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Gary Garner



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

Saving Your Own Seed April 5th, 2019



I know many people like to save their seed from one year to the next as both a way to save money and have the vegetables they like.  In some cases, this works fine, and in some cases, it does not work well.

There are actually three kinds of seed, hybrid seed, open-pollinated seed and heirloom seed.  Let’s take a look at which ones you can save and successfully start and grow the same crop next year.

HEIRLOOM VARIETIES—as a general rule of thumb these will be 50+ years old or older.  They are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation.  In the early 1900s plant breeders tried to develop new open-pollinated varieties that were more genetically stable.  The idea being to produce more uniform produce.  Heirloom varieties today are open-pollinated varieties that predate the open-pollinated breeding work.

Heirloom varieties preserve biodiversity.  This is important both to human health and the health of the planet. Over hybridizing causes genetic defects and may lead to a variety becoming extinct.

Heirlooms adapt to local soils and climates more readily because they haven’t been trained to become fussy. They usually have much better flavor than the hybrids and are very inexpensive to reproduce.  Just save the seed and replant next year.  You always get the same variety.

Heirlooms will likely not produce as large yields, may not grow as fast or as large, thick and tall as hybrids.

OPEN-POLLINATED SEED—in contrast open-pollinated seeds are accidents of nature.  They occur by accidents of nature such as human touch/transfer, insects, wind, birds and many other natural means.

If you save the seed and plant them next year you will have somewhat the same plant.  If they did well in your garden this year they will likely do well next year.

Open-pollinated plants do offer some problems although they have little effect on home gardeners.  The plants may mature more sporadically than hybrids. They may produce colors that varies slightly from one plant to the next.

HYBRID SEED—are created when two different varieties of tree or plant are deliberately cross-pollinated to create a single new variety.  The new variety should contain the best characteristics of each parent plant.  These are usually the seed you see in the little packs at local stores.  They are usually F1 seed.  This simply means they are the product of a first generation cross between two varieties.

Hybrid seed from future generations F2 and after will not produce true to parent.  Planting a seed from a hybrid is totally unpredictable.  The plant you get will likely be nothing like the plant it was harvested from.  It may be sterile, it will be less vigorous than the previous generation and the yield will usually be about half of the previous crop.  You cannot save hybrid seed.  You must buy new seed each year in order to get the same variety.

The most positive description of hybrid seed is uniformity.  When you plant hybrid seed you can expect what is described on the seed pack to be what to be what you get.  The description on the seed package for color and size will be identical for every plant. The produce will mature in a given number of days and that’s it.  If a farmer plants a 94 day corn, in 94 days every plant in the field will be almost exactly the same height, have two ears of corn and the plant shuts down.  It has now done what the seed was programed to do. These are usually the produce you see in supermarkets.  Commercial growers rely on hybrids because they offer few surprises.

As in many things the choice is yours.  While the heirlooms offer great taste generally the hybrids will be easier to grow and produce a larger crop.  We like to do some of both, but we lean toward hybrids.


If your group or local club is looking for a speaker for the spring I still have some open dates.  Fees start at $50 plus expenses.  I may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 434-941-1701.




Organic versus is not as simple or as easy as many people think.  Clearing out chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides from the garage or tool shed does not make what you grow organic nor does it necessarily make it healthy.

I thought I might put together a little information about organic gardening that you might not know.  It could save you money, toil and trouble.

