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Gary Garner



Garden news, thoughts, tips, musings, rumors, gossip and occasional good advice
from Gary Garner, the Guru of Grass.

March 7th, 2018 - Plant Buying Decisions



What To Consider & What Questions To Ask!

It's that time of the year and us gardeners want to get outside and work in the yard.  Most of all it seems that we all want to plant something.  There is something about planting and then watching what we planted grow that is especially appealing to gardeners.

Having landscaped for a few years and then operated a retail garden center for almost 25 years I know not everyone plans before buying.  Customers buy plants on impulse much as they would shop for clothes.  It's pretty and my size, I think I will buy it.  Usually, buying plants like this proves expensive and disappointing.

Let's take a look at where you should buy your plants and what to consider before handing over the credit card to be rung up. There are a number of questions that you need answered before making the final decision to buy.

First think about where you want to locate the plant or plants in the yard.  How big is the space you are filling, how wide and how tall will be right, do you want color or is evergreen foliage more important?  How hard is it going to be to water the plant through the first growing season?  What will look right with the surrounding plants?  How long after I plant the plant is it going to take for the plant to fill the need I am planting it for?

An example of the answer to the last question.  I am thinking about planting a dwarf cherry tree.  I only want to plant one so right off it has to be self-pollinating.  Some cherries are and some are not. So, I have to search for the right variety.  Now I have found a bare root tree that comes as a 3 to 4 ft switch (looks like a stick that might have a few tiny branches) for $19.99 and will take 5 to 7 years to produce fruit.  I have also found a 7 gallon container tree that will produce fruit this summer.  The cost of that is $54.99.  Being what most people would consider old I think I will buy the 7 gallon container tree.

Once you get to the nursery here are a few things you need to ask the clerk.  Even if there is a tag on the tree you still should ask the questions.  Today many plants are not tagged in the garden centers.  The reason they are not tagged is simple, it is expensive.  The tags cost somewhere between .25 and a $1 plus you have to pay someone to put them on each plant.

First question will the plant grow in our hardiness zone.  We live in zone 7a.  Hardiness zones start with 1 in the extreme north and go up from there as you head to the tropics.  If it won't grow in zone 7 I don’t want to plant it outside.  I may plant it in a container if I can bring it inside for winter protection.

Next question, where was it grown before it came to the local garden center.  It's true that a Hershey Red Azalea is a Hershey Red Azalea no matter where it is grown.  However, if it was grown in the deep south, under shade, heavy water and intense fertilization and then shipped to Virginia it needs to be acclimated to our climate before it is planted outside.

Ask what exposure does the plant grow best in?  For example, an azalea does best in morning sun and afternoon shade.  Full sun is not the best place to plant azaleas.  Japanese hollies, on the other hand love heat and full hot sun.

What is the mature size of the plant?  When you are looking at a tree in the nursery doesn’t tell you anything about how big it is going to be ten years from now.  I see people plant hollies in front of windows that are 18 inches tall when planted but five years later they are 6 to 8 feet tall and you can't see out of the window.  Good advice would have avoided this.

What kind of care does the plant need once it is planted?  How often should I water the first year after planting, should I mulch the plant, fertilizer, insect and disease care are all questions that need answers.

If the store where I am shopping could not answer these questions then I would look elsewhere.  A reputable garden center should have the answers to all these questions.  When I owned my garden center I could answer all these questions,

But I did not offer the answers until I was asked.  After being told a few times by customers that if they wanted advice they would ask for it, I learned to speak when spoken to.

Just a few tips on plant buying, hope it helps.

March - Planning For Vegetable Gardens!

Planning For Vegetable Gardens!


Spring is right around the corner and we are all ready to get out and start planting. Many retailors already have in stock seed potatoes, onion sets and vegetable seed.  They will be stocking cold crop plants shortly.  We are going to try and offer tips and videos to help you to be more successful with your vegetable gardens.  Whether you are trying vegetable gardening for the first time or are old pro at the game we think we will have some tips that you can use.

What I would tell you whether it's your first try at gardening or you are an old pro not to bite off more than you can chew. As you start to plan look first at how much time you have to spend in the garden.  The other important thing to use in planning is how much space do you have that offers good soil, light and drainage for a garden.

