Solitary Bees

Mason Bees in their cocoons

I learned relatively recently that there are about 4000 species of bees that are native to North America, and honey bees are not one of them!

Most of our bees are solitary, meaning that each bee is responsible for laying her own eggs, and tending her own nest. That means that there is no queen to defend, and therefore no incentive to sting.

Solitary bees don’t make honey, but they are particularly good at pollination. So there’s that trade-off.

Mason bees hatch in the spring. They feed on the nectar of the blossoms that are flowering then, for example the redbud trees that are found here in Virginia. And, incidentally they are pollinating as they go – giving us tree fruits, like cherries and apples.

They lay their eggs, future females first, then males, in the hollow tubes formed by the dried stems of last years plants. The bee lays an egg, places a nutritious pollen loaf next to it, and the seals it up with mud. Building with mud gives them the name “mason” bees. Then she lays another egg, includes some pollen, and seals it in, continuing along the length of the tube.

Fueled by the warmth of summer, the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the picnic their mother left for them, and when they are big enough, they make their cocoons, right there inside the tube.

Then, when the weather gets cooler – they hibernate for the winter. Warm spring weather tells them it is time to hatch. Males emerge first, so they’re ready to greet the females as they appear.

And then off they go to begin feeding and pollinating.

For more information about these fascinating creatures, visit the Crown Bees website.

And if you think this is just the coolest thing ever, then let us know in the comments section.

Native Plant Nurseries

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)

Before we get to the nurseries, I have just found out about how to get free tree seedlings. Here’s what to do:

 ReLeaf Fall 2019   – Seedlings Available
The plants will be dug up mid-October to November. All requests distributed in the order received. They are all bare root saplings.

  • Arrowwood Viburnum  
  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) to replace the invasive buddleia bush 
  • River Birch (Betula nigra) fairly safe from white-tailed deer
  • Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) fairly safe from white-tailed deer
  • Bald Cypress
  • Beech (fagus)
  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) 
  • Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) 
  • Silky Dogwood(Cornus amomum)  
  • Washington Hawthrorn
  • Hazelnut (corylus)
  • Hornbeam
  • Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) fairly safe from white-tailed deer
  • Oak: (quercus) Black, Chestnut, Northern Red, Pin, Southern Red, White
  • Willow
  • Pawpaw  
  • Persimmon
  • Loblolly Pine
  • American Plum (Prunus americana)
  • Redbud
  • Sycamore
  • Winterberry Holly  

To place an order contact and state the species and quantity requested. You will receive an email when your order is ready. Pick up is at Potomac Vegetable Farms, which is near the intersection of Beaulah Rd and Route 7. Fairfax Re-leaf has a nursery there.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program: Most nurseries sell plants that are native to northern Virginia as well as those that are not. In our area there are two nurseries that specialize in native plants.

One of these nurseries is called Nature by Design. This is what they say about themselves:

We offer an outstanding range of native trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals, including many unavailable elsewhere in the Washington area. 
Our innovative approach to landscape design will:

  • Reduce maintenance
  • Protect our precious Chesapeake Bay watershed
  • Replace vanishing wildlife habitat
  • Transform your yard into a sanctuary of breathtaking beauty

Their address is: 300 Calvert Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301. And here is a link to their website:

The other local nursery is called Watermark Woods. Their address is: 16764 Hamilton Station Rd, Hamilton, VA 20158. Phone 540-441-7443. Here is a link to their website:

If you know of any other nurseries that specialize in native plants, please let us know in the comments.

Where do butterflies go in winter?

Monarch butterflies cover every inch of a tree in Sierra Chincua.

Each different butterfly species has its own strategy for dealing with the cold. Monarchs survive the winter by migrating.

Monarch butterflies spend the winter in Mexico. In the course of a year, including a few generations, monarchs travel between Mexico and Canada and back. (And I thought I had a long commute!) To learn more about this migration, click here

Some butterflies remain in egg form for the duration of winter. For example, the red-banded hairstreaks lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves. That is convenient, because the first food this newly-hatched caterpillar needs, is oak leaves! Here is a picture of an adult:

Red-banded hairstreak

Some species’ eggs have already hatched by the time the weather gets cold. These caterpillars snuggle down under a layer of fallen leaves and wait it out. Here’s a picture of wooly bear caterpillar in its winter coat:

Wooly bear caterpillar ready for winter

If a caterpillar has already formed its cocoon, it can spend the winter in that form. So as to blend right in, some species disguise themselves as dry leaves, like this swallowtail chrysalis.

