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April 2024 Update

Create a mini meadow!  Please see the short article at the bottom of this page and share it as widely as possible. Then see the article on un-stressing your trees.


Outreach of the month: Put up a sign

Small signs for the yard are surprisingly inexpensive. Last year, we piloted a program in which around 150 people put signs in their front yard that said, “Native Plants at Work: Ask Us How.” The idea was to stimulate conversation by visitors and passersby, and in many cases it worked! Those conversations are important, because it is known that most people wait to take action until they hear about it from someone they know and trust. You can order a sign yourself by uploading the design to an office supply store or to a sign company website. You can find several templates on the Plant NOVA Natives website.

 

Which invasive plants cause you the most problems? 

Blue Ridge PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) wants to hear from you! Fill out this questionnaire to help them create a picture of how these plants are affecting people and the environment across Virginia.


Volunteer for tabling events

Volunteers needed to set up tables to talk about native plants at these events. Please sign up now if you can! Otherwise, we'll tell them we can't participate.

  • King's Glen Elementary School 4/27

  • Wetlands Awareness Day @ Huntley Meadow Park 5/5


Upcoming events

  • April 25, 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm: Creating a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary with Betsy and Barbara. If you love birds and native plants and want more of them in your backyard, then you won’t want to miss this presentation by Betsy Martin and Barbara Tuset, Co-Directors of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia’s Wildlife Sanctuary program. Tickets are $5 for ASNV members and $10 for non-members. Click here to register.


  • April 26-29 – City Nature Challenge. Help the greater DC metro area (which includes all of Northern Virginia) win this worldwide competition to see who can upload the most photos of flora, fauna, and fungi. Anyone with access to a camera and the internet can participate. Participants will help discover and identify the plants and animals that share our environment. Results will be shared with scientists collecting data on our local biodiversity. Access a quick explanatory video and register to participate from the City Nature Challenge website.

 

  • April 29, 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm – The Last Bumblebee. Cinema Arts Theatres located at 9650 Main Street, Fairfax, VA 20231, is hosting a showing of The Last Bumblebee in honor of Earth Month. This documentary is being billed as a solutions based, scientific look at the importance of bumblebees as pollinators, the various threats they face, and the opportunities we have to help them. The showing is FREE, but you must book your seats now and can use this link to do so. You can also view the movie trailer here

  • If you’re in the market for native plants, there are several local native plant sales to choose from. Click here for a handy list from the Plant NOVA Natives website. 


Discounts on trees through May 1

Watermark Woods and Burke Nursery are participating in Virginia’s “Throwing Shade” program. You can enjoy a $25 discount on eligible trees valued at $50 or more. 


Fairfax faith communities – learn what you can do as stewards of your property, and receive a free mini bird sanctuary!

The Audubon-at-Home program is now offering tailored site visits for faith communities to help them recognize invasive plants that are threatening their properties and to identify opportunities to reduce lawn, increase tree canopy, and provide habitat for birds and butterflies. The first twenty communities that have had a site visit and apply will receive a free “mini bird sanctuary” – a canopy tree and two shrubs – to be planted in a region-wide “bird sanctuary planting weekend” at the end of October. www.plantnovanatives.org/faith-communities

  

Partner of the month: Virginia Master Naturalists

Plant NOVA Natives is a collaborative effort of many organizations, including all four Northern Virginia chapters of Virginia Master Naturalists (VMN). The core mission of VMN is to train volunteers who help the Commonwealth conserve, protect, and manage its natural resources and public lands. Volunteers can choose to serve in one of four key areas, namely, citizen science, stewardship, education and outreach, and chapter administration. Candidates must apply to participate, and some chapter programs are competitive given demand. If chosen, VMN trainees first pass a basic training course, then obtain full certification upon completion of 40 hours of volunteer service and 8 hours of continuing education within the first year. Certification is renewed by completing 40 additional hours of service and 8 additional hours of continuing education annually. If you are curious about nature, enjoy the plants and animals that surround us, and want to be a part of efforts to protect and preserve our natural world, then you are a perfect candidate for VMN. You can either visit the VMN website for various chapter application dates, or directly visit websites of the Fairfax, Arlington Regional, Banshee Reeks (in Loudoun County), or Merrimac Farm (in Prince William County) master naturalist chapters for application forms and deadlines. 


Report your native tree and shrub plantings

Please help Northern Virginia meet its tree-planting obligations by reporting your tree and shrub plantings here. So far 14,864 have been reported!

