Tag Archive for: wildlife

Native Trees to Plant this Fall

Fall is here, and now is the best time of year to plant trees. This year, we are celebrating our native trees, which not only offer beautiful fall foliage, but also provide a variety of fruits and seeds at this time of year that are an excellent source of nutrition for our local birds and wildlife. If you are interested in supporting our environment, planting a native tree is a great way to do so.

Here are some of our favorites that you can plant to support your local wildlife and ecology.


Quercus alba (White Oak), Q. bicolor (Swamp White Oak), Q. coccinea (Scarlet Oak), Q. macrocarpa (Bur Oak), Q. palustris (Pin Oak), Q. phellos (Willow Oak), Q. rubra (Northern Red Oak)

These natives are a staple of our local environment, with a massive canopy and root system, they produce a lot of oxygen and sequester a lot of carbon. Oaks support over 500 species of moths and butterflies, in addition to the mammals and birds that eat buds, pollen, acorns, and insects that live in the tree. With many types of oaks available, there is an oak to fit any environment, no matter your local conditions.

Blackgum Fall Foliage


Nyssa sylvatica

These durable trees can flourish in tough environments. We have one growing in the back parking lot at our Fair Oaks location that has thrived even in the heavily trafficked area where it is planted. While we can appreciate the attractive fall foliage, the birds and insects will flock to the tree for its flowers and later, its fruits.

Eastern Red Cedar

Juniperus virginiana

These drought-tolerant evergreens serve as a wonderful resource for birds, providing food and winter shelter to cedar waxwings and a wide variety of other local birds. What we commonly refer to as juniper berries are actually small female cones. Male trees develop a gold tint as their cones form at the ends of the tree branches. Many of our local wildlife species winter in stands of eastern red cedars in our region. Ornamentally, these make excellent screening plants. Shrub form and columnar forms are available in cultivated forms.

River Birch

Betula nigra

These relatively fast-growing trees can thrive in poor soils, wet soils and a variety of and even dry or compact soils. We know them best for their signature exfoliating bark. When in bloom, these trees attract a wide variety of insects and birds to feed before the leaves develop. Their fall foliage is yellow. Look for them locally in Great Falls Park.


Amelanchier laevis

This small tree, also known as the Juneberry, is a vital species that provides an early source for nectar for bees when the weather is still warming up. The fruits arrive in June, and taste like blueberries – if you can get them before the birds do. Birds will flock to the fruits. In the fall, we can enjoy the bright foliage.


Acer rubrum (Red Maple) and Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple)

Maples are well known for their beautiful fall color, but they also produce blooms which are highly important for local wildlife in the spring. Red maples produce red flowers, and sugar maple flowers come in a yellow color. Once the flowers are done, local wildlife will come for the samaras, which are high protein, high fat seeds.

Sweetbay Magnolia, Tree, Native

Sweetbay Magnolia

Magnolia virginiana

This native is a great choice if you are dealing with poor quality soil or drainage issues. You will find them locally along woodland creek banks. Fragrant white blooms attract pollinators, and their red seeds attract wildlife as well. Since these plants are semi-evergreen, in a normal or mild winter they will retain 60-70% of their foliage, so you can use them as a native screening plant if you want something in the 10-15 ft. range that needs to handle poor soils.

Oh Deer! Strategies for Deer Management

Roger Zinn, Merrifield Plant Specialist

In late winter and early spring, deer will feed on plants they normally avoid out of desperation. They will browse evergreens, tender young buds of trees and shrubs, and perennials as they emerge. Be aware that deer are habitual feeders and will return to the same area each day to feed. Get out and look at your garden areas to see if deer are feeding, and if you notice even minor damage, it’s the time to act.

Identifying Deer Damage and Presence in the Garden

Antler Rubbing Damage

Deer Repellants

You want to apply repellants before damage occurs. During the cold months, take advantage of warm days for spraying. Be sure to store your repellents in an area that does not freeze, so you’re at the ready when temperatures are warm enough. Reapply repellants after heavy rains or snow.

When using repellents, alternate brands for best results. You will need to use them throughout the growing season. Granular repellants work great for protecting low growing plants, emerging perennials and bulbs. We recommend Milorganite and blood meal as affordable organic granular repellent fertilizers that come in larger sizes. Just be aware that dried blood meal may attract predators to your garden.

Select photos to visit the original website where they were posted. Fencing ideas via hometalk.com, ajthomas.net, Green Coast Carpentry, fotsos.com, and dirtcheapfencing.com.

Netting and Fencing

Drape deer netting over plants or trees and secure it to the ground with sod staples or stakes. Make sure to use flagging material when you place it so that deer can see the netting and avoid becoming entangled in it. You will need to check the netting regularly for damage.

If possible, fence off areas where deer enter you garden for added protection.  A 6 ft. stockade style fence is the best protection against deer, since they will not jump over fences they cannot see through. An 8 ft. wire fence is another good options, since deer will not jump that high even if they can see through the fence.

If you don’t want to put up a permanent fence, consider growing a hedge or planting masses of fragrant plants such as blue beard, sage, illicium or butterfly bush around the plants deer like to eat. You will need a temporary fence while your hedge or fragrant foliage plants grow in, but after that the plants will deter the deer from entering the area just as a fence would.

