefore the trees and shrubs are for Toronto residents only and can only be planted within City boundaries. 

Scarborough Food Security Initiative has graciously allowed us to hold this event in their 

Community Farm Garden

located at 3595 St. Clair Avenue East,

on June 3rd

from 10 a.m to 2 p.m.

The Scarborough Food Security Initiative will organize a Market at the same time with local vendors, kids' games, food & drinks, live music and more. To learn more about the Scarborough Food Initiative and support their important work, click here.

You can order two free native trees to plant on your private property within Toronto borders. Check out the offered species below and match them to your garden conditions and space. 

Good to know:

  • All trees are native to Toronto and suited for our urban environment.

  • The trees come in 1 or 2-gallon pots and are small enough to be carried home easily.

  • For the long-term health of a tree, it is much better to plant younger trees than more developed trees since their root system is not damaged from growing in too small pots and becoming root-bound or regularly being cut and severed in the nursery beds. It is best even to plant a few months-old saplings if you can protect them.

  • In the wild, trees grow in communities. Planting groups of at least two to three trees together on a 6-foot center would be best. The tree roots will interlock, giving them excellent stability, and they will support each other in producing a healthy, resilient environment. 

  • Spring is a good time to plant a tree because trees don't need to deal with the stresses of the summer heat, but since they need to produce leaves and flowers, they need a lot more water to perform these tasks. 

  • It is imperative to protect young trees from damage. One small nick with the lawnmower will develop into a larger and larger wound as the tree grows. Trees can never heal their injuries, and the injuries will always stay a weaker entrance point for disease.  

  • It is best to remove the lawn generously around the tree and replace it with some understory trees, shrubs, ground cover, and sedges. This enables a small ecosystem to get to work; insects will complete their lifecycle in the soil because they have a soft landing when they fall off the tree and, therefore, can fulfill their role in the food web as a protein-rich food source for other wildlife, like our birds. Additionally, the soil around the root system doesn't get constantly compacted by mowing the lawn, so soil biology can create beneficial mutual relations with the trees and enhance their health. Check out the concept of a soft landing on Heather Holm's fantastic website.

  • The soil around the tree must always be covered either with mulch, like wood chips or leaves or better with cover plants, like wild strawberry, wild ginger or native Solomon's seal or native sedges. Rainfall on bare soil compacts the soil and causes depletion of nutrients and all beneficial soil life.

  • A pollinator garden with short plants can be planted around the tree and maintained as long as the tree is small and doesn't shade the pollinator plants.

  • Trees and shrubs should be planted as soon as possible, best within a week.

  • Call ontarioonecall at least 5 days before you dig. It's the law.

  • Species of the trees/shrubs are subject to availability and may change or be substituted.

  • A lot of the offered species are edible for humans. Please conduct your own thorough research on how to prepare the plant to be safe for human consumption. Also, remember that wild food is very potent, so you should always test with small quantities if you might be allergic to a particular compound. 

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 Check out the Profiles of the Powerhouse Trees

Appearance. Ecological Value. Growing Conditions.


Northern Red Oak

The red oak is a large, hardy, long-lived shade tree and very tolerant of urban conditions. The attractive leaves often stay on the lower branches during winter. Researchers believe this was a helpful defence mechanism to protect the young twigs from browsing dinosaurs. Today oaks sustain a complex and fascinating web of wildlife and are the ecologically most productive tree. The leaves provide food for over 500 kinds of caterpillars. Caterpillars are crucial since they are the most important food source for birds raising their babies. To better understand how vital oaks are for our ecology, watch Doug Tallamey's presentation. 

The acorns are an essential food source for small mammals and birds like Blue Jays. Blue Jays hide over 100 viable acorns daily for a month, making them the number one planter of oaks. Older trees often have cavities that provide shelter and nesting sites for birds and mammals. Find out more about oaks under Swamp White Oak.


Height: 60+ ft

​Width: 60+ ft   

Requires full sun to partial shade

Adapts to moist and dry soil conditions

Prefers acidic soil but can grow in any soil

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Swamp White Oak

The swamp white oak is a hardy, magnificent shade tree with a broad rounded crown and uniquely bicoloured leaves that are shiny and dark green on the surface and lighter on the underside. This tree lives up to 350 years and is, like all oaks, the most beneficial plant you can add to your yard for wildlife, especially birds. The leaves are an abundant food source for over 500 different caterpillars, essential for a functioning food web. E.g. one pair of chickadees needs 9000 caterpillars within the six weeks of raising their young. And oaks will produce them. To better understand how vital oaks are for our ecology, especially for birds, watch Doug Tallamy's presentation and check out his newest book "The Nature of Oaks". Oaks are the host plant for the beautiful Hairstreak butterflies. 

In fall, the leaves turn a beautiful orange and red. Once fallen, oak leaves are better mulch than wood chips. They likewise don't decompose during one season. Still, they are loose enough to offer habitat to firefly larvae, bumblebee queens, and many other beneficial insects during winter, and they are said to repel slugs and grubs.  

