How to Feed a Hummingbird Part II: Flowers & Nectar

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a wonderful vine for hummingbirds but it may not be for all gardens.(Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar.


This is Part II in a two-part series.

Part I of “How to Feed a Hummingbird: Insects & Protein” revealed that 80 percent of a hummingbird’s diet is comprised of insects and spiders. Eighty percent! Knowing how crucial those often maligned arthropods are to our ruby-throated hummingbirds will hopefully inspire you to embrace the bugs and add a variety of native plants to your garden.

If you are at all curious about hummingbirds you’re probably assuming the missing 20 percent or so of their diet comes from nectar — and you’d be right. Let’s explore the flowering native plants our high-metabolic friends count on for a full-on sugar rush.

A ruby throated hummingbird sips nectar at cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is one of the best native plants for our ruby-throated hummingbirds.


Just like bees and butterflies and other pollinators, ruby-throated hummingbirds rely on a constant source of nectar from early spring into fall. Nectar is found in flowers adapted for hummingbirds: long and tubular with a typically pendulous and perchless form. These floral traits are perfect for long beaked, hovering hummers but not convenient for insects that cannot easily reach the hidden nectar. Another evolutionary adaption is the color red. Red is not seen by bees however it quickly signals keen-eyed migrating hummingbirds that a sugary treat awaits.

What combination of plants provides an overlapping progression of blooms? Potowmack Chapter President of the Virginia Native Plant Society, Alan Ford, names the following BIG THREE flowering natives as attracting and supporting our ruby-throats throughout their days in the Mid-Atlantic:


1. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

2. Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

3. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)


The following Mid-Atlantic plants, including the aforementioned BIG THREE nectar sources, are frequented by ruby-throated hummingbirds. The growing conditions and characteristics of these plants are provided to help you choose the best ones for your garden.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is one of the best plants for hummingbirds.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens): “Lonicera should be your first go-to plant,” recommends Alan Ford. Coral honeysuckle is his number one recommended garden plant for hummingbirds and it’s also the Virginia Native Plant Society’s 2014 Wildflower of the Year: “Coral honeysuckle is widely known for its ability to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. In fact, the combination of its bright red tubular flowers with abundant nectar and little floral odor typifies the usual pattern for hummingbird-pollinated species.”

This beautiful semi-evergreen twining woody vine is one of the BIG THREE plants to have in the garden based on its long continuum of blooms, high attractiveness to hummingbirds and non-aggressive demeanor. Coral honeysuckle is also easy to grow. This vine can reach up to 20 feet so it needs a sturdy support to climb; however its height can easily be controlled by pruning.

Pruning is best done in fall, but it can also be done immediately following the first large flush of flowers. Flowering is most prolific in full to part sun. Coral honeysuckle prefers rich, well-drained moist soils and needs good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew. The red berries that follow the flowering offer food to other bird species.

Host plant info: Lonicera also hosts at least 33 native Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including the snowberry clearwing moth.

Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a good hummingbird plant. Hummingbirds cannot use cultivars of this species.
Photo courtesy Sue Dingwell.

Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): Eastern red columbine is another of the BIG THREE flowering plants for attracting and feeding hummingbirds. This spring-blooming perennial provides early nectar for hummers returning from abroad to their eastern breeding grounds. Pretty red and yellow flowers, attractive rounded leaves and low height — typically about two feet — makes this a lovely garden plant. Easy to grow in part sun or light shade, eastern red columbine is adaptable to moist or dry soils and isn’t choosy about soil type. It self sows readily. Deer and rabbits are not particularly fond of Aquilegia canadensis.

The species is the columbine for hummingbirds. Fancy hybrids or cultivars with double flowers do not provide nectar for our hummers. Aquilegia canadensis is the real deal.

Host plant info: Aquilegia supports 12 native Lepidoptera species.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is one of the best plants for hummingbirds.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis): The outstanding cardinal flower is the third of the BIG THREE plants for hummers. This two to four foot tall perennial is an important nectar producer with a long bloom period. Its spikes begin flowering in summer and the crimson red easily continues for two glorious months. Cardinal flower is adaptable to sun or dappled shade but needs continuous moisture. It reseeds in optimum conditions.

Matt Bright, Conservation Coordinator of Earth Sangha, sheds light on why there’s often confusion over whether cardinal flower is a biennial or a perennial. “Our common native Lobelia species are a confusing bunch when it comes to longevity,” Bright explains. “Perennial Lobelias typically don’t flower their first year and instead form only a basal rosette. The following year, they will flower, set seed.

Depending on the health of the plant and site conditions, they may die back to a basal rosette or they may die entirely. Many are capable of vegetative reproduction and will create offsets or daughter plants around the original rosette. This is especially noticeable if you grow cardinal flower totally submerged where it can happily grow, but will not flower.”

You don’t have a naturally occurring moist area? Consider planting Lobelia cardinalis en masse near a water feature or birdbath. And remember to push back the leaf litter so the rosettes don’t rot over winter.

Host plant info: Lobelia is the host plant to four native Lepidoptera species and its nectar also supports bees and other insects.

Scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) is a good plant for hummingbirds and also for insects like butterflies.

Photo by Nicholas Turland/flickr/CC.

Scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma): Summer flowering beebalm, with its red pompom flowers, is lovely in a naturalized garden. It reaches between two to four feet tall, but like most native species, it can get taller. Scarlet beebalm grows best in full to part sun and it likes some moisture, preferring rich, acidic soil (pH<6.8). Beebalm, it is commonly noted, is susceptible to powdery mildew in hot, humid climes but it doesn’t seem to hurt the plant. Because it’s in the mint family, Lamiaceae, expect it to spread quickly by shallow-rooted rhizomes; it also spreads by reseeding. Beebalm is easy to control — simply divide and share. Its foliage, like all Lamiaceae, is not preferred by deer or other mammals.

Host plant info: Monarda is the host plant to seven Lepidoptera caterpillars.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a great vine for hummingbirds.

Photo by Suzanne Cadwell/flickr/CC.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata): The typically red and yellow-throated flowers of crossvine are an important spring nectar source for hummingbirds. A near-evergreen vine, crossvine foliage turns a purple hue in winter. It rapidly climbs brick, stone, fences and trees up to 30 – 50 feet by way of tendrils with clawed ends and is considered aggressive by some gardeners. Situate in full to part sun for best flowering. Crossvine prefers well-drained, rich, moist soil but is also found growing in dry forests and rocky woodlands.

Host plant info: According to HiltonPond.orgCrossvine is host to at least one caterpillar, that of the Rustic Sphinx Moth.

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a good nectar source for hummingbirds.
Trumpet creeper left: Photo courtesy Sue Dingwell.

Hummingbird right: Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar/flickr/CC.

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans): “Not for the faint of heart,” cautions Sue Dingwell in her article More Love for Native Vines for Beautiful Native Plants. Trumpet creeper is an aggressive, vigorously growing woody vine, best planted in expansive wild areas where it can and will take over. This creeper climbs high via aerial rootlets, with older vines growing to 60 feet. It also freely spreads by deep-rooted suckers. Thoughtful planning is necessary prior to planting Campsis radicans in the average landscape. Sue writes, “I have seen only two places where homeowners successfully corralled it. One was on a tall, thick pole surrounded by a flagstone terrace. One was on a heavily supported T-shaped trellis in the middle of sandy lawn that could be mowed closely around the base. It’s possible, but it’s constant vigilance, and even then only with pre-approved barriers.”


We love this vine for its pretty two to three inch showy orange-red blooms. Trumpet creeper flowers best in full sun, is fairly drought tolerant and prefers circumneutral soil (pH 6.8 – 7.2). considers Campsis radicans to be the best plant for hummingbirds due to its “copious amounts of nectar” and lengthy period of bloom. So if you have a stout heart and a place for trumpet creeper to sprawl and take over, then more power to you and your hummingbirds.

Host plant info: Campsis radicans is the host plant to at least one moth, the Plebeian Sphinx Moth.


Hummingbirds commonly visit flowers of colors other than red. Here are some that are definitely garden worthy and are known to be preferred by hummers.

Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata) sports lavender blooms on short stalks and makes a grand groundcover. The purple-tinged leaves add interest.

Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) flowers are also bluish-lavender and bloom in early spring. It’s frequently found growing in moist well-drained floodplain forests.

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), cardinal flower’s cousin, has similar needs as cardinal flower and the same basic habit and bloom time.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is not your usual garden plant. With dainty nodding orange flowers and succulent, tender stems, this tall annual is found naturally growing in drifts in moist woods and near shaded streams. It will reseed madly in the right conditions.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is similar to beebalm (Monarda didyma) but with pinkish lavender flowers. It’s more drought-tolerant than beebalm and is not fussy about soil types. Wild bergamot also provides nectar to hummingbird moths and other cool insects.

Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata) has tubular flowers that hummingbirds like.

Salvia lyrata. Photo by Melissa McMasters/flickr/CC.


They’re beautiful. They’re rugged. They’re downright indispensable. They’re native plants! Woody trees, shrubs and vines, herbaceous forbs, grasses and sedges are all essential to the well-being of our wildlife, and naturally, our ruby-throated hummers.