A garden can consume a lot of time and if all you have is weekends ask yourself do you want to spend a few hours each weekend in the garden or do you want to spend the entire weekend in the garden. What will you do if it rains all weekend?  When will you catch up?

I have seen to many of our customers try to overdo the time they had and plant in soil and light that was not appropriate for vegetables and soon the garden was taken over by weeds and grass and some stuff was not growing and finally they just give up.  They then decide to give up or try some of the new fads in growing.  Things like square foot gardening, raised bed gardens, planting in straw bales and other new ideas.  Believe me, none of these new fads answer the two points I raised above.

In general, a vegetable garden should be in full, all day, direct sunlight.  The soil should be well drained and loamy. Running your rows so they run north to south will help with the light problem

Another consideration before you start is spacing and layout of the garden. If space is limited you may want to stay away from things like melons and pumpkins.  Think about how many plants it may take to produce enough crop for your family.  Make sure you plant things the family likes and will eat.

I once had a neighbor that decided to grow tomatoes.  She bought six tomato plants, planted them, diligently tended them, ended up with some of the nicest tomatoes you could want.  Never harvested the first one because nobody in the family liked tomatoes.  They all rotted on the vine while my mouth watered.

Below is a chart of some of the vegetables more commonly grown with suggestions for space requirements and depth of planting.




One quick comment all of these measurements are approximate.  A few inches one way or the other is not going to matter.  When I plant I dig a trench and drop seed in and it works just fine.  When planting potatoes and onion sets I don’t worry about setting them with the top up or how far apart they are.  They know which way is up and distance apart is not all that important.

Just have fun when you garden.  Don’t let it be a burden.

If this info is helpful lets us know.  We would like to think we are doing some good.


February - Spring planting is just around the corner!



We are now heading into February and believe it or not, time to start spring planting is just around the corner. I know the groundhog just said we will have 6 more weeks of winter.  Nevertheless, planting will soon begin if the weather meets us halfway.  In about 3 weeks fruit trees, landscape trees, azaleas and other material will begin to appear in garden centers.  Potato and onion sets if not already in stock will be in shortly.  Cold crop plants such as cabbage and lettuce will also be on display at the local garden stores.

I know some people prefer to grow their own plants and that is ok if you know what you are doing.  Growing your own plants, in my opinion, is one of the more difficult things home gardeners undertake.  Growing plants from seed is not all that easy.  You have to have just the right light, make sure you have air flow, water enough but don’t overwater, set the plants outside to harden off, bring them inside so they don’t get hurt by the cold, don’t over fertilize or they will be leggy and weak and those are just some of the problems I can think of now.  For most home gardeners, especially small space gardeners, buying plants already up and growing at time of planting will be less expensive and a lot less trouble than trying to grow your own.

On the other hand, if you want to grow some of the newer varieties or something unusual you may not be able to find the plants at your local garden center.  Growers like to grow material they can sell in high volumes. Generally, they like to have sale for about 100 or more flats to grow a variety.  That translates to approximately 5000 plants.

I hope most people have taken advantage of the dry winter to clean the leaves out of shrub beds and apply some fresh mulch.  Dead and broken branches should be pruned out of shrubs and trees. While it has been cold, it has also been sunny and dry.

Now is the time to get ready to have a great garden year.

JANUARY 15, 2018 - Frozen In Winter

What a frigidly cold winter means for your plants...!

We are now in the middle of January and experiencing one of the coldest periods of weather that I can remember.  I have been around a long time and I don’t ever remember 8 days in a row that the temps did not go above freezing.  As I write this it is about 2 pm and still below 30 degrees. Personally, I like it.  As strange as it sounds I like weather extremes.  I like it hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

I talk to people that are concerned about their plants.  My guess is we will likely see some plant damage and some loss of plants.  We should blame ourselves for this not Mother Nature.  We are in zone 7A.  That means a low temperature of 5 degrees above zero.  When the temps drop below this for any extended time we usually see some plant damage.

Being human we try to challenge Mother Nature and sooner or later she catches up with us.  We go to the beach and we see beautiful clumps of pink pampas grass and we want some.  The problem is pink pampas is only hardy to about 5 degrees above zero and then only for a short time. The last several winters have been mild so pink pampas survived, my guess a lot if not all the pink pampas in this area will see some damage or be completely killed by this winter's weather.

