Naturalization at stormwater ponds in Edmonton a good use of resources. And birds like it

Naturalization can really grow on you. 

“We understand that naturalization is a change in what you’re visually used to,” said Catherine Falk, who is a Landscape Technician with the City of Edmonton. 

“Some people may find that it looks messy or unkempt or partially fearful of what might be in that area, but, over time, they do find that deeper appreciation for naturalized areas.”

Naturalization means helping land and habitat return to a more natural state.

Stormwater facilities 

In Edmonton this year, approximately 150 hectares of land at stormwater management facilities will begin the process of naturalization. 

Naturalization in these areas means going from an area that looks like this, where a buffer of grass around the stormwater facility is left unmowed: 

Stage 1 of naturalization means expanding the buffer zone around the stormwater facility by stopping mowing a band of grass. And controlling legislated weeds.

To something after a few years that looks more like this:  

Stage 2 of naturalization means planting native trees and shrubs among the naturally reappearing flora. City crews continue to monitor the area for legislated weeds.

And then, in time, back to this:

Stage 3 of naturalization means the growth of more mature trees, bushes and shrubs as the habitat strengthens.

Some benefits

Returning to a more natural habitat is good for pollinators like bees and butterflies, and for birds and for small animals. 

Naturalized areas can also act as a connector habitat for the movement of larger animals like deer and us humans, too.

Naturalization stabilizes the soil thanks to plants with deeper roots. It also helps with reducing runoff during large rain events, as well as filtering water and improving water quality.

As planted trees mature, the value of the urban forest increases.

Naturalization helps preserve that other valuable resource—money—by decreasing mowing costs. 

This is Yarrow. Butterflies like to land on it. Some native plants are essential for food and to continue some species. Milkweed, for example, is essential for the Monarch butterfly.


“The key ingredient for naturalization is patience,” said Nicole Fraser, who is the General Supervisor, Operations Planning and Monitoring, with the City of Edmonton. 

“It is known that natural processes will create the best environment for everyone to co-exist,” said Fraser. “A diverse, natural ecosystem gives us more benefits than our best intended garden or lawn.” 

That’s not just Nicole Fraser talking. It’s the United Nations, too. This year, the UN declared the next 10 years the Decade on Restoration

More than 1,000 hectares of previously mowed open space land in Edmonton is being naturalized.

Naturalization by the numbers

69,980: area in hectares of the City of Edmonton.

1,035: number of hectares of previously mowed open space land the City has recaptured through naturalization.

1.5: percentage of Edmonton—not including natural areas like the river valley, ravines and protected tree stands on table land—that is naturalized. 

The City of Edmonton’s Catherine Falk with a stand of summer-blooming goldenrod in a section of mature naturalization.

Editor’s note: the pics in this post were taken July 28, 2021, during a news media tour of naturalization stages at the stormwater management facility near Doug Kelly Park in Edmonton. Nicole Fraser spoke, Catherine Falk spoke and, while they did, so, too, did the birds. Enjoy: