GreenUP staff and volunteers from the Trent Learning Garden constructed Ecology Park's first air prune bed in spring 2024. This structure will be used to propagate tap-rooted trees and shrubs. (Hayley Goodchild / GreenUP)

GreenUP staff and volunteers from the Trent Learning Garden constructed Ecology Park’s first air prune bed in spring 2024. This structure will be used to propagate tap-rooted trees and shrubs. (Hayley Goodchild / GreenUP)

By: Hayley Goodchild, Native Plant Propagation Coordinator

You may have noticed changes underway at Ecology Park this spring. This is an exciting year for GreenUP as we break ground—literally and figuratively—on a long-term propagation project at the park.

The most dramatic transformation has been the reconstruction of the Lath House, a pergola that casts dappled shade on more than two dozen woodland plant species, such as Bloodroot, Pawpaw, and Mayapple.

With the structure complete, we’re embarking on stage two, which is to reorganize the beds so there are ample populations of healthy, seed-producing plants. This space will be an area where visitors can see native woodland species in their mature form, while also providing the nursery with a source of quality seed and plant material.

Another area of transformation is the Propagation Station adjacent to the children’s playscape and vegetable gardens. Here we are experimenting with methods of growing nursery stock intensively using minimal energy and irrigation.

For example, we recently constructed an air prune bed to grow trees and shrubs with long taproots, such as Hickories and Pawpaws. An air prune bed is a raised planting bed with a mesh bottom that is elevated off the ground. It is covered by a cage to prevent our curious animal friends from ‘helping’ us plant.

When tap-rooted trees are grown in containers, their roots will circle around the pot many times, which compromises the trees’ long-term health.

In an air prune bed, taproots grow straight down until they reach open air, at which point they go dormant and send out healthy lateral roots instead. At this stage, the trees can be sold as bare root stock, or moved to containers for a short period while they find their forever homes.

Grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) growing in the Ecology Park gardens. Grass-leaved goldenrod will be available at the Ecology Park nursery later in the 2024 season. (Photo: Hayley Goodchild / GreenUP)

Grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) growing in the Ecology Park gardens. Grass-leaved goldenrod will be available at the Ecology Park nursery later in the 2024 season. (Photo: Hayley Goodchild / GreenUP)

These initiatives are part of a project to propagate native plants at low cost for the benefit of the Native Plant Nursery and Ecology Park. This stock will be well adapted to urban environmental conditions, and will help cushion the nursery from supply side challenges.

For example, this season we are excited to offer a new species propagated from a species that has thrived at the Park for many years: Grass-leaved Goldenrod, or Euthamia graminifolia.

This cousin of the true Goldenrods is a tough but delicate looking plant that provides pollinating insects with nectar very late in the season. Its fine foliage and flat-topped yellow flowers are beautiful paired with one of the many native asters.

As our propagation efforts expand, excess plants will be planted out in gardens and trail areas to replace invasive and unwanted species, such as Common Buckthorn and Dog Strangling Vine. The managed areas of the Park will in turn provide us with important genetic resources to continue propagation. The result is a positive feedback loop that sustains the nursery economically while increasing biodiversity and improving the health of the urban forest.

Of course, as a small-scale nursery, we cannot produce all of our stock on site. Nor do we want to! A diverse network of regional growers and retailers is critical to supply increasing demand for native plants in Ontario and builds resilience across the sector.

Finally, our location in a public park creates unique opportunities to educate the public about how to responsibly and effectively harvest seed and grow native plants in an urban setting. After all, all of our work is on full display.

The Native Tree & Plant Nursery at GreenUP’s Ecology Park carries more than 200 species of native trees, shrubs, and perennial plants. (Photo: Jessica Todd / GreenUP)

The Native Tree & Plant Nursery at GreenUP’s Ecology Park carries more than 200 species of native trees, shrubs, and perennial plants. (Photo: Jessica Todd / GreenUP)

We will be hosting a series of workshops and volunteer opportunities this season, where you can get your hands dirty and build new skills. Be sure to pencil this one into your calendar: our Propagation Open House is Wednesday, July 10th from 11am to 1pm.

At the event, there will be a short presentation, followed by refreshments and all the plant nerdiness your eco-loving heart desires. Check out our air prune boxes, try your hand at rooting cuttings in the Propagation Station, or swing by the Little Forest ‘Ask Me Anything’ booth staffed by Neighbourhood and Residential programs coordinator Laura Keresztesi.

Ecology Park’s propagation program is funded by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation until late 2025. For more information, contact Hayley Goodchild, Native Plant Propagation Coordinator, at hayley.goodchild@greenup.on.ca. The Native Plant Nursery is open Thursdays 10-6 and 10-4 Friday through Sunday. For more information about the Ecology Park Learning Series, visit the GreenUP Events calendar at [URL].