Plant More Plants

Everything You Need to Know about Rain Gardens

A rain garden recently was planted at the Virginia state capitol as part of the Greening Virginia's Capitol project.

A rain garden is a terrific way to add beauty and eco-friendly benefits to a yard. The concept is simple: strategically placed plants help absorb excess rainwater before it flows off the lawn and dirties our rivers and streams as stormwater runoff. 

While the concept is easy, the implementation of a rain garden can be more of a head scratcher. That?s why Chesterfield County, Va., is hosting three free rain garden workshops this fall. Participants will learn the knowledge and skills needed to create attractive and functional rain gardens. Topics will include garden sizing, soil preparation, plant choices and pollution reduction.
Workshops will be at these Chesterfield County libraries: 
Saturday, Oct. 6
10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. 
Saturday, Oct. 27 
10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. 
Saturday, Nov. 27 
10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Here?s the fun part: Participants will put their newly learned skills into action by installing a rain garden at the libraries. 
To sign up, call 804-748-1920 or click here. Get started exploring rain garden designs by downloading the free Plant More Plants landscape plans.
The workshops are sponsored by the Chesterfield County Department of Environmental Engineering, the Chesterfield County Public Library and the Chesterfield County office of Cooperative Extension.
Funding is provided by the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, through the sales of Friends of the Chesapeake Bay license plates.
This entry was posted in Bayscaping, Chesapeake Bay, Gardens, Stormwater and tagged in rain gardens, stormwater, chesterfield county | 1 Comment.

Fall is the best time to Plant More Plants


You may have heard the slogan, ?Fall is for Planting.? It isn?t just a marketing gimmick invented by the landscape or nursery industries. Fall really is the best time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. One reason is that soils are still warm and will promote strong root growth even through winter. Fall also is cooler, so the need to water isn?t as great. 
Plus, working in the yard on crisp autumn days is downright pleasant versus toiling under the harsh summer sun.
We at Plant More Plants have been busy gearing up for fall. Our website has undergone a fall makeover that?s sure to inspire you past the autumnal equinox. Finding local landscape experts, retailers and helpful resources for fall planting is easier than ever.
The Plant More Plants message also will be hitting the airwaves this fall. Watch for our ads on broadcast and cable TV in the Richmond and Hampton Roads markets, and on cable in the Washington, D.C. area. Here's one of our ads:

If you live in these regions, look for our banner ads on websites for HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network and others. 


If you?ve never tried fall planting, dig into it this year. Make your yard beautiful for fall gatherings and enjoy it all season long. We hope planting more plants will become one of your favorite things about fall, right up there with pumpkin carving and college football Saturdays.
This entry was posted in Plant More Plants and tagged in Plant More Plants, Fall is for planting | 2 Comments.

Plants We Love: River Birch

Peeling bark of a river birch reveals an array of color. Photos by Julie Buchanan.

River birches along Richmond's Canal Walk offer shade on a balmy afternoon.
A recent stroll along the James River reminded me of my love for the river birch. As I neared the end of my walk in downtown Richmond, I happened upon a few stately specimens, their bark in full peeling splendor. 
You?ll know the river birch, or Betula nigra, when you see it. The bark peels up from the trunk in layers, revealing a rainbow of tans, reds and browns (?cinnamon? is a good description). These colors are more vivid in older trees. Oval or triangular leaves have double-toothed edges, and the trunk is typically divided into two or three trunks. 
The river birch is native to the coastal southeast, where it?s happy to live along riverbanks, ponds and swamp edges. It?s a popular tree for riverbank restoration and erosion control. 
It loves deep, moist soils and can handle the heavy clay that is so prevalent here in central Virginia. In addition, river birches thrive in acidic soils. They?ve been the go-to tree for mine reclamation projects where mining waste has made soil very acidic.
A few river birches on a riparian landscape can provide many benefits. One is that the river birch is more disease-resistant than others in the birch family. Seeds provide food for a variety of birds, and waterfowl can nest in the branches. Reaching heights up to 70 feet, it?s also a perfect shade tree. And who couldn?t use more shade come summertime?
In an urban landscape, the unique river birch stands out among the all the crape myrtles and Bradford pears. The bark is like nature?s avant-garde piece of art. Keep your eyes peeled for it next time you?re walking near the water. 
This entry was posted in Bayscaping, Native Plants, Trees and tagged in river birch, betula nigra, james river, ornamental bark, trees, julie buchanan | Leave a comment.