Deer Resistant Perennials and Shrubs

There are plenty of plants that deer avoid, but in particular they dislike very fragrant plants. In addition to using butterfly bush, bluebeard and sage as hedges, you can also plant masses of aromatic shrubs and perennials around desirable plants to deter feeding. Catmint, alliums, lavender, mint, sage and thyme are perennials that have a good reputation for deterring deer.

If you are looking for other plants that deer will not eat, consider the qualities that deer do not like to eat. Over time, plants have evolved characteristics such as fuzzy or hairy leaves, thorns, toxins or leathery foliage that make them an unappetizing choice for food. Consider the following plants (many of which are native!). These are far from all of the deer resistant options available, but are a great place to start:

Kodiak Orange Diervilla, Shrub

Diervilla Kodiak Orange

A native shrub that works beautifully as a non-invasive substitute for burning bush. This plant produces yellow flowers continuously through the summer, and features red-orange new growth. Fall color is a vibrant red-orange as well. This plant can be grown in sun or shade.


This evergreen shrub serves as a good substitute for rhododendron in a garden visited by deer and is a great choice for shady areas. It can be used as a screening plant as well. The flowers are insignificant, but new leaves form on bright pink stems.

Itea virginica (Virginia Sweetspire)

Also a native, the Virginia Sweetspire features fragrant white flowers in early summer and is a very adaptable plant that can handle sun, shade and wet soil. It has beautiful red fall color.

Cornus sanguinea (Bloodtwig Dogwood)

With white flowers in the spring and vibrant orange and yellow stems in winter this plant is a showstopper and great for growing in masses. This shrub is shade tolerant.

Cephalanthus occidentalis (Button Bush)

This native, moderately deer resistant shrub produces globes of fragrant white flowers in the spring that are wonderful for attracting pollinators. It is tolerant of wet soil, which is a plus if your garden has issues with drainage. Plant it in a spot that has full sun to part shade.

Yucca rostrata (Yucca)

An evergreen shrub with unique spiky foliage that is definitely not appetizing to deer. Use this plant in full sun for a drought tolerant option. It produces white flowers in the summer. 

Planning Ahead

Now is a great time to develop a strategy for dealing with deer in the future. With a wide variety of options available, anyone can discourage unwelcome deer from feasting on their landscapes. If you need assistance setting up your garden to be safe from deer, please contact us at service@mgcmail.com or visit our store to speak with our plant specialists.

Hellebore with bees, Perennial

Perennial Winter Wanderings

As many of us have experienced these past few weeks with the temperatures bouncing back and forth between 10 and 60 degrees, winter weather is “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”  Sometimes frigid temperatures keep us indoors, and sometimes we are fortunate to have almost tropical days in the midst of the frigid ones. I love to wonder around my garden and the garden center on these warm 60-degree days to see what is going on among the plants. While the winter landscape may seem to be fast asleep, there are actually many things to see and enjoy in the forms of wildlife, blooms, bark, and foliage.


Hellebore with bees, Perennial


My most recent walk around the garden center revealed the Christmas Rose’s (Hellebore niger ‘Jacob’) white blossoms in full bloom. The weather has been so warm that the honey bees were even out foraging upon them! This compact perennial is shade loving, evergreen, winter blooming and a warm-spell pollinator savior. There are numerous types of hellebore which bloom later in the winter through early spring, but this variety has been blooming now for several weeks.



Another sight to behold right now is the Paperbush (Edgeworthia) shrub. This plant features beautiful, spotty bark covered with dangling umbrella looking yellowish blossoms at the tips. I have one strategically placed under a window on the east side of my house, so that when those warm days of winter show up, I can open the window and let its beautiful fragrance float in. Since it’s a zone 7 shrub, this placement by the house also helps to protect it during long, severe cold snaps.

Buds and Foliage

Dwarf Mondo

Planted under my Paperbush is the daintiest of evergreen groundcovers that can live in the deepest shade. Dwarf Mondo (Ophiopogon ‘Nana’) measures in at only 2-3” tall. I can only see it in the fall and winter, after the Paperbush has shed its leaves. A hidden treasure of tiny cobalt blue drupes hides within its foliage if you get down on your knees and move the foliage around. This plant is a slow spreader, but worth it for its beauty and ability to grow in deep shade.


Continuing my walk, my Candytuff (Iberis) with its little evergreen shiny leaves has swollen white buds ready to pop when spring arrives. It contrasts nicely in front of the purple toned winter foliage of my azaleas. I love to see these signs that spring is on its way!

Seed Pods

There are a number of plants whose seed pods look splendid in the winter. As a bonus, many of these plants attract birds, who find the seeds a valuable food source during a season where resources are scarce.

Siberian Iris Seed Pods

Siberian Iris

Looking splendid when “dead” for the winter, the bronze seed pods of the Siberian Iris protrude out like a porcupine’s quills. This Iris brings architectural interest to the garden all season long, and it does very well in the clay soil of our northern Virginia region. Of course, it is also beautiful during its bloom season – I know it doesn’t flower long, but when it does, it’s like a gorgeous, floppy butterfly.

Rudbeckia Seed head

Black-Eyed Susan

At the end of my garden walk, birds were feasting and frolicking around the numerous seed heads of the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). The seedheads of this plant look lovely when left standing in the winter, and of course, it is wonderful to provide food for the birds.