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Gary's Garden Blog

Gary Garner



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

Buying Tips - November 2ed, 2018


Just a follow up on my last blog concerning knowing what you are buying and where it can and can’t be used.  I thought the following information might be helpful when making buying decisions.

There are 14 zones in North America.  One is far north in the Artic and fourteen is at the very bottom tip of the North American continent.  The zone we live in is referred to as seven A.  This means we should not be planting plants that cannot survive zero F to 5f for extended periods of time. I know at times we have colder temps than zero but that is unusual.

Our average first frost is between October 21 to October 31.  Our last frost is normally between April 17 and April 20.  Our average rainfall is 41.62 inches.  For statistical purposes this is measured at the airport.  Our average snowfall is 15 inches measured at the airport.  All of these figures are from the National Weather Service and their office is at the airport.

Now, it goes without saying that these figures may differ significantly from the airport to your yard or my yard.  They are only a guide to work by.  I seem to remember that one of the big rains this summer dropped 6 inches of water in the Forest area and parts of Lynchburg but only an inch at the airport.

We all know frost has occurred much earlier than October 21 and much later than April 20.  We know summer storms drop large amounts of water over small areas.  Even in our own yards the temperature varies from one area of the yard to the other.  We have to go by the guides we have.

Buying because a plant is pretty is not a good reason to buy.  That pretty plant in the store may not live where you want to plant it or it may live and not bloom.  If it doesn’t do what you want it to do then it is not a good buy.

I have given these tips before but know where you are going to put a plant before you buy.  Know if the plant you are buying prefers sun or shade.  Know the hardiness of the plant you are buying.  This information should be on the tag attached to the plant.  If the plant is not tagged ask for the information.

If someone where you are buying cannot answer your questions, go somewhere else to buy.

Know Your Plant Zone


I met a lady this morning with a question about some of her plants.  She stopped me and said she had a small green plant that looked like a little tree with big blooms on it and she wanted to know what kind of tree it was.  Needless to say, I needed more information, but after asking some questions I found out I figured out it was a tropical hibiscus.  Her question was how should it be pruned.

I explained how I would prune it if it was mine. While explaining how to prune I learned the plant was planted in the ground and she planned to leave it there for the winter.  I also learned she had a Mandevilla that she also intended to leave out for the winter.  I tried to explain to her that it was a tropical plant that would not survive temperatures in the mid-thirties for an extended period of time.

I asked if the plants had labels with them and she said yes, they did and she always saved her labels.  I asked if she read them and she said no.  I did not ask why bother to save them if she was not going to read them.  I wanted to.

The point is there are a lot of people that buy plants solely on the basis of looks but with no idea as to whether it will grow in our climate zone.  There are plants that will grow in Raleigh or Richmond but do not do well in Lynchburg.  Just because it was pretty in Myrtle Beach does not mean it will overwinter outside in Lynchburg.

Back to hibiscus a minute.  There are three kinds of hibiscus.  Hardy hibiscus, more commonly known as Rose of Sharon, which will survive –20 degrees.  There are, perennial hibiscus that die down over the winter and come back each year and then there are tropical hibiscus.

Tropical hibiscus are zone 10 plants.  This is true of most so-called tropical plants.  They will not survive light frosts or freezes.  When we owned the garden center, we brought in one truck of tropical plants each spring.  This was about one thousand plants. They were brought in and sold for container plantings and summer color.  We tried to warn customers that they had to be brought inside over the winter if they wanted to save them for the next summer. But, there were always some that did not listen.

Your sister has some in her yard and they are big trees and she has had them for years? Where does she live?  She lives Orlando.  Enough said.

There are many varieties of gardenias but only two are recommended to plant outside in Lynchburg.  They will be damaged if the temperatures go down to five above zero for several hours.

The point is pay attention to climate zones when planting plants that are intended to remain outside year around.  If you don’t know ask.  If the store employee can’t answer your question go somewhere else to buy.

Know What You Are Getting October 25th, 2018


My wife happened to be watching a court show after lunch today and I happened to overhear that the case was concerning a yard that was sodded and had not performed as the customer expected.  The sod had a number of large dead spots scattered throughout the yard.  The customer claimed the installer put too much fertilizer on the sod, while the installer thought the spots were caused by improper watering, too much or too little.

After listening to the testimony, I believe it was most likely caused by too much watering.  The cause is really immaterial to what I am writing about.  I want to make the point that the entire litigation could have been avoided if the two parties had had a clear understanding, in writing, before the job was started.  My point is the same regardless of the type of work you are having done, whether it is yard work, roofing, painting or something else.

In our case when I quoted price on any type of lawn work that required seed, I gave a written quote. The last thing at the bottom of the quote I put in all caps red letters that we were not responsible for seed germination or the performance of the yard.  I have had customers to set up a playground for the neighborhood kids the same day the yard was seeded.  I had customers that watered part of the newly seeded lawn and not all because it was too much trouble to move the hose. I could tell many other horror stories along these lines. It was much easier and less costly to make it plain at the beginning, no warranty.  I never saw where it caused me to lose any work.

The point is to have a clear understanding between parties, buyer and seller, and have it signed by both parties.  If either one has any questions resolve it before the agreement is signed.

A wise man who was very successful in business once told me and I quote, “Business is so simple, tell people what you can and can’t do and do it”, end quote.  That is as true as anything I have ever heard.

The guru has spoken.

Fall (ing leaves) Have Arrived! October 21st, 2018


Whether we like it or not fall and the cooler temperatures that come along with it have arrived.  The color has slowly started to change and some leaves have started to fall.  Now the question comes, what do we do with all those leaves?

