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Ultimate Guide to Gardening in Virginia

August 22 2022 – Kelly LaVaute, Staff Member

Looking to get into gardening in Virginia, but not sure where to start? This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about gardening in Virginia, from the best plants to grow to how to deal with pests and weeds.

So whether you're a seasoned green thumb or a complete beginner, read on for all the information you need to create a beautiful garden that thrives all year long.

 

Table of Contents

Is Virginia good for gardening?

Gardening zones — Virginia

Right plant, right place - understanding soil in Virginia

Best native plants to grow in Virginia

Most invasive plants to control in Virginia

Dos and don’ts of gardening in Virginia

Garden pest management in Virginia

Virginia garden insect pests: The good, the bad, and the brilliant

Making your yard sustainable: benefits and basics

When should I start a garden in Virginia?

What can I plant right now in Virginia?

Start your garden in Virginia today

     

     

     

    Is Virginia good for gardening?

    Virginia is a great state for gardening! The climate is perfect for growing all sorts of plants, from flowers to vegetables to trees. And the soil is rich in nutrients, making it easy to grow healthy plants. Plus, Virginia is home to a variety of plant life, which means there are plenty of options for gardeners who want to plant to benefit wildlife.

    Whether you're looking to attract bees and butterflies or provide food for birds, you can find the perfect plant in Virginia. So if you're considering starting a garden, Virginia is the place to do it! Take some tips from our guide on how to plant your native plants and your garden will soon be the luxurious outdoor space you’ve always dreamed of.

     

    Gardening zones — Virginia

    Virginia is a state with a diverse range of plants, from native plants that are perfect for supporting wildlife to exotic plants that thrive in the state's humid climate. However, Virginia gardeners need to be aware of the state's different gardening zones so they can choose plants that will flourish in their particular area.

    Virginia is split into two main gardening zones — 6b and 7a.

    Zone 6b encompasses most of the state, including the cities of Richmond and Norfolk. This zone has relatively mild winters, with a minimum average temperature of -5° to 0°F during the colder months. Gardeners in this zone can grow a wide variety of plants, including many Virginia native plants that are perfect for supporting pollinators and other wildlife.

    Zone 7a, which includes the city of Charlottesville, to the Virginia suburbs of the Washington DC metro area, has slightly warmer winters. Gardeners in this zone can take advantage of the state's humid climate by growing plants that might not survive in other parts of the country.

    No matter what gardening zone you live in, Virginia is fantastic for growing various plants. With a little research, you can find the perfect native plants for your garden — whether you're looking to support local wildlife or simply add some color and flair to your front yard.

    So when you're choosing plants for your garden, be sure to consider the gardening zone that you live in. It might just make the difference between a thriving garden and a sad, wilted one.

    Of course, if you want to get into even more location-specific planning, try taking our ZIP Code quiz. It’s a quick and easy way to find out which plants won’t just grow well in your specific garden, but will absolutely flourish.

     

    Right plant, right place — understanding soil in Virginia

    Have you ever stopped to think about all the amazing plants that grow in Virginia? From the towering oaks of the Shenandoah Valley to the delicate wildflowers of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia is home to a remarkable diversity of plant life. But what makes Virginia's plants so special?

    One crucial factor is the state's soil.

    In natural areas, Virginia's soils are typically rich in nutrients and minerals, providing plants with everything they need to thrive.. Native plants are an essential part of Virginia's ecosystem, providing food and habitat for wildlife. And Virginia's native plants are especially important for pollinators like bees and butterflies.

    Sustainable soil

    Anyone who gardens in Virginia knows that healthy soil is key to a successful garden. Luckily, the soil in Virginia is great for gardening. However, it can be a little more challenging if you live in an area with a higher level of clay. Clay soil is notoriously tricky to work with, as it can easily become compacted, preventing air and water from getting to plant roots.

    Fortunately, you can take a few simple steps to make your clay soil more sustainable. One way to improve drainage and aeration is to add organic matter to the soil. This can be in the form of compost, manure, or even leaves. Adding organic matter will help to break up the clay particles and improve the structure of the soil.

