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Ashley Atkinson
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Help Fairfax County’s Flora and Fauna Thrive


Native plants

Learn how native plants support our local ecosystem.

By Alana Quarles, Assistant Branch Manager, Centreville Regional Library

As of 2020, 1,171,848 people called Fairfax County home — but it’s not just our home. It’s home to plant and animal species that coexist and cohabitate with each other and with us. With spring in bloom, it’s the perfect time to explore the importance of native plants in our landscaping and gardens. We chatted with Margaret Fisher, member and volunteer organizer of Plant NOVA Natives, to learn more about how Fairfax County residents can grow their gardens and design their landscapes to reverse the decline of native plants and wildlife in Northern Virginia. Read on for her answers to our questions!

Interview With Margaret Fisher of Plant NOVA Natives

Can you tell us about Plant NOVA Natives?

Plant NOVA Natives is the joint marketing campaign of a grand coalition of non-profit, governmental, and private groups, all working to reverse the decline of native plants and wildlife in Northern Virginia. Our strategy is to encourage residents as well as public and commercial entities to install native plants as the first step toward creating wildlife habitat and functioning ecosystems on their own properties. Our Native Plants for Northern Virginia guide lists more than 270 garden-worthy native plants that are available for sale in Northern Virginia. Many can be found at conventional nurseries (look for the red stickers placed on native plants by our volunteers), and the rest are stocked at our natives-only garden centers.

Why should I pledge to grow native plants?

Native plants form the primary structure of the living landscape and provide food and shelter for native animal species. Native plants have co-evolved with native animals and have formed complex and interdependent relationships. Many species of Virginia’s wildlife, including migratory songbirds, rely exclusively upon native flora to provide food and cover. Many butterflies and other animals such as the snowberry clearwing moth (featured in the Plant NOVA Natives logo) require specific plants for their survival. Sadly, all these species are in sharp decline. We can turn that around and create a Northern Virginia where humans share their properties with the rest of the living world.

How does planting native plants benefit the NOVA community?

Planting native plants allows each of us to repair the damage that development has done to our local ecosystem. This is one area in our lives where each of us can have an immediate positive benefit.

What is the Plant NOVA Trees campaign? How can people contribute?

Plant NOVA Trees is our five-year initiative to promote the planting and preservation of native trees. We hope everyone will plant native trees and shrubs wherever they have room on their properties, and we have provided many resources to make this easy for people. We also hope people will take steps to save the many trees in our communities which are being smothered by non-native invasive vines. Take care of all your mature trees; they are a precious resource that are more necessary than ever to cool our neighborhoods!

Why are native plants important?

It boils down to the simple fact that most plant-eating insects can only eat the plants with which they evolved. Take away those plants and replace them with non-native plants such as turf grass (which comes from Europe) or shrubs from Asia, and you have taken away the food source of those insects and thus of the birds, frogs and numerous other beings that eat those insects. What is habitat gardening? Habitat gardening transforms a purely aesthetic exercise into a calling. When you garden with the inhabitants in mind, it becomes obvious that you will want to add native plants (preferably including all the layers from the tree canopy to the ground), shrink the lawn area, remove invasive plants, eliminate insecticides, minimize other chemicals, take care of the soil, and leave the leaves and stalks over the winter.

What are some of the easiest sunshine-loving plants to grow in NOVA?

For a butterfly garden, the numerous easy plants include Summer Phlox, Butterfly Weed and Joe Pye Weed, just to name a few. For landscaping, popular native shrubs include Winterberry, Virginia Sweetspire and Ninebark; ornamental grasses include Little Bluestem, Pink Muhly Grass and Switchgrass.

What are some of the easiest plants to grow in the shade in NOVA?

Shrubs and trees are always easiest. Native ferns are simple and give a cool look. Numerous native species make great groundcovers, and several species of perennials can bring color to the shade garden.

When is the best time to plant?

Fall. Spring is fine, too, as long as you are prepared to water well throughout the summer.

What advice would you give to someone who is completely new to planting and growing?

Start small (or hire a native plant landscaper). If you only have the time or energy to plant one plant, make it a native tree. Trees are the plant powerhouse of the ecosystem.

What should you not do?

It would be very rude to invite butterflies to your yard only to kill them with insecticides! Companies that spray yards for mosquitoes use insecticides that kill all insects, not just mosquitoes. And please don't plant invasive non-native plants.

Have you formed new friendships in your community thanks to Plant NOVA Natives?

Many, many. It has been tremendous fun to work with the hundreds and hundreds of people who generously contribute their time and expertise to this cause.

What is your favorite native plant?

It's impossible to pick, as there are so many great ones! You can check our Quick Start Guide.

What is the planting pledge?

"I pledge to plant NOVA natives! Bonus pledge: I promise to ask other people to plant native plants as well!" You can take the pledge on our website and make a difference by supporting our native landscape.

Get Involved!

Plant NOVA Natives partners with numerous organizations and campaigns, including the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, Master Gardeners of Fairfax County, Nature by Design, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, Sierra Club – Great Falls, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and the Virginia Native Plant Society.

Visit for more information about native plants and their role in our community’s future.

Questions or comments? Are you interested in being a campaign partner? Contact Plant NOVA Natives at

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