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May 2024 Update

Shrink the Lawn: Please see the short article at the bottom of this update and share it as widely as possible. Then see also the article on Does your Tree Company Speak for the Trees?


Outreach of the month: Brochures for public places

Do you frequent a local library, community center, or other public place where there is a place to put out our brochures? Please let us know if you could keep it stocked. Popular ones include the Tree Rescuer brochure, Five Easy Flowers for Sun, and Five Easy Plants for Part Shade. We will mail you a bunch of them so you can replenish them whenever it is convenient for you. Contact plantnovanatives@gmail.com if you can help.


Help celebrate trees this fall!

Are you planning any tree-related events? Let us know so we can add them to our calendar. We have designated October as “Celebration of Trees” month, but our definition of “October” is very loose. 🙂 To crown the month, we invite everyone across the region to plant a “Mini Bird Sanctuary” on the last weekend of October (or in November, which is also an excellent tree-planting time.) Birds need more than just trees, so the idea is to plant not only a tree but shrubs and ground layer species below it.


Upcoming event

  • Sunday, July 14, 7 pm - Learn how you can volunteer to rescue trees in Fairfax County parks. Join an introductory Zoom to find out how you can participate in the Fairfax County Park Authority Tree Rescuer program, which allows volunteers to work independently to cut invasive vines. Sign up here to receive the Zoom link. You can also read about the program here


More help needed at the garden centers

We are looking for dedicated people who can visit garden centers at least once a month to label the native plants. This is a great way to become familiar with those plants and perform a tremendous service to the public. We can use more help at any of our participating garden centers, but we especially need more people at these, since we try to have at least three people assigned to each center.

  • Loudoun: Blue Mount, Abernethy and Spencer, Meadows Farms/Chantilly, Meadows Farms Leesburg

  • Prince William: Lake Ridge

  • Fairfax: Pots and Plants, Silverbrook


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.


Fairfax faith communities

Volunteers stand ready to visit faith communities in Fairfax County to walk the grounds and strategize about making the property more environmentally-friendly. The first twenty communities to apply will receive a free native tree and two shrubs. See www.plantnovanatives.org/faith-communities for details.


Watch the Green Grow program for Fairfax communities

Fairfax communities including HOAs, public schools, and the general public can request Watch the Green Grow staff to come out to their communities to talk about conservation efforts. Click here to sign up for a visit. Currently, they are targeting HOAs within Sugarland Run, Accotink, and Cub Run.


Partner of the month: The Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The Plant NOVA Natives campaign was spearheaded by several organizations including the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD). Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) were first established in the 1930s for the purpose of creating and enforcing comprehensive plans and strategies to conserve the Commonwealth’s soil and water resources. As part of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, they bring a statewide lens to their mission while also acting as local resources for Virginia citizens. Landowners can consult them for advice about erosion and run-off issues. In some cases, they may be eligible for matching grants.

Our region is served by three SWCDs. including the NSWCD (Fairfax), the Prince William PWSWCD (Prince William), and LSWCD (Loudoun). If you visit each of their websites, you will be struck by the local flavor of their individual programs and initiatives. For example, LSWCD’s website currently highlights its Youth Conservation Camp and cost sharing funding program for neighborhood pet waste stations. PWSWCD promotes its free technical assistance for agriculture and its Conservation Capsules for youth education. NVSWCD is advertising its Green Breakfast webinars and rain barrel workshops.  

However localized the various programs and services may be, all SWCDs have an overarching mandate to “conserve soil resources, control and prevent soil and erosion, prevent floods, and conserve, develop, utilize and dispose of water.” 


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 15,270 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, 13,856 tree rescues have been reported in Northern Virginia. Please add your report here

 

Next Steering Committee meeting – via videoconferencing – All are welcome. Thursday, June 20, 10:00 am – noon. Check our Event Calendar for future meetings.

