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Alexandria Neighbors Bring Trees to Their Community

Photo:  Plant NOVA Natives

Trees plant themselves and replace themselves – except in our lawns. Many Northern Virginia neighborhoods that are graced by magnificent mature trees are now slowly losing their canopy as those trees die from old age or disease (or are cut down while still healthy by humans.) Each lost tree means higher temperatures and air conditioning costs on that property, more stormwater runoff, and in the case of native trees, the loss of a home and food supply to thousands of our smallest neighbors including caterpillars and songbirds.

City of Alexandria residents Lynn Gas and Jane Seward were bemoaning the fact that their neighborhood of over 30 years was so much hotter than it used to be due to the loss of tree canopy. They decided to do something about it and started the Canopy Tree Restoration Campaign. After educating themselves about trees, they talked to their neighbors and got each to sign up to have a tree installed at a deep discount. They helped each homeowner select and mark the site. They then contracted with a landscape company to install all the trees on the same day. Each of the selected tree species was indigenous to the area and thus able to contribute to the local ecosystem. They planted 140 trees that first year.

The campaign has been a labor of love for Lynn and Jane, who have learned a lot in the process. Since the project began in 2017, they have planted around 280 trees. They often send out emails to remind people to water, since landscaper-sized trees must be watered regularly until they get established, a process that takes two or three years. They have used different nurseries and landscapers, trying to find the best trees at the best prices. It took a while to understand how nurseries work and to identify landscapers that know how to properly plant trees and are willing to give a good price. It is important when planting in many different yards to organize the planting so that landscapers can plant fast without losing time on logistics. They need to make money, so Lynn and Jane think of their coordination efforts as facilitating their work.

Lynn and Jane do not describe their initiative as selling trees. Rather, they ask people to participate in the neighborhood reforestation campaign, using phrases such as “A tree in your yard benefits all of us.” They also have received generous donations which allow them to donate trees to churches, playgrounds and schools as well as to neighbors lacking funds. When they donate a tree to someone, they thank them for participating in the campaign.

This Alexandria neighborhood campaign represents one model for how to organize a local tree drive. Other neighborhoods have come up with their own plans. Neighborhoods across Northern Virginia are starting to think about how they can participate in the five year Plant NOVA Trees campaign. Some may want to emulate the professional installation approach. Others might prefer to plant smaller specimens, which are less expensive (sometimes even free) and require less watering, though they need careful protection from lawn mowers and deer and will need some simple pruning to direct their growth after a couple years.

The first step will be for residents to take the initiative to create a project for their own neighborhood. It helps to plan well in advance of a spring or fall planting, because it may take time to source the trees as well as to create enthusiasm in the community and work out a plan for watering and maintenance. Tips on how to organize can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website. Plant NOVA Trees is the collective effort of thousands of individuals across the region pitching in to get thousands of trees into the ground.

Arlington National Cemetery Treasures its Trees

U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/released

Article by Plant NOVA Trees

Arlington National Cemetery is a place to honor, remember, and explore. The beauty of the grounds and the comfort of its visitors is enhanced by close to 10,000 trees, some dating back to before the Civil War. The diverse collection of this Certified Level III Arboretum include many species native to Northern Virginia including the state co-champion Pin Oak, near the Memorial Amphitheater. (A champion tree is the largest representative of its particular species within a geographic area.)

Arlington National Cemetery is dotted with native trees such as Redbuds with their lavender flowers in spring, Black Gum with its bright red fall foliage, and American Hollies that shelter the birds. Oaks are the most common species, which reflects their predominance in the Eastern forest.

Forester Greg Huse gives tours of the arboretum to visitors four times a year and points out the ecosystem services provided by mature trees. That Pin Oak, for example, not only supports the caterpillars that are the food for baby songbirds – a feature intrinsic to native plants but nearly absent in non-native ones – but also absorbs 1,400 pounds of atmospheric carbon and intercepts 23,000 gallons of storm water every year.

After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, a landscape architect firm designed the Kennedy memorial site, home of the Eternal Flame. The designers worked around a 200 year-old Post Oak, 60 inches in diameter, which later became known as the Arlington Oak. In 2012, this massive tree was blown down by Hurricane Irene and could not be rescued. By good fortune, though, its acorns had been collected by American Forests as part of their historically significant trees project. Three of those saplings were donated back to Arlington Cemetery and planted in the same plaza, where they are now ten to twelve feet tall and thriving.

