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Gary Garner



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

Hydrangea Tips - August 7th, 2020


A lot of questions come up about when to prune hydrangeas. It is not an easy question to answer. One quick answer is the plant may be planted in improper light. Some hydrangeas take more sun than others. If the light they are planted in is too bright or they are in too much shade bloom will be affected. Make certain when you buy the plant, what the proper lighting conditions are for the plant you have purchased.


The most common reason for hydrangeas not blooming is pruning at the improper time. As with most flowering plants there is a proper time for pruning. You should make certain you prune at the proper time according to the variety being pruned.


If you have a variety that blooms on new wood, meaning stems that grew during the current season, you want to prune during late winter. If you have a variety that blooms on old wood, stems that grew during the previous year, you should prune as soon as the flowers finish in summer. They start to set bloom for next year as soon as flowering is finished. If you wait until spring to prune you cut off the buds that were set last season.


Where to plant and when to prune should be determined at the time the plant is purchased. There are hundreds of varieties on the market and new ones come out every year. It is no way for me to sit here and name which variety does what. Ask when you buy and, as always, if you can’t get the answer buy somewhere else.

Hot Weather Maintenance - July 6th, 2020


The summer high temperatures and hot sun can be tough on newly planted shrubs, vegetable gardens, and flowers unless they are properly maintained.


Make certain, first that your shrubs and trees are planted in the proper environment. Some will like full shade, some partial shade to light sun, and some thrive in full sun. Azaleas, for example, like morning sun and afternoon shade. They may live-in all-day sun but they will not be happy. Plant them in full sun and then put gravel around the base and they will likely be dead in two years. The heat will burn the roots up. On the other hand, Japanese holly planted in this same environment will thrive. They like the heat.


Newly planted shrubs and trees should have a two to three-inch layer of mulch, no more, around their base. This holds in moisture and keeps the roots cool. Most shrubs and trees need to be gently soaked every week to ten days to the bottom of the root ball. A five-minute blast of water is a waste of time and water. Usually, it is only necessary to water shrubs and trees through the first growing season.


Vegetable gardens planted in the ground normally do not need a lot of supplemental watering. Mother Nature usually provides for their needs. I was in a garden this past weekend that was beautiful. Lush and green and has only received rain water. It will not be watered this season. Too much water creates lots of foliage growth which only helps to limit the amount of produce produced. Once the vegetables are up and growing fertilization and extra water should be limited. Flowers planted in the ground would be grown in this same manner.


Flowers and vegetables planted in containers are a different story. Make sure your containers are placed in the proper spots according to the plants in the containers. Container plantings in shade may only need water once a week, certainly no more than twice a week. Containers that have plants that perform well in full sun will want to be watered daily. Let me inject here that a raised bed is nothing more than a large container and should be treated as such.


On days such as the day I am writing this, 90 degrees at one o’clock, you will see many of your flowers and vegetables withered. This does not mean they need to be watered. Plants wither as a means of protecting themselves from the heat. If you come out of the house at six the next morning and the plants are still withered then you might need to grab the hose and give them a good soaking.


One last tip. When you water, try to water under the leaves. Try not to wet the leaves. Plants in general do not like wet leaves. If the leaves stay wet long it may produce rot and fungus diseases. Holes in plant leaves are usually caused by water standing on the leaves.


Just a few tips that I hope will help to save you some work over the summer and allow you to enjoy your flowers and garden.

Container Fertilization - June 29th, 2020


More and more people are growing vegetables, flowers and even shrubs and small trees in containers. I personally enjoy container growing. Containers allow me to use plants where and when I can enjoy them. When they are in bloom, I move them where they can be seen and when they finish blooming, I can relocate them and put something else out for show.

With that said caring for container grown plants is much different than caring for plants grown in ground. Plants in containers need a continuous supply of nutrients. Each time you water some of the nutrients are removed from the pot as it drains. A good rule of thumb for watering containers is that when you put a gallon of water in the pot, you should be able to catch a gallon of drainage within about 20 minutes. This also removes nutrients from the soil.