    So if you're thinking about starting a native plant garden in Virginia, there's good news: you don't have to do that much to your soil before you get started! Just choose the plants you want to grow and let nature do the rest.

    Amending the soil can sometimes do more harm than good. Adding to the soil can change its texture, pH, and nutrient levels, making it less suitable for certain plants. If you're unsure what kind of soil you have or what plants will do well in it, your best bet is to leave it alone. Focus on choosing plants that are native to Virginia and that will provide food and shelter for wildlife.

    Native plants are adapted to the state's soils and climate, so they require less maintenance than non-native plants. Using native plants that are ideally suited to Virginia's unique weather and soil means you can create a beautiful landscape and pollinator garden that's also good for the environment.

    Best native plants to grow in Virginia

    Virginia is home to an array of plants, many of which are native to the state. These plants are well-adapted to the local climate and soil and provide an essential source of food and shelter for Virginia's wildlife. If you're looking to attract bees, birds, and other local wildlife to your garden, here are some of the best native plants to grow in Virginia.

    Whorled milkweed

    One of Virginia's most popular native plants is whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata). It’s a Virginia native plant that is perfect for dry, sunny, and part shade areas and gets its name from the whorls of thin leaves arranged around the stem. This milkweed is also adorned with tiny, fragrant blooms that appear late in the season.

    These blooms provide nectar for a medley of butterflies and bees through early fall. As well as being a beautiful addition to any garden, whorled milkweed is also a host plant for monarch caterpillars. So not only will you be providing food and shelter for our essential pollinators, but you'll also be helping to ensure the survival of this iconic butterfly. Whorled milkweed is even deer resistant!

    Great Blue lobelia

    Another beautiful native plant is the great blue lobelia, which can add some beautiful color to your garden. Growing up to three feet tall, this perennial flower produces blue or purple blooms from mid-summer to early fall. The great blue lobelia is a relatively low-maintenance plant that does well in both full sun and partial shade. However, it can get a little thirsty in full-sun locations, so be prepared to do some watering! It's also tolerant of a wide range of soil types. We like this lobelia so much that it’s part of our Pollinator Power 6-Plant Collection (Part Shade).

    Little bluestem grass

    Then there’s the little bluestem grass, a native Virginia plant perfect for landscaping projects. This hardy grass grows in both sun and part shade, making it a versatile choice for gardeners. It’s also drought-tolerant and resistant to deer and rabbits, making it a low-maintenance option for busy homeowners.

    Little bluestem grass is an excellent choice for creating ornamental grass borders or adding textural interest to flower beds. It can also be used as groundcover or planted en masse to create a natural meadow look. With its blue-green leaves and tall, feathery plumes, little bluestem grass adds unique beauty to any landscape.

    Most invasive plants to control in Virginia

    Different plants have different effects on an ecosystem. Some plants provide food and shelter for wildlife, while others can crowd out native plants and disturb the natural balance of an area. In Virginia, there are a few different types of plants that are considered to be invasive. These plants can harm the environment, so it's important to be aware of them and take steps to control their growth.

    Virginia's most common invasive plants include Japanese stiltgrass, kudzu, and Norway maples. Japanese stiltgrass is a type of grass that spreads quickly and can crowd out other plants. It's often found in forested areas, making it difficult for trees to get the sunlight they need to grow.

    Kudzu might look like a harmless vine, but this fast-growing plant is a serious threat to native Virginia plants. Also known as "the vine that ate the South," kudzu can quickly smother other vegetation, blocking out sunlight and restricting the growth of other plants.

    Kudzu also produces large amounts of seeds that spread easily, allowing the plant to invade new areas and displace native plants. As a result, kudzu is a serious threat to Virginia's native flora and fauna. If you see this vine growing in your area, it's crucial to remove it before it has a chance to spread.

    Norway maples are a type of tree introduced from Europe. They tend to grow faster than native trees and can easily out-compete them for resources.