Plight of the Pollinator

I cannot live without coffee and chocolate. Therefore, I cannot live without pollinators.

This week is National Pollinator Week, and Facebook is full of beautiful, up-close photos of our pollinating friends at work. I look at them while enjoying my morning coffee (and contemplating chocolate for breakfast).

But one week a year isn't enough to devote attention to pollinators. Their contributions to our lives - and entire ecosystems - are too important. 

Pollinators are those creatures who move pollen from one flower to another of the same species. Through this process, plants produce fertile seeds and grow more flowers. These flowers grow into food for animals and us.

More than 75 percent of flowering plants and crops are pollinated by animals, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are pollinators most familiar to us, but some species of moths, flies, beetles and bats also pollinate in their quest for food. Each is attracted to different types of flowers. Amazingly, even color can make a difference. For example, bees are drawn to bright white, yellow and blue flowers, while butterflies prefer bright reds and purples. 

We've heard a lot recently about the plight of pollinators - they're losing feeding and nesting habitat and being poisoned by chemicals used in yards. 

We can help them by planting more plants. Instead of turfgrass lawns, let's put in pollinator gardens filled with the native plants they need. Let's stop using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that not only kill pollinators, but also pollute our waters.

I highly recommend these links for more information on pollinators and pollinator gardens.

The Pollinator Partnership
Nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the health of pollinating animals in North America. Check out the wonderful guide, "Selecting Plants for Pollinators" for the southeast United States.

U.S. Forest Service
Loads of information and a terrific booklet, "Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Great marketing and educational materials about pollinators, including this poster.

This entry was posted in Gardens, Native Plants, Wildlife and tagged in pollinators, native plants, national pollinator week, pollinator partnership, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies | Leave a comment.

Plants We Love: Turtleheads -- Snap Them Up!

The "hot lips" variety of turtlehead, or chelone, is commonly available at garden centers. Photo by Betty Truax.

Chelone, (it rhymes with phony and baloney) is a native member of the figwort family. It is more commonly known as turtlehead. It's not hard to figure out how it got its common name; those blooms shaped like turtleheads are so adorable that even someone who is not a fan of turtles can?t resist them. They remind me of kids running around in the rain with their tongues sticking out to catch the droplets. Chelone was a nymph in Greek mythology that offended the gods by not attending the wedding of Zeus to Hera. To punish her, they turned her into a turtle.

I started out having a lot of trouble growing this plant. I wasn't giving it nearly enough water. It is happy down by the waterfront where its feet stay wet most of the time. In my yard it spends most of its time in the shade with 2-3 hours of sun in the afternoon. It will tolerate sun if grown in consistent wetness. I need to warn you ? native caterpillars love this plant so its leaves are very often munched on. This plant is a host plant of the endangered Baltimore Butterfly. Hummingbirds visit this plant as well but bumblebees are what I usually see. It is fun watching the bumblebees climb into the ?turtle's head? and then back out hiney first just to hit the next bloom and do it again.

Don't dig this up if you find it in the wild. (Go to for a list of nurseries that sell only nursery-propagated plants.) It is easy to find the pink version ?Hot Lips? at local nurseries. I had a hard time finding the white variety but a nursery in my area (shameless commercial here ? English Country Gardens) was able to locate some for me.

Growing from 1-3 feet, deer generally don't bother this plant. The blooms come in pink, rose, white and purplish depending on the variety. One of this plant?s best features is the bloom time from late summer well into the fall. If turtlehead does not get enough water or if it is planted where air cannot circulate, mildew might become a problem. If planted in too much shade this plant will become leggy and require staking. If you absolutely want to plant it in an area that is too shady, minimize the legginess by cutting the plant back by one-third to half in late spring. Moving the plant to a place that better suits its needs (right plant, right place!) will rectify these problems. Divide this plant in the spring to share it with friends. If you have a damp area in your yard, give this wonderful native a shot. You won't be disappointed!