I created this printable handout for Plant NOVA Natives. It highlights cardinal flower, scarlet beebalm and coral honeysuckle, all wonderful garden additions. Feel free to print and share with your friends and neighbors.

Scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) planted en masse for hummingbirds and other creatures.

Scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) in the garden. Photo by wplynn/flickr/CC.

Other Thoughts

Mass Those Flowers

Herbaceous species offer more wildlife value when planted in volume rather than planted singly. A large planting helps all types of pollinators to find your flowers easily and collect nectar more efficiently. Flowering herbaceous species are also more visually attractive when planted en mass.

Choose Plants that Grow Naturally in your Area

Plants indigenous to the region in which you live are best suited to survive and thrive in your garden. These locally occurring plants require zero chemical inputs and minimal resources when properly sited. Proper siting means matching the plant’s natural growing conditions with your proposed site’s conditions. Moisture, soil type, and light should all be considered for gardening success.

A ruby-throated hummingbird sit on a feeder.

Want to Put Up a Supplemental Feeder?

A hummingbird feeder can be very rewarding but also a whole lotta maintenance. Some experts advise against putting up a feeder at all since most of us aren’t doing it right. The whole process should be strictly followed to avoid harming the hummingbirds we’re trying to help.

In the hottest days of summer I clean the feeder once a day or alternate the days I hang it. It’s possible to save resources and money by filling the feeder reservoir with a minimal amount of homemade sugar water. Making a large batch and storing it in the refrigerator for no more than a week also saves time.


The Virtual Museum in Canada offers this sound advice: Ornithologists agree that the best recipe for nectar is made from one part sugar to four parts hot water boiled for several minutes beforehand. The sugar must not be boiled to avoid creating a by-product. Adding red colouring is to be avoided.

If you notice that the mixture gets cloudy or becomes less clear, it’s due to fermentation – definitely time to change the liquid and clean the feeder. Fermentation is a biochemical reaction that takes place when sugar is present. When wine is made, bacteria in the yeast transform the sugar in the grapes into alcohol. Avoid bacteria-laced water in your feeders. Feeder solutions must be made from boiled water and replaced weekly. The feeder must also be well washed with hot water before refilling it. Hummingbirds that drink fermented nectar can develop cirrhosis of the liver!

What kind of sugar to use and not use in your feeder? Visit Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute Hummingbird Nectar Recipe.

And if you want more detailed info, Sheri L. Williamson’s Field Guide to Hummingbirds has excellent information on the best homemade ingredients for supplementing your hummingbird’s diet.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: The Humane Gardener’s 10 Favorite Plants for Hummingbirds


Thanks much to Sue Dingwell and Alan Ford for their kind assistance with this article.

Updated June 16, 2022

How to Feed a Hummingbird Part I: Insects & Protein

You can support your local ruby-throated hummingbirds by planting the right native plants.


This is Part I of a two-part series.

There’s high excitement on this lovely afternoon as a male ruby-throated hummingbird guzzles at our feeder. It’s my first sighting of this wee bird this year. “Oh, have I been waiting for you!” Last spring’s first long distance traveler made his fueling pit stop in our garden around this time so I was prepared for today’s little fella.

Shimmering green with the identifying ruby throat patch flashing in the sun, he perches for a long while, taking in the homemade sugary solution. “Drink up, my friend.” If there’s a repeat of the previous years’ pattern, this particular hummer will continue his journey north to other breeding grounds and a short time later two or sometimes three other hummingbirds will frequent our garden and make this area in Northern Virginia their summer home. Zooming, flitting, hovering and thoroughly delighting, our resident hummingbirds have become very special guests in our wildlife habitat.

So, what’s the secret to supporting these extraordinary creatures during their stay here in the Mid-Atlantic? It’s not simply hanging up a sugar-filled feeder.

A ruby throated hummingbird perched.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Photo by Tibor Nagy/flickr/CC.


Utilizing indigenous plants to support our birds and other wildlife is my ever-growing passion. Although not yet the norm in today’s society, the outdoor living space at our house is brimming with natives: pretty ground covers, flowering perennials and annuals, slender grasses, shrubs of all shapes and sizes, and mature native trees, as well as many newly planted saplings. We garden this way because we want to encourage as much biodiversity as we possibly can. You see, locally native plants co-evolved with specific insects and the majority of these insects are herbivore specialists that can only eat certain plants. These plants, called host plants, are essential to the insects’ egg-laying and larval stages.

Science has also shown us that plant-eating insects have the incredible role of transferring energy from plants to other animals that cannot eat plants. “In fact,” renowned entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy writes, “a large percentage of the world’s fauna depends entirely on insects to access the energy stored in plants.” Native plants = insects = biodiversity.

The view of our backyard from the kitchen window in October. There are many young trees
and mature shrubs directly and indirectly providing food for critters.


How does this plant-insect relationship effect birds in particular? According to Tallamy, 96 percent of our terrestrial birds need insects and spiders in their diets at one stage of their lives or another. To make more birds, insects, particularly caterpillars, are not optional.

Spiders, flies, mosquitoes, aphids, bees, beetles, caterpillars and gnats, which comprise a number of flying insects, are commonly part of the ruby-throated’s protein and fat diet. In fact, some authorities, like Dr. Tallamy, view hummingbirds as insectivorous birds that happen to also eat plant nectar. “Hummingbirds like and need nectar but 80 percent of their diet is insects and spiders,” Tallamy explains. “If you don’t have those insects and spiders in your yard, it doesn’t matter how many hummingbird feeders you have, you are not going to be able to support hummingbirds.”


There’s no denying they can be big and hairy and have an inordinate number of legs, but spiders are an integral part of any healthy habitat. A gardener’s companion, spiders help consume insect pests and maintain the natural balance of the great buggy outdoors. They are equally predator and prey, providing invaluable nourishment for hummingbirds and other birds and wild animals.

Besides being a hummingbird meal, here’s another great reason to be hospitable to spiders in our gardens: hummingbirds construct their nests with the fine, sticky web material. Purdue University’s Attracting Hummingbirds to Your Yard offers these facts: “Nests are made with down from dandelion, thistle, and milkweed, and portions of ferns, mosses, and young leaves. These materials are attached to the limb with several yards of sticky spider webs and droplets of tree sap. The nest is camouflaged with lichens usually found in the nest tree or surrounding trees. Some of these nest materials can be provided in your flower beds and surrounding yard plantings.”

A tiny spider is food for hummingbirds.
A tiny spider for a tiny bird. Photo courtesy Matt Bright.
Gnats are food for hummingbirds.

Gnats! Photo by Glenn Kraeck/flickr/CC.


The hummingbirds that frequent our garden entertain us with their aerobatic feats of mid-air gnat noshing. The clouds of fungus gnats making up this aerial buffet are drawn to the moist areas of decaying leaves that layers our property. The leaf litter is their prime egg-laying material. Although gnats are bothersome to people, probably because gnats also desire moist facial orifices, it turns out they are not an annoyance but a bonanza.

Leaf litter is also food for some butterfly larvae and this means more beneficial caterpillars. Did you know our spiders are able to survive winters under the cover of moist leaf litter? It helps them from desiccating, or drying out, which is the main cause of their mortality. Logs, branches and twigs also naturally decompose and are vital for insect nutrition and shelter. There are lots of good reasons to rejoice in the plant debris in your garden.


Drifts of pastel and jewel-toned flowers easily add spectacular beauty and interest to any landscape. But our native plant blossoms are much more than just eye candy; these inflorescences also lure insects, and therefore predatory spiders, to their pollen and nectar. While there are many, many native plant choices for attracting beneficial insects, the pretty flowers mentioned below specifically attract the minute insects perfectly proportioned for the world’s smallest bird.
Broadleaf ironweed attracts insects that feed hummingbirds.
Broadleaf ironweed (Vernonia glauca). Photo courtesy Matt Bright.

Pretty Perennial & Annual Choices

When asked about hummingbirds and attracting gnats, Alan Ford, the Potowmack Chapter President of the Virginia Native Plant Society, instantly recommended these lovely perennial genera: the pretty purple ironweeds, (Vernonia spp.), and the yellow or white goldenrods,(Solidago and Euthamia spp.). Our native asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), and coneflowers (Rudbeckia hirta and R. fulgida) are also grand perennial choices for drawing in the bugs. Dr. Tallamy has observed hummingbirds picking small insects out of the large flowerheads of the fun-to-grow annual, sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and therefore recommends planting them as well.

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) attracts small insects that hummingbirds consume.
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus).

Shrubs with Clusters of Tiny Flowers

No garden is complete without a diversity of native shrubs. Shrubs add beauty and seasonal interest and also offer cover for birds and other animals. Additionally, they can entice the insects enjoyed by hummingbirds. Here are three that do the job well: New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is an excellent low growing deciduous shrub with tiny white flowers. Adaptable to soil moisture and found naturally growing in part sun and dappled open woods, it’s a handsome but much underused plant.

