Gardeners often don’t realize that gardens make for great firefly habitat, helping to replace their lost natural habitat. The common firefly—the Big Dipper Firefly (Photinus pyralis)—readily takes to an organic habitat. The trick is to make your garden as inviting as possible for fireflies to take up residence.
Gardens are meccas for food fireflies eat. If you have fought off snails, slugs, various insects, and worms, then fireflies can lend a hand by helping to control these pests.
Fireflies spend up to 95% of their lives in larval stages. They live in soil/mud/leaf litter and spend from one to two years growing until finally pupating to become adults. This entire time they eat anything they can find.
As adults, they only live two to four weeks. Females that have mated successfully need a place to lay eggs. They will lay eggs in many spots, but gardens offer an oasis with a source of soil moisture good for larval development.
Some inventive tips for attracting fireflies:
Don’t rake leaves and put them on the curb. You are raking up firefly larvae and throwing them away.
Collect paper bags of leaves to make “Bag Compost.” Collect 5-15 bags.
Wet bags down in a shady lawn area. Keep moist/wet for 3-6 months or up to a year.
Bags will attract snails/slugs. This is food for growing fireflies.
In Spring, put bag compost in your garden. Put it in mounds and work it into your soil.
Repeat each year. It might take as long as 5 years, or as quick as that same year, to get fireflies in your garden.
Think there are no opportunities to purchase native plants this fall? Think again!! Below are locations where you can indeed buy the perfect plants to benefit local wildlife and spruce up your yard, too.
Autumn is the best time to install new perennials, trees, and shrubs with warmer soils but cooler air temperatures, which reduces transplant shock. Planting now should give plants plenty of time to become established before winter. Then, in the spring they will provide benefits to the critters that depend on them AND add wonderful beauty to your garden. Below are places to purchase native plants in safety for both buyers and sellers. So, take advantage of these opportunities and bring home a few—or several—native plants to brighten your yard, patio, balcony, or deck. The native wildlife will appreciate it.
Why Choose Native Plants?
Because they’re “from here,” natives are adapted to our climate and soil conditions. They are often the most healthful—or only—source of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals. They also:
require little or no fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
help reduce air pollution,
provide shelter and food for wildlife,
promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage, and
are beautiful and increase landscape values!
How to Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots
It’s important to install the right plants for your conditions (wet, dry, shade, sun, slope, bog, soil type, etc.). One of the best sources to answer these questions is the Plant Nova Natives website, with easy-to-follow tips, lots of photos, and additional links to learn what will work best in your situation(s).
Where You Can Buy Natives This Fall
Nature by Design
Seven days a week
7am to 6pm
300 Calvert Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301
Click HERE for details on availability, appointments, and pickup.
VNPS Wednesday Native Plant Sales
Each Wednesday till 10/7/2020
10am to 1pm
Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA
The VNPS native plant sale takes place behind the Horticulture Center
Every year, Discover Life invites citizen scientists of all levels to identify the calls of crickets and katydids in the District of Columbia, the Baltimore area, and Northern Virginia. This year’s annual “cricket crawl” will be on the evening of August 21, 2020, any time after 8:30 pm. It is a particularly good event for 2020 because it is led by individuals and families in their own yards or other open areas where they can socially distance safely. The rain date is August 22. This project is a collaborative venture between Discover Life, The Audubon Naturalist Society, and The Natural History Society of Maryland.
Participants must first learn to differentiate between the six species of crickets and katydids being tracked that are common to the region. These are:
Jumping Bush Cricket (Orocharis saltator)
Japanese Burrowing Cricket (Velarifictorus micado)
Greater Anglewing (Microcentrum rhombifolium)
Lesser Anglewing (Microcentrum retinerve)
Oblong-winged Katydid (Amblycorypha oblongifolia)
Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia)
So, how do you learn to identify the different calls? There are a couple of ways:
The best way is to register for a Zoom Cricket Crawl prep event that will be given by Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday, August 18th at 7:00 pm. You can register here for Program #642840-H, by 4pm on August 17. Ken will send you a link on the day of the presentation. If you miss the deadline, contact him directly at Krosenthal@arlingtonva.us. At Ken’s presentation, you will learn to identify the different calls, how and why they sing, and more.
