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Gary Garner



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

Hydrangeas: Plant-Grow-Prune February 1st, 2019



This blog may be a little ahead of the season, but I recently got in a discussion with some ladies concerning their hydrangeas.  Most of it concerned their hydrangeas not blooming.  There are a lot of reasons why the plants did not bloom at all or only bloomed lightly.  I will get into this problem a little later.

Hydrangeas can be beautiful plants and may be used in many different ways.  They do well in containers, make excellent border plants and can be used as a single planting for a focus point.  Nothing is prettier than a hydrangea in full bloom.

Much of the research I saw talked about how easy they are to grow and how well they perform. Maybe that I am the wrong one to write this article because I have never had good luck with them.  I am going to try a couple this summer and see if they do better for me this time around.

Hydrangeas tend to do best planted in rich porous, somewhat moist soil.  Most prefer full morning sun with partial afternoon shade.  Big leaf hydrangeas tend to do well even in all day light shade.

There are several different kinds of hydrangeas.  I am not going to get into all the botanical names here.  I think for the purpose of this article all we need to look at is the fact that some types bloom on old wood and some bloom on new wood.  If your plant is very old it likely blooms on old wood, but not necessarily.

Pruning hydrangeas can be confusing.  The most common varieties are the bigleaf hydrangeas and oakleaf varieties.  These bloom on the previous stems or old wood.  Flower buds form in late summer and bloom the following spring.  They should not be pruned after August 1.

If you have a plant that’s old, damaged or has been neglected prune it all the way to the base.  You will miss next seasons bloom but that’s a start to rejuvenate the plant for future enjoyment.

Plants that bloom on new wood should be pruned hard on a yearly basis.  Make sure you prune before the new flower buds are formed.

Hydrangeas benefit from fertilization once or twice in the spring.  Being heavy bloomers mean they need plenty of food.  Remember, blooming to a plant is akin to childbirth to a woman.

Established plants should not need to be watered.  The roots are deep enough and spread out enough that they can obtain enough water out of the soil.

A large hydrangea in full bloom can hold a tremendous amount of water in a heavy rain.  It may hold several gallons of water.  This causes the plants to bend and sometimes they don’t come back during that season.

Some blue or pink hydrangeas can be made to change color.  The variety nikko blue being a good example.  If its blue and you want to change it to pink simply apply lime around the roots and it will soon change to pink.  If its pink you can make it turn blue by adding an acid forming product to the soil.  Not all pinks or blues will change colors but there are several that will.  That information should be on the plant tag.

The most common reasons for hydrangeas not blooming are to much sun or to much shade, incorrect pruning or plain old neglect.  The last being the hardest to correct.  Also, remember that plants have a life span just as you and I do.  A 20 to 30 year old hydrangea, that’s been neglected is going to be very difficult to restore to full glory.

I hope this helps a little.  A full discussion on hydrangeas would take a lot more time and space than I have here.

If you have questions on other subjects I would love to hear from you.

What to do now...? January 23rd, 2019



The answer to the above question could well be answered with one question. That word is wait.  Normally, I would tell you this time of year to make sure all your beds are well edged and mulched.  Prune all shrubbery with the exception of spring blooming material to get all maintenance items completed before the mowing and golf season arrives.


None of that is doable, however, with the amount of falling weather we are having and in between falling weather that the ground squishes when you walk on it.  Any kind of traffic on the yard leaves tracks and indentions in the lawn.  So, I go back to my original thought.  We wait.


My opinion for what it is worth.  We wait.  I am not known for my patience, so I don’t like waiting. But, it doesn’t seem like I have a lot of choice.  I don’t want to mess my lawn up any worse than it already is.

I think when spring gets here you will see lawns looking as bad or worse than you have ever seen them.  There will be large areas of bare or almost bare areas caused by standing water and the grass drowned.  You will see weeds that you have never seen before.  The bare ground will be perfect for weed growth.  Most of the nitrogen will have leached out of the soil so there will be a need for nitrogen to be applied this spring.


I will point out that I am not selling anything, so I am not trying to draw in customers.  When we weather that will allow us to work out in the yard I would urge you to start as soon as possible.  The longer you put it off the bigger mess you will have.





Rain Drowned Lawns - January 1st, 2019

I guess a Happy New Year is in order as I prepare my first blog of 2019.  I pray the very best possible New Year for each of you as we go forward into 2019.  There is so much turmoil in the Country and in the world that its hard at times not to get discouraged.  It seems the media feeds off and overblows the bad things that occur and rarely reports the good.

I believe that within ever adversity there is an equal benefit.  Sometimes, we have to look hard to find the benefit.  Since bad news sells, I think the press blows up the bad and negates the good.

But, enough about politics.  This is supposed to be about horticulture, lawns and such.

One of the big questions today is how much damage all the rain over the past few months done to our lawns and gardens.  I think you will see when Spring arrives that it has done an enormous amount of damage to lawns.

The ground is completely saturated and cannot absorb any more water.  The rain now is either running off the lawn or standing on the lawn.  Where it is standing for any length of time the grass is drowning.  In my own case, my guess is that I have lost between 50 to 75 per cent of my lawn.  In addition to loosing the grass most if not all of the nutrients have been lost.

I said above that within every adversity the is an equal benefit.  One benefit of all the rain is that most of the insects in the soil have been drowned.  My guess is you will not have a major problem with grubs and Japanese beetles this year, although some will probably survive.

Shrubs, trees and beds I don’t think have sustained a lot of damage so far.  We still have winter in front of us, so that could change.

What do we do about the lawn damage.  I think for now its wait and see just how bad the damage is when Spring arrives and lawns start to green up.  It may not be as bad as I think.  We can hope that we don’t continue to get large amounts of rain on a weekly basis.

