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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.

April 29th, 2018 - Garden Temperatures


One point that needs to be made when discussing the importance of temperature in the garden is the difference between air temperature and soil temperature.  Air temperature and soil temperature are two entirely different things.  Both are important too being successful in planting and growing a good lawn or garden.

For example, if you are planting lawn grass seed they need a soil temperature of approximately 65 degrees to germinate and grow.  That does not happen often before early to mid-April.  In warm weather after a few hot days lawns may be seeded and you begin to see grass coming up in less than a week.  Seed put down when soil temps are say in the mid-fifties may take as long as 30 days to germinate and many may not germinate at all. Cold ground and a little rain and the seed will likely rot and not germinate at all.

The purpose of putting straw over a lawn when it is seeded is to keep warmth in the soil so that the seed will germinate.  The straw mulch can alter soil temperatures by several degrees.

One exception to the need for warm soil temperatures for grass seed is rye grass.  Rye grass seed will germinate at very low soil temperatures.  A small amount of rye mixed with fescue lawn seed helps to protect the fescue until it germinates.  On the other hand, a large amount of rye may just be a method to fool someone into thinking they have a successful lawn when, in fact, all they have is a temporary lawn. When the hot summer arrives, the rye will die. Rye is a cool season grass.

Now what about vegetable plants?  Obviously, cold crops cabbage, lettuce etc. tolerate  cool soils and like cold air temps.  That’s why they are called cold crops.  Vegetables that do well in the summer need to be planted in warm soil in order to start growing as soon as they are planted.  Remember it takes the soil several days to warm back up after a cold spell.  The air temperatures may jump from the 40s to the 70s from one day to the next.  The soil may take several days of warm weather to warm up.  A tomato planted in cool soil may set for several days or longer and only start to grow once the soil warms.

Last point, different plants take different temperatures to grow well.  Particularly when first planted.  Direct seeded crops such as cucumbers and melons need very warm soils to do well.

Pay attention to the information on seed packs or ask advice where you buy your seeds or plants.  As an old garden center owner, I can tell you plants are not on display because it's time to plant them, they are on display because it's time to sell them.

As always if the clerk can't or won't answer your questions go somewhere else to buy.

April 18th, 2018 - Fooling Mother Nature


Can you really fool Mother Nature?  Maybe, sometimes.

Let's look at some tricks we can use to at least get around Mother Nature.  Azaleas bloom generally in the Spring.  There are, however, many varieties of azaleas and each one of them blooms at a slightly different time.  They really don’t bloom by the time of year in reality they bloom by length of day and night.  Some varieties bloom as early as late March while others don’t bloom until early June.  Going one step further, bloom time may be two weeks different from one year to the next depending on the weather.  A bright sunny spring and they bloom early, a cloudy overcast spring, such as this year, may delay blooming by as much as a couple of weeks.

A prime example of how important light can be to bloom time happened in my own yard.  Being a professional and knowing everything about plants, I wanted a late blooming azalea in front of the background shrubs in front of the house.  I planted 10 later blooming plants that I thought would look great in front of the house.  However, I didn’t consult Mother Nature.  I didn’t take into consideration that my house did not face due North.  The sun actually came up facing the front corner of my house and crossed my house in a catty-cornered path setting in the afternoon on the lower back corner of the house.  This caused the shade to be different on each plant and caused each plant to bloom about three days later than the one beside it.  By the time the last one bloomed the first ones had faded and dropped bloom. So much for knowing everything.

I looked at my pink dogwood in front of the house this morning.  It should be in full bloom by now instead it has not even started to crack bloom.  It will probably be another week at least before it blooms. Just too much cloudy weather.  It needs some sun.

Now I fooled Mother Nature with some azaleas on the side of my house.  I wanted some azaleas on the west end of my house and even though it was in full sun I thought I could make them work.  I couldn't.  For two years I tried and they refused.  Pure hot sun, they grew little and bloomed less.  I planted a row of dogwood out about 10 feet from the azaleas which shaded them from the hot sun and the azaleas took off.  They began to grow and thanked me for the shade by blooming profusely.  Now they were happy.

I have used azaleas as an example but many other plants would have followed the same pattern.

Another way Mother Nature can be fooled is with artificial light.  Most plants that bloom in the spring start to set next year's bloom within about four to six weeks after they finish blooming.  That's why you want to prune spring bloomers as soon as they finish blooming.  Wait too long and you cut off next year's bloom.  This can also work in your favor.

You find azaleas, for example, in florist shops, in full bloom almost any time of year.  They are the same plants we grow outside.  They have been grown in greenhouses where the light could be controlled.  Usually this is done by rolling out black plastic over the plants giving them just the right amount of light to bring them into bloom.  If the plant needs more light to bloom the grower uses artificial light to lengthen the amount of light they receive.

Plants are being grown in artificial environments using all artificial light.  Grown in all water, using no soil.  Patterns that you see in many plants today are computer designed and then the plant is bred to grow and bloom in that pattern.  I wish I knew how to do this.