Then, on the night of August 21st, between 8:30 and about 11:30, record the data requested on the “Cricket Crawl Data Form” at the Discover Life home page. Record only one collection for each location you survey but try to cover many locations with one minute surveys. Note the address or cross streets for each location. Put some distance between sites — 1/4 mile is very safe. You can submit your results to the cricket hotline at (240) 801-6878 or email the form to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact this email address with additional questions. Jen Soles, Jsoles@arlingtonva.us, can be contacted with any questions about the survey in Arlington or elsewhere in Northern Virginia.
Domesticated cats have lived in human communities for so long that they may seem like an integral part of our natural landscape. However, cats are non-native animals that can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, in the process undermining biodiversity and disrupting the balance of our natural environment. At least in the case of owned cats, there are things owners can do to help right this balance.
Anyone who has watched a cat stalk and pounce on a toy mouse can appreciate how the quick reflexes, sharp teeth, and retractable claws of domestic cats have superbly adapted them to be hunters of small prey. These same hunting abilities played a crucial role in their domestication. According to National Geographic, cats began to frequent human communities in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East at least 8,000 years ago, as the development of agriculture resulted in the storage of crops that attracted rodents, and the rodents in turn attracted local wildcats. For thousands of years, cats and farmers enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship as tamer cats in essence selected themselves for living in proximity to humans. The European domestic cat (Felis catus) was imported into the New World by mariners and colonists, leading eventually to a population explosion of domestic cats in the United States. In 2017, Statistica.com estimated that 94 million cats lived in U.S. homes. National Geographic adds that an additional 70 million feral cats may live in our communities. All these “domestic” cats are actually non-native imports that did not evolve with our local wildlife.
And therein lies the root of an environmental dilemma. Although other factors like habitat loss, pollution, and disease also endanger animals, cats play a significant role in wildlife mortality. A 2013 review of research by biologists Scott Loss, Tom Will, and Peter Marra estimated that free-roaming cats annually kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds and between 6.3 and 22.3 billion mammals in the United States alone, making them the largest single source of anthropogenic mortality for those animals. In addition, cats kill numerous insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Exact numbers are difficult to pin down, especially given the challenges of conducting research on feral cats, who cause the highest wildlife mortality. But even the low range represents a significant problem.
In Cat Wars (2016), Marra and Chris Santella show that cat predation has pitted proponents of native wildlife against proponents of feline welfare for over a hundred years. Today, the sharpest controversies involve Trap Neuter and Return (TNR) programs, which vaccinate and neuter feral cats and return them to the community, often in colonies supported with food and shelter. In Cats and Conservationists: The Debate about Who Owns the Outdoors (2020), Anna Peterson and Dara Wald hold out hope for finding common ground in debates over TNR, but they mostly document a deeply-entrenched standoff in which the various sides cannot even agree on what counts as scientific evidence, much less how to act upon it.
There is more clarity in what can be done about the cats that people own. Some cat owners believe that roaming and predation are natural behaviors that should be tolerated, and in a limited sense they are correct. As explained by International Cat Care, , because cats are obligate carnivores who must rely on animal protein, they have been naturally selected for effective hunting abilities. However, because small cats evolved as largely solitary hunters who never knew where their next meal might come from or how difficult it might be to capture, it made sense for them to kill whenever they had the opportunity. This means that their descendants, our domestic cats, are also hard-wired to hunt and kill regardless of whether they are hungry or not. A study in ScienceDirect that tracked owned cats suggests that as much as 70% of what they kill is not even consumed. So, keeping a house cat well fed is no guarantee that it won’t hunt and kill smaller creatures.
And even when they don’t kill, Marra and Santella (61-62) explain that the mere presence of cats in a landscape can have indirect, sublethal effects, for instance, by reducing breeding fecundity in birds who are frightened into spending less time on the nest and hunting for food for their chicks. Even animals that escape from cats often die from bacteria in their puncture wounds, as noted by Alonso Abugattas in his Capital Naturalist blog. Smithsonian Magazine adds that outdoor cats can also spread diseases to humans like rabies, plague, and a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii.
Moreover, it can be argued that the position of domesticated cats in the environment is anything but “natural.” Scientists like Loss and Marra consider house cats (and supported ferals) to be “subsidized predators.” Because people give them food, shelter, medical care, and other support, they have distinct advantages over native predators and can reduce the amount of prey available to them. Cats are generalists who can switch prey more easily than can some native predators. Alonso Abugattas points out that unlike native predators, cats have the leisure to stake out and ambush the same areas (like chipmunk trails or bird feeders) repeatedly. Game camera footage of a cat carrying a dead squirrel in Barcroft Park suggests the toll that free-roaming cats can take on public lands.
Game camera footage courtesy of Alonso Abugattas.
In a natural environment, the size of the predator population would be controlled by the amount of available prey. However, subsidized cat populations can readily exceed the size that a habitat can support without experiencing environmental degradation. As conservationist Paul Noelder puts it, letting cats outdoors “is like letting semis drive in the bike lane. It’s a killer[.]”
The debate over outdoor cats is sometimes framed as a concern for protecting biodiversity versus defending the needs and rights of cats. But there is also a third consideration: free-roaming cats can be vulnerable to many threats, as this poster suggests:
Webmd estimates that on average, indoor cats can live as much as three times longer than free-roaming cats. Owned cats can find the enrichment they need indoors if their owners stimulate the cat’s natural predatory behaviors. Cat Friendly Homesoffers useful guidelines on choosing toys that mimic a cat’s preferred prey and recommends allowing the cat to capture the toy at the end of the game to satisfy its hunting instincts. Bird videos, window perches, and food hidden in puzzle balls can provide mental stimulation for an indoor cat. The American Bird Conservancy’s “Cats Indoors” site lists safe outdoor access products for cats. These include cat harnesses and backpacks and enclosures like the “Catio” and cat-proof fencing like the Purrfect Fence that provide outdoor spaces where cats and wildlife can be safe.
Owned cats are not the sole driver of wildlife reduction, but they are one significant factor that can be controlled, starting with the recognition that cat predation is more of a human problem than a feline one. Revoking our cats’ roaming privileges can be a crucial step in protecting biodiversity in our natural world.
by Joan Haffey (ARMN), with input from Charlie Haffey (helpful brother)
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the programming coordinator for a senior services center near me asked if I would do some “Bird Zooms” for isolated seniors. Their clients are often locked down in their apartments or worse, in their room, with few, if any, external contacts. The coordinator knew that I was a master naturalist and interested in birds, and we thought watching birds through a window and trying to identify them might be an entertaining activity that one could do alone, especially with a good app like the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID.
The senior center had done an excellent job of orienting their clients to online conferencing and providing both tech and security support before and during various Zoom programs they offer. It also had a number of security features in place, such as only allowing the host to share materials on the screen. While using Zoom to walk through the most basic steps of the app was useful, there were still some challenges.
How could I make sure everyone could clearly see, via video conferencing, the basic steps in action on a smartphone app? And how could I simplify the demonstration so the host did not have to manage the meeting while cueing up relevant portions of excellent resources on Cornell’s website?
Enter my brother, Charlie, a retired science teacher who has made many an educational video in his day. I provided a script, and he made a “Quick Look” video:
It proved to be both easy to use and the highlight of the talk! We have both been surprised at the steady pace of people who view the video. We also decided to make it available to anyone who would like to use it for educational purposes. So, here are some suggestions for anyone who wants to pair this video with a talk about how best to use the app:
Where Are Some Places This Video Could Be Used?
Home or online school programs
Video conferencing with isolated individuals
Evaluations of this Bird Zoom for seniors show that one of the favorite parts of the talk was the cooperation with my brother. In that spirit, I asked him for a few ideas for successful video-conferenced presentations.
What are the best preparations for a presentation like this on an online conferencing platform?
It helps to have one person manage the conferencing needs while the other presents. It can be difficult to do both at once, especially monitoring for questions and security breaches.
Only have open on the computer the files to be shared during the presentation. This minimizes confusion or the potential for shares of information not meant for the audience.
An alternative to having files open on your desktop is to prepare a slideshow that includes all the information you need. Then you only have to open one file.
Do you have any guidance on clearly presenting information via video conferencing platforms?
Follow an outline with minimal points
Stick to these points
Keep the presentation short
Minimize visual and verbal information
Personalize the presentation as appropriate to connect the audience better with the presenter
We hope this video helps widen the worlds of people who really appreciate birds, both now and in the future!
Text by Kristin Bartschi; Logo collage by George Sutherland
I don’t enjoy being inside. Getting out in the open air and enjoying nature with my husband and a few friends brings me true joy, so adjusting to quarantine was challenging. Outside of walks around the neighborhood, I spent the first few weeks obsessively reading news stories, scrolling through Instagram, and watching a lot of Netflix and Disney+. But that started to get old. Lately, I’ve been trying to use this extra time to reconnect with my creative passions and pursue new learning opportunities.
My husband, George, and I have started exploring webinars and resources to learn more about our local environment. Recently, we attended a webinar on white-tailed deer in Northern Virginia. We learned about the increasing population of white-tailed deer in our community, the causes of the population boom, the impacts on local wildlife and plants, and solutions that different counties and cities are pursuing. It was a fascinating talk which brought to light how extreme population changes in one species can impact an entire ecosystem.
If you’re interested in learning more about our local and state environment, there are several excellent resources to explore. Here are a few to get you started!
High Five from Nature – Each of these webinars from the Virginia Master Naturalists (VMN) covers five topics related to Virginia flora, fauna, and ecosystems. Subjects include spring butterflies, stream quality, native shrubs, and much more.
VMN also offers a continuing education webinar series with classes ranging from marine debris to sea level rise to wilderness rescues. Last week, I watched a 2019 webinar from the VMN High Knob Chapter on maple syrup as a forest product (and learned some interesting facts about harvesting and processing maple syrup).
With summer just around the corner, check out Encore Learning’s recent webinar, Safely Enjoy the Outdoors Despite Mosquitoes and Ticks and learn how to identify, control, and protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks in an environmentally safe way (webinar begins at minute 5:20 in this recording).
The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia’s online programs include four classes on spring warblers, including insights on plumage, behavior, and vocalizations.
Plant NOVA Natives offers helpful guidance on using local natives to build habitats and provides landscaping solutions for native planting.
You can still participate in citizen science initiatives from home! Use iNaturalist to observe and document the plants and animals you see on a walk (or the birds in your backyard!). The DC City Nature Challenge site offers guidance on using iNaturalist effectively, any time of the year.
I’ve found that taking the time to learn about something like white-tailed deer or making maple syrup or composting, makes me forget about any stress or anxiety I might be feeling about what’s going on in the world right now. It’s a good reminder that although the current situation can feel overwhelming, the world still turns and there are still things to learn and explore within it.
I hope these resources give you not only a reprieve from the news stories we are inundated with every day, but a chance to learn something interesting about the world around us. Stay safe and be well!
Winter is here! And with the season comes snow, ice, and salt trucks on our roadways. Last month, Sarah Sivers from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) gave an update on the program to study winter salt use and how to reduce its unintended impacts and maintain public safety. This program, called the “Salt Management Strategy” (SaMS), was initiated following a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study that DEQ completed for the Accotink Creek watershed in July 2017.
The TMDL study identified a spike in chloride (salt) levels linked to winter deicing activities that adversely affected the water quality in the creek. Given that the excessive salt use was affecting other waterways in the region and not just Accotink Creek, SaMS was developed with focus on salt’s impacts for all of Northern Virginia.
The goal of SaMS is to develop a strategy that uses a stakeholder-driven process to reduce to acceptable levels the chloride loads identified in the Accotink Creek TMDL as well as the broader surrounding region, increase public awareness of the problem and long-term support to improve deicing/anti-icing practices, and foster collaboration among the various groups involved in winter deicing/anti-icing activities. The aim is to improve deicing practices to lessen the effects on the environment, infrastructure, and public health—all while continuing to protect public safety.
The SaMS project started in earnest in 2018. Since then, various leadership groups including a Stakeholder Advisory Committee, six workgroups comprised of SAC members, and a Steering Committee with representatives from the workgroups have met to address the following issues: both traditional and non-traditional best management practices, education and outreach, water quality monitoring and research, salt tracking and reporting, and government coordination. The various meetings will continue until a plan is developed for public comment, finalized by December 2020, and implemented afterwards.
Want to Learn/Do More?
Stay informed about progress in the program by visiting the SaMS webpage. There you can read existing SaMS newsletters and sign up to receive future ones.
Also, be “Winter Salt Smart” by:
Staying off the road during winter events, whenever possible.
Shoveling after a storm around your residence and
Applying salt ONLY when/where needed or using an alternative traction material like sand, wood ash, or native bird seed. Also remember that a little salt goes a long way.
Being patient! Warmer temperatures and the sun can help melt snow away fairly quickly.
Sweeping up excess salt or traction material and saving it to use after the next storm.
Sharing this information with neighbors and friends so they can reduce salt use, too.
On April 25, 2019, ARMN member, Bill Browning, was honored with the
2018 Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award for his volunteer
work for the parks in Arlington. This award was established to pay tribute to
lifelong parks volunteer Bill Thomas and to honor and encourage residents with
passionate dedication and support for the county’s dynamic programs, natural
resources, and public open spaces. Details regarding the award are on Arlington
County’s Environment webpage. Below, Bill recounts his and others’ efforts to change a
neglected park into a haven for birds, plants, and people. He realizes that he
could not have won this award alone.
Nearly six years ago, I was inspired to bring Powhatan
Springs Park back from abandonment. Powhatan
Springs is a small park next to a heavily-used Arlington County skate park and
county soccer field. The natural area contains a small stream and several
native trees and plant communities that had been neglected for decades and had become
overrun with invasive plants and trash.
Near the end of my graduation from the ARMN Basic Training course in the Fall of 2013, Jim Hurley (a Spring 2009 ARMN graduate) took me and my fellow class member, Matt Parker, to see the site. Jim thought that a little bit of effort by us could make a huge difference for the wildlife in the park. Simply killing the ivy and euonymus that was choking the trees could open up the site to many bird species, Jim thought. So, Matt and I began removing the invasive plants from the park during the early part of 2014.
We used Earth Day 2014 to recruit community members to help.
From 2014–2017, there were three or four invasive and trash removal events each
year, and as we saw progress, the momentum started to build.
Our ARMN classmates from Fall 2013 also joined in. Alison Sheahan dove into the thickets of
multiflora rose and tackled getting them under control. More recently, Mary
Martha Churchman and Marian Flynn have made their own contributions in fighting
invasives on a regular basis. As Matt had to deal with other commitments, I was
fortunate enough to recruit other Master Naturalists to help. Among them were
Mary Frase (from the neighboring Fairfax Master Naturalist chapter), who has
become a de facto co-leader in the park. Mary has been instrumental in helping
volunteers distinguish invasives from native plants. When she’s not been
around, Beth Kiser (Spring 2010) and Joanne Hutton (Fall 2009) weigh in by
examining photos of plants that I send to them.
The park has also benefitted from other ARMN members regarding
the citizen science aspect of ARMN’s mission. Glenn Tobin (Fall 2016) used Powhatan
Springs to start building GIS databases of the parks where ARMN members work.
He, Emily Ferguson (Fall 2010), and I completed a tree inventory for the park,
which will help with monitoring and planning for ongoing rehabilitation
efforts. Colt Gregory (Fall 2017) has started conducting bird surveys in the
park. Just this spring, he has identified 28 different bird species in the
park; and David Howell (Spring 2018) recently captured a pretty cool photo of
one of them.
Louis Harrell (Spring 2015) and Phil Klingelhofer (Fall
2014) have helped put Powhatan Springs on the City Nature Challenge map. There
have been more than a dozen ARMN members who have participated in CNC in
Powhatan Springs over the last couple years.
Arlington County officials have also supported ARMN’s
efforts. Natural Resource Technician Scott Graham (Fall 2014) and Natural
Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas have provided native plants from Arlington’s
nursery. Scott also applied herbicide to bring the Japanese stilt grass under
control, and he has helped install cages to protect them from deer browse.
Natural Resources Specialist Sarah Archer (Fall 2013) helped
with the first Earth Day clean-up and has arranged for commercial support for
invasives control. Park Manager Lyndell Core (Spring 2014) and his team have
been instrumental in hauling away our trash and supporting a major planting
that will happen this fall. A neighbor, Sandra Spear, is donating about 200
native plants for installation in the park, which she will purchase from Earth Sangha from a list provided by Matt
Bright (Fall 2015).
There are a few lessons that I
have taken from the work in Powhatan Springs:
First, I have realized the power of my persistence and calm
I began working in the Powhatan Springs park in January
2014. We started slow and have built up steam over the last couple years. As of
now, people can reliably assume we’ll be having about one activity per month
Also, I’m a reasonably nice guy to work
with. [Editor’s note: “He is!”]
Most of the 70+ volunteers I’ve come in contact with feel
good (I believe) about what they accomplished and what I asked them to do.
I make it a point to read the volunteers’ faces, recognize
the difficulty of some of the work, and steer them towards something that
appears doable and that will give the volunteers a sense of accomplishment. I
take pride in having a wide range of groups (Boulevard Manor neighborhood
residents (thanks to Josh Handler), skateboarders from the skatepark, 4H groups
(thanks to Liz Allan (Fall 2016) and Elizabeth Gearin (Fall 2009)), and scout
troops (thanks to Fran O’Reilly and Jack Person (Spring 2017), all contributing
to the park’s renewal.
Finally, on a personal note, I’d like to say that I started this
project with modest objectives to open Powhatan Springs up for the birds. I do
not live near the park and I did not think it would be a long-term venture. But
I wanted a project to sink my teeth into after I graduated from ARMN. It has
become much more than that for me. I now realize the power of creating habitat,
no matter how small it might be. Thanks to a diverse group of volunteers, this
park is now becoming a real natural area. It has been very gratifying to watch this
park improve in habitat value. Last fall we saw a Barred Owl hunting in the
park which is just another reassuring sign that the park is recovering its
value as a natural habitat. Also, during the award presentation ceremony, I appreciated
when ARMN President Marion Jordan congratulatd me and all the other volunteers
for our work at Powhatan Park: “We are so fortunate to have these parks in our
urban areas and the restoration work at Powhatan shows that even a small area
can be restored as an important part of our natural resources. Congratulations to Bill and to all who contributed
to this important work at Powhatan Springs.”
Text and photos by Gigi Charters,
unless otherwise noted
Last month, I had the opportunity to listen to USGS Wildlife
Researcher, Sam Droege, and Arlington County Parks and Recreation Natural
Resource Manager, Alonso Abugattas, in the exciting event, “Morph Your Yard
into a Bee Grocery Store—Not a Bee Fast Food Joint! Building Homes and Habitat
for Native Bees and Pollinators,” sponsored by ARMN and the Master Gardeners of
Sam and Alonso discussed the significance of wild bee
populations and two important ways that we can help our local bees thrive:
provide pollen sources and nesting structures.
To begin, Sam briefed the audience about the apparent
over-reliance on honey bee populations, and how we may be driving out another
critical lifeline in the event of ecosystem collapse––the overlooked, super
pollinating, native bees.
“Wild bees are not like honey bees,” Sam emphasized. In
fact, I learned that there are around 4,000 species of native bees in North
America alone, and they have been playing a critical role in sustaining
ecosystems and natural resources for millions of years. The majority are
solitary, can be as small as a grain of rice, and do not sting people (stingers
cannot break through our skin).
Moreover, unlike the honey bee, which was actually imported
by colonists, native bees provide us with the essential pollinating services we
need for native plants, in addition to commercial crops. Sam explained that the
big issue is that land-use changes and habitat loss are diminishing wild plant
populations, which conversely diminish wild bee populations, which means: no
bees, no plants, no species who depend on those plants, and eventually,
So how can we fix this?
Step 1: Provide pollen
by planting a garden of native wildflowers!
Sam says “re-wild” your land by moving away from
lawn/corporate kinds of landscapes and start bringing back naturalized types of
landscapes. The big picture is about saving plant and bee diversity, so it’s
important to plant a variety of native species. This is especially important
since some native bees are specialists, meaning they are dependent on one—and
only one—type of flower. Some bees can only reproduce if they have specific
pollen from the native plants they evolved with.
