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Xerces Society: Gardening for Invertebrates Webinar Series, 20 Aug & 3 Sep 2020

Your Insect Allies: Meet the Beneficial Insects Controlling Pests in Your Garden – Thursday, 20 August, 1-2 pm EDT

Learn about the wide range of insects that help keep garden pests in check, and strategies you can use to support them in your yard.

Click here for more information and to register.

Beyond Plants: What Else do Insects Need to Thrive? – Thursday, 3 September, 1-2 pm EDT

A garden that has an abundance of flowers will support insects—but to maximize the diversity of insects your garden can support, you’ll also need to provide places where they can nest, lay eggs, and shelter. Join Matthew Shepherd to learn about what you can do to support the entire life cycle of insects and help them to thrive in your backyard.

Click here for more information and to register.

Native Plant Landscaping: Three Factors for Success

Margaret Fisher, Plant NOVA Natives

For anyone who wants to help the birds and butterflies but is not an experienced landscaper, a few design concepts can help make the difference between a random collection of native plants and a beautiful but manageable landscape that supports our local ecosystem. Three major considerations come into play.

The first is the understanding that basic garden design principles apply to any garden, whether using native plants or not. For example, the human eye has trouble with randomness and will rove around seeking meaning and a place to rest. You can control that process by adding repetition, lines and focal points, which can be provided by plants and also by human-made objects such as pots, walkways, or benches. Since most plants only bloom for a short while, for consistent beauty it helps to choose plants with contrasting size, form and foliage and not just interesting flower colors.

The second consideration is maintenance. Some people are allergic to weeding while others find it a relaxing pleasure. Either way, no one has infinite time to put into it. When adding new planting areas, there is a lot to be said for starting small. For maximum ecological benefit for a minimum or work, you could simply add a small grove of native trees, or swap out the non-native shrubs for native ones. Gardening in the shade is always easier than in the sun where plants and weeds grow so much faster.

The third consideration is the needs of the critters you are trying to help. They don’t care how your property looks, but they do have other strong preferences. For example, the more plant diversity, the more biodiversity in general. It is also useful to provide clusters of the same plant species since that will increase the foraging efficiency of the bees. A diversity of plant height is also important – from the canopy trees to the ground – for critters such as birds that nest at different levels. The closer you can come to reproducing the original plant communities, the more your home habitat will contribute to a functioning local ecosystem.

The above examples are just a few of the many helpful tips you can find on the new Plant NOVA Natives web page on garden design. The campaign is also planning a series of quick virtual “workshops” where you can ask your questions of garden designers – sign up for campaign updates to get notifications of the dates. And be sure to sign up for the August 3 talk by Rick Darke, co-author with Doug Tallamy of The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden.

Are You Really Sure You Want to Water Your Plants From the Tap?

Author: Anna Gershenson

Some plants may benefit from chlorinated water, due to its ability to kill unwanted bugs or microbes in the soil. However, chlorine is actually toxic and harmful to plant growth in high concentrations. It injures the plants’ roots and accumulates in the leaf tissue, causing enduring damage.

So, how much chlorine is too much chlorine? And what can we do about it given that most people water their gardens and houseplants straight from the tap, and the tap water in Virginia contains small amounts of chlorine? I have a tip for you based on research that I performed in school.

As a freshman at Fairfax High School, I participated in the school’s Science Fair for my Honors Biology class. For our project, my partner and I designed a project to test the effect of chlorine on Wisconsin Fast Plants, a type of Brassica rapa plant, developed by the University of Wisconsin as a research tool.

We grew four groups of the Wisconsin Fast Plants, from the seeds, and fed each group natural spring water with different amounts of chlorine mixed in. The first group received the water without chlorine (this was known as the control group). We watered the second group with a mixture of water and one teaspoon of chlorine, the third with 2 teaspoons of chlorine mixed with water, and the fourth with 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) and water. My partner and I used powdered chlorine, so before we gave each plant the mixture, we let the chlorine fully dissolve in the water. We watered the plants every two days and measured their heights during those days. We studied the plants for two weeks.

