How to Plant Trees and Shrubs in Your Back Yard In Canada

At Promise Supply we mostly specialize in Indoor Tropical Plants but occasionally our customers ask us questions about planting trees in their yards and on their balconies.

We worked with one of our part-time team members, Jeff Hocking, who is a certified Arborist with a decade of Landscape design and installation experience to boil down the essentials that everyone should know when looking to plant their yards. 

TLDR: The main things you need to know about planting trees in Canada are:

  • Before planting, consider the plant's hardiness zone, sun exposure, and soil composition.
  • When selecting a tree or shrub, choose a native species for the best chance of success.
  • When transporting plants, protect them from wind damage with a tree tarp or regular tarp.
  • When planting, dig a hole that is 2-3x larger than the root ball and ensure the root flare is level with the soil. Fill around the plant with rich organic soil and water it thoroughly.
  • After planting, monitor the plant's water needs, prune it correctly, and stake it for stability if necessary.
  • Avoid planting invasive species, which can harm the environment and be difficult to control.

1. Planting Conditions

Planting Zone - Temperature

Canadian Plant Hardiness Index Map for Planting Trees and Shrubs in Canada

When selecting trees for planting, it's essential to consider how well they can handle the cold.

In Canada, there are two common ways to determine and map these areas, called hardiness zones. One is called the Canadian Plant Hardiness Index (CPHI), which considers a variety of factors like temperature, rainfall, and wind.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has another scale called the USDA planting zones which primarily uses the temperature and doesn't include the additional factors in the CPHI. Hardiness zones help people choose plants, like trees, that can grow well in a specific area based on the climate.

By using a hardiness zone map, you can pick plants that are better suited to the local conditions, which can help them grow better and be healthier plants.

This is important because if people choose plants that are not adapted to their local climate, they may have a more challenging time growing and be more vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Your local plant nursery or garden center should only have plants that are hardy to your area or region. Knowing what zone you live in will help to make sure you start on the right path.

You should get to know your planting zone better than your local nursery. In some cases you may even discover that you can have a plant like an olive tree because you happen to be on Vancouver Island as opposed to mainland Vancouver.

You'd be surprised at some of the unique plants you can grow in The Beaches vs. at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto.

Sun vs. Shade - Sunlight

Trees and shrubs respond differently to levels of sunlight. The amount of sunlight a tree or shrub can tolerate is determined by three categories:

  • Planting in Full Sunlight: The spot where you plant your tree will receive more than six hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Planting in Partial Shade: The spot where you plant your tree will receive less than six hours of direct sunlight or filtered light throughout the majority of the day
  • Planting in Full Shade: Less than six hours of filtered sunlight; very little to no direct sunlight per day.

Changes that can affect the sun exposure of your plant:

Existing buildings, trees, and anything else that can obstruct the sun will change the amount of light your plants are receiving.

Even if you have a spot outside that seems like it is chronically in the shade, your planting project can still be successful if shade-tolerant species are selected.

Soil Composition - Sand vs. Clay

The Soil Composition Pyramid for planting trees in Souther Ontario Canada

To find out your garden's soil type, you can take a soil sample, add water to it, and feel it's texture. Sandy soil will feel gritty, clay soil will feel smooth and sticky, and silt soil will be somewhere in between.

You can also observe how water drains from the soil; sandy soil drains quickly, while clay soil drains slowly or not at all.

Knowing your soil type can help you choose the right plants and management practices for your garden, ensuring healthy plant growth by understanding how much water, nutrients, and air your soil can retain.

Hands passing through soil

Loamy Soil: 

Loamy soil is the 🐐 (greatest of all time) because it has the advantages of all of the other types of soil rolled into one. 

  • Advantages of Lamy Soil: Great aeration, perfect moisture retention, high nutrient retention and makes trees at the greenhouse jealous that you didn't select them for your perfect long term home. 
  • Disadvantages of Sandy Soil: None. Zero. Zilch.

Sandy Soil:

Sandy soil has large particle size, low water and nutrient retention, good drainage.

  • Advantages of Sandy Soil: Allows for good aeration and drainage, warms up quickly in spring
  • Disadvantages of Sandy Soil: Dries out quickly, low fertility, difficult to retain moisture and nutrients

Unlike other types of soil. Sandy soil is the most adaptable. Most plants should be able to handle planting in sandy soil. When planting trees in sandy soil you may have to irrigate more often.