  1. Organic gardening costs more than traditional gardening. I think that myth starts with the price of organic produce versus regular produce.  An organic garden should cost no more than a conventional garden.  You may get some what less yield in an organic garden and you may have to put in more time in the garden.  Commercial products become more expensive all the time mostly due to governmental regulations. A commercial pesticide may require more testing and government oversight that a new medicine.
  2. Lower N-P-K numbers on organics does not necessarily mean more should be applied. Organic fertilizers are made from different materials than synthetic fertilizers.  Organics are meant to be used more sparingly.  For example, if you apply to much nitrogen you get lots of leaf/green growth and not much fruit.  Plants don’t grow and bloom and fruit at the same time.  We had customers coming in the store bragging about how their tomatoes were growing but they were not blooming or setting fruit.  We would find out they were fertilizing weekly and watering every other day.  The plants were so busy growing they didn’t have time to bloom or set fruit.  Both or organic and regular fertilizers are tested for the right amounts to apply for a particular crop.  READ AND FOLLOW THE LABEL.
  3. Tilling the soil every year improves the soil. Farmers have found out in recent years that this may do more damage to soil health than good.  You can save a lot of back aches, gas, etc. by doing away with this practice.  No till practices allow beneficial microorganisms and fungi to colonize in your soil.  In turn they feed your soil and plants.  Let it be.
  4. Composted manure is good for your garden. This is true only if it comes from an organic farm.  Farmers may use persistent herbicides to control weeds.  Some of these herbicides can go through the animal, without harm I may add, and into its manure.
  5. A cold hardy plant will eventually adapt to a warmer growing zone. Not true and neither will a warm season plant adapt to a colder growing zone.  Choose plants that are right for your growing zone.
  6. Organic pesticides are non-toxic. Not necessarily true.  While they may not contain synthetic chemicals, they can still be toxic.  Pyrethrum, for example. Is made from mums.  To many people they are a skin irritant.  Sprays made with nicotine, warfarin, and rotenone may all be harmful to pets and humans.  Many organic pesticides and repellants may be harmful to bees.  You should read and abide by the label on an organic product just as you would on a chemical pesticide.
  7. An organic label means its organic. Just because its grown without pesticides does not make it organic.  USDA standards have to be met.  This demands that an item is “protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.”  It will also carry the USDA ORGANIC seal.  Any food labeled organic must be GMO free.

Just a few tips to help you get what you think you are getting.  I think common sense will be all that’s in most instances.  As I have said before I am not an organic or GMO advocate.  I leave that decision up to the individual.  There is a lot of information out there on both subjects some accurate, some not so accurate and some blatant falsehood, in my opinion.


If you need a speaker for your club or group, this spring I am available.  Fee is $50 plus expenses.  I may be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 434-941-1701.

Soil pH - March 26th, 2019


Soil pH simply refers to the measured level of acidity or alkalinity in your soil.  The pH level tells you if you need lime, or if you have applied to much lime.

The pH scale is set at a scale of 1.0 to 14.0 with the neutral point being 7.0.  If the pH is higher than 7.0 then the soil is considered to be alkaline.  If it is lower than 7.0 it is acidic.

Knowing the pH of your soil is very important because various plants grow best at different levels of ph.  For example, most lawn grasses perform best with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, while azaleas and dogwood like a pH in the range of 5.0 to no more than 6.0.  When liming your lawn, you always want to try and keep the lime in the grass and out of your beds and away from tree roots if possible.

The soil pH greatly affects how much use your plants get out of the nutrients you apply.  If the pH of your lawn is low say 5.5 the plant cannot absorb the fertilizer into the roots.  You would only get usage of a portion of the fertilizer.

For a nice lawn I want my lawn pH to be somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0, no higher.  For my shrub and tree borders I try to keep the pH in the vicinity of 5.0 and 6.0.  For vegetable gardens 6.0 seems to work pretty well.

Ideally the soil pH should be tested about every four years.  You can buy testers at most hardware stores or garden centers.  They are not perfect, but they give you enough information to keep your lawn in good shape.  The lab tests that you pay for are not perfect either.  I could tell a few stories about lab tests but maybe not here and not in print.

Short of testing the soil there are some eye tests that work pretty well.  If your lawn is off color, especially in the spring, you may need lime.  If weeds are growing better than your grass, you may need lime.  Weeds like a lower pH than does grass.  If broom straw appears in your lawn you need lime.

