There is a trend towards naturalization in cities all across Canada. Urban naturalization is an ecologically-based approach to landscape management that seeks to restore environmental integrity to the urban landscape through the use of plant species native to the region. Natural landscapes are inherently low-maintenance; self-renewing and can help foster a new relationship of urban environmental stewardship. Connected naturalized areas can also help restore landscape functions within and between surrounding ecosystem. Naturalization has many ecological and environmental, educational, recreational and economic benefits associated with its application. Naturalizations bring beauty to the city, conserve local native plants, provide wildlife habitat, improve air quality, reduce urban heat island effect, and increase human health by providing outdoor recreation.
Parks Naturalization Goals
Naturalization is a process of ecological restoration that involves returning an altered or degraded site to a more natural condition through the use of trees, shrubs and flowers that are native to the area. The naturalization process defines a strategy of minimum maintenance intervention establishing native woodland, wetland and meadow communities to selected areas. It is at the low end of the scale of management, but not free. Naturalization includes tree and shrub planting, no-mowing prescriptions, control of non-native and "weed" species and meadow and wildflower plantings. Goals of naturalization include ecological health, park variety and aesthetics.
There is a common misconception that naturalization is low cost by simply halting the mowing of grass and engaging in some planting. What regrows after halting mowing is a community dominated by non-native grasses and weeds. The same funds used to formally mow the grass needs to go towards management for the first few years inconjunction with the site preparation, purchasing of plant materials and planting. Once the site has established a naturally regenerating community of desirable species, it is truly low cost to maintain the restoration. Naturalization can involve three methods:
- Plantation – the initial planting of a similar species where final woodland composition is characterized by the initial plantings;
- Managed succession – where fast growing pioneer species are first introduced with intermediate and climax species planted at later stages to provide an environment for natural migrations of additional species over time;
- Natural regeneration – where mowing of turf grass is reduced significantly or discontinued altogether in areas where a natural seed source is in close proximity.