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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.

June 19th, 2018 - Mow Your Lawn The Right Way!



The lawn mowing season is now well under way for this year.  The reason for this blog is to point out that the right way to mow your lawn now is not the same as it was a couple of weeks ago.  A well-maintained turf type tall fescue lawn should be kept at a height of three to four inches. This means if you want it kept at three inches then when it reaches a height of four inches the lawn should be mowed.  You should not cut off more than an inch of top growth.

Grass is approximately 90% water.  An inch cut should dry up and be gone in about 48 hours.  If you have to cut of 3 to 4 inches you will end up with piles of brown unsightly grass that needs to be removed from the lawn.

During the period of almost daily rain we had this spring, a well-maintained lawn likely needed mowing at least every other day to stay looking nice.  Cut at 3 inches during the cloudy, rainy days we just had the lawn did not dry out all day. Wet grass with cloudy humid conditions offer perfect conditions for lawn diseases to proliferate.

All this discussion points the fact that the lawn should be mowed based on how fast it is growing not on some pre-set schedule.  Sometimes mowing should be done every other day, sometimes once a week and in dry periods once a month might be all it needs.  On average a well-maintained lawn will need mowing from 28 to 32 times per summer.

Why do we mow our lawns to begin with?  It is important to the health of the grass.  If you clip off the growing points (the crown, where the new leaves develop) the plants branch out and the plants become denser.  This will cause the grass to thicken up and become dense turf.  If you didn’t mow at all the lawn would soon look like a patch of pasture or an uncared for field.

The equipment you mow with will also determine what the finished job will look like.  The best-looking cut would be made by using one of the old-fashioned reel push mowers. They are still made and available but it is hard to find anyone using one today.  A 21-inch gas powered walk behind will give a better look than a 36-inch rider.  On the other hand, the time it takes to mow, physical limitations, and other factors may dictate what type of mower you use.  To some people the thrill of sitting on that big green tractor may be worth more that the look of the lawn.

Last word on mowing, if possible cut down and back.  Cutting in circles and cutting around the outside gradually working in makes for some strange looks in the yard.

Mowing is not the only factor in having a good-looking lawn.  Fertilization, weed control, over-seeding all play into having a nice lawn.  In the long run it starts with good mowing practices.

Deer O Deer - June 12th, 2018


I thought that was a cute way to begin.  We hear so much about the problems people have with deer.  Recently, I have seen a number of posts with pictures on Facebook of deer in yards. Pictures of deer strolling along the street in broad daylight doing no harm.  Just out for a stroll.

In my own case I have looked out the window about midnight, four nights in a row, to see deer grazing in my yard.  I have not seen any damage they have done to my plants.  I haven't tried to scare them away.  Just taken a kind of live and let live attitude.

I don’t think they do as much damage as they get blamed for. There are other animals that damage our plants and deer get the blame.  Rabbits, squirrels, racoons just to name a few.  Damage down close to the ground is likely not a deer.  Taller plants and plants with the top eaten out is probably deer.  Regardless, we don’t want our plants destroyed by wildlife.  I understand that.

When we were running the garden center I always thought it was funny to hear people complain about deer problems.  First, they always seemed to think the deer picked on them exclusively.  No one else had a deer problem.  If they said they had four in their yard last night and I said I just had a customer left the store that had six in their yard.  With the next breath the ones in their yard had grown to eight.  I always wondered how they multiplied that fast.

Let me say here that generally what will keep one animal away will keep most if not all animals away.  Plants that one animal will eat most animals will eat.  So as a general what works for one works for all.  Nothing seems to work all the time.  Wish I could give you a hard and fast rule.

In my case, I spray plants that I really want to protect with Deer Off every three months.  Ones that I am not too concerned about I leave alone.  They get nipped sometimes but usually not enough to worry about.  I will point out here that Deer Off does not have edible plants on the label.  However, the cost of testing and putting edible plants on the label was so expensive that the Company that produces Deer Off made the decision not to put edibles on the label.

Animals generally do not eat plants with a fragrance.  Very few herbs are subject to being damaged by animals.  They also suffer very little insect damage.  White flowers are very seldom bothered by animals.  Why, most white flowers have anywhere from slight to overpowering fragrances.  Fragrant roses have less damage than non-fragrant roses.

Mixing herbs and highly fragrant flowers such as marigolds in plantings of edibles or flower beds can help animals away.  I have containers of vegetables and flowers on my deck.  I usually stick a marigold in all the planters because I have a problem with squirrels. So far it has worked.

