Posts

Fewer Inputs to your Landscape, More Butterflies and Birds

Photo: Plant NOVA Natives

As more and more people buy native plants to beautify their yards, control stormwater and attract birds and butterflies, they are discovering additional opportunities to harmonize their property with the local ecosystem while maintaining a beautiful landscape. They are dropping some of their standard yard chores in favor of a slightly more relaxed approach.

Maintenance of native trees and shrubs is little different from maintenance of non-native ones, but chemical fertilizers are not generally recommended, and of course pesticides would be counterproductive, as they destroy the very ecosystem that the native plants were installed to enhance. The value of the native trees and shrubs is greatly increased if their fallen leaves are left in place. Within that leaf layer is where fireflies, butterflies, and many other interesting and beneficial insects complete their life cycles. Leaving the leaves where they lie has the added benefit of eliminating the chore and the incessant racket of gas-powered leaf blowers that disturb humans and songbirds alike.

Flower gardens with native plants also can be treated much the same as any other, as long as the gardener recognizes that most of these plants are perennial and not annual. The advantage of perennials is that they only need to be planted once. The disadvantage is that weeding will be needed, along with the ability to distinguish emerging weeds from emerging desirable plants, a task made easier for beginners by limiting the number of different species planted to three or four or by sticking to native groundcovers. These gardens cannot be handled the way maintenance crews typically deal with the plantings in public spaces. That method requires no knowledge of plant identification and consists of removing all the plant material each season, installing new annual plants, mulching heavily, then spraying any bare mulch with herbicides to kill everything else. (This practice explains the expanses of empty (and chemical-laced) mulch beds that we see in so many business areas.)

Of course, leaf mulch can be used in flower beds without applying herbicides and is a valuable addition to new plantings, cooling the soil and adding organic matter. In time, though, as the plants fill in, mulch becomes unnecessary and just an aesthetic choice. The plants themselves will shade the soil, and their dead foliage and stems if left over the winter add habitat for frogs and nesting areas for native bees. The days of “cleaning out” flower gardens in the fall so that only empty beds remain are rapidly fading away, as gardeners are learning that this is an unnecessary and somewhat harmful practice.

The watering requirements of native plants are generally light, if appropriate plants are chosen for the site. Unlike turf grass, which evolved in Europe and is poorly suited to Virginia summers, and annuals which start out the summer with very few roots, well-established native plants are adapted to our climate. Watering is needed right after planting, and for the first year or two in the case of trees larger than seedlings, depending on the size. Native plants in medium or large pots will need continued watering primarily when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. Beyond that, supplemental watering may actually be bad for some plants.

Details on low-input yard maintenance can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website. For those who don’t want to do the gardening themselves (which is most people, after all), there are landscaping companies that specialize in maintaining naturalized landscapes and who have workers who can identify the native plants and protect them. The website has a list of Northern Virginia companies that have self-identified as having the requisite expertise. Manuel Rivas, the owner of one of these companies, volunteered to be interviewed to explain the process in English and in Spanish. Three versions of that video are available on YouTube, in English alternating with Spanish and in the two languages separately.
English and Spanish version
Spanish only
English only

Audubon Afternoon: Mt. Cuba Native Plant Trial Gardens, September 26th

Sunday, September 26, 2021
3-4:30 pm
Online
Register here.

Join Audubon Society of Northern Virginia for their fall Audubon Afternoon! Their guest speaker will be Sam Hoadley, Manager of Horticultural Research at Mt. Cuba Center. You’ll learn about the amazing native plant trial gardens at Mt. Cuba, how they evaluate plants and related cultivars for horticultural and ecological value. Sam will highlight the ecosystem services that native plants provide.

Earth Sangha seeks Volunteers Six Days a Week

6100 Cloud Dr. Springfield, VA
Sundays- Fridays
9 am to Noon
Must sign up here.

Just in the first 5 weeks since Earth Sangha opened up its Wild Plant Nursery for the Spring season, they’ve supplied over 325 curbside pickup and Self-Service Sunday orders.

As they send out their local-ecotype native plants to their permanent homes, they’re just as busy growing new ones to take their places. Of course, these take some time to get ready: to sow the seed, pot seedlings up, or divide overcrowded pots.