Trees are not the only native plants at the cemetery. Horticulturalist Kelly Wilson has been steadily adding a diversity of herbaceous and woody plants throughout the last decade, especially in the newer bio-retention areas (rain gardens). In these public areas, she designs with a small number of species to keep a neat-and-clean look, while in a staff parking area, she allows for more exuberance. Favorite natives utilized are the purple-flowering Ironweed which attracts many pollinators. Monarch caterpillars have taken advantage of the Butterflyweed. River Birch with its beautiful peeling bark does very well in rain gardens.

The 639 acres of Arlington National Cemetery, which is the resting place for 400,000 American servicemembers and family, are cared for by five permanent staff members who supervise the work of 90-100 contractors. The trees that grace this National Treasure are an essential feature, just as they are in any neighborhood where residents value the beauty and services they provide.

To learn what you can do to plant and protect trees on your own property, visit www.plantnovatrees.org. Many of the trees will still have their fall colors in November when Arlington National Cemetery hosts the Centennial Commemoration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On November 9-10, a flower ceremony takes place where the American public will be able to place a flower at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On November 11, an Armed Forces full honors procession takes place as it did a hundred years ago on November 11, 1921. Find out more about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration at www.arlingtoncemetery.mil.

Tree Ceremony Adds Native Seedlings in Lorton

Photos by Susan Laume

Article by FMN Susan Laume, published in The Connection newspapers, reprinted with permission

The Laurel Hill Park Volunteer Team planted southern red oak seedlings (Quercus falcate) on Oct. 30 as part of the Celebration of Trees campaign organized by Plant NoVA Natives. The event, one of many planned across the area this Fall, is part of a five-year campaign to preserve native trees and see more planted in Northern Virginia.

The planting at the historic Barrett House replaced three mature oaks lost last year after a period of several year’s decline. The seedlings will grow to medium sized trees, providing shade, with a large root system for watershed protection, and with a beautiful red leaf color in late summer and the Fall, from which the trees get their name. All oak species provide high food value and shelter for wildlife, including insects, mammals, rodents, birds and deer. This particular oak is the larva host for the Banded hairstreak and White hairstreak butterflies.

Fairfax Releaf’s Taylor Beach demonstrates correct tree planting for best success

In coordination with Fairfax County’s Natural Resources Branch of the Park Authority, additional seedlings were planted in the park’s reforestation area. The reforestation project, under the management of ecologist Darko Veljkovic, will include the planting of hundreds of native trees of various species this December, to reclaim forest habitat from invasive shrubs and vines. The Laurel Hill Park Volunteer Team’s planting of six southern red oak seedlings was the symbolic start of that reforestation effort.

Fairfax Releaf, an independent non-profit organization promoting the planting and preservation of native trees, provided the seedlings for the Laurel Hill planting. The organization makes trees available to Virginia residents and businesses to “lessen the impact of development on the environment” in our fast growing county. (fairfaxreleaf.com) A variety of tree species are available, most of which are grown at the Virginia Dept. of Forestry nursery in Augusta County. The state’s nursery grows hardwood and pine trees from donated acorns and seeds gathered by volunteers around the state. The Laurel Hill volunteer team effort brought the process full circle, from acorn donation to tree planting.

Celebrate Fall Color!

Photo and article courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives

As Northern Virginia continues to celebrate trees to mark the start of the five year regional native tree campaign, autumn colors move to center stage. We may not get New England’s sudden (and brief) burst of color from the dominance of sugar maples, but our region makes up for it with the more gradual unfolding of a warm and lingering fall.

Most deciduous trees are best planted in the autumn, which conveniently coincides with the best time to choose a tree for its fall foliage. Trees are like people: within one species, there is plenty of variability, so if fall color is a high priority for you, this is the time to go shopping.

If your attention is drawn to a particular tree on a forested slope in Virginia, chances are you have spotted a Black Gum tree, whose red leaves positively glow in the sun. Other native trees with markedly red foliage include the Red Maples and the Scarlet and Shumard oaks. All these trees are eminently suitable for planting in a yard. Hickory trees have bright yellow foliage and tend to have planted themselves, as they are harder to find in nurseries because their deep tap roots makes it hard to dig them up. The muted red leaves of the Flowering Dogwood, Virginia’s state tree, provide a background for scarlet berries that are an important food source for migrating birds. This brings up two related subjects. The first is that it is important to choose native trees, as it is only plants that evolved within our local ecosystem that support that ecosystem. The second is that fall color is not just about foliage. The berries of many native plants, especially shrubs, ripen in fall and make a bright display that attracts birds to your yard. Many of those shrubs, such as blueberries, chokeberries, sumacs and native viburnums, also have brilliant fall foliage in their own right. Fall is also the time for the many species of the aptly named goldenrod and for the purples, blues, pinks, whites and even yellows of asters. Goldenrods and asters are the host plants for more species of caterpillars than any other perennials. But it is trees that support the most wildlife of all. If you only have the time and energy to plant one plant, let it be a native tree.