Their acorns are the sweetest of all oaks and offer an abundant food source for small mammals, birds like ducks, turkeys, woodpeckers, blue jays, even beavers and black bears. Blue Jays hide over 100 viable acorns up to one mile away from the mother tree every day for a month, making them the number one planter of oaks. Older trees often have cavities that provide shelter and nesting sites for birds and mammals. Check out the great article by Brenna Anstett.

Natural companion plants are Sugar Maple, other Oak species, American Beech, River Birch, Pagoda Dogwood, Chokeberry, and Joe Pye Weed.


Height: 60+ ft

Width: 60+ ft   

Full sun to partial shade 

Requires neutral to slightly acidic soil

Tolerates seasonal flooding and dry soil

Photo credit: Dan Keck


Sugar Maple

The sugar maple is a large shade tree with light green leaves that turn an attractive yellow-orange or fiery red in the fall. It is slow-growing and can live for more than 200 years. Sugar Maple is of great value to our native wildlife. Maples are among the first trees to bloom in spring. Even though they are wind-pollinated, they offer nectar and pollen and are vital for pollinators coming out of dormancy. The leaves feed almost 300 caterpillar species that supply amble food for breeding birds. Orioles, wrens and warblers, and various mammals eat the seeds. The twigs, buds, and bark become a lifesaving winter food source for small mammals, birds, and deer. 

Sugar Maple trees draw water from lower soil layers. They exude that water into upper, drier soil layers, which benefits all the understory plants.

Great companion trees for sugar maple trees are ironwood, beech, basswood, white ash, black cherry, yellow birch, Eastern white pine, Northern red oak, and Eastern hemlock. Great understory trees are American elderberry, hazelnut, pagoda dogwood, and bush honeysuckle.

Native Solomon's seal, Canada wild ginger, wild geranium, foamflower and even wood asters, New England asters, grey goldenrod, blue stem goldenrod and zigzag goldenrod are perfect ground covers and pollinator plants underneath sugar maples.

Height: 60+ ft

Width: 40+ ft

Requires full sun to part shade

Prefers moist soil of any type

Cannot tolerate swampy conditions, salt, heavy air pollution or foot traffic


Common Hackberry

The hackberry tree is a large-sized tree that, in Canada, is only found across southern Ontario. It is very hardy and tolerant of urban conditions and can get 150-200 years old. Hackberry will grow as wide as tall, so ample space is needed. It is a great shade tree. It produces single, dark purple fruits that hang below the leaves and persist into winter. Many birds will eat the fruit, including waxwings and robins.

The leaves are a food source for different species of butterflies, including Morning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) and Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis). The caterpillars of the Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton), Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis), and American Snout Butterfly (Libytheana carinenta) can only eat leaves from Hackberry trees. They rely entirely on Hackberry trees for their existence.


Height: 40 ft

Width 25 ft   

Requires full sun to partial shade

Very adaptable to wet and dry and all types of soil conditions

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Eastern White Pine

The Eastern White Pine is Ontario's iconic provincial tree. The tall trees are captured windswept in the paintings of the Group of Seven. It is a big shade tree that helps reduce energy consumption and cost as a windbreaker and shade tree.
Not noticeable at first glance, the tree provides an extremely high wildlife value since every part is edible- even for humans. Nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, and many other birds love the seeds. The buds, needles, bark, twigs and young cones help many animals to get the nutrition they need during different seasons and to survive the winter. 
We can use ground pine needles in many recipes, raw or baked. The needles contain high amounts of Vitamine C and A. Indigenous peoples have used Eastern white pine as an effective medicinal plant to soothe the respiratory system. Its needles and resin have "anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, stimulating and relaxing, aromatic, pungent and stabilizing qualities, with particular benefits for the upper respiratory system, stomach, liver and kidneys. " Quote
Dense horizontal branching attracts small birds like warblers and purple finches, bigger birds like mourning doves, crows and blue jays, as well as great horned owls and red-tailed hawks to build their nests. Many birds collect young pine needles to cushion their nests.

Height: 40 ft
Width 30 ft   
Requires full sun to partial shade
Very adaptable to wet and dry and all types of soil conditions
Sensitive to atmospheric pollution

Bigger Shrubs with extremely high wildlife value


Smooth Serviceberry

Serviceberry is an adaptable large shrub or small tree, depending if it is pruned to a single-stem tree or left to form a multi-stemmed shrub. Serviceberry trees put on a show of white flowers in spring and provide an excellent early season source of pollen and nectar. The open form of the flowers allows many different kinds of bees access to its nectar. The leaves support 100 different caterpillar species, including the caterpillars of the white admiral and the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly. The small, round, sweet berries ripen in summer. Over 40 species of birds, including orioles, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, scarlet tanagers, Northern flickers, and robins, feed on them. If the tree gets at least 4 hours of sun, it will produce a lot of berries that are edible raw and cooked, bursting in the mouth with a sweet and tart berry flavour. In fall, the leaves turn into an array of stunning colours, from orange to purple and red. Serviceberry trees provide very high ecological value for wildlife and are beautiful year-round.

