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Gary Garner



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

Fall (ing leaves) Have Arrived! October 21st, 2018


Whether we like it or not fall and the cooler temperatures that come along with it have arrived.  The color has slowly started to change and some leaves have started to fall.  Now the question comes, what do we do with all those leaves?

How can we put those leaves to work?  I hate the thoughts of sending them off to clog up the landfill.  Actually, those leaves can be very valuable.  They contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and trace elements that the tree roots have brought up out of the soil.  Leaves contain nearly twice the mineral content of manure.  The article I read said the leaves from one tree could be worth as much as $50 of fertilizer or humus.  Think how much that is in dollars some of us are throwing away.

The organic matter from leaves lightens dry clay, improves soil structure and increases moisture retention in dry soils.  That is a lot of benefit from something we are thinking about throwing away.  Instead of throwing them away why not compost?  Blow or rake your leaves into bins.  A bin can be easily made from 3 old palettes set on end or some chicken wire formed in a u shape.  You get the idea.

If you want to hurry along the decomposition mow over the leaves or shred them with a leaf shredder.  Mix a little top soil with each layer of leaves, throw in a little lime and 10-10-10.  If you use grass clippings make sure the grass has not been sprayed with any type of weed control chemical.

You now have a great product to use for potted plants or to spread in the garden to enrich the soil.

Leaves are also great used to improve your lawn soil.  Leaving leaves on your lawn improves the soil, reduces the need for fertilizer in the spring and helps to contain moisture in the lawn throughout the summer.  As the leaves start to fall set your mower at about 3 inches cutting height and mow over the leaves weekly.  They will easily decompose over the winter.  Last suggestion, add a little extra lime over the winter as the leaves tend to be acidic.

Pansies - Tougher Than They Look! September 18th, 2018



New gardeners often are hesitant to plant pansies in the fall because they appear very fragile.  In fact, they are a very tough cold season plant and have no trouble surviving our Central Virginia winters.  A cold snap in the winter will cause pansies to quit blooming and appear to shrink.  They can look pretty bad at times.  Give them a few days of warm/sunny weather and they pop right back in color and look great. In Central Virginia pansies are usually in bloom from about the first of September through about the end of May.  This can change depending on temperatures.

Another point to make is that there is no difference in a fall pansy and a spring pansy except the time they are sold and planted.  Many times, a spring pansy is one that was not sold in the fall.

Here are a few things you may not know about pansies.


  • Pansies are a hybrid bred from violas.
  • They were originated in the 1800’s in England.
  • By 1833 there were over 400 named pansy varieties.
  • The name pansy is derived from the French word pensee (thought) because the flower resembles the face of a person deep in thought.
  • Some other names for pansies include heartsease, love in idleness, and flower of Jove.
  • Pansies are sometimes called the “Herb Trinity”, with its three colorful petals symbolizing the Holy Trinity.
  • Pansies are naturally a biennial, only blooming in their second year, but modern engineered varieties bloom during the first year (usually within 9 weeks).
  • There are a few basic steps that should be followed in order for your pansies to look their best and survive the winter ready to bloom again in the Spring.


Planted in beds they usually do best if planted in beds facing east and north.  I have not had any real problem when I planted pansies where I wanted them and didn’t worry about exposure.  Pansies are roughly hardy to about –10F.  I usually fertilize lightly with 10-10-10 when I plant and water about once a week until freezing occurs.  Then I discontinue watering. Pansies go dormant during extreme cold and pop back into bloom when it warms up.

Pansies are normally not recommended to be planted in areas without protection and in unprotected containers.  I break this rule quite often.  It’s a matter of whether you are willing to gamble. In beds a little mulch will help to keep the roots from freezing.

In the Spring when they go back to blooming heavy I like to throw a few handfuls of 10-10-10 in the bed.  During warmer spells pansies may tend to spring up and get leggy.  Just cut them back and they look great in a couple of weeks.  I have cut back large beds with a string trimmer or mowed over them with a lawnmower.  Throw in a few handfuls of fertilizer and in a few days they looked great.

One last point the earlier you plant in the fall the larger and prettier pansies you will have over the winter.  They need to have time to grow before freezing weather.  I know your summer annuals may still look great but if you want your pansies to look their best over the Winter they need to be planted early.  Your Choice.