Another attractor of small insects are the pretty globe-shaped white blossoms of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). If you have a sunny moist area for a large six to twelve foot shrub, buttonbush would be a good addition to your naturalized habitat. Summer sweet (Clethra alnifolia) is another low maintenance and adaptable shrub. It prefers moisture and can handle shady conditions. In early summer, summer sweet’s fragrant white flowers are all abuzz with pollinators of varying shapes and sizes.

Wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) has high wildlife value.
Wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) is a beautiful tree
with high wildlife value.

Trees Please

The value of trees cannot be overstated. But for all that we know about trees we don’t often think of them as nectar producers. The following native trees bear nectar-rich blossoms or are host plants for hundreds of insect species, or both: oak (Quercus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), willow (Salix spp.), birch (Betula spp.), maple (Acer spp.), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum) and basswood (Tilia americana).


You can successfully design an outdoor area that’s inviting to both birds and humans by varying canopy heights and mimicking the vertical structure of a woodland habitat. From the ground up: begin with low growing native ground covers including perennials of different heights and bloom times. And don’t forget the leaf litter! Continue the ascent with a diversity of shrubs and vines, and then add understory and canopy trees of varying heights. These layers will allow you to create a habitat for insects and spiders that will appeal to all birds and especially our wonderful ruby-throated hummingbirds. “Enjoy your stay with us, little wonders!”

Advice for the native plant fledgling:

Native plants are the key components of any productive landscape. But where do you begin building native plant knowledge? Your regional native plant society chapter, of course! Through their on-line posts, field trips and lectures, these non-profit organizations provide solid information about the plants that grow naturally in your area.

Delaware Native Plant Society
Maryland Native Plant Society
The Native Plant Society of New Jersey
Pennsylvania Native Plant Society
Virginia Native Plant Society
West Virginia Native Plant Society

There are tons of native plant sales in the Mid-Atlantic at springtime and during the fall. Take advantage of the cool planting weather and of the low prices offered at native plant society events and through local environmental organizations.

For those who want an ecologically sensitive home landscape and strive to purchase native ecotype plantsfind a conservation group in your region that collects and propagates wild seeds. These eco-organizations are doing outstanding work restoring and conserving natural areas and are encouraging homeowners to add locally sourced plants to their own gardens. Here in Northern Virginia we are fortunate to have Earth Sangha supporting our region.

Many thanks to Sue Dingwell for her kind assistance with this article.

Updated April 17, 2019: “Ants” were removed as an insect that hummingbirds can eat as there are no supporting studies.

Death by Urban Landscaping: How Popular Landscape Plants Are Destroying Local Forests

Too many properties are landscaped with invasive plants like butterfly bush and Japanese barberry.


by Beverley Rivera

As the weather warms, Northern Virginia appears to come alive almost overnight, trees leaf out and unique wildflowers blossom beneath the awakening canopy; but this greening of everything around us actually belies a chilling outlook: much of the striking new foliage is not supposed to be here. Plants that are not native to America are rapidly outcompeting local forest growth for resources: growing space, sunlight, water. In many areas, not only are the invasive plants winning the battle for these resources, they are annihilating the local competition.
Chinese wisteria overtakes woodlands and kills native plants.

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) can displace native vegetation
and kill trees and shrubs by girdling them.
Photo by Matt Jones/NatureServe/CC.

And it’s a problem without a solution because many of the plants that are steadily destroying Virginia’s forests are spreading from people’s gardens and from landscaping at shopping centers and businesses. There are breathtaking areas in Northern Virginia where invasive vines so thick that they require a saw to hack through are suffocating native trees that withstood Civil War battles. Homeowners and landscapers plant these vines in urban settings, the seeds get into the forest via birds, and the non-native plants quickly take over, entangling, suffocating, stunting and displacing everything natural. Invasives such as Chinese wisteria send out vast networks of thick vines that spread above and beneath the ground, quickly engulfing massive areas of natural forest.

Another frightening prospect is that in the normal cycle of things, young trees which are just now getting established would, hundreds of years from now, replace the massive canopy trees as they end their life cycles. If left untainted, the forest rejuvenates itself as it has for thousands of years. But with invasive plants taking over, the young growth that is destined to be our forest of the future is being entangled, smothered and displaced by invasive plants. Adding to the problem is overbrowsing by deer. Deer won’t eat many of the invasive plants, and the natural predators that once kept deer numbers in check are no longer roaming the east.

In fact, the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Invasive ID and Control booklet looks more like a guide to urban landscaping in Northern Virginia.
Equally destructive to our new forest growth are Japanese honeysuckle and English ivy. But these plants are ubiquitous in local landscaping, meaning that even if an army of volunteers managed to remove all the invasives from an area, the seeds from urban landscaping would quickly reinfest the forest. Invasive butterfly bush is another staple in Northern Virginian landscaping, as are Japanese barberry, Pachysandra, Miscanthus, Bradford pear, privet, Norway maple, burning bush; the lists of plants that become invasive once they leave the suburban landscape is ongoing. In fact, the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Invasive ID and Control booklet looks more like a guide to urban landscaping in Northern Virginia.
English ivy before and after: for sale at a local garden center and its escape into the wild.
This prevalence of invasive plants in our gardens invites the question: if invasive plants are destroying Virginia’s natural areas, why are many of these plants still widely available for sale? To some extent the blame for the degraded state of our natural areas must lie with the stores that are supplying invasive plants. But I also think that at some point, we as homeowners must take our share of the responsibility. We need to think about the consequences of our actions on the future of Virginia’s forests, or else our forests are just not going to be around for future generations.

There’s a native plant for every gardening situation

Invasive plants like butterfly bush and barberry in a residential landscape.
Introduced and invasive plants like butterfly bush and Japanese barberry
adorn many residential properties.
Virginia has such an abundance of plant diversity that there is no excuse for planting invasives. For every invasive plant there is an equally attractive native alternative. And the added benefit of planting local plants is that once established in the right conditions, they become very low maintenance; native plants have been here much longer than watering cans and fertilizers have. Gorgeous alternatives, for example, to the invasive butterfly bush are our fall-blooming goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) which are even more fabulous when planted together. They attract more pollinators than the much-loved non-native. For an attractive evergreen ground cover alternative to English ivy, there’s golden ragwort (Packera aurea). For every plant that you think you can’t live without, there is a selection of native alternatives; there’s even a native wisteria, American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).

But don’t expect the large local garden centers, or the plant sales that crop up in shopping center parking lots to stock an abundance of native plants – because they don’t. They might stock a few cultivars, which are plants that have been bred to enhance particular traits such as vibrant color or hardiness, so they may be labelled “native” but they contain modifications. Another caveat about native plants is obtaining plants that belong in this region, they’re referred to as “local ecotypes.” Just because a plant is “native” to Northern America – which is vast in its geography and hence its plant diversity – doesn’t mean that it belongs in Virginia, or that it couldn’t potentially become invasive if introduced to this region. Our local ecotypes also have evolved to form special relationships with our indigenous animals. Some native bees, for example, pollinate only one species of plants, which required millions of years of evolution.

Golden ragwort (Packera aurea) is a great alternative to English ivy.
Sunny golden ragwort (Packera aurea) is a wonderful alternative to English ivy.

Northern Virginia resources abound!

Fortunately, there are some excellent resources available for planting what is local. The Plant NoVA Natives website has recommendations of what to plant specific to Northern Virginia, and their online guide even covers recommendations for problem planting areas. The Virginia Native Plant Society also has a wealth of resources including a list of alternatives for English ivy. One excellent source for buying local ecotypes is Earth Sangha’s Wild Plant Nursery.

One last word of caution when buying plants at big box stores or mainstream garden supply shops is that there is much talk about whether the presence of certain pesticides known as neonicotinoids are contributing to the alarming decline of pollinators. Shop wisely and with an eye to the future.

Virginia has a wealth of gorgeous natural areas that are being devastated by the invasive plants that we are cultivating in our own backyard. Help to preserve the fascinating diversity of this region’s native plants by growing what belongs here.

Native Plants for Nesting Birds: Top 12 Picks

The right native shrubs can attract nesting birds like this yellow warbler.


Derek Stoner, Project Coordinator for the Delaware Nature Society, helped restore the 860-acre Middle Run Natural Area by “intensive habitat management”, including planting 12,000 trees and shrubs.  His lecture, “Native Plants for Nesting Birds: Connecting Flora and Fauna,” given to a group of enthusiasts at the Millersville Native Plant Conference in Pennsylvania, focused on his observations. 

Derek’s landscaping recommendations for
attracting birds:

  • Plant shrubs in clusters (“habitat circles”) that will create the dense cover that birds desire for nest protection.
  • Locate clusters of bird-favored plants close to existing patches of habitat to allow for easier travel by birds.
  • Plant taller shrub species in close proximity to low-growing bushes to create a layered effect that will host multiple bird species.
  • Encourage “suckering” or basal shoots, as these tightly packed stems create ideal nesting pockets for birds.
  • Dense clusters of stems are best for many birds to nest within, but some species need a more open branch structure to build their nests upon.
Yellow Warbler. Credit: Depositphotos

The shrubs and trees described below are found naturally growing in the Mid-Atlantic region and are Stoner’s top picks for attracting nesting birds.  Plants were chosen for their appealing growth habit; their berry or fruit production, also noted, is an added bonus for birds.  Just for fun, additional information is included on the number of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) caterpillar species each plant hosts (courtesy of Doug Tallamy’s research).

Derek’s top 12 plants for nesting birds:


Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum).
Photo credit: Kent McFarland/flickr/CC.

1. Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum).  Arrowwood is an attractive, dense, easily grown multi-stemmed shrub.  Soil, moisture and light adaptable, it can quickly reach 6 to 8 feet.  Arrowwood spreads by suckering.  The blue-black berries it produces are high in fat making them valuable to fall migrants.  Numerous species of birds nest in this shrub including gray catbirds, towhees, mockingbirds, brown thrashers and cardinals.  Viburnum species are also larval host plants for over 100 native butterfly and moth caterpillars.


Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). Photo credit: Kent McFarland/flickr/CC.

2. Chokeberries (Aronia spp.): Black chokeberry (A. melanocarpa) and red chokeberry (A. arbutifolia) are underused multi-season shrubs with excellent fall color.  They prefer moist, acidic soils (pH <6.5) but are adaptable to drier sites.  Black chokeberry is compact, generally 3 to 5 feet tall.  Red chokeberry has an upright, narrow form, growing from 6 to 10 feet high.  Both species can form large colonies and are best used in mass groupings or for a living hedge.  They can also be planted for soil stabilization.  Full sun is best for strong fruiting.  In winter, birds eat the berries after more desirable fruit have been exhausted.  Aronia species support five native Lepidoptera larvae.


Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).
Photo credit: Joseph Hood/flickr/CC

3. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).  This pretty shrub prefers moist soils and part sun.  It most often grows from 3 to 5 feet high and as wide with some shrubs peaking at about 12 feet.  American beautyberry has long graceful arching branches and densely clustered fruit in late summer into fall.  The small bright magenta berries are consumed by many types of birds.


Common winterberry (Ilex verticillata). Photo credit:
Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council/flickr/CC.

4. Common winterberry (Ilex verticillata).  The attractive winterberry has an upright form, usually 6 to 10 feet in height.  A deciduous holly, it spreads by suckers to form large clumps.  Winterberry grows in moist and dry conditions, preferring acidic soils and full to part sun.  Like most plants of the holly family, it is dioecious (having separate male and female reproductive parts on separate plants).  The female plant’s bright red berries adorn naked stems in winter, making winterberry desirable for landscaping.  The berries also provide late-season fruits for birds.  Ilex are larval hosts to more than 30 species of Lepidoptera.


Possumhaw (Ilex decidua). Photo credit: Jerome Collins/flickr/CC.

5. Possumhaw (Ilex decidua).  A small understory tree or shrub, possumhaw can grow to 30 feet tall.  It can usually be found in floodplain forests, swamps and other moist areas.  Its intertwining branches are covered with tiny red berries in winter and are enjoyed by a whole host of wildlife.  This Ilex is also dioecious, so male and female plants are needed to set fruit. 


Inkberry (Ilex glabra). Photo credit: Elsa Spezia/flickr/CC.

6. Inkberry (Ilex glabra).  This acid-loving evergreen shrub is denser when young, growing more open as it matures.  Reaching anywhere from 4 to 12 feet in height, the species are generally dioecious (separate male and female plants) or monoecious (producing male and female reproductive structures on the same plant but on separate flowers).  Birds frequent inkberry for nesting, cover and for sleeping.  The flowers are attractive to pollinators and the black berries are a source of late-winter food for birds.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). Photo credit: Dan Nydick/flickr/CC.

7. Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).  This Vaccinium is a multi-stemmed understory shrub with upright, spreading branches and spectacular fall color.  It can reach 6 to 12 feet high and wide.  Highbush blueberry’s preference is for moist, very acidic (pH 4.5 to 5.5), well-drained soil high in organic matter.  Birds find this shrub appealing for nesting and for the delicious berries they produce in summer.  In addition to supporting numerous birds and mammals, Vacciniums are the host plants to nearly 300 Lepidoptera species, helping them to earn the title of ‘high wildlife value’ plants.

Common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis).
Photo credit: Kent McFarland/flickr/CC.

8. Elderberry (Sambucus spp.).  Common elderberry (S. Canadensis) is a large shrub with arching stems, usually found in riparian areas but is adaptable to drier soils.  It prefers full to part sun.  Common elderberry grows to 12 feet tall and wide and continues to sucker, providing good nesting habitat.  Clusters upon clusters of dark purple fruit are enjoyed by a wide variety of birds and mammals.  Red elderberry (S. racemosa), in comparison, produces red berries, needs more moisture and prefers shady sites.  It grows from 10 to 20 feet tall.  Both species grow well in circumneutral soil (pH 6.8 – 7.2) and are short-lived.  Elderberry is the host plant to over 40 Lepidoptera species.  Sawfly caterpillars also enjoy the tender leaves and are a source of protein for baby birds.


Common or downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea).
Photo credit: Dan Mullen/flickr/CC.

9. Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.).  Common or downy serviceberry (A. arborea) can grow to the height of 15 to 25 feet.  It prefers moist, well-drained acidic soil but is adaptable to pH.  Full sun to part shade is best.  Canadian or shadblow serviceberry (A. canadensis) grows from 6 to 20 feet tall, has a shrubby, suckering habit, and wants more sun, moisture and acidity than A. arborea.  Both the common and Canadian serviceberries, with their multi-branching habit, are excellent shrubs or small trees for nest sites and their berries ripen when nesting occurs, giving birds a convenient food source.  Amelanchier species support over 100 Lepidoptera larvae. 


Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). Photo credit: Geneva Wirth/flickr/CC.

10. Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).  Eastern redcedar is actually a juniper, not a cedar.  A pioneer species found growing in open areas in full sun, this classic evergreen tree is usually 30 to 40 feet tall but can reach 60 to 90 feet.  Drought hardy when established and adaptable to pH, redcedar prefers circumneutral soil (pH 6.8 – 7.2).  Trees can be either dioecious or monoecious.  Eastern redcedar provides excellent year-round cover, food, nesting sites and nest-building material for birds.  It’s also the larval host plant for over 40 Lepidoptera species.


Black willow (Salix nigra). Photo credit: Suzanne Cadwell/flickr/CC.

11. Black willow (Salix nigra).  Black willow is a rapid growing tree, maturing to 10 to 60 feet tall.  It likes wet feet and naturally grows along streams.  This willow prefers full to part sun, is adaptable to soil pH and has a dense, fibrous root system perfect for controlling erosion.  The under-rated ‘witches broom’ branching habit invites numerous bird species to build their nests in them.  Birds also make use of willow catkins and the soft downy fibers of seeds in constructing these nests.  This tree is dioecious.  Salix species host well over 400 species of Lepidoptera, making it a valuable plant for all wildlife.  Black willow is short-lived, averaging about 65 years, but is an important environmental tree worthy of planting.


Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Photo credit: TexasEagle/flickr/CC.

12. American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis).  Sycamore is a large open-crowned tree with enormous leaves and striking bright, mottled branches.  It is found stream-side but can be grown in less moist sites.  It tops out at 75 to 100 feet and 60 to 70 feet in width.  Hummingbirds commonly build their nests near water in sycamores.  Yellow-throated vireos, Baltimore orioles, robins and other species of birds will all nest simultaneously in this lovely tree.  The American sycamore also hosts over 40 species of Lepidoptera.

There are many additional wildlife-friendly native shrubs and trees that nurture birds and other animals.  As always, choose plant species that grow naturally in your area and prefer your growing conditions to reduce chemical inputs and resources, and to help keep our wild places healthy.

Many thanks to:

Derek Stoner of the Delaware Nature Society, check out the birding trail he created: Middle Run Birding Trail Brochure

University of Connecticut Plant Database

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database

Doug Tallamy’s Website

Update: November 28, 2015: The original photo of Callicarpa americana (#3) was actually the non-native species.

How I Killed a Tree (And the Lessons I Learned)

Knowing what not to do when it comes to your landscape trees can ultimately save your tree from decline and eventual death.


Once upon a time, not long ago, I shared my property with a handsome, thriving tree. It’s now dead. The oak had lived for 55 years, less than half its natural lifespan. While alive it provided services to many. It was a perch for birds, a home to squirrels and a source of food and shelter for an untold number of other life forms.

It made me happy.

My tree is gone now, chain-sawed, chipped and hauled away. I think I helped kill it. No, actually (full disclosure here) I now know that I did.

Trees are such familiar life forms themselves that we assume we know all about them and what’s best for them. But there are so many surprisingly interesting things about trees that most of us don’t know but would be delighted, and wiser, to discover.

Why did this fine oak die? What actions helped to speed its untimely death? What would I do differently today? 

A tree company in a cherry picker begins to cut down a dying oak.
This was a heartbreaking day for me.

