by Cindy Speas, Chair
Fairfax County Tree Commission
October 1 marks the start of Northern Virginia’s Celebrate Native Trees Month, in which organizations offer discounts and even giveaways of native trees and other shrubs, and others put on other tree-related events.
September may have given us a hot blast of 90-100 degree temperatures and little rain, but autumn is just around the corner, with its clear blue skies, sunny days and crisp temperatures! All of us will cheer the emerging fall color changes around us, with reds and golds and maroons permeating the tree canopy above and the shrubs and plants below. Many who have hibernated during the heat of the summer will come out to play, hike, and work in the yard—for it is now the best tree planting season of the year, lasting right through November or early December, frosty weather permitting.
This year, Celebrate Native Trees is being promoted across Virginia. It is important to plant native trees, as well as other plants, because they are highly adapted to local soil and weather conditions, easy to maintain, and generally need less water and zero fertilizer to thrive. Local pollinators and other insects must have them for nutrition, so that they in turn can become food for birds and small animals. Critically, the food web is not supported by non-native plants. Sometimes you may see bees on a non-native plant or tree (think crepe myrtle or butterfly bush), but the insect is getting only a quick sugar water drink, instead of the healthy, complex food it needs from the native plants it grew up with.
Why should we include shrubs and other smaller plants when October is a celebration of native trees? It’s because they partner to play a critical role in keeping our urban forest ecologically healthy. They work together like a family to provide a home and food for native insects, birds, and small animals. A healthy urban forest reduces stormwater run-off, lowers energy costs for residences and businesses, sequesters greenhouse gases in its wood, roots and surrounding soil, and improves the health of humans and other species by filtering airborne pollutants from nearby roads and industrial areas. For a summary of the ecological and other benefits of native landscaping, you’ll enjoy reading this article by the National Audubon Society.
Many local plant nurseries are joining in this October celebration to highlight native trees, shrubs and understory plants, and some are offering discounts as well! The Plant Nova Trees website has information about these events and where to buy natives nearby this October. If you need details or reminders about how to plant a tree or woody shrub, download the Fairfax Tree Commission’s popular Tree Basics booklet. Planting is not too onerous a task when fall weather conditions are usually so cheerful.
And finally, make sure the trees and woody stems you plant in October are counted! Go to this page to record your special efforts to enhance and expand our urban forest.