In our red clay soils an application of 15 to 20 pounds of lime per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn area per year would probably keep your lawn in good shape.   If the pH is over 7.0 there are products you can buy, ask at your local hardware or garden center, to lower the pH.  Let me add to that in 40 years of dealing with lawns in Central Virginia I don’t ever remember seeing a lawn that was over limed.  That would be hard to do with our clay soils.

Last but not least, if you need a speaker for your club or group this spring I am available.  Fees start at $50 plus expenses.  I may be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 434-941-1701 for spring scheduling.

Rose Planting Time (Maybe) - February 27th




Many stores in the area either have roses in stock or will have them in stock soon.  Some box stores have had roses on display for several roses.  Stores that have rose inventory naturally say go ahead and plant.  Roses in pots ready to plant or bareroot roses not showing new growth are fine to plant now.  If the plant is showing tender new growth you had better think twice before planting.

If the plant has new growth beginning to show even a light frost will burn and kill that new growth and likely damage the plant. A cool wind will also damage or kill the new growth and may burn the tips of limbs.

Personally, I would not plant a rose that was showing new growth before I was sure there would not be a late frost.  This means I would not plant before very late April or early May.  Mother Nature can be fickle in central Virginia.

Now, on the other hand, if there was a particular variety or pretty rose that I wanted I would buy it early and bring it home and keep it protected until I thought it was safe to plant out.  The best plants sell out early.

There are a number of things to consider when buying a rose.  Do you want a climber, fragrance, lots of bloom, bloom size or a compact plant?  Here is a list of the different roses and some basic differences to help you choose the type that fits your garden needs.

CLIMBERS: Vigorous, sprawling plants that are usually supported by an arbor, fence or trellis in order to remain upright.

FLORIBUNDAS: Free-bloomers that flower heavily.  Flowers usually appear in large clusters.  One of the best roses for landscaping.

GRANDIFLORAS: Vigorous bushes that produce large nicely formed flowers usually in clusters rather than one to a stem.  ‘Queen Elizabeth’ is a classic example.

HYBRID TEA: The most popular type of rose bush.  Produces beautiful long-stemmed flowers that are ideal for cutting.

MINATURE: Small in leaf and stature.  Big in the amount of bloom.  May grow anywhere from 4 to 36 inches high but make great landscape plants.  They are great in edgings or in containers.

OLD GARDEN AND SPECIES ROSES (ANTIQUE ROSES): A huge group of roses that vary in plant habit and flower type.  Many of them bloom only once a year.  Many have fragrant and/or uniquely formed flowers.

POLYANTHAS: Small, compact shrubs producing large clusters of flowers.  Good landscape plants.

By picking the right plant for your location and need you should get many years of enjoyment out of your rose.  Plant in a sunny location in well drained soil, water though the first growing season, add a little fertilizer and your plant should be happy.

As always if you need help or have questions and the personnel at the store where you are buying cant answer your questions satisfactorily, BUY SOMEWHERE ELSE.




I started to write todays blog discussing the pros and cons of organic food versus inorganic food.  I soon found that subject to be entirely to complicated for this column.  I determined that just because something is labeled organic does not necessarily make it so and because it is inorganic does not make it harmful.

For example, salt in its pure state cannot be labeled organic.  There are some elements in it that don’t meet the criteria for organic.  If you bottled the air we are breathing, it would not meet organic criteria.  I went to our pantry and looked at cooking sprays, vegetable oils, many kinds of spices and so on without finding anything organic.

To be fair, I think most of you know that I am not an advocate of either organics or non gmo products.  I have been involved in the manufacture of organic fertilizers, sold both regular fertilizer and organics and both gmo and non gmo seed.  The more I learn about organics and gmo products the less faith I have in them.

With that said I try to stay out of arguments about the merits of either.  If you believe and are willing to pay the price go for it.  I would say that you would be well advised to spend an hour or so googling organic vs inorganic and reading both sides of the story.  As with all things there are two sides to the story.

Just to let you know plain old 10-10-10 fertilizer, the nitrogen is basically extracted from the air you are breathing, the potassium and potash are mined from the ground.  Just saying.