I found my answers in a particularly dynamic lecture given by Joseph Murray, professional educator and arborist, and through some additional investigative research and personal observations.

Please note that all of the quotations below are by Joe Murray and are provided with his permission.


Trees residing in urban and suburban environments are stressed from construction, poor soil, impervious surfaces, chemical inputs, unnecessary pruning, competition for nutrients and more. There is a long list of mostly human-induced factors.

One problem is the common misconception of how a tree grows. The image of a tree canopy mirrored as a deep root system is inaccurate.  “Picture a wine glass on a plate,” advises Joe Murray. Tree root growth is actually very shallow with most roots inhabiting the upper 6 to 10 inches of soil.  And roots grow well beyond the drip line (where the tree canopy extends to). In fact, they reach three to five times beyond.  There is no surprise then that tree health is compromised when root growth is not well understood.

The latest research says 90 percent of tree disorders can ultimately be traced to a problem below ground. This means arborists diagnosing an unhealthy tree should be spending 90 percent of their time – you guessed it – trying to find out what’s going on below the ground.


Unfortunately, not every person handing out a business card claiming ‘certified arborist’ is equipped with the latest information on tree care. Those guys out trolling with a truck and a chainsaw along with the ‘experts’ at the local garden center, on talk radio or the web could be even less informed. And asking your lawn service to install and care for your trees is probably not the best decision.

Tree science is constantly advancing. “We used to apply tree paint  we used to fill up cavities with cement, we used to do flush cuts, we used to spray with broad spectrum insecticides and we don’t do that anymore.”

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards for Arboriculture are updated every five years — but their recommendations are not always heeded. “The problem of old and harmful practices still being employed are associated with arborists who are either unaware of ANSI Standards or they prefer to operate in a sphere of ignorance and arrogance.” The result is the perpetuation of misinformation — and tree mortality.


1. Plant a tree

“Trees are the longest living, largest, most complex forms of life on this planet,” states Murray. They are arguably the most valuable living land organisms. They filter the air we breathe and the water we drink, they buffer extreme weather, help prevent erosion, shade our buildings and are a source of food and shelter for both people and wildlife. Trees also increase property values and add beauty to our surroundings.

A study conducted in western Washington and Oregon found for every $1 invested in urban forestry, $3.12 was returned. “Do you get that on sidewalks? Asphalt? Gutters? Nope. Green infrastructure appreciates in value.

Trees and their benefits to human health are also well documented. Just the sight of foliage helps to boost our spirits and improve our well-being. There are also societal benefits. Trees help decrease crime and provide people with a sense of place. They add quality to our lives. Planting a tree and taking care of the ones we have are the simplest acts we can do to help our planet and ourselves.

2. Plant a native tree.

Trees indigenous to the region in which you live are naturally suited to survive and thrive in your garden. These native trees require zero chemical inputs and minimal resources when properly sited. More importantly, native trees co-evolved with our native insects – and insects, love them or not, are vital components of the food web. All animals directly or indirectly depend on tiny herbivores, such as caterpillars, for energy.

An oak (Quercus) is a fine example of a productive native canopy tree. Oaks host the most Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) of all our Mid-Atlantic trees – nearly 600 species of native caterpillars. In comparison, the pervasive Asian crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) supports just three caterpillars. Another native, the lovely flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) supports, at last count, 115 species of native Lepidoptera, while the Asian kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), which is commonly planted, supports zero insect herbivores.

Other great reasons to plant native:

• Our native trees and plants can provide more nutritional fruit for wildlife than introduced species.

• Insect pests and diseases can hitchhike on imported plants and wipe out our native species.

• Plants from other countries can escape from our gardens and in short order invade natural areas, outcompeting our vital natives for resources.

3. Patience: plant a baby tree.

It’s okay to plant a young tree, sapling or even a tree from seed. Most people don’t want to entertain the idea of planting a small anything, usually because they want instant results. BUT trees planted when they are young will have fewer problems in the long term — and given time will most likely surpass a larger nursery-grown tree in size and health. Larger caliper trees struggle with transplant shock and a long establishment period. Their roots are often severed (when balled and burlapped) or grow at unnatural trunk-girdling angles (as when container grown). Attempting to fix root problems originating at the nursery only wastes time and adds frustration.

Another benefit to a young tree: it can easily be structurally pruned.

Virginia Department of Forestry: How to Plant a Seedling

It's better to plant a small tree or sapling than a larger tree to get the best results. This is a white oak sapling.
A white oak sapling growing in neighbor Dave’s yard.

4. Plant multiple trees.

Instead of plopping a single specimen tree into your yard, consider planting a grouping of trees. “Trees truly are pack animals and they can communicate in a variety of ways,” explains Murray. “The same species of trees, two white oaks, can graft roots and they can share information. They can share water, they can share sugar.” Trees share resources and can communicate through symbiotic fungi (mycorrhizae) to tell other trees when they are under attack by, say, insects. Trees help each other to survive.

In a forest, clustered trees create a physical aerial buffer and also weave strong root systems that can better withstand the forces of nature. Multiple trees additionally provide each other’s bark with much needed shade.

5. Plant the right tree in the right location.

If you enjoy playing in the dirt, you’ve most likely heard the gardener’s mantra, “right plant, right place.” But I know of very few gardeners who faithfully adhere to that rule. What is it that makes us think we can force a plant to succumb to our will? Does adding an acid fertilizer or sand to the soil truly fix it? Is it sustainable to place a moisture-loving tree in a dry spot? To be certain, it would be simpler to choose a plant whose needs fit the conditions of the site.

“Right tree, right place, right function” is what Joe Murray promotes. With that edict in mind, here are some considerations:

• Understand that you’re planting a tree for the next few generations. Situating it where its root growth is restricted, growing it too close to a structure, or planting it under utility wires will likely force the next homeowner to remove it.

• Before deciding on a species of tree, learn its upper limits of height and width at maturity. What are its physical characteristics and its liabilities?

• Think about what role you want the tree to play in your landscape. Is its purpose to provide shade or privacy? Is it intended for erosion control or to help conserve energy? Do you want to support the greatest amount of wildlife?

• This is the big one: properly site your native tree to the conditions it would naturally grow in. Moisture, light, wind, topography, soil composition and pH should all be thoughtfully considered. Your regional Native Plant Society can guide you.

6. Ask “why prune a tree?”

Tree limbs have corresponding roots — so when a branch is removed, so dies its companion roots. This means excessive and incorrect pruning of live growth renders a tree vulnerable to drought, disease, insect infestation and more. Ask yourself not how and when to prune a tree but why.

Too often a tree is ‘limbed up’ for ease of mowing or simply because it’s a common practice. Trees with exposed bark are forced into a stressful situation. “It’s not natural for that bark and trunk to be hit with sunlight, that’s why [trees] put out water sprouts, to try and shade themselves and to put out future branching,” states Murray. “Keep the crown as low as possible; the same goes for branches.” Most of the thinning should be at the end of the branch, not at the trunk, to prevent sun scald and frost cracks. The trunk can continue to grow with its lower limbs attached — and ample leaves (and roots) help with photosynthesis.

Antiquated practices like cleaning out interior small branches (or water sprouts), lion tailing, thinning the canopy or topping will most likely catapult your tree to a premature death.

A growing red maple tree has all of its lower branches left on it because trees do better when growing this way than compared to when they are limbed up.
A young maple thriving in our backyard. Its lower limbs
shade its trunk as well as the plants growing beneath it.

7. Beware of too much nitrogen.

“If you give a tree nitrogen and it doesn’t need it, you’re promoting the shoot system to grow rather than the root system. This results in a shoot system demanding more water than the root system can supply, resulting in a tree that’s more prone to experience drought stress.” Excess nitrogen also accelerates any decay-causing fungi already present in the tree and it openly invites insect pests.

Trees take up nitrogen when fertilizer is applied to turfgrass. “If you do something to the lawn, and you have tree roots growing underneath the lawn, are you doing something to the tree? Absolutely.”

Any manufacturers’ claims touting the use of a single nitrogen fertilizer for both lawns and trees should be highly scrutinized. Your tree may lack nutrients but unless you have your soil analyzed, you’re guessing. The priority is to test* your soil.

*A&L Eastern Laboratories soil test lab can also test for heavy metals.

8. Give trees what they want. (Hint: they don’t want lawn.)

“The bottom line is: imitate what is on the bottom of the forest floor.” Placing (not tilling in) two to four inches of wood chips over the roots of your trees and for gosh sake, leaving the leaf litter that comes from those trees, is an important step to encourage soil and tree health.  Organic matter is fuel; it’s what keeps the root-fungi relationship healthy.

The ANSI standard now recognizes ‘mulch’ as arborist wood chips. “This is what I recommend, not only me, but it’s my entire industry that recommends this: wood chips.” Murray explains, “It’s not the same thing as the mulch you’re going to get from Lowe’s or Kmart or the box stores or nursery — it’s not shredded bark.”

Tree bark contains chemicals and anti-microbial fungi that are difficult for microorganisms to break down. It’s waxy so it repels moisture. It is not a good choice for mulch.

