Good Hedges Make Good Neighbors

Article and photo by Plant NOVA Natives

Dense plantings between properties are a valuable amenity, so much so that they are mandated for many building projects. A mixed hedge consisting of native plant species has the added value of supporting the songbirds in our communities. Privacy screens don’t always work out as planned, though, so here are a few considerations for creating and maintaining them.

Rows of identical evergreen trees or shrubs have been the conventional choice for screening. A strong case can be made, however, for mixing it up a bit. Ten plants of the same species may look symmetrical initially, but nature has a way of laughing at symmetry. Small variations in sunlight and moisture can cause the plants to grow at different rates. In the case of shrubs, this problem can be countered for a while by shearing them all to the same height. But it’s not a lot of fun to be standing on a ladder to shear plants, and eventually plants tend to rebel at being chopped back and start to look tired or leggy. A more serious problem occurs when one of them dies, leaving a hole in the screening, or worse, when a disease spreads from plant to plant, as can easily happen to a monoculture.

By contrast, a screen that consists of a variety of native plants – chosen because their natural sizes are appropriate for the situation – can do the job while reducing maintenance needs. As an important bonus, native trees and shrubs provide not only nesting sites for songbirds but also food for both the adults and the nestlings, unlike plants that evolved elsewhere and do little to support the local ecosystem. A list of native plants that are suitable for screening can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website.

Sometimes people find themselves in a hurry to screen off an undesirable view and are facing the problem of having to wait for trees and shrubs to grow high enough. A better solution may be to block the view right away with a lattice and cover it with Coral Honeysuckle or Crossvine. Both of these evergreen native vines have colorful blooms that attract hummingbirds..

Unfortunately, our buffer areas between properties have become a prime target for invasive plant species, which can seriously degrade a site before the landowner realizes something is wrong. If screening was mandated in the development process, local ordinances require that the plants be maintained in good health and replaced if they die. The most immediate threat is posed by invasive vines such as Japanese Honeysuckle or Asian Wisteria which strangle and smother trees and shrubs. A nice screening that was an amenity is now a derelict eyesore and an invitation to dumping. Invasive trees such as Callery Pear crowd out the native trees, and invasive shrubs such as Japanese Barberry, Nandina, and Burning Bush prevent tree seedlings from growing. The sooner these plants are recognized and dealt with, the easier and less expensive it will be to preserve the beauty of our homes and communities. You can learn more about that on the invasives management page of the Plant NOVA Natives website.


FMN CE Kayak Tours – 2024

FMN and Mason Neck State Park are happy to announce the ‘FMN only’ summer CE Kayak schedule for 2024. All dates are on Sundays.

Adventures launch from the MNSP car-top boat launch and paddle from Belmont Bay into Kane’s Creek wetlands. The 3 mile round trip takes approximately 1 hour and a half. Stopping along the way to point out various plants, birds, and animals encountered along the way. All tours are led by water safety certified state park kayak guides who also happen to be FMN interpreters.

July Twilight tour: 7/21/24, 6:30-8:30PM, depart park by 9PM.
August Morning tour: 8/18, 9-11AM, depart park by 11:30AM
September Evening tour: 9/1, 5:30-7:30PM, depart park by 8PM.

*Guests – please arrive 30 minutes prior to tour start to gear up*

These are FMN only tours. Limit 12 per tour.
Registration is free and must be done via BI calendar.
Once the tour fills, registration auto-locks and it disappears from the Opportunities Calendar but remains on the Opportunities List.

All guests are required to use park provided kayaks and paddles.
PFDs (vests) are provided but you may bring your own. Personal PFDs must be Coast Guard approved/labeled Type III or better.

Appropriate clothing for the weather, activity level, and closed-toe shoes are recommended. Below is a park provided link to a guide for recommended kayak-clothing. kayaking-what-to-wear

To register:
1. Login to BI and click on your ‘Opportunities’ tab.
2. Select ‘Opportunity Calendar’ from the pull-down menu.
3. Find event in the displayed calendar; Click it to see event details.
4. To sign up, Click the ‘Sign Up’ box in the lower right. This automatically signs you up and puts the event on your personal calendar.
5. To claim 2.5 CE hours: please use All Continuing Education -> FMN All other Chapter Training, as the Approved Org.

FMN Spotlight – Virginia Native Plant Society

FMN once again flicks on the spotlight – this time to shine it on longtime Stewardship opportunity provider, Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) and FMN Alan Ford, our chapter point of contact for VNPS.