We also plant some crape myrtle varieties that will see some damage this winter.  Some perennials may well see some loss or some damage. Shrubs and trees planted in the fall with tender growth may get burnt back, shrubs that were pruned in the fall and put out new growth before frost is likely to sustain some damage.

But, all is not lost.  The cold does some good things too.  It may kill out some insects and disease spores.  The insects are pretty smart they know how to hide and survive the cold.  Most of our plant material needs a certain number of cold hours to perform well.  This winter they got it.

My thought is it has been a great winter so far.  I may change my mind when I see my next heat bill. Now a good 6 to 8 in snow would really help.

Lets enjoy the winter and look forward to spring when its time.

November Lawn and Garden Tips

NOVEMBER 17' - A few lawn and garden tips!


The year is fast coming to a close.  Only a few weeks left in the year.  With the weather and holiday shopping there is not much going on outside. There are some things that could be done at this time if you feel so motivated.


Now would be a good time to prune evergreen shrubs such as hollies and boxwood.  You do NOT want to prune azaleas or anything that blooms in the spring.  They have already set bloom for the spring and pruning now would cut off spring blooms.


Now is also a good time to edge and apply mulch to your shrub and flower beds.  A good crisp edge and a fresh layer of mulch will do wonders for your yard over the winter.


Obviously, leaves will have to be dealt with during this time.  Leaves left in the beds will help overwinter all types of disease and insects.  Take it from an old grounds maintenance guy, it is far easier to get up leaves once a week than it is to let them accumulate and try to get them up all at one time.  If you run over them with the lawn mower and chop them up fine they are beneficial to the lawn.  Just make sure that you put down enough lime to compensate for the acidity they add to the lawn.


There is still time to plant bulb.  Spring blooming bulbs should be planted 4 to 8 inches deep.  You do not have to worry about how carefully you put them in the hole with tops up and such.  Dig a hole, drop them in, they know which way up is.


Our soils tend to be acidic, so a good application of lime is in order.  Without a ph test it's hard to say how much lime you need.  20 to 30 lbs of lime per 1000 sq ft should maintain the ph at its present level.  If you have not limed in several years you may need 10 times that amount to raise the ph to the proper level.  Fescue lawns need a ph of 7 to 7.5 to be at their best.


If you have not fertilized this fall, then an application of fertilizer would be in order.  Fertilizer applied in the fall goes to the roots of grass and shrubs and helps them to grow over the winter, thus building a strong plant. Spring applied fertilizer goes to top growth and may weaken the plant.


Just a few tips for now.  Be sure and watch our garden tips on Facebook.

April - Almost Tomato Planting Time



It is that time of the year.  People are ready to plant tomatoes.  And nothing you can say or do will keep them from planting. So I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some tomato terminology and what the terms mean.



Plants that are grown by genetically crossing two plants.  Seeds from these cannot be saved.  They will not produce true in the next generation.  You will end up with low yield and fruit that is not very good.  Hybrids are generally more disease and crack resistant.  They are bred for specific qualities.  Many times taste is sacraficed in order to get a firmer fruit or a longer keeper for example.



Those have a higher sugar content and seem less acid than regular tomatoes. Actually, they have the same amount of acid.  Some people like them better.



These are tomatoes the way nature made them.  You can save the seeds and they will produce the same plant next season.  They are less disease resistant and tend to crack and not keep as well as newer introductions.



This refers to the growth habit of the plant. They grow to a specific height and then stop growing.  The fruit ripens all at once and they are good for canning, freezing and drying.



This also refers to the plants growth habit.  The plants genes tell it to keep growing.  Normally these need to be staked or caged and they continue to bear fruit all summer and until frost.



Simply lists the number of days from the time the seed germinates until the fruit matures or starts to ripen.



These are seeds that are grown under the USDAs NOPL (National Organic Program) standards.



This is just some of the more important terminology used in talking about tomatoes. It is probably not that important to the average homeowner planting 5 or 6 plants.  I receive two catalogs each with hundreds of tomato seed listed and yet there are many differences between the two listings.  Just an example of how many kinds of seed are available Brandywine is a popular heirloom.  There are some 15 to 20 different Brandywines available.


In the next few days I am going to write about what makes an heirloom an heirloom, also about the difference in growing in the ground versus growing in containers.



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