Height:15-25 ft 

Width 15-25 ft    

Very adaptable to full sun and partial shade

Moist to dry soil of various types


Grey Dogwood

Grey dogwood is an adaptable, hardy shrub with creamy white flowers in early summer, white berries on pink stems, and purple-red leaves in the fall.

It is slow-growing and thicket-forming through suckers in moister soil.

The grey dogwood is a host plant for the caterpillars of the beautiful Polyphemus Moth. The Spring Azure butterfly lays her eggs on the flower buds and her caterpillars feed on the plant.

Berries attract Northern Cardinals, Goldfinches, Yellow Warblers, and many other birds. The multi-stemmed, thicket-forming growth provides a safe nesting place for many birds.

Large Shrub

Height: 15 ft

Width: 15 ft    

Able to grow in full sun to full shade,

in wet to dry soil conditions of various types


Shrubs are essential for birds, providing cover and nutritious berries and seeds

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Black Elderberry

American Elderberry is a hardy, fast-growing shrub that can tolerate some air pollution. Showy, big clusters of tiny white flowers bloom in July and attract small bees of different genera with their pollen. The fragrant flowers, once cooked, are incredibly delicious as fritters, syrup or gelly and reminiscent of lychee and pear. Plenty of berries ripen in August and turn black and sweet. Many birds, including Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, and Cedar Waxwings, devour the berries. Once cooked, the berries are said to boost our immune system and are a treat as jellies or in pies. Many moth species can eat the leaves of this plant in their caterpillar stage, including the spectacular Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia), North America's largest moth!

Height: 5-8+ ft 
Width: 6-12 ft    
Very adaptable to full sun and partial shade
Prefers acidic soil but can grow in moist, well-drained to dry soil of various types

Highbush Cranberry

Highbush cranberry is a viburnum, not a cranberry, even though the fruit looks and tastes similar. 
In early summer, flat clusters of beautiful white flowers attract many pollinators. The outer ring of showy white flowers is sterile, but the inner flowers will produce bright red berries by the end of summer. The leaves support many caterpillars. 98% of caterpillars don't get to the moth stage but serve as food for baby birds and therefore play an important ecological role.
Birds do not favour the berries in the fall. Therefore, the berries stay on the shrubs into winter and can provide a critical winter food source for cedar waxwings, robins, and cardinals.
The bright red berries are high in Vitamine C and can be eaten raw but are quite tart. They are ideal for jellies and jams as well as for sauces.
The foliage turns a beautiful red to purple in the fall.

Height: 8-12 ft 
Width: 6-12 ft    
Best grown in full sun, but can tolerate partial sun.
Moist to medium soil of various types
Photo: Kaz Andrew from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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Smooth Wild Rose

The smooth wild rose is a small, fast-growing shrub with large fragrant flowers that only offer pollen and are mainly visited by female bees. Pollinated flowers develop into bright red rosehips in fall. Both rose petals and rosehips are edible and provide health benefits. Rosehips are popular in teas and contain incredibly high amounts of vitamin C. The rose offers exceptionally high value for songbirds and small mammals by providing rosehips in winter and safe nesting sites through a mounting, thicket-forming growth. In moister conditions, it can naturalize by spreading through suckers. Green to reddish stems are thornless on new growth and add winter interest.

Height: 3-6 ft    
Width: 4-8+ ft    
Grows in full sun 
Moist well-drained to dry soils of various types

Bush Honeysuckle

A hardy shrub with small yellow trumpet-shaped flowers tolerant of various conditions.

Mounded, multi-stemmed, thicket-forming. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators love the plant’s nectar and pollen. Check out the great article about honeysuckle on

Height: 3 ft    

Width: 3 ft    

Grows in full sun to partial shade

Moist to dry soils of various type

How to Support Your Tree for best Growth and Health

All the offered trees and shrubs are quite easy to grow and are adapted to our climate and urban stresses. It is still important to find the right tree for your needs and the right location in your yard for your tree. 


Assessing Your Yard

What should the purpose of your tree be?

Space, sun and moisture determine greatly which species can grow in a given spot.

Planting Your Tree

By knowing what to pay attention to while planting your tree, you can greatly improve your trees resilience, health and the age your tree can reach. It is most important to open up the roots if they have grown around the root ball. They would grow bigger in this circular motion and eventually strangle the tree.

Caring for Your Tree

Watering- watering-watering. 
It is important to help develop a healthy root system in the first years. 

Add a Garden Sign

Raise awareness about the importance of native plants with this beautiful double-sided garden sign in your front yard. It is designed by our volunteer Janine Penev. Signs are available for $15.- for pick up in the Bluffs.

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