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March 2024 Update

Create a mini bird sanctuary!  Please see the short article at the bottom of this page and share it as widely as possible. And this month we have a second article as well: The Tree Trimming Scammers!


Outreach of the month: Send us your garden photos and your story for us to highlight on social media. The story can be just a few lines, or longer if you like, and can be about why you are using natives or how you have been going about it. The best photos show native plants in a garden setting, so others can envision how they might look in their own yards. Email


Volunteers still needed to label native plants in garden centers

Can you volunteer a couple hours per month? We need more help everywhere – more than two volunteers per site is best - and particularly need more people at these garden centers. Email

·         Loudoun: Abernethy & Spencer, Blue Mount Nursery, Meadows Farms (Chantilly)

·         Fairfax: Burke Nursery, Betty’s Azalea Ranch (Fair Oaks), The Garden Plot (southern Alexandria), Silverbrook (Lorton), Meadows Farms (Herndon), Merrifield Garden Center (Fair Oaks)

·         Alexandria: Greenstreet

·         Prince William: Southern States (Manassas) and Merrifield (Gainesville)


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. 


Volunteer for tabling events

We need lots of help engaging the public at various events. No experience necessary! All you need is a basic understanding of why native plants are important. Please sign up here. It is helpful for us to know far ahead of time so we can let the organizers know that we can attend.


Meadowlark Botanical Garden looking for gardening volunteers

The Potomac Garden Collection at Meadowlark highlights native plants. Help is needed to keep it beautiful. Apply here to volunteer.


Six tree and shrub seedlings for $20!

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is offering two packages for $20 each: “Nectar Lovers Package” or “Songbird Friendly Package.” Each package of 6 bare root seedlings includes 3 species of native trees and shrubs. Orders must be placed online. Pickup days for all products are April 19 and 20, no exceptions. Visit their website for details. Rain barrels, tumbler composters and the Plant NOVA Natives plant guidebooks are also available for purchase, at $80, $100 and $7 respectively.


Fairfax Invasives Removal Alliance – Ten HOAs, covering more than 5,100 residents, have joined forces to seek solutions on a county-wide scale and are inviting other HOAs, condo associations, and civic associations to sign on. Article here.


Upcoming event

·         March 20, 7-9 pm – Trees Need More Than Hugs: How to Care for your Trees! Kings Park Library, 9000 Burke Lake Rd, Burke


Discounts on trees through May 1

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


Transurban to help with tree rescues in Churchill Road Park!

Thank you, Transurban, for supporting tree rescues in Churchill Road Park! Over 350 trees in this park, which connects two schools and which is an important amenity for the whole community, are being overrun by invasive non-native vines including English Ivy, Japanese Honeysuckle, and others that will eventually kill them unless action is taken. Transurban’s donation will pay for the first year of treatment to save around 40% of them.


Do you know companies that would like to help our community in this way? They can learn how here.


Successful conference for Spanish-speaking landscape workers

Around 150 landscape workers, six speakers, and a dozen volunteers convened on the Fairfax County Government Center on March 8 for our second annual conference conducted entirely in Spanish. Feedback from the participants was enthusiastic, so we are already starting to plan for the third annual conference next winter. Every effort was made to make it a low-waste event, with plant-based empanadas from Ana’s Twist, washable plates, cups, and napkins, and composting of food scraps.


The conference was sponsored by Plant NOVA Natives, Audubon-at-Home, Fairfax County Park Authority, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, and Fairfax Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. We were grateful for contributions from Meadows Farms Nurseries, Merrifield Garden Center, Earth Sangha, Virginia Native Plant Society, Fairfax Master Naturalists, and Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions.


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 14,572 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, 12,657 tree rescues have been reported in Northern Virginia. Please add your report here


Next Steering Committee meeting – via videoconferencing – All are welcome. Thursday, March 28, 10:00am-noon. Check our Event Calendar for future meetings.


This month’s newsletter articles to share. Please use this link for the first article and this one for the second.



Build a mini bird sanctuary


The best sanctuaries for birds are undisturbed expanses of forests and meadows. Anyone can see that those are rapidly disappearing in Northern Virginia, and where they remain, they are rapidly shrinking below the size needed for many bird species. Those in charge of any patch of land can help some of these birds by adding plants to expand the habitat value of nearby parks and natural areas.