Animals have tastes just like we do.  What they eat tonight they may walk right by tomorrow night.  What they don’t eat in your neighbor's yard, they may totally destroy in your yard.  Just Mother Nature.

So' I would say don’t let the deer or other animal decide what you are going to plant.  Plant what you like where you like it.  Use a little common-sense and the damage will be little or none.  I use pesticides where needed. If you make the decision to use them read the label.  I have found they rarely work for people that don’t read the label.


Tomatoes - To Water or Not To Water



I would say you would do your tomatoes less harm by underwatering than you would by overwatering.  All of this assumes that your tomatoes are planted in the ground, in full sun and in well-drained soil. Container and raised bed plantings would be watered totally different from plants in the ground.

Every garden is different and the final answer to the question raised is ultimately your decision.  Certainly, all the rain we just had was not good for tomatoes, short term or long term.

Let's look first at how to water, if you decide to water.  Never water over the top.  Wet foliage is the perfect breeding ground for disease.  I know Mother Nature waters from the top but it's still not good for the plants.  Water underneath the plant for best results.

Always water long and deep and do not water often.  When you water soak the ground thoroughly.  Water for an hour or longer so that the water reaches below the root ball of the plant.  Then wait a couple of weeks or longer before you water.  If I decide to water my tomatoes I want the ground to be so wet I can't walk in the garden for a few hours.

When you water for a few minutes daily all the roots stay right at the top of the ground.  The plants then suffer quickly during a dry spell. Deep watering carries the roots down and helps the plant survive dry weather.

It seems most gardeners think when they see their plants flop they need to grab the garden hose and water the plants.  Flopping is the way the plants protect themselves from hot weather.  It does not mean they need water. When you see your plants flopped leave them alone.  Go back out to the garden after the sun goes down and its cooler then you are likely to see the plants standing up and out of the flop.  If they don’t come out of the flop overnight then they need a good soaking watering.

A quick word about fertilizer. You can over fertilize just as you can overwater.  Plants don’t grow and bloom to any extent at the same time.  We had customers coming in the store saying I have beautiful tomato plants.  They are six or eight feet tall but they aren't blooming.  Their way of dealing with this was to apply more fertilizer and more water.  The plants were growing so hard they didn’t have time to bloom and set fruit.

Gardens don’t need to be babied.  Neglect often is the most productive thing you can do for a garden.

Give me some feedback if this helps.  Send me some pictures of your garden, problems or successes, but let me know how it turns out.  Or better yet, a big red tomato or a jar of salsa would really prove the advice worked.

Too Much Water - May 20th, 2018


Can gardens and lawns have too much water?  The answer to that question is absolutely.  That brings up the question, how do you tell when you need to water or if you have to much water.  The answer to that question is not easy.

I think I can safely say that over the last few days we have had too much water.  If the weather forecast is reasonably accurate we may continue to have too much for the near future. Is this going to cause problems for our lawns and gardens? I think I can safely say it is going to cause quite a few problems.

I think we will see lots of disease problems in lawns.  It will be worse in well maintained lawns and newly seeded lawns.  Well maintained lawns have thick stands of grass thus keeping sunlight and air from going to the bottom of the plants.  These thick stands don’t dry out all day.  This makes for the perfect environment for the development of lawn grass diseases.  Diseases, such as brown patch and red thread can spread rapidly over the lawn.

You can apply a fungicide which will control the disease if applied in time.  Be aware, the control only lasts about 10 days and is relatively expensive.  If the weather stays cloudy and damp the disease will return.  The only sure cure is sunny and breezy days.

My personal recommendation is cut often.  When the grass reaches four inches cut off an inch.  In this kind of weather this may mean mowing every other day. My other recommendation is leave the problem alone and let nature take its toll.  Some grass may come back, some patches may be dead, and in some cases, the entire lawn may be dead. At this point you just do whatever is necessary to restore the lawn. This sounds drastic, but I believe it is the least expensive and least trouble of any solution to the problem.

In the garden new seeded crops may rot in the ground, from the wet soil, before they have time to germinate.  In that case all you can do is reseed when the ground is dry. You will see disease problems on tomatoes, peppers, and vine crops. You can try a fungicide, but the best solution is to hope for sunny weather with a good breeze.  Hold off on watering the garden.  I would not think tomatoes, for example, would need to be watered for several weeks, if at all.

Back to know when to water.  This is a difficult question to answer. If you have not had rain for several weeks you may need to water. Generally, most people overwater quicker that they under water.  When a tomato for example flops on a hot day it is simply protecting itself from the heat it does not mean it is dry.  As soon as the sun goes down it comes right back up.