A healthy root collar of a tree growing in natural conditions. This includes no lawn and lots of leaf litter.
A perfect root collar. This lucky tree is growing
in a backyard forest setting.

Murray refers to a photo of a wood chipper in use. “It should be what’s coming out of that hopper right there. There’s going to be a lot of the meat of the tree and the branches; going to be a lot of that cellulose and the xylem that’s in the middle; there’s going to be some bark and there’s also going to be some small branches. There’s going to be some leaves, there’s going to be the forest floor … and that’s what we want.”

Murray illustrates his point by comparing photos of two young trees planted in research plots at Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia. One tree was surrounded by a 10-foot ring of wood chips; the other was left to duke it out with lawn. After a few growing seasons, the mulched tree was at least twice as large as the tree with its roots covered over in turfgrass. And it appeared to be exponentially healthier.

Murray’s wood chip advice also applies to mature trees growing in lousy disturbed soils and especially in lawn.

A note: Consider that some trees are chipped because they are diseased or invaded by invasive insects. If possible, ask about the condition of the tree before potentially spreading it as mulch in your landscape.

Arborist wood chips contain all the components that make up a tree—
and will greatly benefit living trees.

Fine root density can be increased by as much as 400% by adding that two to four inches of the organic material out to the tree’s drip line. It’s easy to smother existing turfgrass. Murray again stressed, “If you can mimic what happens on the forest floor, then do it. That’s the right thing to do.”

Many tree removal companies provide chipped tree material at no cost. Contact some local businesses to see if they will deliver. You may be placed on a waiting  list and be willing to accept a full truck load. 

9. Volcano mulches are dumb.

The volcano mulch is a widespread phenomenon. Commercial landscapers as well as homeowners enthusiastically and regularly pile mulch high around the base of trees, leaving the shredded stuff to rest against the tree trunk. This causes the bark to fall off and the trunk to send out adventitious roots that can end up girdling the tree. Volcano mulching is a puzzling and detrimental practice that will shorten the life of a tree.

Mulch (or anything else) stacked up against a tree trunk also welcomes insect pests and small gnawing mammals, and encourages rot. Wood chips should be applied between two to four inches high, at least as wide as the tree canopy and it should never touch the trunk of a tree. For what to mulch with, see #8 above.

Falls Church City Mulch Information Flyer

Landscape companies do not realize how detrimental the volcano mulch is to trees.
It’s everywhere! The detrimental volcano mulch.

10. Say “no” to landscape fabric.

There are those who nonchalantly roll out landscape fabric over tree and shrub roots with hopes of suppressing weeds. But did you know that there are two sides to the fabric? One side will let moisture through but the other side doesn’t. Even if you do happen to lay it correct side up, those small pores will eventually clog, blocking life-sustaining water and oxygen to the soil and the plant’s roots. Landscape fabric prevents any organic material from working its way into the soil and it could also assist in girdling the tree. If you want to suppress weeds, see: “8. Trees want nature’s debris.”

11. Say “hell no” to herbicides. 

Studies have shown that systemic non-selective herbicides (weed, brush and root killers) and selective broadleaf herbicides (found in Weed & Feed products) applied to foliage due to drift or to the soil or leaf litter in tree root zones can indirectly kill trees. At sub-lethal doses these herbicides can weaken a tree, predisposing it to cankers, borers and vascular diseases. Some tree species are more sensitive to these chemicals than others.

If you are contemplating using herbicides in your yard, realize your neighbor’s large tree probably has its roots growing on your property. I emphasize: roots extend three to five times beyond a tree’s drip line.

Resist applying herbicides not only because they harm trees and the environment but also because glyphosate (AKA Roundup) is designated “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization. Glyphosate as well as the broadleaf herbicide triclopyr and 2,4-D can contaminate groundwater and end up in your drinking water.

Weed and feeds contain

12. Too late to save it? Leave a dead tree standing.

A dead or dying tree, called a snag, is considered more important for wildlife than a living tree. The benefits of rotting wood are as numerous as the animals they sustain.

Woodpeckers occupy the cavities for nesting and shelter and live on the insects and other invertebrates that inhabit decaying snags. Other birds and creatures like squirrels, raccoons, owls, salamanders, frogs, snakes, foxes, bats, turtles, chipmunks and bears (to name just a few) also need snags and fallen trees for housing, cover, or food. Mushrooms and other fungi that magically appear on decomposing wood are a nutritious feast for animals.

Our overly sparse suburban landscapes can become better sanctuaries by allowing a dead tree to stand or lay. Any size trees or logs are valuable, but the larger they are, the more critters they will support.

A dead tree or snag is just as important to wildlife as a living tree is.
This snag (a few doors down) has looked like this
since we bought our house 10 years ago. Hang in
there and provide for another decade,
dear dead tree!


How did I contribute to the premature death of my own oak? Botanical malpractice, I confess. I have to look back a decade ago when Marc and I purchased our home. Knowing about as much, meaning as little, about trees as most people, I hired a company to remove the dead branches from our then vibrant tree and assumed that arborists would know what they were doing. But they unnecessarily cut living material as well as dead branches. I allowed a repeat offense a few years later. Excessive pruning was not the only detrimental mistreatment I inflicted. The oak was left struggling to grow in a sea of nutrient-sucking lawn while I recklessly fertilized the grass with a nitrogen-rich product. I did this on more than a few occasions. Adding further insults and injury, I stood by (semi) silently as a neighbor applied Roundup to kill his own weeds. He was also fond of the Weed & Feed.

When the oak’s decline became noticeable, I hired yet another arborist who worked for two years and deployed regular treatments of a systemic insecticide and a tree growth regulator, at a cost of thousands of dollars which, in the end, failed. I really can’t say if all the right things were done on his part or not. Had I been armed with the knowledge I have now, I would have been more proactive (or equally more hands off). Prevention is easy to prescribe but hard to achieve.

Finding a savvy expert to assist you and your trees may be a challenge. Seek a licensed arborist who is active in organizations such as the International Society of Arboriculture and the Tree Care Industry Association. Interview more than one. Ask questions. Do your own research. Do not make my mistakes. And may all your trees live full and productive lives.

A huge thank you to Joseph Murray for his expertise. Murray holds a master of science in plant pathology from Virginia Tech, a master of teaching from the University of Richmond, and a bachelor of arts in biology from Radford University.

Updated February, 2022

Reflections on Establishing a Native Plant Garden

This garden is a certified Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary.


by Beverley Rivera

As summer starts to fade, a sea of late-blooming goldenrods explode with sunny yellow, their honey-like fragrance enticing thousands of busy pollinators to my native plant garden. Swarms of purple asters and fizzy white boneset create a buzzing corridor of life. Goldfinches, which my neighbor lamented hadn’t been seen around here in years, are now back in residence; and I was recently rewarded for my gritty labor by our first hummingbird sighting, now a regular visitor to our garden. When I first ventured into planting native plants, I was told that natives would attract wildlife to my backyard, but I was also motivated by the theory that thoughtfully-planted gardens could be used to help offset some of the monumental environmental destruction that modern society is inflicting on our larger landscape. Now, as my garden’s first full summer winds up to a showy finale, I’m witnessing those theories coming to life.
Monarch butterfly nectars on New England asters.
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) attracts monarch butterflies
and other pollinators to Beverley’s garden habitat.
Eastern tiger swallowtail nectars on New England asters.
An Eastern tiger swallowtail in all its glory.

A Journey of Learning

It’s been a journey of learning. When we bought our house in the spring of 2014, I was naïve not only to what grows in this region, but also to the culture here. Like many, I was moved by the plight of the Monarch Butterflies. For Mother’s Day, I wanted Swamp Milkweeds – but where to buy them? I found that local nurseries stock very few native plants; or they stock cultivars of native plants bred to better behave themselves in standard gardens – alongside the conventional crepe myrtles, azaleas, English ivy and mulch. For many of the native plants just don’t behave conventionally, they don’t confine themselves neatly to flower beds, they lounge around, they sprawl, they tumble, they multiply exponentially. They exhibit no tidy symmetry, they do what they please; they have total disregard for Home Owner’s Associations, they answer only to the regulations of Nature. As such, native plants don’t seem to rate much priority in standard nurseries.

And buying these non-conformist plants from nurseries that sell large varieties of poisons also seemed inconsistent with what I was trying to achieve. I would question myself standing in the checkout line next to chemicals that were guaranteed to kill all forms of life for a long period of time, or your money back; an estimated seven million birds a year die from lawn pesticides. Another thing that bothered my conscience was whether I should be supporting nurseries that sell invasive plants, plants that stray from gardens and rapidly take over huge tracts of natural wilderness, and which I have since spent many freezing mornings trying to remove from natural areas. Recognizing the suffocation and the strangulation of new growth in the forests by invasive plants strengthened my resolve to plant what belongs here, and to buy plants from sources that don’t weather my conscience.

Native plant gardener poses in garden habitat.
Beverley in her amazing wildlife garden.

