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Local Native Plant Sales in Full Bloom

Native plants help baby songbirds, butterflies, our ecosystem and support clean water. They need no fertilizer, no extra watering once they are established,no pesticides and no lawn mowing.

Check out this list of native plant sales and start digging!

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.

“Audubon at Home” program presentation, Mar. 21st

Jammes House
Mason Neck State Park
Saturday, March 21, 2020
2 pm

The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and Plant Nova Natives will present “Creating a Wildlife Sanctuary on Your Property: The Audubon at Home Program” at 2 PM on March 21. The program will explain the importance of native plants to restoring and maintaining a balanced ecosystem and give guidance on how to do it.

The program is free and is open to everyone. The Friends of Mason Neck State Park, which is hosting the program, will provide light refreshments. Registration for the program will open on February 15. Space will be limited, so be sure to register as soon as you can.

Inside Out Gardens

Article by Plant NOVA Natives

Before we turn our thoughts to spring, let us take this opportunity to plan for next year’s long stretch of cold and gray. Does your landscape give you pleasure in the winter, as you sit inside looking out? Or is it only designed for curb appeal, with the plants crammed up against the foundation so that all you see from your window is the lawn and the street? Or perhaps the shrubs that were installed with the house are now overgrown and blocking your view altogether. A little rearranging can give you both curb appeal and a vibrant vista from your breakfast table or living room.

The first thing to consider is that movement brings a landscape to life. That can be provided by wind bending the grasses but most importantly by birds and other critters that are making use of your yard. A bird feeder can help you obtain that experience, but to actually support the wildlife, you need to provide them with the plants they need for shelter and food for both themselves and their babies. With rare exceptions, baby songbirds cannot eat seeds – they require insects, which themselves require the plants with which they evolved. In other words, to support life, your yard needs native plants.

If you take out any overgrown shrubs and plant new ones fifteen or twenty feet away from the window, from the inside the effect can be as if you added on a room to your house. Native shrubs can be arranged into a living backdrop where birds entertain you as they eat and shelter. Winterberry, Chokeberry and Elderberry are examples of shrubs that provide colorful berries to feed the birds. Multi-stemmed Serviceberries, with their lovely white flowers followed by berries that are also edible to humans, provide a place for birds to sit while they eat the seeds from your feeder. Native Heucheras and evergreen native ferns and sedges can fill the lower levels, which are also the perfect place to include some small shade-loving species that might get lost in a flower garden bed. Partridgeberry, for example, lies flat on the ground and has adorable red berries from November to January. Not as tiny but still quite small, the spring ephemerals start to emerge just when you need relief from winter.

Spring ephemerals are shade plants that emerge and quickly flower in late winter and spring and then fade away once the trees leaf out. If you plant them in the woods, you will be mimicking nature, but you may miss the whole show. How often do you walk in your woods in cold or rainy weather? On the other hand, if you also tuck them under your deciduous shrubs out front where you can spot these treasures from your window or as you walk by on the way to your car, you can enjoy them the same way we appreciate snow drops, crocuses and daffodils as they emerge in succession. One of the earliest harbingers of spring is Round-lobed Hepatica, whose cute three-lobed leaves peek out in March to be followed by pale purple flowers. Another plant with intriguing leaves is Bloodroot, which starts to flower by late March, around the time that the pink and white flowers of Virginia Spring Beauty begin their long bloom period, providing an important source of nectar to bees as they first awaken. The blossoms of Virginia Bluebells may occasionally start to appear that early as well. A whole troop of other ephemerals burst forth in April. You can find details about spring ephemerals and other native plants on the Plant NOVA Natives website, as well as information about where to buy them.

Unpaid Internship Opportunity with Plant NOVA Natives

Plant NOVA Natives seeks a communications intern for Spring 2020. Application deadline Friday, January 24, 2020.

The job will be to gather material, help write the scripts and produce a new podcast series on the theme of “unity gardens” in Northern Virginia. A unity garden is one that contributes to a connected landscape where people and nature can thrive together. Together we are restoring balance to our communities, one property at a time, to provide wildlife with sanctuary corridors and to provide people with beautiful places to play and relax,
enjoy nature, and grow healthy food . We do so by reducing lawn, incorporating native plants,removing invasive plants, growing the soil, conserving water, reducing run-off, and avoiding chemical applications and insecticides.