Playing with Plants: Pinch the flowers like you would with snapdragons to make them ?talk.? Plus, look inside turtlehead's mouth to find fangs!

This entry was posted in Gardens, Native Plants, Tips and tagged in turtlehead, betty truax | 1 Comment.

The Education of an Eco-Kid

Chrysogonum virginianum, or green and gold. Photo by Gary Fleming.

When I was a kid, I proclaimed to be all about the Earth. It was the early 90s. Recycling, spotted owls and a certain superhero named Captain Planet were among my chief obsessions. Fully aware of this, my parents ? bless their hearts ? chauffeured me to all variety of environment-themed activities. There were tree plantings and litter cleanups and ecology club meetings and, of course, Earth Day celebrations.

As an eco-friendly kid, the garden center should have been my Shangri-la. I should?ve reveled in the opportunity each spring to browse balmy greenhouses and help my mom choose the perfect plants to fight those evils of stormwater runoff and air pollution. Alas, I did not revel in these trips. To be honest, garden centers bored the heck out of 10-year-old me.

Despite my love of nature, I simply wasn?t making the connection between plants and a healthy environment. I didn?t realize the special ability plants have to clean our waterways, even though my family lived just a few hundred yards from a stream. The concept of native plants for native wildlife never crossed my mind.

In fairness to 10-year-old me, these ideas were not in the conscience of most people at the time. I feel they?re only now starting to percolate into mainstream thinking.

Recycling and litter cleanups (and, I?ll be honest ? Captain Planet) remain passions for 30-year-old me. But I?ve happily added plants to the list. Working on the Plant More Plants campaign this past year has fostered an appreciation for plants and gardening I didn?t have before. I enjoy visiting garden centers now. I'm jealous of other people's beautiful yards. Ten-year-old me would be so surprised.

In honor of Earth Day, April 22, add your name to the Plant More Plants pledge. Plant more trees, shrubs and hardy perennials. Don?t fertilize the lawn. Enjoy your yard ? your own small piece of nature. Be truly all about the Earth.

This entry was posted in Plant More Plants and tagged in earth day, julie buchanan, captain planet | Leave a comment.

Virginia Teaching Garden Up For National Award

The Teaching Garden in Bristow, Va., enables local residents to learn proper gardening techniques. Photo courtesy of Master Gardeners of Prince William.

The Teaching Garden at the Benedictine Monastery in Bristow, Va., is maintained by Master Gardeners of Prince William County. In this garden, Master Gardeners grow fresh produce for the Plant a Row for the Hungry project. It is also where they teach others how to grow vegetables, practice low-maintenance gardening techniques and demonstrate plants that grow well locally.

I?m proud to announce that the Teaching Garden is one of 15 finalists selected nationwide for the DeLoach Community Garden Award. The top five gardens that receive the most votes will be awarded $4,000 each. Winners will be announced in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of Organic Gardening Magazine.

If the Teaching Garden is a winner, funds will be used to install an educational kiosk and fencing to keep deer out. Volunteers also hope to enhance the garden's rain barrel system and parking area.

You can go to to cast a vote for the Teaching Garden. Voting ends Aug. 6, 2012. Your support is very much appreciated!

About the Teaching Garden
From March through September, you will find Master Gardeners at work in the Teaching Garden. During the growing season, classes are offered the first Saturday of each month. Topics range from turf, vegetables and ornamentals, to how to deal with pests and diseases using minimal pesticides. In addition, children?s programs encourage youths to take an early interest in nature. These programs are free, but registration is recommended.

The Teaching Garden is located at 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow. Call 703-792-7747 for information about programs or to schedule a visit with a Master Gardener.

This entry was posted in Gardens and tagged in betty truax, master gardeners of prince william, bristow, teaching garden, deloach community garden award | Leave a comment.

Native Plants for Every Environment

Ascelpias tuberosa, or butterflyweed. Photo by Irvine Wilson/Va. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.