Generally, nutrients should be replaced about every six weeks. If the potting mix you use contains fertilizer, some mixes do some don’t, then your first application of fertilizer should be about six weeks after the plant is potted.

There are many different types of fertilizer that can be used. Pellets sprinkled on top of the soil breakdown when you are watering. A regular liquid feed works well. You can buy liquid feeds or make your own. Read the label on the fertilizer package and follow directions.

As with most gardening subjects I could go on for many pages or maybe a book. Even after reading all that you still have to learn by doing. Experiment, some things will work and some will not. You can only learn to garden by gardening.

Fireblight - Recognizing and Control June 24th, 2020




Fire blight is a fairly common and highly contagious disease most often found on apple and pear trees both ornamental and fruiting. It may spread to roses and raspberry at times. The weather this spring has been perfect for the disease to appear and spread. Cool, rainy, cloudy with some breeze is conducive to creating the disease and spreading the disease.


Blight first appears in the blossoms in early spring, then gradually spreads to new growth and moves along the branch toward the center part of the plant. The name fire blight comes from the appearance of the leaves which may look like they have been burned. It affects leaves, stem, and bark. The affected areas will appear black, shrunken and cracked. Blossoms will yellow, wilt, and die within one to two weeks after being infected.


At times an amber-colored ooze may come out of the tree. This is heavy with infection. When the temperatures range between 60- and 80-degrees conditions are perfect for the disease to spread. Some common ways for the disease to spread are bees, birds, splashing rain, and wind.


Fortunately, it normally does not kill a plant unless it occurs several years in a row. It will limit the fruit production of a tree. New growth is highly susceptible to the disease; therefore, recommendations are to limit the use of a high nitrogen fertilizer. Each year do a complete cleanup around the tree. Remove all debris and burn it. The debris around the tree is a perfect place for the disease spores to over-winter.


The blighted wood in a plant should be pruned out and burned. Prune at least 8 to 12 inches beyond the infected area. During the season remove suckers and water sprouts from the tree. Watch for any in season appearance of the disease and remove as soon as it appears.


Because of how contagious the disease is all tools used in pruning, etc should be disinfected as soon as you finish the task. Gloves, your clothing and hands should be washed thoroughly. You might want to use chemical wipes between cuts to keep from spreading the disease.


There are chemical agents that can be purchased at most garden centers to control the disease. You will likely have to make more than one application during the spring to control the disease. You will find the fungicides to be fairly expensive as compared to other pesticides.


As always read and reread the label before you apply the pesticide. It is not the job of the employee where you buy the chemical to tell you how to use, how much to use, how often to use, or other information about the chemical. The information is on the label for you to read.


Be prudent and patient. Fire blight is not the end of the world but if you have a home orchard it is something you will have to deal with.

Fertilizer - When and when not to apply? June 16th, 2020



A few days ago, I put out some tips on how and when to water. Today I thought I would out some suggestions on when and how much to fertilize. I see a lot of money wasted by over applying fertilizer and by applying fertilizer at the wrong time.

Lawns are the biggest acreage crop in Virginia and therefore one of the largest consumers of fertilizer. Many people throw large amounts of fertilizer on the lawn in early spring in order to have a lush green lawn. It looks pretty but it's not very good for the lawn.

A better way is to apply 3 applications of fertilizer in the fall and a very light application late March or early April in the spring. In all, you want to get about 5 pounds of nitrogen on the lawn for the year. I like to see 4 ½ pounds of that in the fall and the balance in the spring.

The reason for heavy fall, light in the spring is the fall application goes down to the roots and grows a strong root system over the winter. Fertilizer applied in the spring goes to the top of the plant. It makes you cut more often, if you catch the clippings the fertilizer is in the clippings you discard, and it weakens the plant. In the long run you will have a prettier lawn and a healthier lawn by applying your fertilizer in the fall.

