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Gary Garner



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

Spring Bloom - April 9th, 2020



I have not done this for a while so I am trying to get back in the grove.  I plan on posting weekly through the growing season.  Of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans. Anyway, here goes.

I saw a question raised in a Facebook post earlier this week that made me think about what to write today.  A lady had a nice picture posted of her coral bell azaleas in full bloom.  Her question was, “Why were they blooming two weeks earlier this year than last year”?

The answer is simple yet it can get long and complicated.  The simply answer is that it has been a warm, bright and sunny spring.

Now for the longer more complicated answer is that azaleas and most spring blooming plants bloom not so much by the time of year but rather by length of daylight they receive.  So, depending on how bright and sunny spring is azaleas, dogwood, etc can easily vary two weeks from one year to the next in bloom time.  Put those same coral bell azaleas half in front of the house and half in back of the house and consistently they will bloom a few days differently.  One is in morning sun and one is in afternoon sun.

There are approximately 100,000 varieties of azaleas with only about 10,000 in cultivation for commercial sale.  When we operated our garden center, we normally stocked about 40 varieties.  Remember, each of those varieties bloomed at a slightly different time, each one also had a different leaf pattern and different growth characteristics.  Generally, the earliest to bloom in central Virginia are the coral bells and the latest variety is Macrantha.

As a rule, azaleas should be planted in morning sun and afternoon shade.  They will grow in full sun but perform much better if they are shaded from the afternoon sun.

It would be easy to go on for many pages but this might answer a few questions.  Many plant problems could be solved by determining proper light conditions, mature width and height, plus water and nutrient needs before purchasing and planting a particular plant.  Just because it is pretty is not a good reason to buy and plant a shrub or tree.

Advice - Good or Bad? June 18th, 2019



We all want to be good gardeners.  We all have to start somewhere, sometime.  We all would like to find the shortest way possible to becoming a garden expert and having our garden be the talk of the neighborhood.  But, we all had to begin one time or the other.

Most of us had that relative or friend that had a great garden.  The garden that everyone envied and wanted to grow one like it.  Whether it was flowers, perennials, shrubbery or vegetables, they obviously knew what they were doing. They were the ones we went too when we needed help.  In most instances, they were more than glad to share their garden knowledge.

There is nothing wrong with asking advice.  We all need help and expert advice at times.  But be careful of what you are told.  There are many things that may cause the advice you are given to hurt you more than it helps you.

No two yards or garden sites are alike.  They may have more sun than you. They may have a site that is more or less subject to wind than you do.  They may have more organic matter in their soil than you do, thus they need less water than you do.  Also, with more organic matter in the soil they need to add less nutrients than you would.  They may be planting different crops than you or different varieties of a crop than you.  They may plant at a different depth than you.  The list could go on, but these are a few of the things than might make their advice less than helpful to you, especially if you are a beginner.

I know I have written about this, many times before but the only way you can learn to grow beautiful flowers or vegetables is by growing flowers and vegetables.  When I owned my garden center new employees would say they wished they knew as much about plants as I did.  I would tell them over and over that when you have twenty-five years of experience you will know as much and maybe a little more.  It did not seem to sink in. they wanted a shortcut.

The only way you can get twenty-five years of experience is to garden twenty-five years.  There is no shortcut or faster way.  You learn to garden by gardening.

There are things that help.  My garden library is over three hundred volumes, I have looked at many videos, I have been to countless seminars and classes.  All of these had helpful advice but what I got from them I had to adapt to my situation.  With all that I have over eighty years of experience and I am still learning.  I have many successes, but I also have many failures.  In fact, I dealt with a failure this morning.  Just another learning experience.  I tried to take some shortcuts in rooting some plants.  They died.

If you become a good gardener along the way you will plants that die, that grow but don’t produce fruit, that just don’t look and perform as you expected them too.  It is all a part of learning.  Stick with it



I was reading an ad recently for a new product recently with some outrageous claims about what it would do for you and it got me to thinking.  My question to you is, “why is it so hard to get people to read a label and why they don’t think more about what they are buying “.

In recent years there have been numerous new ideas on how best to garden.  Ways that are supposed to be easier, ways that are less expensive, ways that are more productive and ways that combine all three.

Container gardens, square ft gardens, straw bale gardens, raised bed gardens, organic gardens and the list goes on.  They all have their pros and cons. I notice though they all have one thing in common.  Someone or several people have written books about how to grow that particular way and made big money off the book.  In some instances, they have written a book on the subject and two years later updated the book and people rushed out and bought a second copy.  WHY?

All of them work if you know what you are doing.  If you don’t none of them work.  But, the principles are the same whether you are growing in the ground or using one of the newer methods.  If you know the general principles, you don’t need the book.  If you don’t know the principles, the book won’t do you any good.