Trillium grandiflorum, or white trillium. Photo by Irvine Wilson/Va. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.

Lobelia cardinalis, or cardinal flower. Photo by Irvine Wilson/Va. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.

Natives are great for many reasons. But to give them a great start, they need to be planted in the proper environment. Whether you have shade, part shade to sun, moisture or a dry landscape, there is a group of plants that would be perfect for that site.

If you have a shady area, consider planting in layers. Woodland plants are suited for shade or part sun for the edges of the woods.

Here are some examples.

Understory layer
Amelanchier canadensis (Serviceberry)
Asimina triloba (Paw paw)
Cercis canadensis (Red bud)
Chionanthus virginicus (Fringetree)
Hamamelis virginiana (Witch hazel)

Shrub layer
Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)
Cornus stolonifera (Red osier dogwood)
Hydrangea arborescens (Wild hydrangea)
Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)
Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)
Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry)
Virbunum dentatum (Southern Arrowwood)

Perennial layer
Anemone virginiana (Tall thimbleweed)
Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard)
Asarum canadense (Wild ginger)
Cimicifuga racemosa (Black cohosh)
Dicentra eximia (Wild bleeding heart)
Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple)
Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon?s seal)
Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
Sedum ternatum (Wild stonecrop)
Stylophorum diphyllum (Woodland poppy)
Tiarella cordifolia (Foamflower)
Trillium grandiflorum (White trillium)

If you have sun to part shade, low medium or very moist areas, the prairie native perennials can give you a full season of color. You can add some exciting perennial beds, make large sweeping meadows or, if space is limited, you can do an urban meadow.

Low to medium moisture
Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
Aster novae-angliae (New England aster)
Baptisia australis (Blue wild indigo)
Baptisia tinctoria (Yellow wild indigo)
Coreopsis verticillata (Threadleaf coreopsis)
Helenium autumnale (Sneezeweed)
Liatris spicata (Dense blazing star)
Phlox paniculata (Summer tall phlox)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan)
Monarda didyma (Beebalm)

Medium to moist areas
Chelone glabra (turtle head)
Geranium maculatum (Wild geranium)
Iris virginica (Virginia blue flag)
Hibiscus moscheutos (Eastern rosemallow)
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)
Lobelia siphilitia (Great blue lobelia)
Physostegia virginiana (Obedient plant)

Come visit Garden Gate Landscape and Design, where all of these are available. There will be more in late summer and fall! I?d love for you to visit.

This entry was posted in Native Plants, Tips and tagged in beth hellmer, native plants, garden gate landscape and design | 4 Comments.

Plants We Love: Bloodroot

Photo by Betty Truax.

Warning: Bloodroot can be extremely toxic, even fatal.

I'm not going to discuss the medical uses for bloodroot. There is plenty of information on the web (and from professional herbalists, which I certainly am not) explaining its benefits and dangers. Just let me say do your research very well. Also, consider pets and children before planting it in your landscape. As beautiful as this plant is, it is not worth risking loved ones? health or possibly even lives.

I want to talk about the non-medical attributes of this lovely plant. Sanguinaria canadensis is a member of the poppy family (Papaveraceae). This native plant is endangered in some areas. In 2003 the National Park Service started monitoring bloodroot populations, as well as other threatened species such as ginseng and black cohosh, because of the reduction in population due to poaching. Poaching is illegal in all national parks.

Luckily, bloodroot can be shared if you know someone who is growing it in his or her gardens. It spreads both by rhizomes and by seed. Wait until the leaves have turned yellow to divide it. The first couple of times I tried to grow it, I was unsuccessful. Then in one year I had two different friends give me share plants from their gardens and I planted them in two separate places and both survived. In both cases, the plants appeared to die immediately but lo and behold the following year I was rewarded with charming white blooms and amazing leaves. I think I actually screamed the first time I noticed they had emerged I was so excited.

Bloodroot gets its common name from the reddish sap that will pour from its stalk and rhizomes. If fact, it will even clot like blood. I suggest wearing gloves whenever handling this plant. I found some information that stated the sap could harm skin cells.

