How to start a school garden

Quander Road School, 6400 Quander Road, Alexandria, VA 22307
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
7:00 pm-8:30 pm

Are you thinking about starting a school garden?  Would you like to tour a school grounds  with a fenced vegetable garden, courtyard herb garden, pollinator gardens, and a native meadow?

Please come join the fun with other gardeners, teachers, and prospective gardeners as we learn practical tips and steps to start a school garden from Brooke-Marie LaPorta, the Garden Coordinator and Science Department Chair at Quander Road School. Other teachers and experienced gardeners will be available to answer your questions for the last half an hour of this event.

Learn more.

Fairfax County’s Environmental Excellence Awards

Fairfax County’s Environmental Excellence Awards nomination process is under way. You are encouraged to submit one or more nominations to recognize the efforts of deserving individuals, organizations, businesses and/or county employees.

Nominations are being accepted until May 31, 2019. Please contact Joe Gorney  or Kambiz Agazi  if you have any questions. Learn more.

Help with restoration planting at Clifton Institute, May 15-17

The lower dam at the Clifton Institute was scraped of most of its vegetation last year during a construction project. Before construction, the dam was covered in a diverse community of wildflowers and native grasses and it was a magnet for wildlife. They have received a Plant Grant from the Earth Sangha nursery that will provide $600 worth of free wetland plants so that they can restore the dam. They need help from the amazing community of generous volunteers to install the plants.

Clifton Institute will be planting at the following times:

Wednesday 15 May
9 AM-12:30 PM

Thursday 16 May
3-5:30 PM

Friday 17 May
2-5 PM

Unfortunately, they can’t schedule any weekend volunteer days during this busy time of year. But this project is simpler than last year’s riparian buffer planting and the should be able to get it done in three sessions.

Please let Bert Harris know via email if you’d like to help: [email protected].

Please bring gloves, a shovel or a trowel, sun protection, rubber boots, and water. And so that you can plan accordingly, it will probably be easiest to plant the seedlings while standing in the pond.

NVSWD’s Sustainable Garden Tour, June 9

One of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District’s most exciting gardening events of the summer is coming up in just one month, on Sunday, June 9! The Sustainable Garden Tour allows folks from all around Fairfax County to show off their innovative and sustainable gardens to interested visitors.

This year’s Sustainable Garden Tour features nine sites throughout the Vienna/Oakton area. Each  of these gardens boasts an array of native plantings, provides habitat to key pollinators, works to mitigate drainage or erosion issues, and helps these homeowners and community members reduce their environmental footprint.

Please join the community on June 9, from 1-5 pm, as we tour these nine gorgeous gardens. Here is a general interest flier, a set of directions to, and a brief description of each site.

BTW The NVSWD team could use some help staffing the tour. Reach out to Benjamin Rhoades ([email protected]) or Ashley Palmer ([email protected]) if you can volunteer or have any questions.

Please share this information around your organization, office, or on your website.

Virginia Master Naturalist Webinar: Sea Level Rise in Virginia

Sea level is rising faster in Virginia than along the rest of the Atlantic coast. Rising water levels bring flooding, increased erosion and shifts in plant and animal communities. In this webinar, we will explore the causes of sea level rise and how sea level rise is projected to change into the future. We will look at some of the impacts to the human and natural world and then discuss the possibilities and limitations of different adaptations.

Dr. Molly Mitchell is a researcher in the Center for Coastal Resources Management, at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. She has spent the past 18 years studying marsh ecology, change, and restoration practices in the Chesapeake Bay. She is actively engaged in both research and advisory efforts to help the state and localities to manage natural resources in the Bay and understand the impacts of different decision-making pathways. Her recent research focuses particularly on sea level trends and variability and their impact on natural systems.

When: Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 12:00 pm

Meeting Number: 279-703-359

Link to Join: Join Webinar

Link for recordings of this and past webinars:

VMN Continuing Education Webinar page

Photo: Dr. Mitchell measures water elevation in a living shoreline.

Photo by CCRM.

