A statewide pilot program recently encouraged area gardeners to choose native plants by offering a discount on shrubs and trees through the end of June. If expanded around Virginia this fall, the program may start offering additional discounts.
The Throwing Shade VA program, which started in mid-April at three Virginia garden centers, is run through the Urban and Community Forestry Program of the Virginia Department of Forestry and so far has been successful, said John Fogle (’04), manager of Woodstock Gardens at 1175 Hisey Ave. in Woodstock, Virginia.
In the first week of the program, Fogle said his garden center sold 492 native plants, and the staff continued to restock about twice a week with plants sourced from area growers. As of June 6, they had sold 1,165. Through the program, customers were given $25 off any qualifying plant priced at $50 or more.
It’s “a win-win for folks,” Fogle said. Customers get a discount on plants, and the ecosystem benefits from fewer invasive species that crowd out natives, discourage helpful pollination and increase the spread of disease in Virginia’s forests. Furthermore, native plants are easier to maintain and often produce berries, providing food for people and local wildlife.
Some of the top-selling plants have been pink or white Annabelle hydrangeas and blueberry bushes, which Fogle said are self-sustaining and “super easy” to take care of. Popular native trees are red maple and swamp white oak, which he said produce acorns for wildlife and host caterpillars that birds eat. “All around, it’s a great way to go,” he said.
There was no limit on the number of plants that could be purchased through the inaugural discount program — a boon for those buying several trees at a time to use in landscaping or as riparian buffers. “You can use that $25 discount times 100,” Fogle said.
Fogle developed a lifelong interest in horticulture from his parents and uncle, who opened Woodstock Gardens — formerly Fort Valley Nursery — in 1980 and moved the business to its current location in 2008. Fogle was the retail manager from 2004 to 2010 and returned to the business in April 2021.
He said his bachelor’s degree in Business Management from JMU prepared him to join the family business and pursue his interests while contributing his business acumen. Throwing Shade VA was a great fit, he said, because Woodstock Gardens has been “getting more and more involved with promoting and educating the community about the benefit of native plants.”
The federal funds were distributed by the U.S. Department of Forestry to all 50 states about a year ago, Fogle said. After the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality allotted its funds to water quality improvement efforts, Molly O’Liddy and Delaney Long, with the Urban and Community Forestry Program, started working on the Throwing Shade VA pilot program to help improve environmental wellness around the commonwealth.
“We don’t have a specific number attached to it, because it is a pilot program,” said O’Liddy, partnership coordinator. “We wanted to, of course, promote the sale and planting of native plants. A really hot-button issue right now, and it has been for quite a while, [is] invasive plants.”
Her office sent out a request for applications through its state procurement system to nurseries that were registered with the state, and three responded with interest within the requested timeframe: Woodstock Gardens; Burke Nursery & Garden Centre at 9401 Burke Road in Burke, Virginia; and Coastal Landscapes at 1485 Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“We liked that they were in different parts of the state,” O’Liddy said. “They all have different customer bases.” She hopes the program will help increase the number of people who visit garden centers, while also dissauding customers from buying invasive, ornamental trees or shrubs.
“Natives naturally occur in our environment,” she said, “so there’s a lot less fertilizer or attention needed to benefit these plants. They naturally bring in our native wildlife as well. They also are more likely to grow and thrive in our area, not just survive, because they’re used to our climate.”
To get the discount, customers must fill out a short survey when they pay for their plants, Fogle said. Woodstock Gardens then applies for reimbursement through the program each month to cover the discounted portion of each sale.
The discount not only educates people about native plants but also gives folks who might otherwise be priced out of buying trees the chance to consider these options for their yard, O’Liddy said. “Lowering that barrier of entry to allow more people to have the accessibility to actually purchase these plants,” she said, “that has been a major theme of this program as well.”
Long and O’Liddy were planning to look at the data after June 30 to see how they might include other locations going forward. “We’re kind of learning together how to do this program,” Fogle said.
Grateful that Throwing Shade VA has helped him educate the community on the benefits of native plants, he added, “It peaks people’s curiosity.”