 

This month’s newsletter articles to share. Please use these links for social media:   






Shrink the Lawn


If you grew up in suburbia, a pristine lawn was a welcome herald of spring. Everyone enjoys the smell of freshly mowed grass and the look of a well-kept, manicured lawn. So what, you might wonder, is the problem with turfgrass? After all, it is a green, living plant, busily photosynthesizing carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose, while providing an even surface to walk and play on. But not all is as it seems.  


No one has taught us more in recent years about the negative impact on biodiversity of sterile suburban and urban landscapes than Dr. Douglas Tallamy, an ecologist, conservationist, and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware. Experimenting for decades on his own ten-acre home in Oxford, Pennsylvania, he eliminated turfgrass and planted native flowers, shrubs, and trees, which vastly increased the kinds and number of caterpillars, birds, frogs, and other critters living there. From this experience, he formed and shared a new understanding of how turfgrass, a staple feature of American suburbia, diminishes biodiversity.


The grasses we use for turf, even varieties with names like “Kentucky Bluegrass”, are not native to America. Lawn grass has a long history in Europe that extends back to the Middle Ages. To this day, most species of turfgrass planted in the U.S. are native to Europe, and like all non-native plant species, they do next to nothing to support our local wildlife.


Turfgrass now covers an estimated 40 million acres in America, acting like corn or other farmed monocultures that have replaced the more diverse habitats that supported far more local wildlife. To add insult to injury, we keep it alive using fossil fuels for mowers and leaf blowers and by adding toxic chemicals that harm plants and animals. Useful and attractive as it may be, turfgrass impoverishes the environment. In addition, turfgrass absorbs far less run-off than one would think. Rain washes over it but doesn’t penetrate to any significant depth. It therefore contributes to an abnormal volume of stormwater runoff that pollutes and erodes our streams and rivers and ultimately damages the Chesapeake Bay.  


Converting even some of the 40 million acres of turfgrass to more natural habitats would benefit the environment while also supporting a host of pollinators and other wildlife. Doug Tallamy is optimistic that if we reduce the acreage by half, we will essentially reestablish our country’s biodiversity. 


One strategy to reduce turfgrass, or at least to make it more habitable for local insects, has recently attracted a lot of interest: No Mow May. The movement began in 2019 as the brainchild of Plantlife, a United Kingdom conservation charity. The idea was to refrain from mowing the lawn for the entire month of May to promote the growth of more flowering weeds and thereby induce more pollinators and other wildlife to stop and stay a while. As the idea spread to America and gained popularity, researchers at Lawrence University conducted a study that supported Plantlife’s theory that more bee species were visiting the un-mowed lawns when compared to nearby public lands that were being mowed throughout the month. The study gained national attention and resulted in the adoption of No Mow May across America in several jurisdictions. 


However, the majority of our common weed species are non-native and therefore provide minimal benefit beyond nectar.  The Lawrence University study was later retracted due to “several potential inconsistencies in data handling and reporting.” In addition, some critics of No Mow May, including Doug Tallamy, raised concerns that providing a safe haven that is so temporary might actually be harmful. For the moment, it is unclear if there is any boost to biodiversity from a No Mow May strategy alone.


What is clear is that planting a permanent pollinator sanctuary with native species, especially in place of existing turfgrass, is effective. Such an endeavor will benefit many pollinators and caterpillars over the entire growing season while also chipping away at the amount of turfgrass in our suburban and urban settings. It’s a win-win for all. 


The task of creating a healthier environment seems big, but small efforts by many people can add up. If we shrink the lawn by converting even a modest patch of existing turfgrass to native plantings, we will have improved the food web and biodiversity of our yard -  and that is no small matter. For ideas on how to go about it, see the Plant NOVA Natives website


Does Your Tree Company Speak for the Trees? Getting Help from the Pros

I am frequently asked “What service do you use for advice about the health of your trees?” I’m glad to get the question, because often the expertise needed for lawn and landscape care is not the same service needed to evaluate the health of trees, which is a whole science unto itself. My response is always: you need a good arborist, and not every tree service has one on staff. Some tree care companies do provide a free arborist consultation—but you still must analyze the wide range of recommendations you will get. One strategy would be to hire an independent arborist first, followed by free arborist consultations from reputable tree service companies.