How can we put those leaves to work?  I hate the thoughts of sending them off to clog up the landfill.  Actually, those leaves can be very valuable.  They contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and trace elements that the tree roots have brought up out of the soil.  Leaves contain nearly twice the mineral content of manure.  The article I read said the leaves from one tree could be worth as much as $50 of fertilizer or humus.  Think how much that is in dollars some of us are throwing away.

The organic matter from leaves lightens dry clay, improves soil structure and increases moisture retention in dry soils.  That is a lot of benefit from something we are thinking about throwing away.  Instead of throwing them away why not compost?  Blow or rake your leaves into bins.  A bin can be easily made from 3 old palettes set on end or some chicken wire formed in a u shape.  You get the idea.

If you want to hurry along the decomposition mow over the leaves or shred them with a leaf shredder.  Mix a little top soil with each layer of leaves, throw in a little lime and 10-10-10.  If you use grass clippings make sure the grass has not been sprayed with any type of weed control chemical.

You now have a great product to use for potted plants or to spread in the garden to enrich the soil.

Leaves are also great used to improve your lawn soil.  Leaving leaves on your lawn improves the soil, reduces the need for fertilizer in the spring and helps to contain moisture in the lawn throughout the summer.  As the leaves start to fall set your mower at about 3 inches cutting height and mow over the leaves weekly.  They will easily decompose over the winter.  Last suggestion, add a little extra lime over the winter as the leaves tend to be acidic.

Pansies - Tougher Than They Look! September 18th, 2018



New gardeners often are hesitant to plant pansies in the fall because they appear very fragile.  In fact, they are a very tough cold season plant and have no trouble surviving our Central Virginia winters.  A cold snap in the winter will cause pansies to quit blooming and appear to shrink.  They can look pretty bad at times.  Give them a few days of warm/sunny weather and they pop right back in color and look great. In Central Virginia pansies are usually in bloom from about the first of September through about the end of May.  This can change depending on temperatures.

Another point to make is that there is no difference in a fall pansy and a spring pansy except the time they are sold and planted.  Many times, a spring pansy is one that was not sold in the fall.

Here are a few things you may not know about pansies.


  • Pansies are a hybrid bred from violas.
  • They were originated in the 1800’s in England.
  • By 1833 there were over 400 named pansy varieties.
  • The name pansy is derived from the French word pensee (thought) because the flower resembles the face of a person deep in thought.
  • Some other names for pansies include heartsease, love in idleness, and flower of Jove.
  • Pansies are sometimes called the “Herb Trinity”, with its three colorful petals symbolizing the Holy Trinity.
  • Pansies are naturally a biennial, only blooming in their second year, but modern engineered varieties bloom during the first year (usually within 9 weeks).
  • There are a few basic steps that should be followed in order for your pansies to look their best and survive the winter ready to bloom again in the Spring.


Planted in beds they usually do best if planted in beds facing east and north.  I have not had any real problem when I planted pansies where I wanted them and didn’t worry about exposure.  Pansies are roughly hardy to about –10F.  I usually fertilize lightly with 10-10-10 when I plant and water about once a week until freezing occurs.  Then I discontinue watering. Pansies go dormant during extreme cold and pop back into bloom when it warms up.

Pansies are normally not recommended to be planted in areas without protection and in unprotected containers.  I break this rule quite often.  It’s a matter of whether you are willing to gamble. In beds a little mulch will help to keep the roots from freezing.

In the Spring when they go back to blooming heavy I like to throw a few handfuls of 10-10-10 in the bed.  During warmer spells pansies may tend to spring up and get leggy.  Just cut them back and they look great in a couple of weeks.  I have cut back large beds with a string trimmer or mowed over them with a lawnmower.  Throw in a few handfuls of fertilizer and in a few days they looked great.

One last point the earlier you plant in the fall the larger and prettier pansies you will have over the winter.  They need to have time to grow before freezing weather.  I know your summer annuals may still look great but if you want your pansies to look their best over the Winter they need to be planted early.  Your Choice.

Prepare For Fall September 17th, 2018


It’s time to start thinking about bringing in your houseplants that have been outside for the summer.  Once the temperature starts to dip in the mid to low 50’s at night most houseplants should be inside.

A couple of exceptions would be Christmas cactus and geraniums.  Cool weather and some sunshine will usually cause cactus to develop flower buds.  Geraniums while they won’t survive freezing will hold up under a light frost.

Before I bring in my houseplants there are some things I like to do to prevent bringing in unwanted pests and disease.  First, I like to prune pretty hard.  Any plants that need repotting before coming inside I repot and root prune.  Second, I wash the plants well.  I take the garden hose and wash them standing up and then lay them on the side and try to wash the bottom of the leaf.  If they are in pots small enough to handle easily I fill a tub with water and set them in the tub and leave them until they stop bubbling.  This eliminates soil insects.  As soon as they stop bubbling I bring them out and let them drain and leave them to dry.  The last thing I do is spray them with a house plant insecticide.  As soon as all this is done inside they come.

The cactus and geraniums mentioned above will need to be brought in or protected from freezing weather or hard frost. Geraniums I toss.  If you want to over winter them I would cut them back by two thirds or more.

Tropical plants such as hibiscus or a non-frost hardy gardenia I treat a little differently. I leave them out until nights start to dip into the 40’s.  I then do what I recommended for my houseplants except I prune a little harder.  I don’t worry about where I put them when I bring them inside.  No matter where I put them the leaves seem all fall off over the winter.  If you have a bright sun porch they might keep most of their leaves over the winter but dropping their leaves does not seem to hurt the plants.  I cut back on watering while they are inside.  I water, maybe, every two or three weeks while they are inside.

In the Spring when I set them outside I fertilize heavily, water thoroughly and new growth starts in a few days and soon they burst into bloom.

The houseplants come back outside soon after the tropical plants.  I follow the same fertilizer and watering routine for them.

We are now ready for another summer.

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