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So, you want to plant trees?

It’s April, no fooling. The first planting season of the year is upon us, and you may have the wonderful urge to plant some trees in your yard. You’ve probably heard that trees help clean the stormwater water runoff from your yard, provide some shade to reduce your energy bills, and native trees can specifically help encourage more wildlife like birds and the insects they eat. Healthy, beautiful trees can increase the value of your property and the livability of your neighborhood. You’re all in, so now what?

If you are still in the early stages of planning, you will want to read everything on the fabulous Plant Nova Natives website about choosing the perfect native trees for your yard and helping them survive their first year in the ground. Next, you will want to turn to the Tree Basics handbook, written by the Fairfax County Tree Commission and the Urban Forest Management Division to help you get your trees in the ground. If you are further along in your thinking, you may already have decided what native trees to buy and where to plant them. Some may have gotten some native bare root seedlings from Fairfax ReLeaf or Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, but don’t worry if you missed these annual April events, you can sign up for next year’s activity at these links.

Additionally, here are a few practical tips for new planters (or reminders for experienced ones), that may not be in these excellent resources:

· Think about planting a grouping of trees (an overstory tree, an understory tree plus shrubs) rather than one tree alone, in order to provide more stability, biodiversity, and interconnectedness.

· Make a list and gather the tools and materials you will need ahead of time, so you can focus on starting and finishing the job when the time is right.

· Check the weather forecast. It’s always better to find a cool morning or a cooler evening to plant (especially for first timers), rather than digging during our area’s new spring normal of a midday hot sun with afternoons in the 80s. But if that’s the time you have open to plant, be sure to hydrate and take breaks so you can enjoy your time outside.

· Make sure you have a sun hat, some sunscreen and good gloves. Yes gloves. Really.

· Our area is verging on a mini-drought, so make a solid plan to water every other day in well-drained soil, or once weekly in slow-draining soil. Remember don’t stand with a hose sprayer or run a sprinkler for a few minutes, but instead put a hose on the ground with slow-running water over the planted areas for at least 20 minutes.

· Celebrate Arbor Day on April 28, 2023. Invite some neighbors or their children over to help you, or to celebrate the new additions to your yard. Have fun and spread the word about the benefits of more trees!

· Your new tree(s) can help toward growing our county’s urban forest. Go to the Plant NOVA Trees website to register the trees you have planted.

An old truism tells us that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time is now! There is nothing more exciting than helping both your yard and your neighborhood to grow healthier ecosystems, and your new trees will be a critical part of that process. Go forth and plant your trees with joy, knowing that their shade and beauty will benefit many generations to come.

Cindy Speas

Chair, Fairfax County Tree Commission

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