Maybe fooling Mother Nature is the wrong term.  I'm really not certain she can be fooled.  Maybe the right term is growing in cooperation with Mother Nature.

April 5, 2018 - Quirks of Nature


We received so many questions at the garden shop that were difficult and sometimes impossible to answer and yet to the person asking they made perfectly good sense.  Many of them were simply due to things that we, as gardeners, could not control.

A major factor is exposure.  Sun or shade, morning or afternoon, or all day.  Some plants like morning sun, some like all day especially hot afternoon sun. As a rule of thumb, plants that bloom in the spring like morning sun but would prefer to be shaded from the hot afternoon sun.  The later in the spring or summer they bloom the more sun they can take.

A note here, most vegetables like full, all day, sun.  Put them in too much shade and they have lots of growth but very little bloom or fruit.

It's worth knowing that, no two yards are alike.  Just because, your neighbor's yard or garden is doing well is no reason for you to try and copy what he does.  You may have a tree in your yard that he does not have.  That one tree can change several things, including sun exposure, wind, and even the soil. Usually trying to copy what someone else does is a quick way to failure.

We received many questions about tomatoes.  I have looked at thousands of pictures of tomatoes and feel like I have answered the same question many thousands of times.  One of the big ones, my tomato plants are beautiful but they are not blooming and don’t have any tomatoes on them what is wrong?  The answer to this was really very simple.  The problem was that by the time most people asked it was too late to cure the problem.  The answer was they were over watering and over fertilizing the tomatoes.  Plants don’t usually grow, bloom, and set fruit at the same time.  Constant water and fertilizer will give you great plants but not a lot of tomatoes.

Just because your plants are flopped at three in the afternoon on a hot sunny day does not mean they need water.  That is simply nature's way of protecting them from the heat.  Leave them alone and take a look at them about nine that night and they are standing tall.  I saw more failure from too much water and fertilizer than I did from too little.

Last thing today, why does my tomatoes, or some other fruit or vegetable not taste right? Lots of things affect the taste of fruits and vegetables.  Part of the taste is bred into the crop.  The taste is also affected by the soil, water and fertilizer used on the crop.  A tomato grown in a raised bed or container or straw bed is not going to taste exactly like the same tomato grow in good old red clay.  Just a quirk of nature.

Last quirk today, many plants bloom by length of daylight.  Azaleas are a prime example.  This year early blooming azaleas are about 10 days later blooming than normal because of so much cloudy and cool weather.  Dogwoods are a little later than normal. Other, plants will follow the same pattern.  If it turns warm and sunny then later blooming plants will bloom at a more normal time.

Just the way nature works.  I will follow this up in a few days with some ways we can fool Mother Nature sometimes.

March 7th, 2018 - Plant Buying Decisions



What To Consider & What Questions To Ask!

It's that time of the year and us gardeners want to get outside and work in the yard.  Most of all it seems that we all want to plant something.  There is something about planting and then watching what we planted grow that is especially appealing to gardeners.

Having landscaped for a few years and then operated a retail garden center for almost 25 years I know not everyone plans before buying.  Customers buy plants on impulse much as they would shop for clothes.  It's pretty and my size, I think I will buy it.  Usually, buying plants like this proves expensive and disappointing.

Let's take a look at where you should buy your plants and what to consider before handing over the credit card to be rung up. There are a number of questions that you need answered before making the final decision to buy.

First think about where you want to locate the plant or plants in the yard.  How big is the space you are filling, how wide and how tall will be right, do you want color or is evergreen foliage more important?  How hard is it going to be to water the plant through the first growing season?  What will look right with the surrounding plants?  How long after I plant the plant is it going to take for the plant to fill the need I am planting it for?

An example of the answer to the last question.  I am thinking about planting a dwarf cherry tree.  I only want to plant one so right off it has to be self-pollinating.  Some cherries are and some are not. So, I have to search for the right variety.  Now I have found a bare root tree that comes as a 3 to 4 ft switch (looks like a stick that might have a few tiny branches) for $19.99 and will take 5 to 7 years to produce fruit.  I have also found a 7 gallon container tree that will produce fruit this summer.  The cost of that is $54.99.  Being what most people would consider old I think I will buy the 7 gallon container tree.

Once you get to the nursery here are a few things you need to ask the clerk.  Even if there is a tag on the tree you still should ask the questions.  Today many plants are not tagged in the garden centers.  The reason they are not tagged is simple, it is expensive.  The tags cost somewhere between .25 and a $1 plus you have to pay someone to put them on each plant.

First question will the plant grow in our hardiness zone.  We live in zone 7a.  Hardiness zones start with 1 in the extreme north and go up from there as you head to the tropics.  If it won't grow in zone 7 I don’t want to plant it outside.  I may plant it in a container if I can bring it inside for winter protection.

Next question, where was it grown before it came to the local garden center.  It's true that a Hershey Red Azalea is a Hershey Red Azalea no matter where it is grown.  However, if it was grown in the deep south, under shade, heavy water and intense fertilization and then shipped to Virginia it needs to be acclimated to our climate before it is planted outside.