Step 2: Provide Nesting Structures!
Alonso continued the discussion by stressing the importance of another crucial native bee resource in need of recovery––bee nesting structures.
About 70% of all bee species live in burrows in the ground,
so it’s important to create ideal ground space, such as loose soils that are
free of vegetation and exposed to the sun.
The remaining bee species live above ground, in pre-existing
cavities like old beetle holes, or hollow empty stems of reeds or grasses.
Alonso added that “this is one more reason to leave garden plants standing
through the winter, as many are housing insects in various parts of their life
cycle, including pupating or adult overwintering bees.”
He noted that in addition to buying select bee houses, people
can also make their own structures at home. While many species will make use of
them, Mason bees (Osmia sp. peaceful,
dark, solitary bees) in particular, are likely their most common tenants, and
“luckily what usually works for them, generally works for other species,” said
He gave the example: “One simple way is to cut some bamboo,
Phragmites (a good use for both these invasives), elderberry, and/or sumac at
their nodes, hollow them out all the way to the node so one side is still
sealed, and bundle them together (with the open ends facing one direction) for
the bees to discover. Place them where they will get some sun in the morning
and some shelter from the rain.”
To learn more about native bees, how to create your garden
of bee-friendly plants, and how to build your bee homes, check out Alonso’s blog
piece, which includes information about nesting structures, best ways to
encourage and protect bees, and a list of the best plants for specialist bees. Following
these guides will help restore local biodiversity!
Also, to see more
incredible photos of these bees, visit Sam’s webpage with photos from the USGS Bee Inventory and
Monitoring Lab, and follow the
Instagram/Tumblr accounts @USGBIML.
So, let’s kick off spring with an abundance of native
flowers and bee homes! Remember, every resource area, whether it’s a patch in
the ground, or an epic garden, can have huge impacts on sustaining bee
populations during these urgent times. We just need your help to provide them
with the assets to make that comeback!
With longer daylight hours, warming soils, and
the return of bird, bees, and butterflies, get ready to roll up your sleeves
and install some native plants. Our local animals depend on them, AND they
provide beautiful enhancements to our landscapes. So, please consider a few—or
several native plants to brighten your yard, patio or deck. The native wildlife
will appreciate it!
Because they’re “from here,” natives are adapted to our
climate and soil conditions. They are often the only or most healthful source
of nectar, pollen, seeds, and leaves for local butterflies, insects, birds, and
other animals. Other benefits of native plants are that they:
do not require fertilizers and few if any pesticides,
need less water than lawns, and help prevent erosion,
help reduce air pollution,
provide shelter and food for wildlife,
promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage, and
are beautiful and increase landscape values!
Choose the Right Natives for Your Yard or Pots?
It’s important to install the right plants for your
conditions (wet, dry, shade, sun, slope, bog, soil type, etc.). How do you know
what’s right for you? One of the best sources is the Plant Nova Natives website: http://www.plantnovanatives.org/,
with easy-to-follow tips, lots of photos, and additional links to learn what
will work for your situation.
You Buy Natives?
Most commercial nurseries do not carry many native plants.
If you have a favorite place that has a weak selection, tell them to please
stock more. But there is a wonderful solution in the coming weeks: visit the
increasing number of native plant sales in the area (many of which provide
food, entertainment, and fun for kids, too). Below is information on several in
Northern Virginia. Happy shopping and planting!
Spring Native Plant Sales
NOVA Soil & Water Conservation District, Native Seedling Sale
Order online till 04/2/19 or till supply runs out.
Pick up plants either Friday, April 5th, 9am to 4pm, or Saturday, April 6th, 9am to noon at Sleepy Hollow Bath & Racquet Club, 3516 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Falls Church, VA 22044.
Riverbend Park Outdoor Classroom/Picnic Shelter on Potomac Hills Street between Jeffery Road and the Visitors’ Center.
Pre-order through March 16. Pick up pre-ordered plants Friday, May 3 at the Riverbend Park Educational Pavilion on Potomac Hills Street in Great Falls. If plants do not emerge and look healthy by this date, we will refund your payment or replace with a similarly-priced item.