In really dry weather your lawn needs about an inch of water per week.  Apply this all at one time over an hour or so of watering. Remember, they are selling irrigation not trying to produce a lawn.

It all boils down to trial and error and a loss cause called common sense.

May 9th, 2018 - What Plants To Buy, Where To Put Them



I preach over and over never go shopping for plants without a plan in mind.  Unless you have money to throw away, that is.  I saw many customers come into our garden shop and buy plants with only two considerations, the plant was pretty and how much did it cost.  Those are not wise buying decisions.  Usually they lead to failure. The buyer buys the wrong plant to go in the wrong place.

Now why didn’t me or my employees tell the customer that the plants they were buying would not work.  The answer is because we were not asked.  When asked we gave the best advice we knew for their situation.  Early on when we started the store I offered advice and was told in no uncertain terms that if they had wanted advice they would have asked for it.  After I was told that it was none of my damn business what they bought and where they planted it I decided to wait until asked to offer advice.  I think that was a good decision.

Now back to what to buy.  One critical decision is where will the plant be placed. Whether the plant will be put in the ground or be grown in a container where it is placed is important.  Some plants take full sun and some take full shade.  Some take partial shade or partial sun.  Some like morning sun but afternoon shade, such as an azalea. In any event exposure is important.

Another element in planning is what will be the size of the plant when it matures.  You don’t want a plant that matures at 3 to 4 feet tall in front of something that is only 2 feet tall. Also, think about the circumference of the plant.  This will help you decide how many plants you need to fill the container or bed.

Now think about what color scheme you desire for the finished bed or container.  With the colors available in plant varieties today you have endless choices.  Don’t try to mix plants suitable for sun with plants suitable for shade in the same area.  Expert landscapers may be able to do some of this type of thing but most of us can't

A last consideration is maintenance of your planting.  How easy is going to be to get water to the area?  How much weeding and mulching is going to be necessary to keep the planting looking good?  How much pruning and deadheading is the planting going to need?

The above are some questions that you should consider before going shopping.  The right answer to these questions will save you money, time and give you results that you can enjoy.  If you don’t know the answer to these questions ask where you are buying.

If they can't answer your questions TAKE MY ADVICE AND GO SOMEWHERE ELSE TO SHOP.

May 3rd, 2018 - What size plants to buy?



I was in a couple of garden centers in the past few days and as I looked at all the choices available to consumers, I thought, how does the average person shopping for a few plants to add color to their landscape ever reach a decision.  Hundreds of colors, dozens of pot sizes, annuals or perennials, sun shade or mixed and it goes on. Widely varying prices for what appears to be the same size pot and plant.

I will come back and write about sun or shade choices or color choices later.  Here, I just want to discuss pot or container sizes.  Believe me pot sizes can be very confusing.  Anyone who does just a little building knows that a 2x4 is not truly 2x4.  They are 1 and ½ by 3 and ½.  Well, a 3 gallon black nursery pot actually holds 2 and ½ gallons of soil. In reality there are 4 sizes of 3 gallon pots.  A 3 gallon west coast pot is smaller than a 3 gallon east coast pot.  The same thing is true of other container sizes such as quarts, gallon pots, etc.

Now that you are thoroughly confused let me say that it really does not make a lot of difference especially in annual flowers.  In order to make the wisest decisions when buying start with a plan.  Bed location, sun or shade. Plant height at maturity.  There are, other factors to consider but these will do for beginners.  In this article I thought we would just consider container size options.

Before we sold our garden center we sold many different size containers of annuals.  We started with 20 inch pots of mixed plants and went down in size to 4 packs of plants.  The 20 inch pot is a premium item at a premium price.  It's ready to take home and set for instant show.  All that’s necessary to maintain it is make sure it gets watered when needed. If you are on a budget then you might be better off buying the plants in smaller containers and planting your own container.

You might buy a hanging basket and replant it.  Gallon containers offer larger plants that can easily be replanted in larger containers.  It will take several weeks for them to reach the look of the larger container.

The smaller container size you start with the longer it will take to obtain the look of a mature pot.  Some plants grow faster than others thus giving you a more mature look. Generally, the larger the plant is at maturity the faster it grows.

Then we come to bedding plants.  What I consider bedding plants would be plants used to fill in a mass planting.  A bed that might take anywhere from a few dozen plants to literally hundreds or thousands of plants.  Bedding plants may come in 6 packs, 4 packs, up to 4.5 inch pots.  What they lack in initial size will be made up in numbers and ability to grow and fill in a bed.

To repeat, start with a plan and buy according to your budget.

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