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Managing larger properties for birds, butterflies, and people

Photo and article by Plant NOVA Natives

The outdoor space on larger properties in Northern Virginia, whether residential or commercial, is typically divided into formal landscaping close to buildings and natural areas at the periphery. New practices are emerging on how to manage both areas, practices that protect the ecosystem and support the birds and the butterflies while better satisfying human needs.

The natural areas between properties are an important amenity, providing visual barriers and sound buffers while capturing stormwater and reducing flooding. Looking around, it is evident that those natural areas are often being left to take care of themselves. The result is that they are steadily degrading as the native trees are displaced by invasive non-native trees and are directly killed by invasive vines. The shrubs and ground layers are equally damaged by invasives species at those levels. Many of these invasive plants originate from the landscaped areas where they had been planted before people knew to do otherwise. Preserving trees and habitat in both areas requires taking out the invasives and replacing them with native species, of which numerous options are available.

Some other tweaking is also needed to common landscaping practices. To name a few examples, piling mulch against the trunks of trees causes the bark to rot. Blowing the fallen leaves out from under trees destroys the cover where fireflies and many butterflies overwinter. Leaf blowers with two-stroke engines pour pollution into the air and are loud enough to damage workers’ ears. Outdoor lighting can adversely affect birds, insects and plants. Spraying insecticides kills the bees and caterpillars even more than the mosquitoes they are intended to target. Simple solutions are available to mitigate all these problems.

Professional property managers and community managers negotiate the contracts with landscaping companies and can work with them to adjust their services. Details of the various options for both landscaped and natural areas can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website in a section specifically for professionals. www.plantnovatrees.org/property-managers Please spread the word to the managers of any properties where you live or work.

Earth Sangha Nursery Workdays in November

Photo:  Earth Sangha

Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays
9 am – Noon
6100 Cloud Dr, Springfield, VA 22150
Sign up here.

Help the Earth Sangha team with fall season tasks. They need help with potting, weeding, sowing seeds and winterizing. They’ll provide tools and gloves. Please dress for the weather, wear sturdy shoes, and bring your own water. If you arrive late, please call Sarah at 580-583-8065.

Winter Seed Sowing with Laura Beaty and Donna Murphy, November 1st

Tuesday, November 1, 2022
7 -8 pm
Virtual
ASNV Member Ticket: $10
Non-member ticket: $15
Register here.

Audubon Society of Northern Virginia wants to know: Do you want a garden brimming with life for a fraction of the price you’d pay to install full-grown plants? Learn how to propagate native plants from seed with this helpful tutorial. Now is the time to collect and sow seeds in trays of seed-starter medium for over-wintering and sprouting seedlings in the spring and summer. Laura Beaty and Donna Murphy will recommend seed sources, share helpful tips and tricks, and answer questions from the audience.

Community Entranceway Landscaping

Article, Photos, and Images: Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association 

The Audubon-at-Home program in partnership with Plant NOVA Natives obtained a grant from Dominion Energy to award seven matching mini-grants to community associations for converting their entranceway landscaping to all Virginia native plants. The mini-grants stipulated that the landscaping be designed so that the community’s standard landscape company could maintain it. The projects were installed in the fall of 2021. The “after” photos are from Spring 2022. Below, the organizer from Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association shared some thoughts about their experience that may help other communities.

Note: Any community or individual in Northern Virginia who wish to use their property for wildlife sanctuary is encouraged to invite an Audubon-at-Home volunteer to walk their property with them and strategize.

In Fairfax County, The Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association participated in the program.

From the Water’s Edge Organizers:

It is so exciting to see these plants come back this year! We have several signs that you will notice in the pics. Besides the Native Plants sign, there are some smaller signs as well. The smaller green one requests that the plants not be sprayed. There are also small signs with numbers. The numbers correlate to the educational piece, which is the QR codes in multiple places, which invite people to learn more about the plant that is there. This is something we said we would have by this spring. We are still looking into other educational opportunities for the community and will take any chance to share the work that has been done and the benefits associated with planting natives. Since the entrance is located on a walking path in the area, the QR codes are placed so that anyone walking by has the opportunity to learn more about any of the plants. On our part, having this done and engaging with the work has prompted us to consider only natives in other parts of the neighborhood as trees need to be replaced, beds need to be rebuilt, and our own properties need plantings. The invasives that were in the area, such as the lilies, have been difficult to remove, and they came back in full force this year. Hands Dirty came back to remove more of them, and we will continue to monitor the need for removal. During bouts of hot and/or dry weather, we are watering by hand or hiring the landscaping company to water the plants at the entrance as well as other native plantings we are working to establish.