When I worked for a major fertilizer manufacturer one of our major selling points was that the filler in our fertilizer was pure Virginia Beach white sand.  The others just used plain sand.  The reason we used white sand was that the President of the Company owned 400 acres of beach front, so the sand was free.

Later, all the companies went to using limestone ground to the consistency of grit for filler.  Not because it was better, but because it was cheaper.  The lime was to coarse to break down and add any liming value it was simply a way of cutting cost.

I have never found a way to garden that was less trouble, less expensive or more productive to garden than in the ground planting.  Plow up a plot, throw some 10-10-10 on, stick some plants or seed in the ground an enjoy the rewards.

Folks its just common sense, its not rocket science.  I have a rocket science story I will share another time.

Dealing With Summer Heat May 30th, 2019


The heat of summer is here even though it is only late May.  In addition to dealing with what we already have in the ground, the question becomes is it ok to continue to plant with all the heat and with potential dry weather.  My answer is Mother Nature is fickle.  We can never count on hot or cold, wet or dry, so we adapt to the conditions and keep on with what we want to do.

One point I will make early is that just because we go out at mid afternoon and see our plants flopped that does not mean they need water.  Plants flop when they are to wet as well as when they are to dry.  The number one reason they flop in the heat is for protection.  Go back out at nine o’clock at night and those flopped plants may be standing tall. If that is the case, then they did not need water.

Regardless of weather you can continue to plant vegetables up until mid to late July and expect to receive a harvest.  You just have to adapt to the weather. If you are planting crops that are direct seeded, corn, beans, etc., then I would plant a little deeper.  Maybe, one to two inches deeper.

If I was planting plants, tomatoes, peppers, etc., I would use the old farmer method.  I would put a little water in the bottom of the hole, place my plant in that and push dirt to the roots.  I would then go to the nearest leafy tree, break off a twig 12 to 18 in long and stick it in the ground and leave it for about a week.  When you remove the twig, the plant will already have taken off and be growing.  You will need little if any additional water for the summer.  That old farmer didn’t add any and he got good results.

The weather is with us to stay and we are not going to change it.

Folks lawns and gardens are not rocket science, just plain common sense.

Then and Now April 14th, 2019


Normally I write about how to grow or how to care for your plants.  Things that fall in the framework of lawn and garden problems, or how to do it ideas.  In the last few days I got to thinking about how much changes with time.  That goes for gardening as much as it does for anything else.

I grew up on a small flue cured tobacco farm in the 40’s and early 50’s.  The difference in our vegetable patch, we didn’t call it a garden, versus the way we do it today is very significant.

We had not heard of such things as raised beds, growing vegetables in containers, or square bale gardens.  We did nothing that you could compare with those ideas.

Today a typical back yard garden may be a 10’ x 10’ or if you have lots of room maybe 20’ by 30’.  Limited to this size we have to be selective in what how much of a crop we plant.  We want high yields off limited space.  When I was growing up we just planted as much as we had time or the desire to plant.  We pretty much raised all the vegetables we ate year-around.  I can’t remember Mom going to the store and buying vegetables summer or winter.

She canned tomatoes, lima beans, corn, squash and succotash (corn and lima beans canned together) as well as making several kinds of pickles.  She also worked a full-time job, outside the home.

Dad’s answer to insects and wild animals was to grow enough for the varmints and us.  The sweet corn patch was 10 to 20 rows 50 to 100 feet long.  The worms ate some, the ‘coons ate some, the groundhogs ate some and we ate or canned the rest.  Note we didn’t grow a garden it was a vegetable patch.  It only became a garden after I became a sophisticated city slicker.

When the groundhogs attacked the garden, the solution was to sit out near the garden after dark with a shotgun and after 2 or 3 nights the problem was solved.  Deer were not a problem.  Believe it or not, I grew up in the country and never saw a deer until I moved to the city.  If you wanted to deer hunt you drove about 30 miles up to the river.  The deer population at that time in Virginia was less than 20 per cent of what it is today.

Today we grow 8 to 10 tomatoes on stakes and have enough to feed our family and some to give away.  Dad planted 100 to 200 plants of tomatoes and didn’t know what a stake was.  They fell over on the ground and again we shared with the rabbits, ‘coons, bugs and neighbors and still had more than we knew what to do with.

During the summer Mom would say I need corn, tomatoes, cukes, etc for supper.  I grabbed a bucket, I didn’t how ask how much or how soon, went to the garden and in a little while they were on the table for supper.

We ate breakfast, dinner and supper.  I never had lunch until after I became a city slicker.  Personally, I prefer dinner in the middle of the day over lunch.