Alan getting to the root of a problem – photo Carol Wolter

Spotlighting our partners and the opportunities they offer creates membership awareness and associates a name with an organization. This also affords FMN a chance to thank them for their tireless contributions over the years.

VNPS has 12 chapters supporting 2750+ members state wide and has endeavored for over thirty years in encouraging appreciation for and promoting engagement with the natural wonders of Virginia. Alan is President of the Potowmack Chapter, which is involved with numerous local and state program initiatives. Activities sponsored and funded by the VNPS include unstinting support for the development and publication of the new Flora of Virginia Project; supporting the Virginia Department of Natural Heritage in their missions, including plant identification, land acquisition and protection; and various educational programs for their membership and the public.
Six Fairfax Master Naturalist’s participated in the inaugural Flora of Virginia Ambassadors certification program in 2024, which was open to all VMN chapters (FMN code E002: Flora of Virginia Ambassadors – – VMN). The next FOV Ambassadors program is projected to convene in spring 2025.

Alan with Lisa Bright (Co-founder & Director Emerita Earth Sangha) sorting native grasses – photo courtesy Alan Ford

The Potowmack Chapter, co-founded the statewide VNPS organization along with the Prince William Wildflower Society. It is the largest VNPS chapter, representing 780 members in the counties of Arlington and Fairfax; cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church. Being the largest chapter in the most urbanized region, poses some challenges on programs and outreach. The chapter is involved with various urban landscape efforts and strives to alleviate the challenges of park funding and invasive plant management.

FMN’s service code for working on VNPS activities is ‘S231: VNPS field work including Green Spring Gardens service — VA Native Plant Society’. This service opportunity provides local stewardship activities for organizing and participating in native plant rescues; assistance with maintaining the Green Spring Gardens Native Plant Trail; and other stewardship and educational programs. VNPS provides lecture presentations, nature walks, and other activities to help the public learn more about local native flora. VNPS provides FMN with many training and volunteer opportunities.  Their programs and field trips are amazing.  VNPS programs emphasize public education, protection of endangered species, native habitat preservation, and encourage appropriate landscape use of native plants. 

Please contact Alan Ford, Potowmack Chapter President, [email protected] for more information on how to get involved as an FMN volunteer or directly in VNPS.
Alan, a former computer science professor at American University, has been an FMN member since 2008 and has accumulated over 2500 FMN service hours, as well as, thousands of hours in service to outdoor parks in Northern Virginia and surrounding communities.

Home Page – VNPS Potowmack Chapter

Alan Ford contributed content and photos for this article.
Marilyn Schroeder contributed the spark.
Cover Photo – Green Springs Gardens, courtesy of FCPA.


Volunteer Opportunities at Hidden Oaks Nature Center!

Photo: By FMN Jerry Nissley, Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC), nestled inside the 52-acre Annandale District Park, needs your help! Earn your volunteer hours with the HONC.  Volunteers are needed for the following activities:

  •  a volunteer to cover our front desk on Saturdays.  There are currently 3 others who will share this position with you – you will need to volunteer only one Saturday per month.  Duties include greeting incoming visitors and answering their questions, answering phones, and perhaps helping prepare crafts.  Hours right now are 12:00 – 5:00 p.m.
  • volunteers to help with HONC children’s camps.   Subjects vary and run from dinosaurs to pirates.  These will be Monday through Friday, either in the morning or in the afternoon. Assist the camp leader with activities and camper management.
  • volunteers to help with birthday parties and other educational programs.  Volunteers needed on weekends to help run programs and will include putting your FMN education to use.

Contact Hidden Oaks’ volunteer coordinator, [email protected].  Training will be provided.

Thank you!

Creatures of The Night, July 19th

Image: Courtesy of the Clifton Institute

July 19, 2024
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

FREE but Registration is REQUIRED.

Join the Clifton Institute to look and listen for creatures of the night! Summer is an ideal time to observe several species of katydids, crickets, cicadas and birds. Participants will also look for beavers, reptiles and amphibians, and other animals! Back at the farmhouse participants will see what kinds of moths and beetles black lights can attract.


Butterfly Identification Workshop, July 18th

Image: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

July 18, 2024
10:30 am
 – 12:30 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

FREE but Registration is REQUIRED.

