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Shopping for the birds

Warm weather has many of us headed to the garden center, where lovely blooms await. Did you know that those shopping trips can double as one of the most effective ways to contribute to a healthier environment? With a little planning, our plant choices can make the difference between a community that supports the birds and butterflies and a community that completely displaces them. The key is to pick native plants, the ones that evolved right here with those critters and provide them the food they need to survive. Native trees and shrubs are especially important, but even the tiniest plants play an important role in the ecosystem.

How do you tell if a plant is native to our area? A simple way is to look for the red “Northern Virginia Native” stickers at participating nurseries. Over fifty volunteers from the Plant NOVA Natives campaign have been labeling the natives in those garden centers. The trees get hang tags, and the other plants get red stickers. You won’t find the stickers in the annuals sections, though, since those plants are purely ornamental and not locally native. Since turnover is rapid this time of year, making it hard for volunteers to keep up with the labeling, you might want to take along a copy of the Native Plants for Northern Virginia guide, or use the online pdf or search app.

Any even simpler way to guarantee that a plant is native is to buy it from someone who only sells native plants. There are four garden centers in Northern Virginia that do just that. In addition, periodic native plant sale events are held around the region in the spring and the fall.

Spring planting for many people consists primarily of filling pots with colorful flowers. The absence of annuals might seem like a problem until you learn that native plants make excellent container specimens as well, with the added advantage that they only need to be planted once, since they will overwinter in the pot and provide the fun of watching their tender leaves emerge in the spring. Visits to the blooms from butterflies and hummingbirds add even more enjoyment. The Plant NOVA Natives website has plant suggestions for container gardening, but almost any native can be used for this purpose if the container is big enough.


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