I am not at all surprised to find out that Bloodroot was named the 2005 Virginia Wildflower of the Year by the Virginia Native Plant Society. Although only 6 inches tall when in bloom, it is a real charmer.

In early spring, stalks with single buds are completely encompassed within a rolled leaf. During the day when the sun is out the leaves unfurl and then at night they curl up again. The flower itself doesn't last very long, because it drops its petals within one to two days of being pollinated. The lovely 1 1/2 - 2-inch wide bright white flowers (rarely double) are a real joy to behold when little else is in bloom. Bloodroot has a sweet fragrance that it uses to attract pollinators such as various bees, flies and beetles. Ants that are attracted to the flesh around the seeds often disperse them.

The leaves themselves are also very interesting. The leaves are palmate with 5 to 9 lobes. They are very unique and once you've seen them you will always be able to recognize them. They continue to grow after the flowers are gone. They don't disappear until sometime in summer. Rarely do animals or diseases bother bloodroot. It grows into colonies if left alone. This plant needs sunlight in very early spring, so don't plant it under evergreens.

No matter which of its common names you use (bloodroot, red puccoon, coon root, snakebite, sweet slumber, red root, corn root, termeric or tetterwort) Sanguinaria canadensis will capture your heart!

This entry was posted in Gardens, Native Plants, Tips and tagged in betty truax, bloodroot, native plants | 2 Comments.

The View From My Boat

Jan-W. Bried? is an avid boater on the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Donna Bried?.

I am the proud owner of a sailboat and a kayak and boat often in the lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Being a biologist and stormwater expert, I'm always aware of the quality of the water. My sailboat is moored at a marina on Chisman Creek, a tributary of the Poquoson River. The water in my boat slip is approximately 5 feet deep, and I have noticed during the last two years that I have been able to see the bottom of the creek just a couple of times. Most days, the water is cloudy (turbid), and I can see less than a foot below the water surface. Interestingly, the times that the water is clear occur mostly in winter.

The turbidity of the water is definitely stormwater related; the water in the creek is more turbid on days after storms. This became more evident after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee passed through the area and moved into Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Satellite photographs of the Chesapeake Bay showed a large sediment plume moving south through the bay starting from a point where the Susquehanna River flows into the bay. The tremendous amount of rain and the subsequent flooding released a lot of sediment in the watershed that flowed downstream into the bay. There were similar photos of the Delaware and Hudson rivers. I see this on a much smaller scale in my section of Chisman Creek.

I see other phenomena during the summer. Turbidity seems to increase even when it doesn't rain. This turbidity is caused by algae blooms that look much like the turbidity we see after a storm. Algae are small floating plants. Warm, sunny weather and high nutrients in the water create an ideal environment for algae growth. This is why we often hear about algae blooms, or red tide, in the summer. Red tides can be very harmful to humans, fish, oysters and other aquatic life.

So what causes these algae blooms? A main cause is nutrients that are transported by stormwater into the rivers and eventually into the bay. These nutrients are attached to sediment particles in our stormwater, and once they reach the bay they become the main food source for algae. In addition, the sediment particles may have toxic substances attached to them such as lead, mercury or pesticides. This is why it is so important that we manage stormwater, minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides at home, and pick up waste from our pets.

It's also a reason to have vegetated buffers around creeks, streams, lakes and the bay. Vegetated buffers are not lawns. They are strips of land around water bodies that contain all kinds of plants, from trees to shrubs and groundcovers, that help filter the runoff and keep nutrients, toxins and pesticides out of the water by capturing them and breaking them down. These buffers are known as Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) in the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act of Virginia.

One Sunday afternoon last summer, I was kayaking in the area where the Chisman Creek flows into the Poquoson River. That area was party central. There were at least 40 pleasure boats anchored in a shallow area. Music was blaring and people were standing chest deep in the water talking, throwing balls, drinking and just having fun. This is what summer on the bay should be. Instead, we often must contend with the red tide.

This entry was posted in Chesapeake Bay, Stormwater and tagged in jan-w. bried?, chesapeake bay, water quality | Leave a comment.

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Julie Buchanan
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804-371-2072 (fax)