 

Report your tree rescues

Millions of trees in Northern Virginia are at risk from invasive non-native vines. You can help save them on your own land or by volunteering on public land. So far, 13,587 tree rescues have been reported in Northern Virginia. Please add your report here

 

Next Steering Committee meeting – via videoconferencing – All are welcome. Thursday, May 2, 10:00 am – noon. Check our Event Calendar for future meetings.

 

This month’s newsletter articles to share. Please use the links below for social media.   


Create a mini meadow


When they aren’t being bulldozed over, the natural state of most meadows in Northern Virginia is to gradually revert to forest, but that fact does not lessen their importance to the ecosystem. Although there are many threats to our woods, it is the meadows that are disappearing the fastest, which is a big problem for birds and other critters that depend on sizable meadows for habitat. When was the last time you saw a meadowlark or a quail, for example?  So if you own land with a natural meadow, you do a great service by preventing it from reforesting (or from being developed.)  


Most of us don’t have natural meadows on our properties, but we, too, can help repair some of the damage by adding meadow plant species to our yards. In most cases, that translates to creating pollinator gardens that can serve as mini-meadows or small-scale meadow analogs that attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Even relatively small spaces can foster meadow habitats, especially because much of the ecological value of a meadow comes from common, easy to find, easy to grow species.


Start with just two or three sturdy and meadow-loving natives that produce beautiful flowers and attract pollinators as well, such as Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Goldenrod (e.g., Solidago rugosa or Solidago caesia), Mountain mint (e.g., Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), and Hollow Joe-pye-weed (Eutrochium fistulosum). Plants like to grow in communities near other plants. It’s a good idea to put three to five of them together, which mimics the way plants grow naturally in meadows. You can always increase the types and number of native flowering plants in your mini meadow, expanding it over time as your space and interest allows.     


Pollinator turnout on flowering natives is high. Dozens if not hundreds of hummingbirds, bumblebees, flies, beetles, and hummingbird moths, along with many other kinds of pollinators, will show up. The more varied your mini meadow offerings, the more diverse the pollinator population it will attract. It is sure to delight and amaze you, especially when compared to the dearth of pollinator activity on non-native landscapes. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more insect-eating birds such as warblers, Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Wood-Pewees. They will certainly notice and take advantage of the opportunity. 


When planning your mini meadow, don’t forget grasses. Somewhere between 40% and 70% of meadow plant species are some sort of grass, a term used here to include sedges, rushes, and grasses. All grasses are wind pollinated, so you won’t see the same level of pollinator interaction as with the native flowers listed above. But grasses are nevertheless essential to the wildlife of a healthy meadow.  Their dense roots, which you will only fully appreciate the first time you try to dig up a native grass plant and move it, help stabilize the soil, prevent erosion, corral assertive native flower species, and tamp down weeds. Birds use grasses for nesting materials. Monarch butterfly larva can use grass stems for cocooning. Grasses are host plants for skipper butterflies. The list goes on. They provide support and protection for many birds, insects, and other small meadow critters living in, on, or close to the ground. 

You can find out more about garden-worthy grasses on the Plant NOVA Natives website. Good bets for your mini meadow include Broomsedge, Eastern narrow-leaved sedge, and Little Bluestem. If you really want a sunny meadow as opposed to just a flower garden, the best approach is to establish the matrix of grasses first and add in flowers later. Native species can be found from several seed sources - they are less expensive when purchased in bulk - for when you are starting with bare soil. Otherwise, buying trays of small plugs is cost effective.


An added benefit of meadows in general and grasses in particular is the winter interest they bring to your yard. To support the entire life cycle of the critters that depend on them, don’t mulch beyond the first year. Leave the plants standing all winter, and enjoy the interesting stalks and seed heads. The next year’s plants will poke up through the dead leaves and stalks without difficulty. Minimizing outdoor lighting allows for the nocturnal activities by moths and others that are essential to the ecosystem. And of course, spraying for ticks and mosquitoes in your yard should be strictly avoided, as it will kill the little neighbors that you invited in. 


You won’t have to go far to find native meadow flowers and grasses for sale. Many sellers are close to where you live. Northern Virginia is fortunate to have several native-only garden centers. In addition, one-day native plant sales are held across the region in the spring and fall. Also, conventional garden centers now supply more native plant options than ever given the growing consumer demand. 


No matter how modest or ambitious your plans may be, taking the first step to build a mini meadow habitat is what matters. Your new native plantings will expand meadow-like habitats, increase meadow-loving life, and ultimately improve the biodiversity of the region. 