Swallowtail chrysalis

That is a bit of a risky strategy because it might get gathered up with the rest of the fall leaves and shredded.

Who knew there was so much life in our dead leaves? To protect these beneficial creatures, we might consider clearing some of the leaves on our properties, but not all. For example, turf grass doesn’t support much butterfly life, so clearing our lawns would probably disturb overwintering butterflies the least. Allowing the leaves to remain around those flowering plants that attracted butterflies would probably help the most.

The Meditation Garden starting to be covered by fallen leaves

For more information, follow this link to read about the xerces society “Leave the Leaves” suggestions.

If you see any of these creatures in your yard, let us know in the comments section. And share photos to show what these clever animals were doing.

Adopt a Native Plant

Lyre leaf salvia (Salvia lyratat) ready to go

Preserve Virginia’s Heritage

One of the wonderful things about plants is that they multiply themselves. A few plants together will sometimes grow into a dense mass. When that happens, it is often helpful to thin out the plants, so that each has enough light and space to grow.

What, then, do we do with the plants we don’t need? Why, give them away of course!

People with extra Northern Virginia native plants are planning to bring them to church on Sunday September 29. They will have them on a table outside the main door of the church – right next to the new Meditation Garden. And, if you feel inclined to experiment with a new kind of plant – then take one home, and put it in the ground.

If you have plants to share, then please bring them to church with on that day. However, they do need to be native to Northern Virginia. If you’re not sure then go to Plant NoVa Natives, and check their guide.

It would help if you would let us know in the comments section if you are planning to bring plants. But if you prefer, you can still surprise us!

Bonus: Learn how to Create a Butterfly Garden in Five Easy Steps here

September Events

Mist Flower (Conoclinium coeleotinim)

Native Plant Festival and Sale

  • Saturday September 7 9am to 2pm
  • Eleanor C. Lawrence at Cabell’s Mill
  • Click here for more information

Garden Wisdom – Fall Speaker Event

  • Native Plants for Every Yard
  • Soil: The World Beneath our Feet
  • Tuesday September 17 at 7:30pm
  • Vienna Town Hall Council Chambers
  • For more information visit Native Vienna on facebook

Vienna’s Fall Native Plant Sale

  • Hill House Nursery
  • Compost tea and Vienna honey
  • Sharpen-This: Tool & knife sharpening
  • Kids’ table
  • Used plant pots – bring some or take some
  • Saturday September 21 9am to 12pm
  • Vienna Community Center
  • For more information click here

Fall Open House and Native Plant Sale

Native Shrub Sale

  • Walker Nature Center
  • Order by September 24
  • Click here for the order form

Native Vienna Open Gardens

  • Open native garden tours offered by your neighbors
  • Saturday September 28 2 to 5pm
  • Visit Native Vienna on facebook, click here

Adopt a Native Plant

  • Native plant give-away
  • Church of the Holy Comforter
  • Sunday September 29, during the Ministry Fair
  • For more information, read this blog next week!

Tell us about your experience at any of these events in the comments section.

Creating a Butterfly Garden

Variegated Fritillary Butterfly

Does anyone remember a book called The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle? The caterpillar was so hungry it ate a different kind of fruit every day. Then it eventually spun a cocoon and, on the last page, emerged as a butterfly. Hooray!

Well, I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but that book is not scientifically accurate. I know, it came as a surprise to me too. The fascinating thing about caterpillars is that each kind can only eat the leaves of a very few plants.

Sometimes, in fact, of only one kind of plant. They are not just being picky eaters – they really cannot get nourishment from any other plant. So each caterpillar has a particular host plant, which it can eat.

One thing that the book did get right is that if you want butterflies, you have to start with caterpillars. And if you want caterpillars, then you have to grow the kinds of plants they can eat.

You would think, then, that each butterfly would be associated with a particular plant. That would be kind of neat and tidy, wouldn’t it? But no, life is far more complicated than that.

Caterpillars, of course, come from eggs. The eggs have to be laid on or near the leaves of the host plant. But the eggs are laid by an adult butterfly, who has to be eating to stay alive. And who is to say that the host plant will be in flower at this time, or even that the host plant has flowers that make suitable food for butterflies? And even if a flower has suitable food, it has be the right shape – a butterfly cannot get nectar from a tubular flower like a honeysuckle. The butterfly would feel like a lady in a crinoline dress, just unable to get her wings through the narrow doorway.

So, armed with these fascinating facts, how does one set about making a butterfly garden?

Well, either you can start from the butterfly end, and ask if I want this kind of butterfly, what plants does it need? Or you can start from the plant end, and say what kind of butterfly will this sort of plant attract and support?

Personally, I go for choosing the plants first, because that’s more motivating. If you set your heart on a particular butterfly, and plant to attract it, it will be disappointing if that butterfly does not show up. Whereas if you put in plants that you like, you can enjoy them anyway. And if, surprise! a butterfly shows up, well, isn’t that wonderful.

I saw a butterfly in the Meditation Garden today. It was orange, but it moved too fast for me to see what it was. Tell us in the comments section if you have seen a butterfly on church property.

The Garden is Growing

New plants in the Meditation Garden

One of the results of stepping out into the unknown is that we learn things. When we were planning the garden, we determined that the space could be described as: Dry shade. However, as the summer progresses, we have discovered that there is much more sun than we realized.

The plants we have just added are all sun tolerant. Reading from front to back in the picture above, they are: mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum); purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea); tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata) and great blue lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica).

The flower nearest the back of this picture is a turtlehead (Chelone obliqua). It is not new, but I thought I would mention it, especially since it is starting to flower.

What sun-loving plants do you have in your yard? Tell us about them in the comments.

Native Plants at Green Spring Gardens

Green Spring Garden FCPA

Green Spring Gardens is a great local resource for us. It is situated not far from Vienna, at 4603 Green Spring Rd Alexandria, VA 22312

The Garden Gate Plant Shop specializes in plants that do well in local growing conditions. It offers many plants featured in Green Spring’s demonstration gardens. Shop from April until early fall. The native plants are labeled with a red Northern Virginia Native sticker.

Virginia Native Plant Society (First Wednesday of the month April through October.) Native plants sold in the VNPS propagation beds at Green Spring Gardens Park, behind the horticulture center, 10 am to 1 pm.

Fall Garden Day and Plant Sale (to be held on September 21, 2019 from 9am to 3pm) Fall is a great time to plant, and on Fall Garden Day Green Spring Gardens hosts numerous local plant and garden craft vendors to fulfill your gardening needs. A silent auction, a bake sale, live music, food and a kids’ table add to the festivities. Come enjoy and support one of Virginia’s most innovative public gardens. FREE admission. Sponsored by the Friends of Green Spring.

Vendors include Nature by Design and Watermark Woods, both dedicated to the propagation of native plants.

Native Plants for Butterflies (This class is offered at Green Spring on Saturday September 7 from 10 – 11:30am) Planting a native plant garden is beautiful and beneficial to butterflies. Horticulturalist Brenda Skarphol leads you through a butterfly safari in the gardens and highlights native plants that are terrific for the home garden and benefit butterflies as host plants or nectar sources. Register through Parktakes.

Have you been to Green Spring Gardens? Have you attended a class or purchased plants? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

Finding Suitable Plants

Red Native Plant Label

When once we had decided which plants we wanted to use, we had to figure out where to go to get them.

The easiest way is to go to our local nurseries. As more people are coming to realize the value of native plants, nurseries are beginning to have these plants identified. Look for the red stickers, pictured above.

And here is a close up:

This picture was taken at de Paul’s nursery in Vienna

Besides de Paul’s Urban Farm there are many other places with these stickers.

  • Betty’s Azalea Ranch
  • Burke Garden and Nursery Center
  • Garden Gate Plant Shop at Greensprings Garden
  • Greenstreet Gardens
  • Meadow Farms Nurseries​​​
  • Merrifield Garden Center
  • Silverbrook Nursery and Landscaping
  • ​Stadler Nurseries

For more information on all these nurseries, visit

Have you noticed these stickers on any of the nurseries you visit? In the comments section, tell us where you saw them.

From Design to Details

Having a design in place certainly helped. We planned to have tall plants at the back, sun-loving plants in open spaces and so forth. Now we had to decide which out of all the abundance of plant types, we should choose.

We decided that since we live in Northern Virginia, it made sense for us to use plants that grow naturally in Northern Virginia. They should be adapted to the soil and the climate, and should thrive in the growing conditions just here.

We found the booklet pictured above, helpfully called Native Plants for Northern Virginia. How convenient! In it we found descriptions of plants along with the growing conditions that they needed.

That was a step in the right direction, but we still felt overwhelmed. We kept paging through the book until we found a chapter called: The Right Plants in the Right Place.

This was presented under these headings:

  • Landscaping in Small Places
  • Landscaping in Dry Shade
  • Landscaping in Street Side Places
  • Landscaping in Wet Places

We decided that the space we had to work with could be described as Dry Shade. And there we had it: a short list of plants from which to choose.

What challenges in making plant choices have you faced? Tell us about them in the comments.