Our Discoveries Continue to Grow

So it really has been a journey of learning. I have learned what to plant, where to plant it and when; and then how to obtain these plants in clear conscience. My original two scrawny milkweeds are now a much-chewed many, the rest of my once-sparse collection of bare stalks and straggly stems has thrived, multiplying and blossoming into a colorful overflowing garden abuzz with life. The variety of birds and butterflies and other wildlife that come to our garden enchant us daily. And our discoveries continue to grow as the garden thrives, constantly seeing species we haven’t seen there before. I have learned that if you plant natives, your garden quickly becomes a haven for wildlife… Plant some native plants, and watch your garden come to life.

Beverley grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and has lived in Hawaii, Spain, Japan, and Germany with her US Marine husband, Juan. They have two lovely children, two indoor kitties and one large native plant garden.

Beverley regularly volunteers for Earth Sangha in Springfield, is an avid native plant gardener and is currently enrolled in the Virginia Master Naturalist program.  This past summer she and Juan had their property certified as an Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary.

Photos courtesy of Juan Rivera.

The Brush Pile: Build It for Our Wild Friends

Brush piles provide shelter to many creatures.


A brush pile is an uncomplicated, no-cost structure. It’s basically a large pile of sticks that offers habitat to all sorts of wildlife. Squirrels climb and hide, chipmunks zip under and out and a whole host of birds routinely hop through the network of limbs that occupies our garden. Oh, and yes, I need to mention the mice… But before you decide a brush pile isn’t for you, consider that all carnivorous and omnivorous animals eat mice. Coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, snakes and raccoons don’t think twice about snatching up a mouse for a meal.
A fox hunts near a homemade brush pile. Brush piles are beneficial to wildlife seeking shelter.
A trap camera photo of a hunting red fox. Brush piles provide sanctuary for potential fox food.

The components of our two small brush piles consist of fallen tree branches gathered on our property and found curbside around the neighborhood and include larger chain-sawed limbs. We don’t have a large lot – it’s less than a ¼ of an acre – but reducing lawn has left us with more room to accommodate critters. Building both habitats was quick and easy, and wearing architect as well as artist hats made the handiwork enjoyable. Constructing a brush pile to support our wild friends is definitely a fun and creative project for families to do together – and to enjoy for many years.

The Three S’s: Sanctuary, Shelter and Snacks

Why should you create a brush pile?  There are three elements a brush pile provides:

1. Sanctuary.  Brush piles create a sanctuary for our wildlife.  Birds, salamanders, snakes, turtles, small mammals (and more!) all need a helping hand, especially in our stripped-down suburban areas.  A properly built brush pile provides a place for our creatures to hide from their many predators.

2. Shelter.  In times of extreme weather a brush pile is the perfect shelter.  In winter it’s particularly vital for protecting our birds.  If your property is void of mature evergreen shrubs and trees that birds need for protective cover, evergreen foliage placed over a brush pile during the winter months will create a dry interior birds can safely roost in.

3. Snacks.  Many insect species are attracted to the decaying wood and will make it their home.  Insects found in brush piles are an additional source of protein-rich food for woodpeckers and other bug eating animals.

Brush Pile Basics

Our two brush piles were placed in the backyard where they are not too highly conspicuous.  They’re at the edge and back of our property near native shrubs, with one purposely positioned to be close to the bird feeder.  Birds that frequent feeders or are exposed in open areas are easy prey for hawks, fox and domestic pets – so having the brush pile a quick hop-and-a-swoop away was a priority.

Size: Build what is practical in your available space.  Brush piles can range from 3 to 8 feet tall and from 6 to 20 feet wide.  A large construct will be used more.

Exposure: A sunny or partially sunny spot, if possible.

Location: In your backyard, near a wood line, at the far edge or back corner of your property and away from buildings (think about combustibility as well as rodents living next to your home’s foundation).  The site should also have good drainage.  If you belong to a Homeowner’s Association, their guidelines should be considered.  And if your neighbors are neatniks, you can let them in on your plans.

A white-throated sparrow perched on a brush piles. Brush piles are beneficial to wildlife seeking shelter.
A white-throated sparrow makes use of our brush pile.

Building Instructions

Begin with the foundation of larger logs or stones.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System recommends: “When constructing the foundation, use the largest materials. Provide entrance spaces 6 to 12 inches wide for easy access. To make a good foundation, place four logs (6 to 10 inches in diameter) parallel to each other about 1 foot apart. Place four more logs on top, perpendicular to the ones on the ground. You could substitute large, flat rocks for the second layer of logs if you want.

You could also make three or four rock piles about 6 to 12 inches apart. Each rock pile should be about 10 inches high and 12 inches across. Arrange the piles so that they make a triangle if three piles are used or a plus sign if four are used.

Other things can also be used to build foundations. For example, you can lean two or three logs (6 to 10 inches in diameter) against a stump. Use your imagination and the materials you have on hand. The main thing to keep in mind is that the foundation should keep small “tunnels” open under the pile of brush.”

A brush pile that may have too much foliage. It will shelter wildlife, nonetheless.
A little too much zeal went into creating this one but it will still provide shelter for wildlife.

Once the foundation is in place, branches, limbs and twigs can be stacked on the foundation to form the pile. Even discarded Christmas trees can be put to good use. If I cut back perennials that are flopping over onto the walkways, I’ll add them to the pile. Native grasses and other stems with ripened seed heads are simply tucked into the crevasses, adding wildlife food and a bit of character to the structure.

For Large Lots: The Living Shelter

 An option for larger properties is the living shelter.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System explains: “If constructed of living materials, your brush shelter will last much longer. Living shelters provide not just cover, but food as well.

To make a living brush pile, find several (three to five) small hardwood saplings (2 to 8 inches in diameter) located close together. Cut each tree halfway through the trunk about 12 inches above the ground. Place the cuts on the outside of the tree, away from the other trees in the group. Since the tree is not cut all the way through, there will be enough living material under the bark {cambium layer} to keep the tree alive. Push the tree over towards the other trees in the group so it rests on the ground or on top of the other half-cut trees.

Living brush piles made from hardwoods supply buds, twigs, leaves, and seeds for animals to eat as well as cover and protection.”

The Extension goes on to recommend fertilizing the saplings.  Instead of synthetic fertilizers that can harm the delicate balance of the soil, the better choice is to keep the sapling’s roots covered in 2 – 4 inches of natural leaf compost, leaf mulch or wood chips.

Other Thoughts

If aesthetics are a concern in a small habitat garden, planting a not-so-aggressive flowering native vine to grow over your brush limbs will add color and nectar for pollinators.  In Virginia, options include yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea), a part shade vine that tolerates wet to dry conditions and trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), a hummingbird attractor that blooms well in full to part sun in moist to dry soil.  Lonicera’s trailing vines can be trimmed back if needed.  Check with your regional Native Plant Society for options for your area.

The materials you select for constructing a brush pile are not limited to tree trunks, branches and natural rock.  But thoughtful choices should be made.  Materials that contain toxic substances such as CCA (arsenic) pressure-treated lumber, lead painted surfaces, tires or other petroleum-based products should not be used.  These products can harm wildlife.  They can also leach into ground water and ultimately affect your drinking water.  Choose the best components to keep your brush pile natural.

To find out more about brush piles, check out:

Virginia “Rabbit Proof” Native Plants

Eastern cottontails can do a lot of damage in a garden. But there are many rabbit-resistant native plants available to the besieged gardener.


Precious pink wiggly nose, slender silken ears, a fuzzy snowball of a tail — all wrapped up in a cuddly but voracious plant-chomping package. Ahhh, our Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) are undeniably adorable but they can be destructive in gardens, continually reducing a plant of its foliage until it (the plant) runs out of energy and expires.

There aren’t any cottontails foraging in our garden currently — perhaps because we have a fox, a few hawks and a high number of domestic dogs and free-roaming cats in our neighborhood. Rabbits are certainly fair game to all sorts of predators. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries writes, “Cottontails have been referred to as the “protein pill” of the animal kingdom. They are perhaps the most heavily preyed upon game species in Virginia. In most years, 80% or more of adult cottontails are killed.”

Eastern cottontail rabbits can eat a lot of garden plants.

An Eastern cottontail spying your garden plants. Photo by Tom Murray/flickr/CC.

I have seen the damage a few marauding cottontails can do so at the request of a client, who reluctantly surrendered his garden to the bunnies, I did some hopping around on the web and found that there’s very little information out there on native plants that rabbits find unpalatable. Our deer receive all the attention.

I then turned to the people who I could count on to garden with native plants: the Virginia Master Naturalists, Arlington Regional Chapter (or ARMN, my alma mater). “What non-woody plants do your bunnies ignore?” I asked. Their comments and observations were crossed referenced with the information I found online and the following document was generated. A checkmark indicates if the rabbit-rejecting plant info was found through the web, ARMN, or both.