The partnering organizations that together make up Plant NOVA Natives are inviting individuals and communities to participate in a “Bird Sanctuary Planting Weekend,” October 25-28. People will be installing native canopy trees and understory plants all on the same weekend, all across the region, in a big celebration of trees and the natural world. In Fairfax County, the first twenty faith communities to apply will receive a free “mini bird sanctuary” – a native canopy tree and two native shrubs – assuming they have an appropriate location, as confirmed by volunteers who will be doing site visits to help the communities evaluate their properties for opportunities to improve habitat.


What does it take to provide sanctuary for birds? The first requirement is that the plants be native to the local ecosystem. This is because the diet of baby birds consists primarily of caterpillars, and most caterpillars can only eat the plants with which they evolved. By far the biggest source of food for caterpillars is the leaves of large native shade trees, by virtue of their immense canopy compared to smaller plants. The second requirement is to provide food for the adults. Adult birds also require caterpillars and other bugs for protein. They also need the seeds and fruits from the smaller native trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers that are tailor-made for their nutritional needs (unlike those of many non-native plants.) Different bird species feed and nest at different heights from the ground, so native plants are needed at all levels. You may notice, for example, the preference of sparrows and robins for the ground layer, bluebirds for the shrubs, bluejays higher still, and woodpeckers in the canopy. (The fact that some birds require the lower levels is the reason why it is so imperative to keep cats indoors.)


Another reason to install native plants at the ground layer Is that many of those caterpillars feeding up in the trees spend part of their life cycles sheltering on the ground. They cannot find the habitat they need in mounds of mulch, not to mention in lawns where they get chopped up by lawn mowers. What does provide shelter is native perennials and dead leaves.  So once you have your trees and shrubs in place, you can have the fun of exploring the numerous native groundcover options, gradually expanding the landing pad out to the drip line as the trees grow.


The Tree Trimming Scammers


The doorbell rings, and at your door is a young man who says, “Hello, I was driving by and noticed your trees need some pruning. I’ve been working at your neighbor’s house, and thought I’d stop and offer you the same deal!”


It must be spring. We often hear about telephone or online financial scams, but what about the “woodchucks” or tree scammers that arrive at your door? These are seasonal workers, usually untrained, uncertified, and unlicensed.  Beware! They come bearing disaster for our trees, as well as our wallets.


Last spring Fairfax County posted a great article about the tree trimming scam. One police officer is quoted as saying this is “one of the most pervasive criminal problems this county is facing right now.” It happens in all seasons, of course, when trucks drive by looking for accessibility ramps or seniors working in their yards, or in spring seeking “unkempt” yards. So, if you have a yard full of native plants and little lawn, and you wait for just the right time after winter to clean up your beds, you could be a target.


These folks are not arborists and may remove living wood or, at worst, “top” your healthy tree. When the growing end of every tree limb or branch is lopped off, the tree can lose as much as 75% of its leaves, which provide a majority of the tree’s food. When a tree is weakened by less food and water, it becomes vulnerable to insect, sun and wind damage. These stresses mean that the tree may not survive the butchering. When you see a lot of fast growing shoots where major limbs were cut, that is a major sign of stress and poor health. Many municipalities and counties have great resources for resisting this fraudulent behavior. Here’s one from Fairfax County: It's one thing to spend—or even overspend­—on taking out a dead limb, but quite another to fall for the “just let us prune your trees and everything will be fine” pitch. And don’t forget, untrained workers may use spikes on their boots because they are not taught the best practices of a reputable tree care specialist. This is highly damaging to the health of your trees.


Our trees are critical to our quality of life, and to the economic value of our homes, but they are threatened by “woodchucks.” Become informed about tree care—a good arborist can be as valuable to the life of your tree as a good electrician or plumber is to the life of your home. It is worth taking the time to find out if these solicitors are licensed and insured, certified in their area of expertise, and have good recommendations. Compare and weigh the costs and benefits of particular work that you know you need—don’t take the cheapest and easiest course of action. Be a good consumer and do the research. Just say NO to the door-to-door solicitor and yes only to the company YOU call that has good reviews, an arborist on staff, and free initial consultations.


Beware! Your beautiful trees are counting on you to speak for them and protect them.


Cindy Speas, Chair of the Fairfax County Tree Commission


Tero Crown
Tero Crown
2 days ago

Thanks for the practical advice. Very useful and appreciated. Solar


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