Let’s talk turtles

Jerry Nissley

Although I developed “Turtle Talk” as my final project for the Spring 2019 FMN training class, I have been presenting talks with live turtles to elementary students for 6 years at Engleside Christian School, in Alexandria; Evangel Christian School, in Dale City; and Calvary Road School, in Alexandria. I believe that it is important to work with children so that they appreciate and care about the environment as they are growing up and when they become adults. Immediate and follow-on feedback on the presentations has been positive in this respect. Several students have reported, through their teacher to me, that their interest in nature increased as a result, and they began visiting parks and nature centers. 

Logan Switzer helped staff the Turtle Talk station at the 2019 Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Earth Day event

Our FMN class assignment to develop an interpretive talk gave me the perfect opportunity to develop a more polished presentation. I gave the new talk twice this spring, first at Eleanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, at their Earth Day event, as a “Turtle Talk” station. I also spoke at Calvary Road Christian school to about 30 students in their 3rd- and 5th-grade classes for 2 hours.

For my presentation. I built a portable display board that showcases:

  • Woodland turtle fun-facts (e.g., Turtles are omnivores, live 90+ years, have a completely enclosed shell, endure a brumation period of 6 months in Virginia)
  • A description of their habitat and their conservation status to help visitors understand how vulnerable box turtles are
  • Photos of two of the male and female turtles that I care for
  • Additional technical and pictorial resources for tailoring the presentation to different audiences

Box turtles

My presentation features three live box turtles that I rescued in the Northern Virginia area as road saves. The turtles live in a year-round outdoor enclosure at my house. I feed them a variety of food: worms, slugs, grubs, cherries, berries, and mushrooms, with a vitamin supplement called Rep-Cal. With the teacher’s permission, the children are allowed supervised handling and feeding during a class presentation. Box turtles are currently listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature species list due in large part to loss of habitat, roads, and slow breeding cycles. My goal is to create awareness of the importance of box turtles and their plight to encourage protection efforts.

Turtle Talk display

Additionally, I’ve designed and printed a tri-fold brochure to hand out as a public take-away. I also compiled various reference materials that I use to tailor a talk for a particular audience. For example, I displayed environmental information and talked about how we can help box turtles in our neighborhoods at the Earth Day event, but I would emphasize fun-facts at an elementary school demonstration. 

During the 2-hour Earth Day event at Ellanor C. Lawrence park, 38 people visited the Turtle Talk station, many of whom took brochures. Linda Fuller, an FMN colleague, organized the event.

The school presentations come under E254: Nature Presentations to Private Schools. I offered a “Turtle Talk” station in  at Huntley Meadows Wetland Appreciation Day on 5 May 2019, under the auspices of the FMN Service Project, E110: FCPA Nature Programs. Under E110, Volunteers plan, set up, lead, or assist with FCPA nature programs. Under both E254 and E110, volunteers may give interpretative talks on local wildlife and plants, lead trail walks, assist with live animal demonstrations, lead educational lessons in schools or with scouts, or assist with outreach activities. Our job as volunteers is to interact with participants, awakening their curiosity and helping them develop connections to nature and the outdoors. 

If any other FMN members are interested in creating live-animal presentations or general school presentations, I would be happy to consult, share what I’ve learned, and discuss the contacts I’ve developed. Working with children is meaningful and, I hope, it may lead to a new generation of committed naturalists and environmentally savvy adults.

What I learned during the 2019 City Nature Challenge

Bill Hafker

Participating in the City Nature Challenge was an enlightening and enjoyable experience in several ways.

First, I was somewhat surprised at how many unique living things you can spot when you are really intent on trying to find as many as you can, and you slow down and “get into the weeds” looking for things!

Wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator), by Bill Hafker

Second, I found that looking at the species identified by others participating in the Challenge was a good source of information for identifying things that I saw. A good example is when I found what I believe now is the wool sower gall wasp. I really had no idea where to start looking to see what this colorful little ball might be, but I found a picture of it in the species list identified by others. Several days have passed and no one has confirmed my ID, alas. Although my pictures are a bit blurry, I think there’s nothing else this could be. I found who the leading identifier of this species was, hoping to engage him in its identification, but could not find a way in iNaturalist to try to contact him.