Additional articles about this program and participants:
Welcoming Visitors with Native Plant Landscaping — Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (audubonva.org)
https://www.plantnovanatives.org/entranceway-landscaping

Plant List:

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatam ‘Shenandoah’
Southern Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Eastern Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana)
Pennsylvania Sedge) (Carex pensylvanica)
Wood Aster
Woodland Phlox (Phlox diviracata) ‘Sherwood Purple’
Native azalea
Meadow Anemone
American Strawberrybush (Euonymyous americanus)
Aromatic Sumac (Rhus aromatica)
Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata) ‘Emerald Pink’
Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Black-eyed Susan
Culver’s Root
False Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis)
Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)
Mountain Mint
Beebalm
Sundrops

 

Before Picture and After Pictures:

Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association

 

Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association

 

Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association

 

Courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives: Water’s Edge at Fair Lakes Homeowners Association

 

Native Seed Collection and Propagation Workshop, October 8th

Image/photo: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, October 8, 2022
2:00 pm – 4:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
38.775154, -77.798197

Registration is FREE.

Click here to register.

Collecting and propagating native seeds is a great way to help spread native plant populations, add 100% native species to your gardens, and learn about the native plants in your backyard.  Executive Director Bert Harris and Earth Sangha Nursery’s Matt Bright will lead participants in learning when seeds are ready to collect, how to collect and store seeds, and how to propagate them.

Native Plant Sale

Image/photo: Courtesy of The Clifton Institute

Saturday, September 24, 2022
11:00 pm – 2:00 pm

The Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA
38.775154, -77.798197

Click here for more information.

Native plants provide better food for insects, which in turn provide food for birds. You can make a huge difference for wildlife by planting native species on your property. At the plant sale we will sell seedlings grown from these seeds of a variety of perennial wildflowers, native grasses, and a few trees. Some of our favorites include butterflyweed, upland ironweed, scaly blazing star, narrow-leaf mountain-mint, and gray goldenrod.

The Clifton Institute hopes to see you there!

Native Groundcovers and Trees: The Perfect Pairing!

Photo and article by Plant NOVA Natives

Native groundcovers are becoming increasingly popular, for good reason: even if they have minimal time for gardening, people want to use native plants to support our local birds and butterflies. To avoid invasive non-native groundcovers such as English Ivy, Vinca, Yellow Archangel, and Japanese Pachysandra, they turn to native plants for the same landscaping benefits without the damage to our trees and the rest of the environment.

Equally popular among time-pressed residents are native trees, which are similarly easy to install and which have benefits that far exceed those of any other plants. Not only does the great mass of tree leaves and roots provide food and homes for birds, soak up stormwater, and cool the air, the insects that evolved with native plants are adapted to the chemical make-up of those plants and are able to co-exist peacefully with them. An American Beech tree, for example, is the host plant to 126 species of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Hickory to 200 species, Black Cherry around 450 species, and native oaks over 500 species. (The numbers for non-native trees are in the single digits or even zero.)

Over 30 species of locally native plants make excellent groundcovers, with options available for any growing condition. Several are evergreen, and many have the bonus of a month or two of colorful flowers. Some form a tight mat on the ground, while others such as ferns and White Wood Aster provide a taller look. Native sedges provide even more options. Some sedges make a beautiful substitute for the invasive Liriope, some look more like a grass that never needs mowing, and still others sport spiky seed heads that add a touch of quirkiness to the garden. Our local conventional garden centers are starting to carry some of these plants, and many more can be found at native plant garden centers.

Encircling native trees with native groundcovers makes eminent sense. Turf grass does poorly under trees because of the limited light. Trees do not appreciate lawn chemicals, not to mention the risk of injury from lawnmowers and string trimmers. A harmful but common practice, especially in commercial areas, is to pile layer after layer of mulch in a “mulch volcano” around trees and spray it with herbicides to prevent grass and weed growth. Not only does this poison the soil, but mulch that is touching the trunk will rot the bark, and compacted mulch prevents rainwater from reaching the roots. Arborist wood chips, which allow the water to run through, are an improvement over shredded bark mulch if applied properly and can protect the tree as it gets established. But in the long run, why not use nature’s alternative to a toxic mulch bed, which is to allow the fallen leaves to remain in place and add a “green mulch” made up of native plants? The trees and the soil will thank you for it.