After finding how complicated the above subject was I decided to write on good bugs versus bad bugs.  Woe is me that was just as complicated as the above subject if not more so.  I found out that some bad bugs may at times be good bugs.  I also know that it is extremely hard to control bad bugs without harming good bugs.

Only about 5 per cent of bugs, worms and insects are harmful.  Now the other 95 per cent are not all good.  Some are just around.  They really neither harmful or particularly beneficial.

A good example is the stink bug which we have seen and heard a lot about over the last few years.  They don’t eat any plant material to my knowledge.  They don’t bite or sting.  They are really not nasty at least they don’t leave a mess behind.  They do smell bad.  Yet none of us want them in our house or on our bodies.

Caterpillars can do a lot of damage in a short period of time.  A horned worm can eat much of a tomato plant in a day.  Yet they soon turn into beautiful butterflies.  We want to kill them when they are on our tomato plants, we want to protect them and even feed them when they are butterflies.

Some of the beneficial insects will help to control the bad bugs.  Trying to control the bad guys gets to be a tough decision and I am not going to try to offer a solution here.

I believe that pesticides, (chemicals) have their place.  Read the label, use according to the label they work and do little or no harm.  Don’t take the recommendation of a friend or neighbor or me for that matter, find out for yourself.

Other people would not go near their garden or food with a pesticide.  That’s fine.  You have to figure out for yourself how to manage the problems in your garden and landscape.

So today I have written a lot and said very little.  Some of these things I will address more specifically during the season.  Others may not get answered.

As always if you have a question or topic you would like for me to discuss let me know.  I will see what I can do.

February To Do List



I was just thinking of some of the tasks that should be done sometime by the end of February.  It kind of scares me when I look at the list I came up with.  Not all of us will have all of them to accomplish, but we will all have enough to keep us busy, I’m sure.

Let’s start with lawns.

  1. Watch out for cool season weeds.  Chickweed, henbit. If temps are above 40 degrees treat with a post-emergent herbicide.
  2. Make certain mowers, string trimmers and other power equipment are in good running order.  Sharpen blades and repair or replace damaged equipment.
  3. Try to stay off frozen grass.

Now we can look at houseplants

  1. Make sure houseplants are out of drafts and not touching cold windows.
  2. Keep plenty of humidity around tropicals.
  3. Water regularly and reduce feeding.
  4. Prune if needed.

Flowers and Perennials

  1. Cut back ornamental grasses to 6-8 inches.
  2. Cut back liriope to make room for new growth.
  3. Cut back flowering vines.
  4. Apply a light application of 10-10-10 fertilizer to bulbs when shoots emerge.
  5. Plant bare root roses.

Trees and shrubs

  1. Prune roses as soon as the buds begin to swell.
  2. Prune trees and shrubs of any ice or snow damage.
  3. Trees and shrubs can be planted anytime.
  4. Now is a good time to prune most trees and shrubs.  The exception being anything blooming in the spring.  Prune spring bloomers as soon as they finish blooming.
  5. Don’t fertilize shrubs until you see new growth starting to emerge.

Vegetables, herbs and fruits

  1. Prune dormant fruit trees and grape vines.
  2. Replace the top inch or so of container soil with fresh compost.
  3. Apply dormant oil spray to fruit trees before new growth emerges.
  4. Prepare the vegetable garden.
  5. Start your vegetable seed indoors.
  6. Plant cold hardy plants like sugar snap peas and onion sets.

Miscellaneous, cleanup and maintenance

  1. Do not use salt on walks and driveways.
  2. Don’t forget to water.
  3. Turn your compost pile on a nice sunny day.
  4. Make out a garden calendar.
  5. Place orders for seeds and plants.
  6. Mulch flower and shrub beds.  Edge beds.
  7. Plan your vegetable garden and flower and shrub beds.  This will save you a lot of money.  People that came in our store without a plan spent a lot more than people with a plan.

This is probably not a complete list but it’s a start.  You will think of things I missed and won’t need to do some I listed.

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