In addition to looking into how to work with other identifiers, I’ve learned other things to improve my performance next year. This year, I limited myself to submitting only one observation of a species, even if I saw it in more than one area to make observations. I now know that multiple observations are a good way to help define spatial distributions of observed species.

I also realized that, while I received training in how to make observations in iNaturalist prior to the event, I should have sought out training in how to do identifications so I could more actively participate in that aspect of it, also.

Resources for working with native seed mixes in large areas

This resource is meant to be a living document that our community can enrich as they learn. Thank you for sharing generously. If you have additions, go ahead and suggest them in comments, and we’ll update the post.

Seed Companies

Earth Sangha 
May be able to supply a large amount of native plants to plant including seeds if you give them a year to first grow them at the nursery

Ernst Seeds
Virginia Northern Piedmont Mix:


Preparation of the site and the exhaustion of the bank of weed seeds will be critical. Tilling will release a trove of weeds. Future mowing regimens should also be established to mow the annual cool-season weeds in Spring but before the warm-season perennials have taken off.  Mowing will also keep the woodies at bay.

 Consider using seeds for the grasses/flowers, but later use plugs for other flowers, as your budget allows. The flower plugs allow you to have more of an immediate visual impact without breaking the bank. The grasses become the foundation of your planting with the flowers as a smaller, but important, component. (Source: Joe Gorney, President, Fairfax Master Naturalists)

Notes from October 2018 issue of The Acorn, Earth Sangha

Additional notes on plants and conditions, courtesy of Lisa Bright, Executive Director, Earth Sangha 

For meadow-type gardens, you would need sunny and dry-tolerant species to partial-sun and moist-loving species:

  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Andropogon virginicus (Broomsedge Bluestem)
  • Purple-top Grass (Tridens Flavus)
  • Beaked Panic Grass (Coleataenia anceps)
  • Southeastern Wildrye (Elymus glabriflorus)
  • Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
  • Purplelove Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis)
  • Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
  • Roundleaf Thoroughwort (Eupatorium rotundifolium)
  • Hyssop-leaved Boneset (Eupatorium hyssopifolium)
  • Flat-topped White Aster (Doellingeria umbellata)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida)
  • Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens)
  • Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea)
  • Grey Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)
  • Narrow-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)
  • Wild Bergamort (Monarda fistulosa)

For edge of meadow bordering woodlands (sunny most of the time):

  • Deertongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum)
  • Squarrose Sedge (Carex squarrosa)
  • Slender Oatgrass (Chasmantium laxum)
  • Georgia Bulrush (Scirpus georgianus)
  • Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix)
  • Common Patridge Pea (Chaemecrista fasciculata)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum)
  • Rough Boneset (Eupatorium pilosum)
  • Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus sturumosus) & (Helianthus divaricatus)
  • Broadleaf Ironweed (Vernonia glauca)
  • Carolina Wild Petunia (Ruelia caroliniensis)
  • Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)
  • Hyssop Skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia)
  • Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata)
  • Rough-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)
  • New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie)
  • Lyre-leaf Sage (Salvia lyrata)
  • Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Partial-sun woodlands: 

  • Slender Oatgrass (Chasmantium laxum)
  • Wood Sedge (Carex blanda)
  • Long-awned Wood Grass (Brachelytrum erectum)
  • Cattail Sedge (Carex typhina)
  • Virginia Wildrye (Elymus virginicus)
  • Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix)
  • Riverbank Wildrye (Elymus riperius)
  • Poverty Oatgrass (Danthonia spicata)
  • White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata)
  • Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
  • Common Dittany (Cunila origanoides)
  • American Alumroot (Heuchera americana)
  • Erect Goldenrod (Solidago erecta)
  • Silverrod (Solidago bicolor)

Streamside woodland edges, full to partial sun: 

  • Deertongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum)
  • Georgia Bulrush (Scirpus georgianus)
  • Common Wood Reedgrass (Cinna anundinacea)
  • Lurid Sedge (Carex lurida)
  • Northern Long Sedge (Carex crinita)
  • Redtop Panic Grass (Coleataenia rigidula)
  • Crown Grass (Paspalum floridanum)
  • New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
  • Blue Swamp Verbena (Verbena hastata)
  • Canada Germander (Teucrium canadensis)
  • Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)
  • Crooked-stem Aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides)
  • Green Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
  • Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
  • Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

Rain garden: 

  • Deertongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum)
  • Crown Grass (Paspalum floridanum)
  • Lurid Sedge (Carex lurida)
  • Frank’s Sedge (Carex frankii)
  • Georgia Bulrush (Scirpus georgianus)
  • Beaked Panic Grass (Coleataenia anceps)
  • Redtop Panic Grass (Coleataenia rigidula)
  • Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
  • Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)
  • Blue Swamp Verbena (Verbena hastata)
  • Green Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
  • Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale & H. flexuosum)
  • Allegheny Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens)
  • Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Fall Phlox (Phlox paniculata)


If “large area” means more than 2500 square feet, including a 10 foot buffer around the bed and any disturbed access to the site, it is a land disturbing activity and may require a permit from the county.

If a “run off” pond is connected to a perennial stream, it may also have a Resource Protection Area (RPA) defined; again you would need a permit. Contact the Fairfax County Land Development Services before proceeding if the project is in Fairfax. Prince William and Arlington Counties have similar restrictions. Loudoun does not have RPAs but does have restrictions on land disturbance. (Source: Jim McGlone, VA Dept of Forestry)

Seeding a large area can turn into disaster, one gigantic weedy mess. Look at the meadows others have tried that just turned into a mass of Japanese stiltgrass. Who is going to spend the hours and hours necessary to do the weeding? An alternative strategy would be to start with a small area and expand over the years, or start with one or two species of grass and absolutely nothing else, get that established, then add the forba later. The fewer the species, the easier the weeding job for people who are not botanists. Spend the first year or so simply killing what is there already, letting more weeds sprout, then killing them as well, before doing any planting at all.

In a public setting, most people do better with a more traditional landscaping approach, using mulch initially between plants and not using seeds. For covering very large areas, there is a lot to be said for using shrub and trees with nice wide paths, plus some groundcover wherever you can afford to pay for enough plugs, and a manageable size pollinator garden somewhere in the mix. (Source: Margaret Fisher, Plant NOVA Natives)

Further Reading

Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change, by Larry Weaner

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, by Rick Darke

Caterpillars Count! – NEW at Riverbend Park, Training May 11th

Riverbend Park
8700 Potomac Hills St., Great Falls, VA
Saturday, 11 May 2019
9 am-12 noon

Interested in insect studies and research? Become a Caterpillars Count! citizen scientist! Caterpillars and other insects live on the trees and plants all around us. They make up a critical part of many ecosystems and are an important food source for birds and other organisms. Riverbend Park is a premier site for Caterpillars Count! a new citizen science project designed by biologists from the University of North Carolina.

Volunteers will learn about insect life cycles and phenology of foliage arthropods while enhancing their identifying skills through weekly surveys.  Great for Master Naturalists, scouts, families, and individuals interested in wildlife studies.

More information/register here.

Learn to be a dragonfly surveyor & collector, May 18th

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

Riverbend Park
8700 Potomac Hills St., Great Falls VA
Saturday, 18 May 2019

Participate in a long term citizen’s science project monitoring dragonfly species that live in and around the Potomac River above Great Falls. Learn the protocols for collecting exuviae (shed skins) that dragonfly larvae leave behind when they emerge from the river and metamorphose into flying adults. Understand dragonfly life cycles and make the Virginia shoreline of the Potomac river one of your sites for nature appreciation through the seasons.
Training with Jerry Peter & Rita Peralta on Saturday May 18th!
*Must attend training to participate
More info/register here. Questions?  Contact Valerie Espinoza or call 703-759-9018.