    Then there’s the famous butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii). It’s a beautiful plant that is, unfortunately, very aggressive. It's not a native plant species in Virginia, so it doesn't have the natural predators and diseases to help keep it in check. As a result, the butterfly bush can quickly take over Virginia gardens, crowding out native plants. You can learn more from our in-depth look at butterfly bush and its alternatives.

    If you're looking for a plant that will attract butterflies to your Virginia garden, many native plant species are much better choices. Some of our favorites include Lanceleaf coreopsis, orange butterfly milkweed, smooth blue aster, and grayleaf goldenrod. You can find seeds for these favorites in our Monarch Munchables 12-Plant Collection (Full Sun)! Not only are these plants more appropriate for Virginia gardens, but they're also beautiful and provide valuable habitat for Virginia's wildlife.

     

    Dos and don’ts of gardening in Virginia

    There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to create a garden that is both beautiful and welcoming to local wildlife.

    Don't waste money on constant fertilizers and lawn services.

    More and more people are replacing a portion or much of their lawns with natural native plant scapes to support wildlife and healthy watersheds. In fact, The number of people planning to transform a portion of their lawn to wildflower native landscape has doubled from 9 percent in 2019 to 19 percent in 2021. For areas that require low growing walkable green spaces, consider native groundcovers, spreading herbs like thyme or low growing native grasses. This saves money on fertilizers and lawn services. So save your money and enjoy the outdoors instead.

    Do get rid of ivy

    There's no doubt that ivy and other invasive, non-native climbers like English Ivy can be tough to remove once they've taken hold. But if you're looking to create a garden that's friendly to Virginia's native plants and wildlife, it's best to get rid of them. Invasive plants crowd out native species, preventing them from getting the sunlight, water, and nutrients they need to thrive. This can damage local ecosystems and make it difficult for plants and animals to find food and shelter. If you would like a native climbing vine for a fence or trellis, consider Virginia Creeper.

    What's more, many invasive plants are poisonous to humans and pets, so it's vital to remove them before they cause harm. While it may be a tough job, taking steps to rid your garden of ivy and other invasive plants is essential for creating a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.

    Don’t top your trees

    Topping trees is a gardening practice that should be avoided. Topping refers to the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to reduce the tree's height. This practice is detrimental to the tree's health, as it can cause crown shyness, reduced vigor, and greater susceptibility to disease and pests.

    Topping can also make a tree more dangerous, as weakly attached branches are more likely to break in high winds. If you are concerned about the height of your trees, consult a certified arborist who can provide expert advice on how to safely reduce the size of your trees.

    Many different types of wildlife depend on trees for food, water, cover, or places to raise their young. You can help by planting native trees and creating wildlife habitat in your community for wildlife—like some of these. For example, a native oak tree can sustain a complex and fascinating web of wildlife.

    Do check with Garden for Wildlife

    If you're looking for plants that will attract wildlife to your garden, check out our list of native plants in Virginia. There's something on this list for everyone. And if you need a little help getting started, don't hesitate to reach out to Garden for Wildlife. We're always happy to answer any questions you might have about plants and wildlife.

     

    Virginia garden insect pests: The good, the bad, and the brilliant

    Every gardener knows that there are good bugs and bad bugs. The good bugs, like ladybugs and bees, help to pollinate plants and control pest populations. The bad bugs, like aphids and scale, can destroy a garden in a matter of days.

    And then there are the brilliant bugs, like the Virginia ctenucha moth. This native Virginia insect is a true friend to gardeners, and its caterpillars feed on many common garden pests, including Japanese beetles, gypsy moth caterpillars, and tent caterpillars.

     

    Garden pest management in Virginia

    Virginia is home to a diverse array of plant life, and as a result, it is also home to a variety of pests. From aphids and Japanese beetles to deer and deer ticks, managing garden pests can be a challenge. However, there are a few things that gardeners can do to help reduce the impact of pests.

    One is to choose plants that are less attractive to pests. For example, plants that are native to Virginia are often less susceptible to pests than non-native plants. Our Garden for Wildlife native plants are host plants for the beneficial insects! Additionally, plants known to attract wildlife, such as bees and birds, can help reduce the population of harmful insects.