Humans and Trees Share a Common Enemy: Stress!


We all know that chronic stress affects our health and well-being, causing us to go into “fight or flight” mode. That, in turn, can lead to a variety of health effects ranging from depression to high blood pressure, which itself can increase our risk for stroke or heart attack. Ongoing stress also affects the health of trees. But unlike us, they have limited options for reducing their stress. They can use internally produced chemicals and scents to deter predators and warn other trees of threats, as well as help stressed neighbors by sharing water and nutrients through an underground fungal network. But they can’t pick up and move to avoid stressful conditions. We need to step in and alleviate tree stressors to the extent we can, particularly those caused by human activity. The good news is that caring for trees and spending time in nature can reduce our own stress. A win-win.

 

Although there are some stressors - such as early spring frosts, extreme heat, and heavy snow and ice - where we are mostly powerless to help, there are many others where we can make a difference. And it is important to do so, because trees can die from exposure to long-term stress, such multi-year droughts.or become more susceptible to insect pests or to diseases that kill them. Let’s look at some human-caused stressors - ones that we can control - and at environmental tree stressors such as drought, where we might be able to help.

 

  • Use the right plant in the right spot. Right off the bat, you will stress a tree if you plant it in the wrong spot. For example, a shade loving, understory tree such as Flowering Dogwood is going to be highly stressed if planted in full sun in dry soil. Consult plantnovatrees.org for help in choosing the right trees for your site.

  • Use proper planting and staking techniques, These include not planting the tree too deeply and not burying the trunk flare. Think about whether you need stakes and guy wires, because preventing a tree from swaying in the wind will weaken it. If you do use them, always remove them in a timely fashion and not later than a year after planting. When left on too long, stakes can girdle and kill a tree. For information on how to plant a tree properly, consult Fairfax CountyTree Basics.

  • Use proper mulching techniques. Mulch should be applied in a donut shape, not a volcano, and should not touch the tree. When piled high against the tree, mulch can cause decay and ultimately death. The mulch should not be more than two or three inches deep to allow the rain to penetrate. If for some reason you want to add more every year, you should remove the old mulch first.

  • Avoid competition for water. Trees and turf are not friends. Since both have shallow roots, they compete for water and nutrients, and turf wins the battle in the tree’s early life. Also, if there is grass under trees, we run the risk when mowing of damaging the bark, nicking shallow tree roots, or compacting the soil. Any of those will stress our trees. Mulch and/or dead leaves under trees is best, and the larger the ring, the better. A large turf-free ring also provides the opportunity for underplanting with native shrubs and ground-layer plants, creating a mini productive habitat for insects and wildlife.

  • Everyday activities that can hurt trees. Chaining bikes or other items to trees can damage their bark, as does allowing car doors or bumpers to hit them. Repeatedly wounding their bark makes trees vulnerable to decay and disease. Parking under trees also causes soil compaction that can suffocate tree roots.

  • Use proper pruning methods. Don’t top trees! That is a sure way to weaken a tree, make it structurally less sound, and in the most extreme situations eventually kill it. It is useful to take out broken, diseased and dead branches. For example, a clean cut to remove a broken branch helps a tree recover from a wound better, and pruning out a dead branch keeps it from falling unexpectedly and damaging something or someone.  If you don’t know how to prune trees properly, hire a certified arborist to do so or consult one of the many how-to-prune books you can find at the library. A good reference book can show you how to prune trees so they are free from structural weakness and are as healthy and vigorous as possible.

  • Water during droughts. We may not think to water our native trees and shrubs, because a key characteristic of native plants is that once they are established, they no longer need to be watered. But, when there is a drought, even natives may need to be watered, and that is especially true if they have limited soil space from which to draw water, such as in a small tree box next to a street. Without sufficient water, trees will lose their fine absorbing roots and leaves and move to a dormant state. Years of drought and/or other stressors eventually can cause the tree to die.

  • Protect young trees from deer browse. Unfortunately, an overabundance of deer can stress and threaten the survival of our woodies. Consult Plant NOVA Natives for strategies to deal with that.

 

Although human actions as well as environmental factors can stress trees, we can avoid causing harm and can take actions that keep trees healthy and vigorous. Trees provide us so many benefits, including a profound sense of well-being, that it is well worth it for all of us to do all we can to reduce tree stresses and promote tree health.

 

By Elaine Kolish 

 



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