Volunteers can help with a wide variety of tasks and do not need to have any previous experience!

Beat the summer heat with a native plant shade garden

Photo by Plant NOVA Natives

They say shade gardens are the gardens of the future, since it will be too hot to spend much time in the sun. That’s pretty much the case already on most summer days. Although sunny butterfly gardens still provide hours of entertainment, a shady place to relax or play in your yard is a welcome addition. An added bonus is that gardening is a lot easier in the shade, because the weeds grow much more slowly.
 
There are plenty of native flowers available to provide color in a shade garden. You can see examples of them on the shade garden page of the Plant NOVA Natives website. Many of those species also make excellent ground covers. For example, Woodland Phlox and Golden Ragwort are evergreen and spread to make a mat, with blue and yellow flowers respectively in the spring. April and May are a particularly lively time in the shade, as spring ephemerals such as Virginia Bluebell and Spring Beauty pop up and bloom before the trees and shrubs leaf out, then disappear when the shade gets too heavy. They make perfect companion plants for the ferns and sedges that provide a cooling backdrop all summer long. Contrasting foliage textures create visual interest even without flowers.
 
Why choose native plants? A plant is native to our environment if it evolved within the local food web and has the intricate relationship with animals and other plants that this implies. Plants such as turf grass and many of the ornamentals that were brought here after the arrival of the Europeans are nearly useless (and sometimes actually harmful) from an ecosystem perspective. Choosing native plants allows us to fit into the ecosystem instead of displacing it.
 
Most native plants can be planted any time of year that the ground is not frozen or saturated. Spring is of course the most popular time for gardening (though fall is even better.) As consumer interest has grown, conventional garden centers have been providing an ever-increasing variety of native plants. In Northern Virginia, 22 garden centers have red stickers on their native plants, placed there by Plant NOVA Natives volunteers, so all you have to do is walk down the aisles and look for the stickers. In addition, several local garden centers sell only native plants, which gives you the best selection of all.
 
In some cases, the first step toward creating a shade garden will be to create the shade. A glaring hot lawn is uninviting and can be remedied by simply planting native trees.  Since most trees require full sun to grow, an empty lawn is the perfect location for a grove of trees that will beautify your property while reducing air conditioning costs. Underplanting the trees with shrubs will provide homes and food for the birds.

Earth Day for HOAs: Native Plants for the Home Garden, webinar April 21st

Photo by Jennifer Smirnoff

Wednesday, April 21, 2021
7 pm
Registration required.

Jennifer Smirnoff will show you the transformation she has made in her yard over time and tell you how making small changes can have a BIG IMPACT. Her talk focuses on how to get started on making your property a more welcoming place for wildlife, no matter how large or small. Hosted by Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.

Questions: Contact info@loudounwildlife.org.

The Southeast’s Diverse Flora: Discoveries, Conservation & Identification with Alan Weakley webinar, April 8th

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) ; photo by Margaret Chatham

Thursday, April 8, 2021
7:30 – 9 pm
Register here.

Alan Weakley is a plant taxonomist, community ecologist, and conservationist specializing in the Southeastern United States. He holds a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. from Duke University. He has worked as botanist and ecologist for the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, and as regional and chief ecologist for The Nature Conservancy and NatureServe. He is currently Director of the University of North Carolina Herbarium, a department of the N.C. Botanical Garden, and teaches as adjunct faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the Highlands Biological Station.

Dr. Weakly is author of the Flora of the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, and co-author (with Chris Ludwig and Johnny Townsend) of the Flora of Virginia, which has received five awards, including the Thomas Jefferson Award for Conservation.

Hosted by Virginia Native Plant Society, Potowmack Chapter.

Attracting Bees and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, March 6th

Agapostemon photo by Heather Holm

Saturday, March 6, 2021
11 am
Fee: $10
Register here.

Most insects have a positive impact in our landscapes. Native plants can be selected to attract specific bees and beneficial insects including predatory and parasitic wasps, beetles, flies, true bugs, and lacewings. Learn about the predator-prey relationships of these flower-visiting beneficial insects and how they help keep problem insect populations in balance. The life cycles, diversity, and nesting habitat of native bees will also be covered along with examples of native plants for different site conditions.