The final product of this internship will be at least ten finished podcasts of 30 minute duration, designed to provide practical how-to detail as well as inspiration, specifically for a Northern Virginia audience.

Complete details here.

Native plants in public spaces

Article by Plant NOVA Natives

Shopping center parking lots and other public spaces can be tree-lined havens from the summer heat, with beautiful blossoms to induce people to linger. Imagine yourself resting on a shaded bench, listening to the birds as you enjoy watching the people stroll by.  Do the commercial spaces in your town look like this, or do you find yourself hurrying from car to building to get out of the glaring heat? Wouldn’t you prefer to do your shopping at the place with more greenery? 

Commercial establishments across the region are starting to appreciate the return on investment of native plants. There are practical reasons related to the fact that they are adapted to the Virginia climate. Native Virginia plants require less watering (once established) than rows of annuals and only need to be planted once. Native shrubs such as Virginia Sweetspire require no pruning and provide more natural-looking alternatives to conventional landscaping choices that get leggy with continuous trimming. No fertilizers and pesticides are needed, either. Beyond the practicalities, though, companies that choose native plants are signaling to the public that they are good corporate citizens who care about our common home and are working to preserve our heritage. 

In many cases, property managers are taking the simple step of swapping out the non-native in their curbside beds for reliable natives such as Threadleaf Coreopsis, Common Yucca, Black-Eyed Susan and Common Yarrow. Winterberry Holly, with its bright red berries, has become a popular choice to place next to buildings. Some landscapers are installing innovative designs that give the property a whole new look, incorporating a wide variety of shrubs and ornamental trees such as Redbud and great swaths of native grasses such as Switchgrass waving in the breeze. An example of that can be seen at Caboose Commons in Fairfax, where imaginative landscaping adds a new dimension to the dining experience. Still other establishments such as Vienna Vintner have planted extensive pollinator gardens leading up to their entrances, with flowers that bloom in succession and attract butterflies from early spring to late fall. 

You may have noticed sidewalks and parking lots that have sunken islands. Stormwater retention areas, which are mandatory for new development, provide an opportunity for creative landscaping. Water and drought tolerant trees such as Red Maple and Serviceberry can provide shade while their roots absorb the runoff. Native grasses, perennials and shrubs help clean the water while adding color and interest to the design. 

Photos and details about landscaping with native plants in commercial spaces can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website. The Caboose Commons project is highlighted in the first Plant NOVA Natives video for landscape professionals. Produced by volunteer Joe Bruncsak, owner of Blue Land Media, this series of very short videos will feature projects that exemplify landscape design at its best.

2nd Annual Native Plants for Beginners

Saturday, February 8, 2020, 6:00-7:30pm

Northern Virginia Community College, Woodbridge VA

More details and registration info to follow. See plantnovanatives.org for more information.

Using native plants to deal with drought (and deluges)

Margaret Fisher

Neither droughts nor deluges are new to Northern Virginia, but as everyone has noticed, weather extremes are becoming more common. The prolonged drought this year that followed a wet 2018 was particularly hard on plants, as roots that have been weakened by too much water and accompanying fungi are more vulnerable the following year. When choosing which species to plant, we need to keep in mind the likelihood of these stressors repeating themselves in the future.

People living in the western part of the United States are more used to xeriscaping – planting for a dry environment – than those of us on the east coast. Lawns in California are being converted to native plantings at a rapid rate. But Virginians have been lulled by plentiful rainfall into settling for empty expanses of turf grass as the default landscaping choice, and those lawns start to look pretty peaked after weeks of drought. Fortunately, most native Virginia plants that have been installed in appropriate conditions held up quite well during our recent long dry spell. The gorgeous asters and goldenrods that define our fall landscape were no less beautiful this year. Having evolved here, they are used to both wet and dry summers. The exceptions tended to be plant species that have been experiencing ongoing stresses from disease, such as the Flowering Dogwood, and new plantings – all plants need appropriate amounts of water until they get established. By “appropriate,” we mean “not too much!” After the first few days, rainfall may indeed provide all that is needed during a wet spell, and supplying so much water that the plant never dries out is a good way to kill many native plants.

Determining which plants can withstand drought is not entirely straightforward. For instance, some of the best trees for dry, compacted soil are ones such as Baldcypress that normally live in swamps. They tolerate standing water not so much because they need the extra moisture but because they can deal with conditions of low oxygen. One way to quickly assemble a list of drought-tolerant plants is to look at recommendations for rain gardens. Rain gardens are designed to hold water for a couple days after a storm but then to absorb the water into the soil, leaving the plants dry in between. Another good reference is the plant lists for professionals page on the Plant NOVA Natives website. The plants in bold have been curated to include those that are particularly reliable as well as widely available, with detailed notations about their cultural needs.