One of the fun things about our drawn-out autumn is watching the colors evolve over time. Certain patterns emerge. Sycamores start to fade well before summer’s end, with Dogwoods starting to turn rust red soon afterwards and Sassafras either red or gold. The brighter reds and yellows of canopy trees follow, with oaks being late to turn. Once those are shed, what is left is the light brown leaves of oaks and beeches that hold onto their leaves well into winter. The trees do not march in lock step, though, and there is plenty of variation from year to year, tree to tree, and even from branch to branch on the same tree. The Plant NOVA Trees website includes photos as well as a practical guide to choosing and planting native trees.

You might be thinking that when choosing a native tree, it might as well be one with bright red foliage. But consider that it is not a sea of red that makes autumn so beautiful but the quilt of contrasting red, gold, green and brown provided by the diversity of our woodland species. There are over fifty native species of trees to choose between in Northern Virginia, each of which plays its own important role in the beauty and the ecosystem of our region. Not only would it look odd to see only red trees, planting too many of one species puts the community at risk if disease strikes. Biodiversity is the key to resilience in a changing world.

Fruit Talks and Field Walks: Persimmons with Eliza Greenman – November 11

Photo: Persimmon, Keith Bradley

Workshop:
Online
Thursday, November 11, 2021
7 – 8 PM

Field Trip:
Saturday, November 13, 2021
8 AM – Noon
Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Upperville, VA

Fees: Workshop only: $15; Workshop and field walk: $75

Register here.

Join Audubon Society of Northern Virginia for an exciting new series with Oak
Spring Garden Foundation that focuses on native and heritage trees. The first
workshop will be led by Eliza Greenman, a fruit explorer, horticultural historian,
designer, and implementer of agroforestry. Learn more about Eliza and her work here.

Eliza will lead participants in a one-hour online class, followed by a half-day field
trip to Oak Spring Garden Foundation. They will be outdoors and walking
in the field. Please wear comfortable clothing and appropriate shoes.

2021 Tree Steward Symposium, June 24-25

Virtual
Thursday, June 24 and Friday, June 25, 2021
9am – noon both days
Register here.

Don’t miss the chance to collaborate with other tree stewards, hear speakers on the latest tree topics and learn about some of the latest resources available to expand your involvement in community outreach.

See the agenda here.

Ask the Experts – Pruning Native Shrubs and Trees, May 5th

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
6:30 – 8 pm
Register here.
Expert: Maraea Harris

Pruning shrubs and small trees can be confounding for homeowners but it doesn’t have to be. Maraea will talk about identifying trees and shrubs in your landscape and how best to prune them for health and aesthetics. The techniques she discusses will be applicable throughout your landscape but will focus on native shrubs and trees that are commonly grown in our area. Maraea will give a short presentation then open it up to your questions for the bulk of the hour

Submit your questions on the registration page, and please send photos of the area in question to plantnovanatives@gmail.com.

This videoconference will be recorded and posted to YouTube.

Maraea Harris is the owner of Metro GardenWorks, whose services include gardening, pruning, tree assessment and identification, and invasive plant management.

The Secret Life and Folklore of Winter Trees, January 21st

Thursday, January 21, 2021
12-1pm
Please register for the free event here. It will be recorded.

Join Capital Nature and well-known local naturalist Alonso Abugattas, the Capital Naturalist, for a fascinating talk on trees during the winter months. Evergreens like American Hollies and the Eastern Cedar provide life-sustaining food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, and reward us with sightings of refreshing green and red in the winter environment. Deciduous trees reveal stunning winter forms while they gather strength for spring blooms.

With a keen eye you can recognize amazing oaks, beech trees, and sycamores by their distinctive bark, nuts, and fruits. Alonso will draw on his abundant knowledge of the natural world, and on the legends of indigenous peoples to reveal the amazing living world of trees in winter.

Find out more about Capital Naturalist at http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com

Spruce Up your Foundation Plantings

Photo and article by Plant NOVA Natives

When developers build a neighborhood, they almost always add some shrubs against the foundations of the houses to soften the lines of the buildings. Just as they paint all the interior walls white, they use just a few conventional plant species for a uniform look until all the houses are sold.  The new owners get used to the look and never bother to change it. But the foundation planting area offers a big opportunity to beautify the landscaping, eliminate the need for pruning and help support our local birds and butterflies at the same time.
 