The program will be presented by Heather Holm, biologist, pollinator conservationist, and award-winning author.

This is a joint venture with Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and the American Horticultural Society.

2021 Spring and Fall Landscaping with Virginia Natives Webinar Series, Starts March 5th

Plant Virginia Natives partners are collaborating to offer a series of 12 webinars – 6 this spring and 6 this fall.  The webinars will guide you through the why and how to turn your home garden into a beautiful retreat for your family and a native habitat for birds and other wildlife. 

The series kicks-off on Friday, March 5 at 6:30 pm with an engaging presentation by Dr. Douglas Tallamy, renowned author of Nature’s Best Hope. Dr. Tallamy’s photography and message of hope is not to be missed!

Sign up for all 12 webinars for just $10! Learn more and register here.

Mow Less, Grow More webinar, March 7th

Photo by Eliza Diamond on Unsplash

Sunday, March 7, 2021
2 – 3:30 pm
Register here.

The Friends of Mason Neck State Park will host a special program, “Mow Less, Grow More.” Their speaker will be Tami Sheiffer, the coordinator of Fairfax County Park Authority’s “Watch the Green Grow” education and outreach initiative.

Learn how you can protect neighboring parks and natural habitat through your yard care by mowing less and growing more. Tami will discuss how to use native plants to expand wildlife corridors and stream buffers as well as help solve landscaping problems such as areas of erosion or poor drainage where grass will not grow.

The program is free, thanks to the generosity of the members and donors of the Friends of Mason Neck State Park. Registration is required, so they can send you the Zoom link for the program.

New Web Tool Helps NoVa Wildlife Gardeners

Article by FMN Juan Gonzalez and Megan Agosti, originally published in Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Habitat Herald, republished with permission

Starting a native plant garden always begins with the same set of questions — “What plants work for my space? Which plants are most beneficial and likely to attract wildlife?” For the past few years, Northern Virginia gardeners would start their journey by referencing resources like Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Planting for Wildlife in Northern Virginia, a thorough book providing information on various native trees, shrubs, flowers, and more. This past year, two volunteers endeavored to make this information even more accessible by creating an interactive web tool for Northern Virginia’s residents. In collaboration with Loudoun Wildlife staff and volunteers, we are pleased to announce the Northern Virginia Wildlife Gardening Database located at www.novawildlifegarden.net.

This web tool provides users with Planting for Wildlife’s full catalogue in a digital format for easy filtering to answer even the most specific questions. Users can use a search function or filter results with seven different plant characteristics, including popular questions like preferred light, soil moisture, bloom month, and wildlife benefits. Favorite plants can be saved in the Saved Plant List which can generate a report summarizing your selections. You can plan for year-round interest, find deer-resistant plants, and start your dream butterfly garden with the Northern Virginia Wildlife Gardening Database.

Filtered table example

To explore Northern Virginia Wildlife Gardening Database’s full catalogue of native plants, go to www.novawildlifegarden.net and select the Plant Library tab. Select the plant type you are interested in from the drop-down menu to begin your search. Here you can filter your selection by specifying preferred light source, moisture level, bloom months/color, plant height/spread, and wildlife benefits. Further refine your selection by utilizing the search bar to make further queries (for example, “fragrant,” “deer resistant,” “hummingbird”).
Once filtered, the table provides additional context for each plant. Users can see the plant’s description and learn more about the wildlife benefits of each. Get detailed information by clicking on scientific names to view the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center entry for each plant. Explore the Glossary tab to define common terms used throughout the database.

Saved plant table example

Users can save their favorite plants using the Saved Plant List feature. To save a plant, click its respective row and then the green Save Selected button on the bottom left. This feature allows for multiple selections, so pick as many as you would like. See your list by navigating to the Saved Plants tab. When ready, generate your report by clicking the blue Generate Report button in the Saved Plants tab. This report summarizes your plant selection and generates tables for the various filters found in the web tool. Use these tables to review your selection or ensure year-round interest in your garden.

Loudoun Wildlife hopes you find this new web tool useful. It has been developed and is maintained by volunteers Juan Gonzalez and Megan Agosti. For any comments or questions please contact them at novawildlifegarden@gmail.com.