    Finally, regular monitoring and removal of pests can help to keep populations under control. By taking these steps, gardeners in Virginia can enjoy healthy plants and a bounty of beautiful wildlife.

    Other Virginia pests

    If you live in Virginia, chances are you've had to deal with deer, dogs, and rabbits at some point. Some wildlife can cause a lot of damage to your garden, but there are some things you can do to reduce the damage they cause and ensure you’re supporting the native wildlife One of the best ways to deter deer is to plant fragrant native plants that are not attractive to them. Virginia native plants such as dogwood and holly are good choices. You can also erect a fence around your property or install a raised bed to keep uninvited rabbits out. Remember, though, that when it comes to rabbits, make sure the fence is at least 2 feet tall so they can't jump over it. These simple steps can help reduce the damage caused by deer and rabbits. 

    Dogs and Native Plants

    As for dogs, while certainly not pests, the best thing you can do is keep them on a leash when they're on your property. If you have a problem with stray dogs, you may need to contact your local animal control or the police department. Many native species are poisonous to dogs, including milkweed, so it’s important to ensure the safety of pets and plants and keep them apart. To avoid more hazards, you can create a dog-friendly wildlife garden.

     

    Making your yard sustainable: benefits and basics

    If you're considering making your yard in Virginia more sustainable, you're not alone. Many homeowners are interested in creating an eco-friendly and low-maintenance space. Sustainable landscaping has many benefits, including reducing your environmental footprint, providing habitat for local wildlife, and saving money on water and energy costs.

    When it comes to sustainable landscaping, there are a few basics to keep in mind. First, choose plants that are native to Virginia. These plants have evolved to thrive in our climate and will require less water and fertilizer than non-native species. You should also, of course, consider selecting native plants that provide food and habitat for local wildlife.

    Remember to mindfully maintain your landscape; over-treating lawns with chemicals can pollute local waterways. Keep it organic!

    Follow these simple tips and you can create a beautiful, eco-friendly yard that will be the envy of the neighborhood!

    Sustainable water

    If you live in Virginia, you know that our summers can be pretty hot and dry. And while your first instinct might be to turn on the sprinklers to keep your lawn and garden looking green, that’s not the most sustainable option. Here are a few tips to help you water your yard more sustainably.

    1. Consider installing a rain barrel. This will allow you to collect rainwater from your roof, which you can use to water your plants. Not only is this a great way to save water, but it’s also free!

    2. Make sure you’re watering your plants in the morning or evening when it’s cooler outside. This will help reduce evaporation so that your plants get the water they need without wasting any.

    3. Invest in a soaker hose or drip irrigation system. These systems slowly release water to the root zone of your plants, which is where they need it most. Not only does this save water, but it also helps reduce weeds since they’re not getting watered as often.

    Following these tips can help make your Virginia yard much more water-sustainable!

    Sustainable plants and materials

    You don't have to adhere to the strict rules of a formal garden to have a beautiful, sustainable yard. In fact, by choosing the right plants and materials, you can create a low-maintenance landscape that is easy on the environment and your wallet.

    When selecting plants, look for native species well-suited to Virginia's climate. Not only will they require less water and fertilizer, but they will also be more resistant to pests and disease. You should also use mulch wisely to help conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay. Organic options such as compost or mulch are best, as they will eventually break down and improve the quality of your soil.

    Finally, consider using recycled materials in your landscape design. Reclaimed brick or stone can add character to walkways and patios, while repurposed tree limbs can be used to create rustic fence posts or trellises. By being creative with your choice of plants and materials, you can create a sustainable Virginia yard that is both beautiful and eco-friendly.

     

    When should I start a garden in Virginia?

    There are several factors to consider when deciding when to start a garden in Virginia. One crucial factor is the type of plants you want to grow. Certain plants, such as annuals and vegetables, need to be planted at specific times to thrive. Others, such as perennials and trees, can be planted any time of year.