The results were significant. The images below represent the four plant groups at the end of the two weeks. 

As you can see, the group that did not receive the chlorinated water grew the most and looked very healthy. The average final height for the plants in that group was about 5.10 centimeters. 

The plants that received 1 teaspoon of chlorine grew a little bit, but looked unhealthy. The plants looked more brown than did the healthy plant. Their final average height was 1.50 centimeters. 

A small plant sprouted in the pot that got 2 teaspoons of chlorine,, but it did not grow as much as did the previous two. That group’s final height was about 1.00 centimeter. 

And finally, the plants that received 3 teaspoons of chlorine barely grew. Though it is difficult to see the plant, the calculated height of that group was about 0.50 centimeters.

It was clear that even 1 teaspoon of chlorine stunts the growth of plants and makes them lose pigment.

Now, you might be wondering: “What can we do to solve this problem? Buying natural spring water costs extra.”

Don’t worry, I have the perfect solution for you!

My mom actually familiarized me with this technique. She enjoys working in our garden and knows all sorts of tricks. When I decided to grow a vine plant in my room, my mom suggested that rather than watering them with tap water fresh out of the faucet, to begin by pouring the tap water into a plastic cup and letting it sit a couple of hours before watering the plant. Letting the water wait enables all of the chlorine to evaporate, clearing it and making it healthy and safe for the plants.

I did the controlled research to validate her advice. You don’t have to subject your plants to extra chlorine, but you can see if letting the chlorine evaporate helps your house plants and garden do better. Enjoy watering your plants chlorine-free!

Anna Gershenson is a rising senior at Fairfax High School.

This post is part of the series Creative Counsel from Students in the Time of COVID-19. Do you know students with research to report on the natural world? Encourage them to direct their proposals to vmnfairfax@gmail.org after reading the instructions in the link above.

Creative Counsel from Students in the Time of COVID-19

Naturalists are at home this summer, and so are many of our teens and grand-teens who may have lost their planned summer activities. The FMN chapter invites them to share their practical and scientific wisdom with our readers. Options include:

  • Writing up or posting a video about the results of science fair projects that touch on the natural world, as Curated Resources.
  • Documenting their experiences with iNaturalist or eBird or another app, either in writing or as a video
  • Reviewing a film or show of interest to naturalists. Yup, in writing or as a video.
  • Producing a short series of related posts or videos

Whatever they choose to do will add their perspectives and learnings to our public presence, and we’ll have the honor of offering engaged, enterprising students a platform to speak with the world. 

Please direct the students in your life to vmnfairfax@gmail.com, and we’ll work together for the good of all parties. All contributors under the age of 18 must have the express written permission of their parents or guardians to post to our site.

See also: Are You Really Sure You Want to Water Your Plants From the Tap?, by Anna Gershenson, Fairfax High School

Gardening Opportunities in Fairfax County Parks

Both Hidden Oaks Nature Center and Riverbend Park seek volunteers to “adopt a spot” or “adopt a native plant” gardens in the parks. These independent, outdoor service projects offer plenty of safe physical distancing. Additional gardens will be available later in the summer. See descriptions below for details and contact.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center projects

Riverbend Park projects

Gardening for Earth Renewal

Article by Plant NOVA Natives staff

How does your garden renew the earth? Vegetable gardens, flower gardens, conventional landscaping and even container gardens can all contribute to a connected landscape that supports our local birds and butterflies. By restoring native plants and avoiding chemicals, together we can heal the damaged landscape we have created with our buildings, sterile lawn, and green-but ecologically-useless plants from other continents.

The wildlife of the East Coast evolved in concert with the complex mixture of trees and understory plants that covered most of the land in the past, plus smaller areas of meadows and wetlands. Turtles, birds, frogs and fireflies all suffer when those hundreds of species of plants are replaced by a monoculture of lawn and a few specimen shrubs. And biodiversity all but disappears when those few plants consist of species that were introduced from elsewhere, as is the case with turf grass (which is from Europe), Japanese Barberry, English Ivy, and many other commonly sold plants, some of which have become invasive and taken over our remaining natural areas.