How can you find a qualified professional to care for your trees? Go to PlantNOVATrees for information on choosing someone to work with. Call several services, ask if they have an ISA certified arborist on staff and what the fee is for a consultation (if any). Get recommendations from those you know whose trees are healthy and well-maintained. For more details read Virginia Cooperative Extension’s excellent publication on hiring an arborist.

 You will be in a better position to evaluate the arborist’s advice if you know some of the best management practices in tree maintenance and care before you have a consultation. Here are some telltale recommendations that a good arborist would NEVER MAKE:

  1. That you should top your tree (take off the ends of most or all of the branches),

  2. That you should preventatively spray your tree canopy with herbicides to kill any bugs (“pests”) that might be there,

  3. That you should trim out all the dead wood that can be seen,

  4. That you should trim living branches in a way that leaves a part of the branch (spur) on the tree,

  5. That you should build up mulch in a “volcano” shape around the base of the tree trunk to hold in water or discourage pests, or

  6. That you should frequently irrigate your trees using a sprinkler.

In fact:

  1. You should NEVER top your trees—this will hasten their death.

  2. You should ONLY use foliar herbicidal spray on your tree if there is clear evidence of a killer pest, and not just one that chews on the leaves a bit. A “preventative” spray will kill pollinators and the other beneficial insects that live in your trees and that attract songbirds to your yard. Spraying can also be harmful to overall tree and soil health.

  3. You should ONLY remove dead wood that is hazardous to humans or property. Removing all the observed dead wood does not improve the health of any tree.

  4. You should NEVER leave a branch spur (nor cut a branch flush to the trunk), because the tree cannot heal those wounds. Always remove branches right between the collar and the tree trunk so the wound can heal. It is preferable not to trim living branches if at all possible.

  5. You should NEVER allow mulch to be “volcanoed” around the base of any tree—volcanoing encourages roots to grow above ground into the mulch and invites fungi and tree pests. 

  6. You should NEVER overwater your trees—if drought conditions suggest an occasional thorough watering, you should place a hose at various points around the root zone for a long, slow drink.

Ask the arborist for the science behind his or her recommendations—if you are told you have pests, ask how the arborist diagnosed that; if you are told the trees need fertilizing, ask how and why the arborist believes that is a good strategy. If the responses aren’t based on good scientific evidence, then you might not have the best arborist for your trees. If an answer doesn’t seem exactly right, is too costly, or requires a signed annual contract including all their recommendations before doing the work that you actually wamt, get a second or third arborist’s opinion. You’d do that for your health and that of your family, so why not also do that for the health of your trees?

Cindy Speas

Chair, Fairfax County Tree Commission





6 Comments


Hurley Kirk
Hurley Kirk
6 days ago

Cindy Speas's advice empowers tree owners to make informed decisions by emphasizing the importance of scientifically-backed recommendations and encouraging proactive measures, akin to how one would approach healthcare for their family. slice masters

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iteaccident
Jun 06

I'm interested in helping label native plants at garden centers! Let's promote the use of native species for a healthier ecosystem. tunnel rush

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Brown Emma
Brown Emma
Jun 03

I am very excited about this event and I also hope that the event will attract many participants. that's not my neighbor

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Jose daniel
Jose daniel
May 29

Finding How to Find Cheap Flights to anywhere involve a combination of timing, flexibility, and the use of various tools and strategies. Here's a detailed guide to help you secure the best deals:

1. Use Flight Search Engines and Aggregators

  • Google Flights: Provides a comprehensive search for flights and shows a calendar view of the cheapest days to fly.

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2. Set Price Alerts

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3. Be Flexible with Dates and…

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Olivia Finney
Olivia Finney
May 27

Taking the time to ask the right questions can help you identify the most qualified and trustworthy arborist for your needs. contexto

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