    Another consideration is the purpose of your garden. If you're looking to attract wildlife, you'll want to plant native species that bloom at different times throughout the year. You'll also want to consider the amount of sunlight and rainfall your garden will receive.

    Generally speaking, the best time to start a garden in Virginia is in the springtime, when the weather is mild and there's plenty of rain and sunshine. However, with a little planning, you can start creating a beautiful garden no matter what time of year it is. Be sure to water any new plants every day until they’re established.

     

    What can I plant right now in Virginia?

    If you're living in Virginia, you're in luck — plenty of plants can be planted right now, as long as you pay attention to the seasons. Keep reading for a list of some of our favorite plants to sow and the best time of year to start planting!

    Spring

    Spring is the best time to plant for wildlife in Virginia. One plant that is especially beneficial for wildlife in spring is the native plant species great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica). This plant is great for bees and other pollinators as it provides an early source of nectar. Its deep blue flowers are also a beautiful addition to any garden!

    Order our Pollinator Power 6-Plant Collection (Part Shade), and get the great blue lobelia included!

    If you’re particularly keen on using Virginia native plants to attract more bees to your garden, then you can’t go wrong with golden Alexander, wild geranium, and calico aster. These are so useful because they provide essential food to native bee populations in Virginia in early spring.

    They also attract a large number of backyard birds, so your garden in Virginia will be teeming with the splendor of the natural world. You can get your limited edition Spring Bee Buffet 6-Plant Collection direct from us and help us support the National Wildlife Federation.

    Summer

    In the summer, you can plant native perennials, annuals, and insect-eating plants to attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Some beautiful summer plant options for Virginia include blue wood aster, purple coneflower, and oxeye sunflower. These are so great for planting in a Virginia garden because they attract a range of songbirds.

    Not only that, but they bloom across three seasons and come back every year too! That’s why we’ve created a summer collection that includes these three favorites — the Summer Songbird 6-Plant Collection.

    You can also plant annual sunflowers and zinnias to provide food for birds throughout the summer. Just be sure to choose a site with full sun and well-drained soil. With a bit of planning, you can create a beautiful and inviting garden that will attract all sorts of wildlife!

    Fall

    Fall is a great time to plant in Virginia! The cooler weather is easier on plants, and the rain helps them get established. Cover crops like ryegrass and clover in your vegetable garden are some of the best plants to put in now. They help protect your soil from erosion and add nutrients that will be released in the springtime.

    You can also plant trees, shrubs, and perennials. Asters, goldenrod, and native grassesprovide beautiful flowers and textures that last into the fall season. You can have a gorgeous garden to enjoy all year long.

    Winter

    As the weather gets colder, many people think their gardening days are over. However, many plants can thrive in the winter months. The cooler temperatures and shorter days help reduce stress on plants, making them more likely to survive the winter. Soil is also generally more moist in the winter, which can help reduce the risk of transplant shock. You can still plant as long as the ground is not frozen solid and your area is not expecting a freeze.

    Some tree and shrub species that do well in a Virginia winter include Eastern Red Cedar, American holly and oakleaf hydrangea. If you're looking for something a little different, try planting a winterberry holly bush — the berries are beautiful and provide a great food source for birds during the winter months.

    Whatever you choose to plant, remember to water regularly and mulch heavily to protect your plants from the cold. With a little care, you can turn your Virginia garden into a winter wonderland! With so many great options available, there is no reason to let your garden go dormant this winter. Why not take our free plant finder quiz to get some inspiration?

     

    Start your garden in Virginia today

    If you’re looking to start your garden in Virginia, we hope you’ll consider using some of the beautiful native plants available. Not only will they make your garden look great, but they’ll also help wildlife and turn your yard into a true wildlife habitat. And if that wasn’t incentive enough, we also offer free shipping straight to your door on all orders!

    So head over to our Virginia pages and check out all the gorgeous native Virginia plants we have to offer. We know you won’t be disappointed, especially since every purchase goes to support the National Wildlife Federation, as well as local plant growers!

    What are you waiting for? Let’s get started and turn your yard into a wildlife haven today!

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