The antidote is clear: plant more plants, and make sure they are native species! The first step is to look at any nearby natural area and figure out how your property might expand its habitat value and reduce the fragmentation that interferes with the movement of animals. Are you near woods? How about adding more trees and shade-loving shrubs and ground cover? After all, they say that shade gardens are the gardens of the future, because it will be too hot to want to spend much time in the sun! Or perhaps your yard receives your neighbor’s runoff which can be turned into an asset by deep-rooted plants that soak up the excess water and recreate a butterfly-filled meadow. Or perhaps you are lucky enough to have a lawn in full sun that could be used for a raised vegetable bed. Those vegetables are unlikely to be native plants, but the bed will absorb runoff much better than lawn, and you can improve your crop yields by adding a nearby sunny flower garden that draws in the pollinators.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to change or to keep the general appearance of your property – if you prefer, you can achieve the same general look by simply substituting native plants for introduced ones. What we should change is our understanding of how our land functions. You need not settle for a yard that is an empty hole in the map that excludes its natural residents. Rather, your home can become part of what Doug Tallamy, in his newly-released Nature’s Best Hope, is calling our future “Homegrown National Park.” If enough of us make some relatively easy changes to our yard practices, we can knit together our properties into a thriving environment where people and nature live in harmony. Now, in this time of trouble, we can renew the Earth. Find out how at www.plantnovanatives.org/gardening-for-earth-renewal.

Let’s Get Growing Symposium, March 21st

Leesburg Community Church
835 Lee Avenue, SW, Leesburg VA 20176
Saturday, 21 March 2020
9 am – 4 pm

Join the Loudoun County Master Gardeners at their 11th Annual Gardening Symposium featuring noted speakers, knowledgeable practitioners, plant sellers and vendors of garden related items The Symposium is a great way to get motivated and jump into the spring gardening season with new information and refreshed enthusiasm.

More information and registration here.

South Run Rec Center “Erosion Knoll” needs gardening TLC volunteers

South Run Recreation Center
7550 Reservation Drive, Springfield VA
1st and 3rd Wednesdays from 9-11 am
2nd Saturdays from 9-12 for May-October and 12-3 pm from November – April

Enthusiastic and energetic volunteer gardener at South Run is seeking like-minded individuals to provide input on erosion control native plantings for a fairly small incline. Ideally, these volunteers would supervise the planting and maintenance of this area once the plants are obtained. South Run has dedicated landscape volunteer days monthly as shown above but knowledgeable supervision is much needed.

Interested? Contact Sally Berman via Joseph.Lauer@fairfaxcounty.gov.  Planning volunteers may meet with Sally outside of scheduled volunteer times.

Those who just want to volunteer occasionally can go to https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/180570

Those that want to volunteer regularly go to:
https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/179743

Volunteer at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court
Vienna, VA 22182
Any morning Monday through Thursday

Calling all gardeners! Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, a NOVA Park, needs volunteers to supports its 95 acres of ornamental display gardens and native plant collections for the enjoyment and education of our community.

To volunteer any morning Monday through Thursday in any of the ornamental display gardens:
-Email Tammy Burke at tburke@nvrpa.org

To volunteer Tuesday or Wednesday with native plants (Potomac Valley and Native Wetlands Collections) : Email Keith Tomlinson at ktomlinson@nvrpa.org 

Edible Landscaping Plants with Fairfax Food Council, Sep. 10th

Daniels Run Peace Church
3729 Old Lee Hwy., Fairfax VA
Tuesday, 10 September 2019
6:30- 8 pm

Are you trying to figure out how to grow food without upsetting your HOA or subtracting from the beauty of your existing landscaping? Do you want a garden that delights all five of your senses? Permaculture farmer, Cory Suter, will lead a tour of Daniels Run’s edible landscaping and then discuss selecting edible perennials for challenging conditions such as shade, clay soil, and hungry deer. He will introduce dozens of successful edible landscaping plants for Fairfax County, including beautiful evergreens, and deciduous plants with multi-season interest that produce food.
Hosted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. Registration is required. Learn more and register here.