Ask what exposure does the plant grow best in?  For example, an azalea does best in morning sun and afternoon shade.  Full sun is not the best place to plant azaleas.  Japanese hollies, on the other hand love heat and full hot sun.

What is the mature size of the plant?  When you are looking at a tree in the nursery doesn’t tell you anything about how big it is going to be ten years from now.  I see people plant hollies in front of windows that are 18 inches tall when planted but five years later they are 6 to 8 feet tall and you can't see out of the window.  Good advice would have avoided this.

What kind of care does the plant need once it is planted?  How often should I water the first year after planting, should I mulch the plant, fertilizer, insect and disease care are all questions that need answers.

If the store where I am shopping could not answer these questions then I would look elsewhere.  A reputable garden center should have the answers to all these questions.  When I owned my garden center I could answer all these questions,

But I did not offer the answers until I was asked.  After being told a few times by customers that if they wanted advice they would ask for it, I learned to speak when spoken to.

Just a few tips on plant buying, hope it helps.

March - Planning For Vegetable Gardens!

Planning For Vegetable Gardens!


Spring is right around the corner and we are all ready to get out and start planting. Many retailors already have in stock seed potatoes, onion sets and vegetable seed.  They will be stocking cold crop plants shortly.  We are going to try and offer tips and videos to help you to be more successful with your vegetable gardens.  Whether you are trying vegetable gardening for the first time or are old pro at the game we think we will have some tips that you can use.

What I would tell you whether it's your first try at gardening or you are an old pro not to bite off more than you can chew. As you start to plan look first at how much time you have to spend in the garden.  The other important thing to use in planning is how much space do you have that offers good soil, light and drainage for a garden.

A garden can consume a lot of time and if all you have is weekends ask yourself do you want to spend a few hours each weekend in the garden or do you want to spend the entire weekend in the garden. What will you do if it rains all weekend?  When will you catch up?

I have seen to many of our customers try to overdo the time they had and plant in soil and light that was not appropriate for vegetables and soon the garden was taken over by weeds and grass and some stuff was not growing and finally they just give up.  They then decide to give up or try some of the new fads in growing.  Things like square foot gardening, raised bed gardens, planting in straw bales and other new ideas.  Believe me, none of these new fads answer the two points I raised above.

In general, a vegetable garden should be in full, all day, direct sunlight.  The soil should be well drained and loamy. Running your rows so they run north to south will help with the light problem

Another consideration before you start is spacing and layout of the garden. If space is limited you may want to stay away from things like melons and pumpkins.  Think about how many plants it may take to produce enough crop for your family.  Make sure you plant things the family likes and will eat.

I once had a neighbor that decided to grow tomatoes.  She bought six tomato plants, planted them, diligently tended them, ended up with some of the nicest tomatoes you could want.  Never harvested the first one because nobody in the family liked tomatoes.  They all rotted on the vine while my mouth watered.

Below is a chart of some of the vegetables more commonly grown with suggestions for space requirements and depth of planting.




One quick comment all of these measurements are approximate.  A few inches one way or the other is not going to matter.  When I plant I dig a trench and drop seed in and it works just fine.  When planting potatoes and onion sets I don’t worry about setting them with the top up or how far apart they are.  They know which way is up and distance apart is not all that important.

Just have fun when you garden.  Don’t let it be a burden.

If this info is helpful lets us know.  We would like to think we are doing some good.


February - Spring planting is just around the corner!



We are now heading into February and believe it or not, time to start spring planting is just around the corner. I know the groundhog just said we will have 6 more weeks of winter.  Nevertheless, planting will soon begin if the weather meets us halfway.  In about 3 weeks fruit trees, landscape trees, azaleas and other material will begin to appear in garden centers.  Potato and onion sets if not already in stock will be in shortly.  Cold crop plants such as cabbage and lettuce will also be on display at the local garden stores.

I know some people prefer to grow their own plants and that is ok if you know what you are doing.  Growing your own plants, in my opinion, is one of the more difficult things home gardeners undertake.  Growing plants from seed is not all that easy.  You have to have just the right light, make sure you have air flow, water enough but don’t overwater, set the plants outside to harden off, bring them inside so they don’t get hurt by the cold, don’t over fertilize or they will be leggy and weak and those are just some of the problems I can think of now.  For most home gardeners, especially small space gardeners, buying plants already up and growing at time of planting will be less expensive and a lot less trouble than trying to grow your own.

On the other hand, if you want to grow some of the newer varieties or something unusual you may not be able to find the plants at your local garden center.  Growers like to grow material they can sell in high volumes. Generally, they like to have sale for about 100 or more flats to grow a variety.  That translates to approximately 5000 plants.

I hope most people have taken advantage of the dry winter to clean the leaves out of shrub beds and apply some fresh mulch.  Dead and broken branches should be pruned out of shrubs and trees. While it has been cold, it has also been sunny and dry.

Now is the time to get ready to have a great garden year.

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