If I was using a lawn care service I would want them to come out about mid-March and look at the lawn with me and see what they think.  Ask their suggestions for my lawn and then go from there.

I will be keeping up with the situation and offering more advice as Spring arrives.

Buying Tips - November 2ed, 2018


Just a follow up on my last blog concerning knowing what you are buying and where it can and can’t be used.  I thought the following information might be helpful when making buying decisions.

There are 14 zones in North America.  One is far north in the Artic and fourteen is at the very bottom tip of the North American continent.  The zone we live in is referred to as seven A.  This means we should not be planting plants that cannot survive zero F to 5f for extended periods of time. I know at times we have colder temps than zero but that is unusual.

Our average first frost is between October 21 to October 31.  Our last frost is normally between April 17 and April 20.  Our average rainfall is 41.62 inches.  For statistical purposes this is measured at the airport.  Our average snowfall is 15 inches measured at the airport.  All of these figures are from the National Weather Service and their office is at the airport.

Now, it goes without saying that these figures may differ significantly from the airport to your yard or my yard.  They are only a guide to work by.  I seem to remember that one of the big rains this summer dropped 6 inches of water in the Forest area and parts of Lynchburg but only an inch at the airport.

We all know frost has occurred much earlier than October 21 and much later than April 20.  We know summer storms drop large amounts of water over small areas.  Even in our own yards the temperature varies from one area of the yard to the other.  We have to go by the guides we have.

Buying because a plant is pretty is not a good reason to buy.  That pretty plant in the store may not live where you want to plant it or it may live and not bloom.  If it doesn’t do what you want it to do then it is not a good buy.

I have given these tips before but know where you are going to put a plant before you buy.  Know if the plant you are buying prefers sun or shade.  Know the hardiness of the plant you are buying.  This information should be on the tag attached to the plant.  If the plant is not tagged ask for the information.

If someone where you are buying cannot answer your questions, go somewhere else to buy.

Know Your Plant Zone


I met a lady this morning with a question about some of her plants.  She stopped me and said she had a small green plant that looked like a little tree with big blooms on it and she wanted to know what kind of tree it was.  Needless to say, I needed more information, but after asking some questions I found out I figured out it was a tropical hibiscus.  Her question was how should it be pruned.

I explained how I would prune it if it was mine. While explaining how to prune I learned the plant was planted in the ground and she planned to leave it there for the winter.  I also learned she had a Mandevilla that she also intended to leave out for the winter.  I tried to explain to her that it was a tropical plant that would not survive temperatures in the mid-thirties for an extended period of time.

I asked if the plants had labels with them and she said yes, they did and she always saved her labels.  I asked if she read them and she said no.  I did not ask why bother to save them if she was not going to read them.  I wanted to.

The point is there are a lot of people that buy plants solely on the basis of looks but with no idea as to whether it will grow in our climate zone.  There are plants that will grow in Raleigh or Richmond but do not do well in Lynchburg.  Just because it was pretty in Myrtle Beach does not mean it will overwinter outside in Lynchburg.

Back to hibiscus a minute.  There are three kinds of hibiscus.  Hardy hibiscus, more commonly known as Rose of Sharon, which will survive –20 degrees.  There are, perennial hibiscus that die down over the winter and come back each year and then there are tropical hibiscus.

Tropical hibiscus are zone 10 plants.  This is true of most so-called tropical plants.  They will not survive light frosts or freezes.  When we owned the garden center, we brought in one truck of tropical plants each spring.  This was about one thousand plants. They were brought in and sold for container plantings and summer color.  We tried to warn customers that they had to be brought inside over the winter if they wanted to save them for the next summer. But, there were always some that did not listen.

Your sister has some in her yard and they are big trees and she has had them for years? Where does she live?  She lives Orlando.  Enough said.

There are many varieties of gardenias but only two are recommended to plant outside in Lynchburg.  They will be damaged if the temperatures go down to five above zero for several hours.

The point is pay attention to climate zones when planting plants that are intended to remain outside year around.  If you don’t know ask.  If the store employee can’t answer your question go somewhere else to buy.

Know What You Are Getting October 25th, 2018


My wife happened to be watching a court show after lunch today and I happened to overhear that the case was concerning a yard that was sodded and had not performed as the customer expected.  The sod had a number of large dead spots scattered throughout the yard.  The customer claimed the installer put too much fertilizer on the sod, while the installer thought the spots were caused by improper watering, too much or too little.

After listening to the testimony, I believe it was most likely caused by too much watering.  The cause is really immaterial to what I am writing about.  I want to make the point that the entire litigation could have been avoided if the two parties had had a clear understanding, in writing, before the job was started.  My point is the same regardless of the type of work you are having done, whether it is yard work, roofing, painting or something else.

In our case when I quoted price on any type of lawn work that required seed, I gave a written quote. The last thing at the bottom of the quote I put in all caps red letters that we were not responsible for seed germination or the performance of the yard.  I have had customers to set up a playground for the neighborhood kids the same day the yard was seeded.  I had customers that watered part of the newly seeded lawn and not all because it was too much trouble to move the hose. I could tell many other horror stories along these lines. It was much easier and less costly to make it plain at the beginning, no warranty.  I never saw where it caused me to lose any work.

The point is to have a clear understanding between parties, buyer and seller, and have it signed by both parties.  If either one has any questions resolve it before the agreement is signed.

A wise man who was very successful in business once told me and I quote, “Business is so simple, tell people what you can and can’t do and do it”, end quote.  That is as true as anything I have ever heard.

The guru has spoken.

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