Plant NOVA Trees and Watch the Green Grow

When we think of fall, we may think of school, pumpkin spice, or trees. Soon the leaves will be turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Leaves and acorns will fall to the ground and rustle underfoot. Families may pick apples at orchards. Fall is also a great time to plant trees. The rain and cooler temperatures of fall allow trees to establish roots well before the stress of summer. Here are some of the many reasons why you should consider planting native trees in your yard or community:

Trees provide shade

The memory of hot summer days is fresh in our minds. On very hot days it is uncomfortable and even dangerous to spend too much time outdoors in direct sunlight. The shade from trees provides relief from the hot sun, and the process of transpiration — when leaves release water vapor — cools the surrounding air. Surfaces in shade can be 20 degrees or more cooler than surfaces in direct sunlight, which is why you may prefer to park your car in the shade on hot summer days.

Urban areas have higher temperatures than surrounding areas — called the heat island effect — because buildings and roads absorb and radiate the sun’s heat more than forests and other natural areas. Planting trees in urban communities can reduce the heat island effect. Planting trees to shade the southern exposure of your house can also lower the energy costs of cooling your home.

Trees protect water quality

Trees slow stormwater runoff and their roots help hold soil in place, reducing streambank erosion and silt buildup in waterways. Trees also help filter fertilizer and other pollutants from stormwater runoff before it reaches streams. Trees are so vital for protecting water quality that forested stream buffers 100 feet from perennial streams in Fairfax County are safeguarded as Resource Protection Areas. Most of these stream buffers in Fairfax County are found in stream valley parks, but some private yards may also be in a Resource Protection Area. Trees planted in yards and communities bordering stream valley parks can help expand these valuable buffer areas and reduce streambank erosion.

Native trees support wildlife

Birds, butterflies, and other wildlife depend on native trees for food and shelter. Adult butterflies drink nectar from flowers, but as caterpillars they eat leaves. Each caterpillar species has particular plants they depend on, called host plants. While monarch caterpillars eat milkweed, other caterpillars depend on different plants — most of them trees. Oak trees are the most beneficial for wildlife, feeding over 500 species of caterpillars as well as birds and mammals. Nonnative trees like Gingko feed far fewer species, so yards with mostly nonnative trees support less wildlife.

Songbirds rely on caterpillars for food in the spring and summer, especially when nesting. It takes thousands of caterpillars to raise one brood of birds in a nest. Birds are more likely to nest in yards with native trees, where caterpillars can be found in greater abundance. Throughout other times of the year, native trees also provide birds with berries, nuts, seeds and nectar. 

Trees beautify your yard

Native trees like flowering dogwood and Eastern redbud sport beautiful flowers in spring. Red maple, sassafras and hickories turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow in the fall. Evergreen trees like Eastern red cedar and American holly remain green throughout the winter and provide berries that feed birds.

Plant NOVA Trees and Watch the Green Grow

The Park Authority is partnering with Plant NOVA Natives on a new project called Plant NOVA Trees. Check out the Celebration of Trees calendar for events this fall, including educational programs about trees at FCPA parks. The Watch the Green Grow outreach program can help advise communities interested in planting trees on common land. Contact the Watch the Green Grow Coordinator at tamara.sheiffer@fairfaxcounty.gov if your HOA or community association would like an educational program or assistance planning your tree planting event.

Author Tami Sheiffer is the coordinator of Fairfax County Park Authority’s Watch the Green Grow outreach program.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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