Clay Soil:

Clay Soil has small particle size, high water and nutrient retention, poor drainage

  • Advantages of Clay Soil: Small particle size, high water and nutrient retention, poor drainage
  • Disadvantages of Clay Soil: It holds moisture and nutrients well, high fertility

Some of the best types of plants for clay soil are plants that are native to Southern Ontario including Dogwoods, Cedars and Maples. 

Silt Soil: 

Medium particle size, good water and nutrient retention, good drainage.

  • Advantages of Clay Soil: It holds moisture and nutrients well, good fertility
  • Disadvantages of Clay Soil: Prone to compaction, can erode easily 

Some of the best types of plants for silt soil are plants that can require a lot of nutrients such as fruit trees. Plants with intense root systems, such as dogwood, can help to reduce erosion. Most plants can be planted in silt soil, you just need to be mindful of erosion.

Note: The characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of soil types can vary depending on their specific composition and management practices.

Soil Drainage: Planting in Wet vs. Dry Soil

Whether the soil is wet or dry can have a big impact on successful planting.

Wet soil can suffocate roots and lead to root rot, and dry soil can cause stress and limit growth.

Choose trees and shrubs that are suited to your soil's moisture level, and consider using a thin layer of natural mulch 1" -2” inches to regulate moisture and promote healthy long-term growth.

Try and stay away from colour/ dyed mulch because the dyes leach into your soil. Let’s stay focused on great looking plants and avoid worrying about the colour of our mulch.

There are three types of soil drainage that you need to be mindful of Fast Draining Soil, Slow Draining Soil, and Moderate Draining Soil. 

Sandy soil, is normally fast draining, silt soil is normally moderate to slow draining, and clay soil is normally slow draining. 

How to test soil drainage before planting trees in your yard:

  1. Fill up a bucket that has a specific volume - for example 5 or 10 litres.
  2. Dump it on the location that has the lowest elevation
  3. Use a stop watch to time how long it takes for the water to disappear

If it takes less than 10 minutes to drain it is likely fast draining soil

If it takes around 10-20 minutes to drain it is likely moderate draining soil

If it sit there for half an hour it is likely slow draining soil 

Soils are broken down into Drainage Classes:

Poor Draining Soil: Poor draining soil holds too much moisture and needs to be ammended in order to be able to successfully plant most ornamental landscpaing plants. 

Species adapted to wet conditions include: Willows and Ironwoods

Recommended planting methods to improve slow draining soil:

  • Figure out if the site is level or if there is a big difference in the level of each soil. If there is you need to level it.
  • Soil that is compacted can be broken up and amended with stones or mulch to help improve aeration. 
  • Follow planting instructions for poorly-drained soils
  • Regulate irrigation to avoid overwatering

Recommended planting methods for moderate draining soil:

  • Do nothing, you're lucky - get what you like, plant it, and watch it grow. 

Recommended planting methods for fast draining soil:

  • Incorporate organic matter such as mulches, leaves, and compost.
  • Water your plants more regularly, especially during the tree juvenility stage

 2. Environmental Conditions

Salt on a road to remind people it will impact their trees and plants

Salt Tolerance

De-icing salts, which are used to melt snow and ice during the winter, are a significant source of salt in urban and suburban areas, and their accumulation in the soil can negatively impact plant health.

Being mindful of where the snow gets piled in the winter can help protect plants and soil from salt damage.

Plants that can grow and survive in soils with high levels of salt are considered salt-tolerant. Choosing the appropriate plant species for salty environments can promote successful growth.

Pollution Tolerance

Air pollution-tolerant trees and shrubs are those that can grow and thrive in environments with high levels of air pollution. In gardens or landscapes, these plants can help improve air quality by removing pollutants from the air through a process called phytoremediation.

When selecting plants for a landscape, we recommend the air pollution levels in the area and choose plants that are adapted to those conditions for the best chance of success.


Protected areas vs. unprotected areas

Trees can be used to reduce wind speeds, but the selection of appropriate species depends on the wind direction and speeds. Buildings can protect trees from strong winds, but in dense city areas, they can also create wind tunnels. Considering how wind can effect a tree and the environmental condition is something that some people might not consider when choosing the right tree.