Here are a few examples of beautiful Virginia natives that are on the “Rabbit Proof” list. They could also be native to your state’s region:

Foxglove beardtongue ((Penstemon digitalis) is not preferred by rabbits.
Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis).
This pretty plant attracts bumblebees
and other flower visitors.
Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) is not preferred by rabbits.
Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) growing in a field
in Shenandoah National Park. It also does well
in garden conditions.
Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) is not preferred by rabbits.
Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) grows
in drier woodland settings. This photo was taken
in Turkey Run Park in McLean, VA in early spring.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is not preferred by rabbits.
Goldenrods are fantastic pollinator plants.
There are many different species for varying
garden conditions. Photo courtesy Matt Bright.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is not preferred by rabbits.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is a good
seed-bearing plant for birds.
Photo courtesy Matt Bright.
Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is not preferred by rabbits.
Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).
This native species is an early nectar source for
our Ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Clustered mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is not preferred by rabbits.
Clustered mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)
is a pollinator’s dream. Expect it to spread like
other plants in the mint family.
Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) is not preferred by rabbits.
Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) blooms in early
May and develops attractive seedheads.
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is not preferred by rabbits.
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). Rabbits may
enjoy the tender flower stalks of this spring-
blooming perennial. Foamflower makes a
good groundcover.
Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata) is not preferred by rabbits.

Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata). Monardas
are in the mint family and are not usually browsed
by rabbit or deer. Photo by Bob Mullica/flickr/CC.

Blue mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) is allegedly rabbit-resistant.
Blue mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) is a perfect
late season flower for monarch butterflies and other
flower visitors.
Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is a rabbit resistant native plant.
Wild blue indigo (Baptisia australis) is a wonderful
garden plant. It hosts many butterfly and moth caterpillars.

I understand that nothing is truly “rabbit proof;” if Peter Rabbit is hungry enough, he’ll consume just about anything. So allow the list of rabbit-resistant natives to be your guide for adding new plants to your garden — but also consider offering up some wildflowers, tall grassy areas or veggies for your bunnies to enjoy. Provide them with plants that you’re less vested in. Wildlife can’t go grocery shopping like we can. And even cranky ol’ Mr. McGregor can’t argue with that.

Thank you to the following resources: Penn State Extension: Rabbit Resistance Garden and Landscape Plants and Native Plants Wildlife Gardens: Bunny Bustin’ Natives. Note: as of June 2018, neither article is available online.

The Hummingbirds: A Poem

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the inspiration for wonderful poems.


Every spring, Robert and Arlene anticipate the arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbirds to their mountain home. They observe in awe as these tiny beings nest and feed and hover and swoop around their wooded land. But with autumn closing in, the ruby-throats recently bid farewell to their Linden, Virginia, residence and have begun their long migration south. This is a poem written by Robert and inspired by his and Arlene’s very favorite guests.

The Hummingbirds

by Robert Foster

It’s amazing to me that they travel so far
Feisty and noisy and small that they are
Emerald and ruby just buzzing about
A pause and a sip with a curious shout

In spring when they come, so tired and wan
In fall when they leave it’s so quiet at dawn
Longing and left, the silence pervading
I’d smile once again at your raucous invading

I’m left here alone at the break of the day
No tweets of good morning to light up my way
Color and humming recede to the last
Departure your sign, that the summer has past

This time of year as the fall will descend
With a hitch in my throat, just to see you again
Saddened and hoping you’re safe on your flight
I pause with a sigh as I’m left without sight

Who would’ve thought such a small little bird
Would cause such a break when no longer it’s heard
Wishing and praying won’t lengthen your stay
But oh how I wish to have just one more day

How can you support our tiny jewels?

The ruby-throated hummingbird is one of the most delightful visitors to our gardens.  They eat tiny insects and draw nectar from a variety of flowers — most of which are red and tubular.  In the Mid-Atlantic, some of the best native choices are eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma), trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) and jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Read more about the plants that support our amazing hummingbirds: How to Feed a Hummingbird Part II: Flowers & Nectar

Lisa Bright Shares Her Garden Faves

Lisa Bright of Earth Sangha shares her vast knowledge of native plants.



Lisa Bright, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Earth Sangha in Springfield, Virginia, shares some of her favorite native plants for gardeners in the DMV. Seeds are collected in the wild, propagated and the plants are returned to natural areas for restoration purposes. We are fortunate that these plants are also offered to the public. Take advantage of this wonderful resource and introduce some life-supporting and uncommon plants to your gardens today.

Chinkapin (Castanea pumila) laden with fruit.
Photo courtesy Earth Sangha.

Alleheny Chinkapin (Castanea pumila): This is the first time we are able to offer this lovely species. It is extremely hard to find Chinkapin with its chestnut-like nuts in our region because of habitat loss, and it won’t be available every year. It is fairly quick growing once established. We decided to distribute it this fall because it’s better that the seedlings be planted in the ground now than to sit in pots at our nursery during the winter.

Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis): In moist open areas or at the edge of pond or stream, this multi-stemmed shrub will produce beautiful flowers and abundant fruits for birds. It acts like a salad bar for birds. You can also make jams out of fruits. This shrub would love to stand in water as well but also works well in ordinary soil. You can easily tame/control them by cutting the stems. It won’t hurt them.

Whorled Rosin Weed (Silphium asteriscus var. trifoliatum): If you like Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) which is not native, you will love this plant. It is 4 to 6 feet tall and upright and produces pale yellow flowers in summer. You see them in moist open meadows in Manassas, Centerville, or other power line meadow sites.

Broadleaf Ironweed (Vernonia glauca): It looks a lot like New York Ironweed except that it grows in open meadows. It attracts lots of butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Slender Bush Clover (Lespedeza virginica) & Hairy Bush Clover (Lespedeza hirta): To me, this is a must plant for open meadow. They offer important nectar as well as seed sources for birds and others. Lespedeza is largely overlooked by gardeners.

Tick-trefoil (Desmodium spp.: D. paniculatum, D. ciliare, D. marilandicum): I’m a big fan of all Desmodium species. Their intricate purple flowers attract lots of insects. They fix nitrogen in soil. They grow in open meadows and on sandy or rocky banks.

Downy Blue Lobelia (Lobelia puberula): You will find this elegant Lobelia more in the coastal region. I spotted at least two great habitats. They grow on moist sunny and sandy banks in groups. Their blue flowers begin in mid summer with its peak in September. It attracts lots of butterflies and bees.

Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium): If you cannot find this species in local meadows, it is not quite a fully matured meadow yet. The small white flowers cluster together at top. It attracts lots of pollinators, of course.

Roundleaf Thoroughwort (Eupatorium rotundifolium): Its presence indicates a healthy meadow.

Beaked Panic Grass (Coleataenia anceps): This grass is easy to grow and care for, and it offers abundant seeds. It grows in moist open meadows. If you think Indian Grass is too tall to handle, this grass will do.

Redtop or Dense Panic Grass (Coleataenia rigidula): It looks ornamental with its lovely and generous red plumes. It is about 1 to 3 feet tall and forms a pleasing bunch. It loves wet and looks lovely along pond or stream edges.

Lurid Sedge (Carex lurida): This sedge is very versatile and yet it is woefully underused. It can form nice weeping grassy banks even on dry sites near streams. Once established, it is virtually carefree.

Deertongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum): If you look at any healthy woodland, its moist edges are packed with this grass species. It keeps the soil moist and prevents invasive plants from entering the woodland. It also feeds lots of insects and birds. What more would you ask from a hard-working plant?

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor): It is the only white-flowering Goldenrod! It looks exactly like Erect Goldenrod (Solidago erecta) except that its petals are white! Its habitat is partially shaded woodland.

Crooked-stem Aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides): It took me several years to finally locate this species in the wild. It grows right along streams in shade. It also grows in drier and more open areas. It has lovely blue blooms in summer to fall.

Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve): This species of aster blooms quite late in the season. It grows on rocky banks or such rough sites. It has such an easy grace.

Pasture Thistle (Cirsium pumilum): Unlike Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor), the growth habit of this species is less assertive. It grows up to 3 ft. only and attracts all sorts of butterflies. It won’t overwhelm your small garden! It’s biennial.

Hollow-stemmed Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum): We want you to plant this lovely species all over the area. It used to be everywhere in wet areas, on shaded banks, and at the edge of the woodland. But we are losing them. We are also losing them to non-native species of Joe Pye Weed.

Maryland Golden Aster (Chrysopsis mariana): If you have sunny, dry, and poor soil conditions and don’t know what to do? Maryland Golden Aster loves that kind of spot. It used to be abundant but we are losing them now. Please use more of this lovely carefree plant.

Grey Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis): Again, this species of Goldenrod (short, 1 to 2 ft only) loves sunny, dry, and poor soil. There should be a lot more of this species along the roads or abandoned areas.

Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare): On moist meadows near streams or edge-of-the woodland, you will find this enchanting mound of aromatic plant. It is low growing. A lovely form to behold.

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium): This grass is a healer of ground. If you are making a fresh new meadow from scratch, please you must use this grass first. There are certain basic soil-building native species that would work as healers. This is one of them.

An American goldfinch on hollow-stemmed joe pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum),
a favorite seed source.

We are also offering Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa) and Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum).

We offer these plants and many, many more. See you at the nursery!

Lisa Bright, Co-founder 

You can become an Earth Sangha member and also sign up for Lisa’s future newsletters at