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“Bird Sanctuary Planting Weekend”
October 26-29, 2024

Please join other communities and individuals all around Northern Virginia in celebrating “Bird Sanctuary Planting Weekend" by installing native trees and shrubs that support songbirds.


Why plant a mini bird sanctuary? We all know that native canopy trees are essential to songbirds, but planting a tree by itself only helps them so much. Including native plants at the understory, shrub, and ground levels are also important for providing habitat for birds and for the bugs that are such an important part of their diet.

Where should it be placed? 

  • If you have empty lawn in need of shade, plant it in the middle.

  • If you would like to save our streams by stopping stormwater from running off your property, plant it at the downhill edge of your lawn.

  • If you would like to expand the habitat of adjacent woods, plant it along that edge.


An easy way to start

  • Obtain small specimens of one native canopy tree and two native shrubs, planted 3-4  feet from each other. For that you would need to first remove an approximately 6’x12’ patch of lawn.

  • Plant them exactly at ground level.

  • Mulch lightly. An area that size will require four bags of mulch, each containing 3 cubic feet. Do not let the mulch touch the plants!

  • If deer visit the area, put up protection. (Click here for suggestions)

  • Consider roping off the area to deter lawn mowers (or put up a solar-powered electric fence set-up to deter deer as well.)

  • Water as appropriate according to the size of the specimens (see below).

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Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Brilliant coral-red fall foliage.



(Corylus americana)

Produces nuts for people and wildlife

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(Nyssa sylvatica)

Glowing red fall foliage, berries for birds

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

Oaks support more birds than any other plant.

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Free mini-sanctuaries for the first 20 Fairfax faith communities to apply!

Audubon-at-Home is offering free site visits to faith communities in Fairfax County to help them identify opportunities to improve habitat at their place of worship. Sign up for a visit here. At those visits, those with appropriate planting locations will be invited to apply for a free mini bird sanctuary, consisting of a canopy tree (either Chestnut Oak or Blackgum small saplings) and either two Arrowwood Viburnum or two Black Chokeberry seedlings. After the site visit, click here to apply for the mini bird sanctuary. Volunteers will deliver the plants and mulch. Your faith communities will

  • Designate an area of lawn for the planting, approximately 6' x 12' (and think about where your watering source is, if planting larger specimens)

  • Choose among the offered species

  • Call Miss Utility before digging, but also check with your facilities person about private underground utilities.

  • Host a celebratory planting event and invite all your members

  • Provide simple planting tools (e.g. shovels and work gloves)

  • Provide the people-power to dig up the turf, plant, mulch, and water. (2-4 minimum are recommended for the planting and many others can participate. You can ask kids and youth to help plant, spread mulch, and water, and/or participate in a blessing.)

  • Provide deer protection if needed.

  • Provide any liability insurance needed for the planting activity

  • Commit to watering as appropriate (see below)

  • Allow the fallen leaves to remain under the plants to provide habitat

  • In two years, check to see if the tree needs pruning to keep it growing in a structurally sound manner with a single main stem.

  • Enjoy the beauty of nature with your mini bird sanctuary!

Is it just Fairfax?

Anyone can do this, anywhere in Northern Virginia (or beyond)! Please let us know so we can include your event in our publicity. We are piloting the free site visits our first year in a limited area, sending volunteers to  as many Fairfax County communities as we can, with the hope of expanding in future years.


Why plant small specimens?

It’s true that small plants don’t make much of a visual impact, and they do need to be carefully protected from deer and lawn mowers. But it is stressful to trees to transplant them when older, and small specimens (under an inch in diameter) may need to be watered only at planting time and again a couple weeks later, unless there is prolonged drought. And of course, it is much less expensive!


Watering schedule

For specimens under 1” in diameter

Deliver one gallon of water per plant at planting time and again a couple weeks later. No need to water after that unless there is a prolonged drought.

For specimens 1-2” in diameter

1 gallon of water every day for 4 weeks then every other day until established (meaning the roots have grown into the surrounding soil) – usually 1 year.

Project sponsors

Plant NOVA Natives/Plant NOVA Trees, Audubon-at-Home, Fairfax Tree Stewards, McLean Tree Foundation, Fairfax ReLeaf, and volunteers from Fairfax Master Naturalists.

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