How can wind impact planting trees on rooftops, patios and balconies:

Planting trees and shrubs on rooftops, patios, and balconies can be impacted by the wind in several ways.

Wind can cause damage to plants, such as leaf loss, torn leaves, branch breakage, and can also lead to thermal stress and increased moisture loss from soil and leaves.

Additionally, strong winds can knock over potted plants or cause them to dry out quickly.

Therefore, it's essential to choose plants that are suitable for the specific conditions due to the location and provide adequate support and protection to prevent damage. Using windbreaks, such as screens or trellises, and selecting sturdy containers can help protect plants from wind damage.

3. Types of Plant

Trees vs. Shrubs

The primary difference between a tree and a shrub is its size and structure. Trees are larger, with a single woody stem or trunk, and typically have a well-defined canopy or crown.

Shrubs, on the other hand, are smaller and have multiple stems, and often form a dense, bushy shape.

Additionally, shrubs are often used for landscaping as hedges or borders, while trees are used as focal points or for shade.

Trees that keep their leaves in the winter: Evergreen Trees

Coniferous trees- Trees that produce cones and do not lose their leaves in the winter.

Examples of coniferous trees in Canada include spruce, pine, fir, hemlock, and cedar.

Broad Leaf Evergreens - A bush/shrub that retains their leaves throughout the seasons, usually producing a flower in the spring and fruit in the fall.

Examples of broadleaf evergreens include: holly, and boxwoods.

Trees that drop leaves in the winter: Deciduous Trees

Broadleaf Trees
A broadleaf tree is a type of tree that has wide, flat leaves with veins that branch out from a central stem. Examples of broadleaf trees are Oak, Maple, Birch, and Ginkgo.

Broad Leaf Shrubs
Broadleaf shrubs are woody plants with broad leaves and multiple stems, shorter in height than trees, and valuable for ornamental value, privacy, or erosion control in landscaping. They are popular for their attractive foliage, colourful flowers, and adaptability to various growing conditions. Examples of broadleaf shrubs include azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and viburnums.

Broadleaf Trees That Fruit
Broadleaf trees that fruit produce larger fruits with a fleshy texture. These trees are typically deciduous and grow in various shapes and sizes.

They provide important ecological benefits by serving as a food source for wildlife, and are often enjoyed by people as well.

Examples of broadleaf trees that fruit in Canada include American plum, chokecherry, and serviceberry.

Broadleaf Trees That Flower
Broadleaf trees that flower are deciduous trees that produce attractive and fragrant flowers, making them popular choices for landscaping.

These trees provide important ecological benefits as they attract pollinators and serve as a food source for wildlife.

Examples of Broadleaf Trees that Flower are diverse in their size and shape, and include species such as dogwood, magnolia, and cherry, all of which produce beautiful flowers.

4. How Avoid Wind Damage When Bringing Plants Home

After choosing the right tree or shrub from a plant nursery or garden center, it is very important to protect the tree with either a tree tarp or a regular tarp to protect them from wind damage.

Wind damage during transportation is something that happens very often. This stress can diminish the quality and overall quality of a plant.

If you are not able to properly transport a tree or shrub, most plant nurseries will deliver them to you and in a professional manner to ensure the health and quality have been maintained.

Signs of potential wind damage:

  • Leaf drop
  • Dried or crinkled leaves
  • Dry rootball

5. How to Successfully Plant a Tree in Your Yard

Planting a tree or shrub properly is crucial to the longevity and health of the plant. The plants will undergo stresses and transplant shock in some way or form.

Steps to a successful proper planting include:

  1. Determine the proper planting hole depth and root flare position.
  2. Dig the hole 2-3x larger than the root ball in a saucer style. Do not dig the hole deeper than the existing rootball, as this will cause the tree to sink as the soil settles.
  3. If the soil in the hole is well compacted, be sure to break it up to help with drainage.
  4. Make sure the root flare is either level or slightly above the existing soil surface.
  5. Determine proper tree placement, and the tree is planted straight. Always do a check from all sides.
  6. Fill around the plant with rich organic soil to help create a ideal soil medium.
  7. Make sure to water the plant until it's been saturated thoroughly.
  8. Optional-Mulching has many benefits, including incredibly natural mulches. Do not pile the mulch on the root flare.