Join the Clifton Institute to learn about butterfly identification and biology. Bert Harris will give a presentation on the identification of common butterflies in the local area. Participants will then take a walk around the field station to look for butterflies (and perhaps some dragonflies as well.) All skill levels welcome!

2024 NABA Butterfly Count, July 20th

Photo: by FMN Jerry Nissley, Tiger swallowtail VMN Logo

July 20, 2024
9:00 am
 – 3:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Rd
Warrenton, VA 20187

FREE but Registration is REQUIRED.

Every year community scientists help count the butterflies in 15-mile-diameter circles all around the country and contribute their data to the North American Butterfly Association. This summer the Clifton Institute will host their 29th annual butterfly count and celebrate their 22nd year contributing data to NABA. Butterfly enthusiasts of all levels of experience are welcome! If you feel like you don’t know many butterflies, this is a great way to learn and it’s always helpful to have more eyes pointing out butterflies. Participants will be assigned to small teams, led by an experienced butterfly counter. Once you volunteer, you will receive more information about your team closer to the date. Each team will survey a variety of sites within the designated count circle.  Everyone will meet at the Clifton Institute at 3:00 PM to tally results over cold drinks (provided).

Stream Monitoring Citizen Science & Training Opportunities, July

Photo: FMN Janet Quinn

NoVa Soil & Water Conservation District: Stream Monitoring Citizen Science & Training Opportunities

Difficult Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Thursday, July 18, 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Difficult Run Stream Valley Park, Great Falls

This stream site in Great Falls is a short walk through the woods to a river with wide, sandy banks. These trails are very popular with hikers and we often get high water quality scores at this site. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

Cub Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Sunday, July 21, 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Cub Run Stream Valley Park, Centreville

This site features some of the largest hellgrammites we find in Fairfax County! (Haven’t heard of them? Be sure to research this super cool macroinvertebrate!). Just a stone’s throw from the parking area, this site is very popular and we can certainly see why! Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.

Big Rocky Run Stream Monitoring Workshop

When: Thursday, July 25, 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Cabell’s Mill, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Chantilly

Our stream monitoring site on Big Rocky Run is located near the historic Cabell’s Mill in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. This park features great trails with interpretive signage and our stream site is a stone’s throw from Walney Pond, where you may get to see the happy beaver family that lives there. Learn more and register for this workshop and others here.


Other Training and Stream Monitoring Opportunities

The NoVa Soil & Water Conservation teams are  very excited to contribute their stream data to state and national datasets. If you’d like to see data from all the NVSWCD regional stream monitoring team’s active sites, you can find our organization on the Clean Water Hub.

Earth Sangha June Work Days

Photo: Earth Sangha

Wild Plant Nursery, 6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield VA

Mason District Park, 6621 Columbia Pike, Annandale VA

Register to volunteer here.

Wild Plant Nursery Workdays: Every Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday from 9am-1pm at the Wild Plant Nursery. Earth Sangha still has plenty of repotting to do! Plus, the usual weeding and labeling. The Wild Plant Nursery will be closed on June 19th in honor of Juneteenth.

Mason District Workday: Friday, June 21st, from 9am to Noon. Help them continue their progress as they tackle yet more wineberry, bittersweet, and other invasive vines! They’ll meet by the tennis courts.

June “Big Day” at the Wild Plant Nursery: Join them for their monthly Big Day for community, service, and plants on June 23rd! We will be doing some summer cleaning, laying mulch on the paths, reorganize the nursery after a busy spring, all while having good food and conversation.

Butterfly Identification Workshop with Dr. Leslie Ries, June 18th

Photo: Emily Carter Mitchell, Zebra Swallowtail

Tuesday, June 18, 2024
7 – 8:30 PM
ASNV Members $10/Non-members $15
Register here.

The sight of butterflies fluttering around on a warm day is one of the most iconic signs of summer. These beautiful insects usually only live for a few weeks as adults, but they make quite an impression while they are in their full glory. There is a large variety of butterfly species in our area. Dr. Leslie Ries will focus on identifying the 20 most common butterflies in Northern Virginia.

Participants will also learn about the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Survey on Saturday, June 29 and how to register to participate.

To prepare for this program, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia encourages you to purchase a copy of Butterflies of the Mid-Atlantic, a Field Guide, by Robert Blakney and Judy Gallagher.

Leslie Ries is an ecologist who focuses on patterns at both medium and large scales. She has worked in the fields of landscape ecology and biogeography with a focus mainly on butterflies. Her current research looks at large-scale patterns.