If Mom was ready to can we picked several buckets of whatever vegetable was ready to harvest.  She the fired up the wood stove and went to work.  I hate to guess what the temperature was in the kitchen in the summer when she got the stove going.  In the summer she canned several hundred quarts of vegetables.

Note, I keep talked about canning, and the wood stove.  At that time electric lines had not been run through the country.  So, there was no freezer, no electricity, and no air conditioning.  I also, found out after I became a city slicker how much I had suffered and thought I was having a good time.

By the way, we grew butterbeans (today they are lima beans), we grew snaps (today they are green beans), and as awful as it sounds sometimes they were “taters” and “maters” I know none of you have ever heard of those.

None of the vegetables were hybrid so we saved most of our own seed to plant next year.  I thought the vegetables had more taste than the hybrids but that may have been a notion.  Sometimes, I think a lot of the old ways are better than the new.  In any event, that’s what it was like to garden in the 40’s and 50’s.

Give me some feedback and let me know if you would like more, occasionally, of how it was back then.

Best Garden Choices April 9th, 2019


Every spring there seems to be more information available on how to garden.  Articles abound on the best practices to grow almost every vegetable and herb known to man.  How to plant, when to plant, how to water, how much to water, fertilizing when and how, it goes on and on.  Read and study all the articles and you will be so confused you won’t know what to do.

I have advised through the years gardening is not rocket science.  All of the things suggested work for somebody and none of them work for somebody else. I use all of them for suggestions but none of them for hard and fast rules.

My thought is that if you try to follow any of them by the numbers you are not likely to be satisfied with the results.  Any of the ideas posted have to be adopted to fit your situation.  Gardening whether flowers or vegetables, trees or shrubs, or lawn is mostly common sense.

These thoughts were brought on by an article I saw in a magazine about growing flowers and vegetables in containers.  If you followed the outline in the magazine article growing a few containers would cost a significant amount of money and be more work than growing a large in the ground garden.  It does not have to be that difficult.

Today you see articles on plain old in the ground gardens and beds.  You then see square foot gardening, raised bed gardening, container gardening and square bale straw gardens.  Which is the best, for you?  They all have pros and cons.

There are several things to consider.  Do you want a garden that looks pretty, or do you want a garden that produces a good crop?  There are people that consider looks more important than harvest.  How much time do you have to spend in the garden.  How much money do you want to spend. What are you going to do with it after you grow it?  All of these things should enter into the decision of how you will grow as well as what you will grow.

A couple of stories that happened in our store will give you an idea of where this is going.

A customer came in the store and bought one, six inch pot tomato plant for $3.99.  He then proceeded to buy a bag of potting soil, some fertilizer and a pot to grow the tomato in along with a cage to hold the tomato upright.  When the order was totaled up he had spent $139 to grow one tomato plant.

Another customer came in and built three raised beds.  I don’t know the cost of the lumber and hardware for the beds he had built.  He then proceeded to buy plants and material to fill the beds.  Growing media, fertilizer etc. to the tune of almost $1500.00.  He planted and had a beautiful garden, but he watered almost daily, fertilized at least weekly and grew large beautiful plants.  He was in the store every few days with pictures his garden was great, but he didn’t have any blooms or fruit.  We tried to explain he was over watering and fertilizing and the plants were so busy growing they didn’t have time to bloom.  The book said water and fertilize on a certain schedule so that’s what he kept on doing.

Since he didn’t get any results with raised beds he tried hydroponic gardens the next year, spent even more money with the same results.  The third year he decided he had enough gardening.  To the best of my knowledge as many beautiful tomato plants as he grew he never got a tomato.

Which method you use depends on your circumstances.  If mobility is a problem, then raised beds make sense.  If space is a problem, then containers will likely be best for you.  If space is limited, then square foot gardens may be the best solution.  Just remember that one large tomato may take up nine to twelve square feet.  A hill of squash may cover six or more square feet.

Straw bales may work but it’s not as simple as buying a bale of straw not hay and laying it on the ground. It has to turned correctly, seasoned, watered often, limed and fertilized in order to produce a crop.

I have found nothing as productive as growing in plain old red clay with a little 10-10-10 fertilizer.  The garden will probably be as ugly as sin, the tomato plants may be diseased and look awful, but you will have more produce than you know what to do with.

My son grows the worst looking garden I have ever seen.  Old red clay, he never waters, uses little fertilizer and harvests more vegetables than any garden I know of.  Believe me he grows for yield not looks.

All of the choices can work but give some thought to which suits your needs.  Don’t believe all you read or see on the internet.  In the end it comes down to learning what works best for you.  You are going to have some failures.  Suck it up and try again.

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