What you need to do after you plant a tree in your yard

  • Staking
    • You can stake young trees to help with stability but should be removed after two years.
    • This will help allow the tree to develop solid structural roots and to prevent any bark damage from the material used to connect the tree to the stakes.
    • Make sure to use a thick material that will not dig into the bark of the tree.
  • Pruning
    • Make sure to look up how to prune correctly.
    • Pruning can help make the tree yours by being able to help shape the future canopy.
    • Be sure to prune any girdling branches or branches that cross one another, as cross-branching and girdled branches have long-term adverse effects.
  • Watering
    • Make sure the plant has adequate amounts of water during the establishment period. Be mindful you can over water and drown a plant.
    • The plant must be given the proper amount of water to help establish roots and grow healthy foliage.
    • Potential Issues: Foliage/Leaves can help tell you whether the plant is over or under-watered.
      • Crisp, droopy, and shriveling leaves can mean a lack of water.
      • Droopy, soft leaves can be a sign of over-watering.
  • Mulching- Mulch can help with water retention through the hotter seasons, keeping the water from evaporating and fibrous roots from drying out.
    • Mulch, over a long period of time, can breakdown and help release nutrients and organic material back into the soil.
    • Mulch can also help insulate roots in colder seasons which can be beneficial for some plants that might not be used to those colder temperatures.

5. The Benefits of Planting Native Plants, Trees and Shrubs

Planting native trees and shrubs offers several benefits, including:

  1. Adaptation to the local climate: Native trees and shrubs are adapted to the local climate and can survive and thrive without excessive watering, fertilizing, or pesticides.
  2. Ecological benefits: Native trees and shrubs provide food and habitat for local wildlife, including birds, insects, and other animals. They can also help support biodiversity by promoting a healthy ecosystem.
  3. Soil health: Native trees and shrubs have deep roots that can help prevent soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and improve soil structure and water retention.
  4. Air and water quality: Trees and shrubs absorb pollutants, including carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, from the air, improving air quality. They can also filter pollutants from water and prevent runoff, reducing water pollution.
  5. Aesthetic value: Native trees and shrubs provide natural beauty and can enhance the landscape with their unique features and seasonal changes.

Overall, planting native trees and shrubs can help create a sustainable and resilient ecosystem while providing numerous benefits to the environment and human well-being.

What to Consider When Planting Non-Native Plants

When planting non-native trees and shrubs, it is essential to consider their invasiveness potential, climate compatibility, pest and disease resistance, ecological benefits, and aesthetic value.

Some non-native species can become invasive and outcompete native plants, while others may not be adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. Additionally, non-native species may be more susceptible to pests and diseases and may not provide the same ecological benefits as native species.

Finally, the aesthetic value should be balanced with ecological impact, and species that provide both should be selected. Careful research and selection of non-native species are necessary to ensure they are well-suited to the local environment and won't harm the ecosystem.

Here are some native tree species that could be considered instead of a non-native tree species. Most of theses trees are suitable for Southern Ontario's climate

Challenges to Consider Before Planting Invasive Species

Invasive species can outcompete native plants and animals, disrupt ecosystems, and cause economic and environmental harm. They can also be difficult and expensive to control once established. It is important to avoid planting invasive species to prevent harm to the environment and promote a healthy ecosystem.

In the 20th century, to create more vibrant landscapes and neighbourhoods, municipalities and developers were excited about plants that had a high tolerance for poor environmental conditions.

What they had not considered was how these non-native species would negatively impact the rest of the Ontario landscape and ecosystem.

Some invasive species that have been planted in Ontario include the Norway maple, Japanese knotweed, and purple loosestrife. It is important to avoid planting invasive species to prevent harm to the environment and promote a healthy ecosystem.

While there are aggressive native species like sumac, only non-native species are considered invasive.

Sumac will still take over your front yard, your back yard and your neighbours yard, but at least you won’t feel guilty that you brought something from overseas to destroy your local Ontario ecosystem.

Thanks for reading

If you have any questions about planting trees feel free to reach out to us at

Our team is also helping with basic tree planting as needed if you are interested in booking a consultation you can contact

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