Native shrubs constitute an essential middle layer of the ecosystem, providing food and shelter for songbirds. Providing this layer in our yards is even more important in areas where the deer have eradicated native shrubs in the woods. Unfortunately, at the time when most of our houses were built, the importance of using native plants was not known to the builders, and so most of the commonly used plants are species that were introduced from other continents. Not only do they not provide food for wildlife, many of them have escaped into nearby natural areas, where they proceed to destroy the ecosystem there. Examples of that include Nandina (also problematic because its red berries are poisonous to Cedar Waxwings), Japanese Barberry (also problematic because it harbors ticks), Privet, Burning Bush, Leatherleaf Mahonia, Double-file and Linden Viburnum, and several species of Bush Honeysuckle.
 
Luckily, there are many non-invasive alternatives. Best of all, many of these are native plants and therefore support the birds and butterflies with which they evolved. These plants have become increasingly available at our local garden centers. For the area under a window, it makes sense to choose one whose ultimate height when full grown will not block the view, thus making pruning unnecessary and allowing the plant to assume its own graceful shape. Many have beautiful spring flowers; others have striking red berries that provide interest well into winter.
 
Of course, most people don’t know the names of the shrubs in their yards. This can be figured out by using a plant ID app such as Seek or iNaturalist. Residents can also get a free visit from an Audubon-at-Home volunteer to help identify invasive plants and strategize about alternatives.
 
Shrubs are not the only plants that are suitable for foundations. Small trees where there is room, native ornamental grasses in the sun and native ferns in the shade are all natural choices. For those who like the conventional look that came with the house, there are plenty of native shrubs that can achieve the same aesthetic. Other people might want to add character to their yard by choosing something a little different.  And rather than planting annuals every spring, why not plant a few native perennials just once to get that pop of color year after year? For more details, see the shrubs page and the foundation planting page on the Plant NOVA Natives website.
 

VDOF Seeks Acorns/Nuts from Virginia Landowners, deadline October 16th

Photo by Dcrjsr – Own work, CC BY 3.0

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) is again seeking 12 species of acorns and nuts that can be planted at its Augusta Forestry Center [Crimora, Virginia] to grow into tree seedlings that will become the forests of tomorrow.

Each year, VDOF asks the public from across the state to collect and donate nuts of select species to be planted at the state nursery. These seeds will produce next year’s hardwood seedling crop, which will be sold to Virginia’s forestland owners. Seedlings grown from Virginia-grown seed generally produces trees that will best thrive in our state’s climates.

In 2019, Virginians did a tremendous job collecting acorns for the nursery. “The public supplied us with tons of acorns and walnuts last year. I am always amazed at the output by Virginians every year,” says Assistant Forestry Center Manager Josh McLaughlin.

Certain nuts can be difficult to find regionally, and availability can change year to year. At times, one species of tree in a region may produce minimal acorns, while others are abundant with “acorns hanging like bunches of grapes,” says McLaughlin. This is why VDOF puts out a call-to-action for landowners across the state. The more trees that can be identified for collection, the more nuts can be potentially planted in the nursery.

Protocols and guidelines for acorn collection remain mostly the same as last year, with some minor adjustments to the collection deadline and species list. Virginia landowners interested in sharing their acorns or nuts are asked to follow these guidelines.

During September and early October, it is easy to pick up nuts in many yards and parking lots. Try to avoid trees in more heavily forested areas because there may be different species of trees nearby, making it difficult to sort the nuts by species for proper planting.

The species the tree nursery needs this year are: black oak, black walnut, Chinese chestnut, chestnut oak, live oak, northern red oak, pin oak, southern red oak, swamp chestnut oak, swamp white oak, white oak and willow oak.

Place the nuts in a breathable sack or bag (no plastic, please). Minimize debris in the bag (e.g. leaves, sticks, gravel). On the bag, please label the species and date of collection.

Once the nuts are collected, place in a cool area (like a fridge or basement) until you are ready to drop them off at a VDOF office. In Fairfax County, bring the acorns to the bins on the first floor of the parking garage behind the Virginia Department of Forestry office at 12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA. Nuts must be delivered by October 16, 2020.

Collectors can find more detailed information about collection procedures, nut identification and frequently asked questions on VDOF’s website: https://dof.virginia.gov/tree/acorn-collect.htm

If you have questions, or if there is a tree that needs to be identified before you collect the nuts, please call the Augusta Forestry Center: 540-363-7000.

Master naturalists receive service hour credit for collecting, packaging, and travel to deliver the acorns at code S035.