DIY Insectary Garden

Feature photo:  Last summer the monarda bloomed beautifully! At the top you can see the beginnings of the asclepias incarnata (the mauve colored flower cluster).

Article and photos by FMN Kate Luisa

This story begins at the very end of the summer of 2019. I have a fairly small back yard with a patio and around the patio is a garden area that I was using for growing tomatoes.  Well, frankly,

Spring 2020. This is the garden the following year after the initial plantings which went in at the very end of summer 2019. There is also a sedum (far left) that was already there. This plant is over 100 years old. Literally. It came from my great-grandmother’s garden.

that was just wishful thinking.  The plants got tall and beautiful but every tomato but about five got either eaten by something or split and turned to mush with the rains we had that summer.  It was very disheartening.  I knew I would have to scrap the tomato dream.  So I decided to cut my losses around the middle of August and took them out.  That left an “L” shaped area around two thirds of the patio with nothing.  The area is about 3 to 4 feet wide (from the patio) and the length is about 8 feet on one side and about 6 feet on the other.
I thought much about what I could put there.  I already have lots of coneflowers, culver’s root, agastache, zinnias and rudbeckia.  I just wanted something different….

Then I remembered reading about an insectary garden and found that idea very intriguing.  This would be the perfect area for it!  It is in full sun and just about the right size.  The next big

decision was what to put in it. That spring, along my back fence, I had already put in a long row of mountain mint, a combination of pycnanthemum muticum, p. virginianum and p. tenuifolium that smells heavenly and attracts an incredible variety of insects.  So I didn’t need more of that.  Rather than do copious amounts of research I went directly to the best source of all: the FMN group.  I knew there had to already be native plants that others could recommend for such an enterprise.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed.

I received a wonderful variety of suggestions and studied information on each one.  I decided that since the area was not very large, it would be best to stick with just a few selections and to plant them en masse.  I looked at the seasonal blooming times and tried to get plants that would bloom most of the Summer and into Fall.  My overall idea was to have some brightly colored plants that would bloom throughout the season for pollinators and other wildlife. My colors are mauve, yellow and scarlet. I chose Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias  purpurascens, zizia aurea and monarda didyma.  Unfortunately, it was already very late in the season so I could only put in a few plantings before the cooler weather started coming in. I put in the milkweed and a few monarda, figuring I would put the rest in the following spring.

This is now the second full summer of my garden. The asclepias incarnata went gangbusters last year! The purpurescens has not done well but is coming up this year

Various ladybug species on the milkweed (and aphids in lower right).

and looks a bit more robust. Somehow, lobelia got into the garden (I had some lobelia cardinalis in another place and I think the birds must have distributed the seeds) so these also made a wonderful surprise appearance. They are coming up again this year and I planted more seeds for them as well.

Last year I noted many different kinds of bees and other flying insects, ladybugs (as well as aphids which I left for the ladybugs), lacewing eggs and monarch caterpillars on the milkweed. Hummingbirds loved the cardinal flowers and the bee balm as well. I harvested the milkweed pods in the Fall and gave to people to create their own insectary gardens.

Lacewing eggs on underside of milkweed leaf (upper right).

The garden is now coming alive again as the spring unfolds. The milkweed is almost a foot tall and the bee balm is spreading. The golden alexanders are in bloom, and I watch tiny bees climb all over the bright yellow flowers. I am so glad I have planted this garden!

 

Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants, May 5th

Photo:  Virginia Native Plant Society

Thursday, May 5, 2022
2 – 3pm
Tyson-Pimmit Regional Library, Meeting Room 1
7584 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church
No signup is required.

Most people know that monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed plants, but many aren’t aware that other caterpillars have similarly restricted diets.

Margaret Chatham, a local native plant gardener and long-time member of the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS), will share photos and lots of information about the native plants, known as larval host plants, that various species of caterpillars can digest. Learn how to create a butterfly-friendly habitat In your own yard by planting a variety of native larval host plants. Enjoy beautiful photos of the butterflies and silk moths that you can look forward to seeing in your own butterfly garden. Adults.

Spring Native Plant Sales

Photo courtesy of Virginia Native Plant Society

Native plants provide better food for insects, which in turn provide food for birds. You can make a huge difference for wildlife by planting native species on your property.

Virginia Native Plant Society maintains a list of native plant sales in the area.

Not on the list, but worth considering is Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Native Plant Sale, which takes place on April 16, 2022 in Morven Park in Leesburg.  More information is here: www.loudounwildlife.org/event/spring-native-plant-sale