Throwing Shade in Virginia

Throwing Shade in Virginia

Va. Forestry urges gardeners to give native trees a try.

Nursery horticulturist Misty Kuceris shows the Throwing Shade VA tag that identifies a Redbud tree as a native species

Nursery horticulturist Misty Kuceris shows the Throwing Shade VA tag that identifies a Redbud tree as a native species

 “Throw some shade” and what do you get? Cleaner air and water, and inviting shade, says Virginia’s Department of Forestry urban and community partnership coordinator, Molly O’Liddy. The Department of Forestry now has a pilot program to help interested plant nurseries promote planting native trees to their customers, to bring more of those important benefits to the Commonwealth. The pilot program, new this year and open only until the end of June, is called, Throwing Shade VA.

The program incentivizes nursery customers to purchase native species of trees and shrubs for their myriad of benefits, and provides a tool to measure the state’s progress toward Virginia’s water and Chesapeake Bay watershed improvement goals. Native plants offer more ecosystem benefits, provide food and habitat for wildlife, especially essential pollinators, and discourage the establishment of invasive plants. Native species also provide benefits for gardeners. Native 

Nursery employees like Cole Hunter assist customers in identifying native plants that qualify for program discounts


species adapt to their natural environment and are more likely to thrive than non-native, ornamental, or exotic species. Fertilizing isn’t required and watering needs decline once the trees are established. When native trees mature, they provide shade and reduce temperatures in planted areas.

Beyond the benefits to wildlife and gardeners, successful trees hold soil and filter stormwater runoff. O’Liddy adds that, “Waterways and rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, and through our cities and towns, can be cleaned by establishment trees.” The federal Environmental Protection Agency set pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in the Bay. 

Virginia, five other bay states, and the District of Columbia developed plans to adhere to those limits. Virginia’s Water Implementation Plan, also called the Clean Water Blueprint, requires an increase of tree canopy coverage for the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The Blueprint is a detailed practical plan for meeting Virginia's goals for reducing pollution by 2025. If fully implemented, it is expected to vastly improve the health of rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Community planting of native trees is a part of that plan. Described as the single most important roadmap for restoring the Commonwealth's waters, the Blueprint also is a guiding document for the Department of Forestry in setting tree planting goals.

As part of the Throwing Shade program, the Department of Forestry includes a tool to map trees planted through the discount program. By scanning the tree tag QR at the time of purchase, customers enter some basic information, confidentially, and that helps track the Commonwealth’s progress toward tree planting and water quality improvement goals. 

Burke Nursery & Garden Center, in Burke, was one of the three private nurseries that responded to DOF’s request to participate. Under the pilot program, customers can receive a discount of $25 on eligible native trees for retail sales valued at $50 or more. The Department of Forestry will evaluate the potential for a state-wide program based on the three nursery pilot experience. 

Burke Nursery horticulturalist Misty Kuceris said “There’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that we’re doing our part to maintain and even improve our ecosystems. This [program] gives all of us the opportunity to discuss native plants, the beauty they bring to the landscape, and the benefits they provide. We totally believe in the ecosystem and using native plants, and see this program as part of educating the public.” Kuceris expects people who have been thinking about using natives to be motivated by the program’s incentives to give them a try. 

For more information about plants native to our region, see  

Burke Nursery & Garden Center, 9401 Burke Road, Burke

How the Program Works

* Select a native tree or shrub with a “Throwing Shade VA” tag

* Scan the QR code on the tag and record where the tree will be planted

* Show cashier that the information on the QR code was collected and receive a $25 discount on your purchase.

Benefits of Native Trees/Shrubs/Plants

* create food/habitat for wildlife, especially essential pollinators

* improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, store greenhouse gases

* save time/money - hardy & require little care once established

* likely to thrive due to environmental adaptation

* meet any landscaping needs

* advantageous to the ecosystem

* maintain their space & foster biodiversity in our communities and forests