Are you puzzling over where to install native plants instead of turf grass? Start where it is difficult or dangerous to mow, or where grass is growing poorly already. Or simply plop some shade trees in the middle of your lawn. In time, the summer temperatures in your yard will be noticeably lower.

Landscape professionals supporting our local wildlife

article by  Plant NOVA Natives staff

On August 7, over a hundred people attended Plant NOVA Natives’ first conference on native plants for professionals, including representatives from 39 professional landscaping companies. Although homeowners can drive demand for native plants, most residential and commercial landscapes in Northern Virginia have been designed and installed by professionals. If our neighborhoods are to evolve in a way that supports the local ecosystem, landscaping industry leadership will be critical.

The Plant NOVA Natives campaign is not just about educating citizens about why and how to use native plants as a first step toward creating home habitat. The campaign also creates resources that are tailored to the needs of professionals. This has included the development of a reference guide that identifies locally native plants that are reliable, widely available, beautiful, and suitable for conventional landscape settings. Curb appeal is important to customers and can be easily obtained using the right native plants. This guide and other resources can be found in the professionals section of the Plant NOVA Natives website.

The conference agenda included three hour-long presentations. Brad Motter from Gone Native Landscapes reviewed the critical role of insects to our ecosystem and the ecological benefits of native plants in the food web supporting wildlife, and discussed how to promote them to customers. One of the examples he showed was the beautiful landscaping around Caboose Commons beer garden and coffee house in Fairfax. By coincidence, a landscape designer in attendance raised his hand to mention that he had been responsible for that design, news that was received with applause! Ginger Woolrich then highlighted the landscaping value of various trees and shrubs, information which can be found in her highly practical book Essential Native Trees and Shrubs, which she co-authored with Tony Dove. Ginger and Tony have included a wonderful cross reference of landscape usage and growing conditions to identify trees and shrubs for many different situations. Elisa Meara wrapped up the conference with a talk on the native perennials which she uses the most in her business, Native Plant Landscape Corp.

The conference was made possible by seed money provided by Transurban’s Express Lanes Community Grant Program and by the collaboration of several organizations. Merrifield Garden Center provided the venue, and the Northern Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association and the Audubon-at-Home program contributed essential logistical support. Meadows Farms and the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals publicized the event on their email lists for professionals. The resulting turnout was very gratifying and demonstrated the need for further conferences in the future.

The fate of the birds, butterflies flies and other native creatures of Northern Virginia is in human hands, and in large part that depends on the actions of members of the landscape profession and their ability to educate their customers on how to become environmental stewards. This is a wonderful opportunity for them to make an important difference to the quality of life of all of us as we work together to protect the ecosystem and mitigate the climate crisis.

Service opportunities with Plant NOVA Natives

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir

“Art Director” needed – Some concepts are expressed better with art than with photos or words. If you would like to coordinate the work of artists who might enjoy donating artistic interpretations for the PNN website and other purposes of things like  “Baby birds need insects, and insects need native plants,” email plantnovanatives@gmail.com.

A second website manager needed – The work is light, but it is good to have more than one person doing updates to the PNN website.

Know of any good lawn and garden maintenance companies? PNN would like to compile a list of vendors that have experience in maintaining native plantings and/or environmentally friendly landscapes. Email your recommendations to plantnovanatives@gmail.com. PNN will then email the companies and ask them if they would like to self-identify as ones that have that kind of experience.

Help label plants at garden centers – There are now 16 garden centers where we are putting red stickers on the Virginia native plants. PNN needs more volunteers at several of those nurseries (particularly Lake Ridge Nursery in Dumfries, Merrifield Fair Oaks and Burke Nursery, but there are others as well). It is a great way to get to know your native plants, and very fun as well! PNN tries to have someone visit each nursery a couple times a month and to have at least two volunteers at each place. They also need help approaching garden centers that are not yet participating.

Another volunteer opportunity – Sept 29: NatureFest, Herndon. Sign up here.

Next Steering Committee meeting – All are welcome! The next meeting is scheduled for August 13 at 10:30 am, but please always check the Event Calendar in case there is a change.