Now, let's look at your vegetable garden and flowers. I have seen some beautiful gardens produce very little produce because they were over fertilized and over watered.

An example, we had a customer when we owned the garden center that built two small raised beds. He bought the best lumber, then bought all the material, from us, to mix and make his soil mix. He then bought the fertilizer and plants from us. By the time he planted the first plant he had invested over $3000.00 in that garden.

Lator in the summer he came in with pictures of his garden bragging about how pretty his tomatoes were. There was just one small problem he had not seen a bloom or tomato on the plants.

After asking some questions, I found out he was fertilizing heavily weekly and watering daily. The plants were growing so hard they did not have time to bloom or set fruit. Plants don’t grow and bloom at the same time. He ended up spending thousands of dollars for a pretty garden without any produce.

A better way would have been to fertilize lightly when he planted and maybe top dressed lightly about the time the plants bloomed. With a raised bed he might have needed to water weekly. I would follow that same fertilizer schedule if I planted directly in the ground. I would not water that often.

Containers I would handle differently. I would mix fertilizer with my potting mix and I would add fertilizer moderately about once a month throughout the growing season. A correctly potted plant drains well. When you put a gallon of water in the top you should be able to catch a gallon out the bottom in about 20 minutes. As it drains it carries the nutrients with it.

To sum it all up you can save money and have much better lawns and gardens by being judicious with both fertilizer and water.

Dealing With Summer - When to Water June 10th, 2020


When to Water

Summer is here. Over the next three months we will have to deal with excessive heat, spells of dry weather along with possible storms and heavy downfalls of rain. All of these will take a toll on our flower gardens, vegetable gardens and newly planted shrubs and trees.

What to do? Nobody can give you specific instructions for each situation. You have to learn by doing. Somethings you do will work and some won’t. If you can’t stand to lose a plant occasionally you should not be gardening to begin with. Just because it works for Grandad or your neighbor doesn’t mean it will work for you. Every yard or garden is different. Every hole or plant is different. Maybe not much but a little.

One point I need to make early on is that just because you see the leaves on your plants flopped, it does not mean they need to be watered. The leaves flop on a plant as a means of protection from the heat. Check the plants the next morning and the leaves will be standing up good and strong. If the plant remains flopped overnight then it probably needs water.

Generally, spring planted shrubs and trees need through soaking to the bottom of the root ball about every week to ten days. This requires long periods of slowly applied water. I have never had much luck trying to water trees and shrubs with a sprinkler. It wets the leaves which is not good for the plant and it does not get underneath the plant where the water is needed. A soaker hose is a great watering method for beds of shrubs or trees. A single plant can be watered by turning the hose on to just a drip. I lay it beside the plant when I leave for work and cut it off when I get home. This should put 2/3 gallons of water on the roots and it's all soaked in the soil. Works well for me.

I actually see more damage to flowers and vegetables planted in the ground done by overwatering than I do by underwatering. Flowers planted in the shade may need watering every week to ten days. Maybe not that often. Vegetable gardens and flowers planted in full sun may need a little water weekly. REMEMBER, when I water, I apply water slowly allowing it to soak in until the soil is wet to the bottom of the root ball. I do not wet the leaves of the plants. Water on the leaves cause disease, leaf mold, etc. I realize that Mother Nature doesn’t consider this but we have to live with the results. You well may get by all summer with just rain water on in ground plants.

Container plants are a different story. Containers need to be well drained and in full sun they well may need to be watered daily. Again, flopped leaves may not be a sign of a need for water. Feel the soil, if it feels dry, water. Containers in the shade will likely need to be watered every two or three days. Again, feel the soil, if its dry water.

There are no hard and fast rules. These are some tips that have worked for me. In the end, practice helps, there is no perfect, when working with Mother Nature. Find out what works for you.

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