Prepare For Fall September 17th, 2018


It’s time to start thinking about bringing in your houseplants that have been outside for the summer.  Once the temperature starts to dip in the mid to low 50’s at night most houseplants should be inside.

A couple of exceptions would be Christmas cactus and geraniums.  Cool weather and some sunshine will usually cause cactus to develop flower buds.  Geraniums while they won’t survive freezing will hold up under a light frost.

Before I bring in my houseplants there are some things I like to do to prevent bringing in unwanted pests and disease.  First, I like to prune pretty hard.  Any plants that need repotting before coming inside I repot and root prune.  Second, I wash the plants well.  I take the garden hose and wash them standing up and then lay them on the side and try to wash the bottom of the leaf.  If they are in pots small enough to handle easily I fill a tub with water and set them in the tub and leave them until they stop bubbling.  This eliminates soil insects.  As soon as they stop bubbling I bring them out and let them drain and leave them to dry.  The last thing I do is spray them with a house plant insecticide.  As soon as all this is done inside they come.

The cactus and geraniums mentioned above will need to be brought in or protected from freezing weather or hard frost. Geraniums I toss.  If you want to over winter them I would cut them back by two thirds or more.

Tropical plants such as hibiscus or a non-frost hardy gardenia I treat a little differently. I leave them out until nights start to dip into the 40’s.  I then do what I recommended for my houseplants except I prune a little harder.  I don’t worry about where I put them when I bring them inside.  No matter where I put them the leaves seem all fall off over the winter.  If you have a bright sun porch they might keep most of their leaves over the winter but dropping their leaves does not seem to hurt the plants.  I cut back on watering while they are inside.  I water, maybe, every two or three weeks while they are inside.

In the Spring when I set them outside I fertilize heavily, water thoroughly and new growth starts in a few days and soon they burst into bloom.

The houseplants come back outside soon after the tropical plants.  I follow the same fertilizer and watering routine for them.

We are now ready for another summer.

All Stirred Up September 4th, 2018


I read an article yesterday in an old respected gardening magazine discussing the 10 most dangerous plants to your cat.  The premise of the article was that these plants might kill or make sick your cat.

If that’s the case let me point out if they will harm your cat they will harm other pets as well as your children and you.  I don’t know of a particular plant that will hurt a cat that won’t hurt other animals.  I am not going to get in the particular plants this article named but most of them are common plants that have been around for years.

One plant that was not named and this was surprising to me was a poinsettia.  I owned a garden center for almost thirty years and we sold lots of poinsettias every Christmas and every year a few people wouldn’t buy poinsettias because they had heard they would harm their cats.  I did interviews with WSET several times explaining this was not true.  WSET had local doctors on explaining that they were not harmful to cats.

The truth, is that the with juice that comes out or a poinsettia might sting a little if you get it on your skin.  The yellow seed like in the bloom is bitter if you want to taste it.  According to the poison control center some years back a 50 pound child would have to eat about 350 leaves before he would become seriously ill.  That means a 10 pound cat would have to eat about 70 leaves.  That is several plants.

I think most if not all the plants in this magazine article fall into this same category.  Too much of anything can be harmful but I wouldn’t worry about common houseplants or yard plants.

If you have a question call a reputable Veterinarian or Doctor. You can find information on line but I would trust it no further than I would trust the magazine article I read.  Remember, no one is checking what I write and no one is checking what others write.


The Ways Of Nature August 29th, 2018


I guess it’s only natural having been involved in some form of agriculture most of my life but I find the ways of nature fascinating.  I grew up on a tobacco farm, I sold fertilizer and agricultural chemicals for 11 years owned a fertilizer blending plant and farm supply store, landscaped for 15 years and owned a retail nursery and garden center for almost thirty years.  All of this and I am only 39 years old. Believe that and I have some Arizona beach front property for sale.

After all of that I still find the ways of Mother Nature interesting.  I see things in nature daily that raise questions in my mind.  I have a sun coleus in a large pot at the end of my driveway slightly shaded on one side and in bright sun on the other.  The shaded side is very dark in color, the side in sun is light and faded in color.  Did you know the sun will fade a plant just like it will fade a piece of clothing hung out on a clothes line to dry. I can turn that plant around and in a weeks time, the colors will reverse.

That beautiful purple Japanese maple planted as an understory will retain its color almost all summer.  Planted out in full sun, by early summer it will be a dirty looking orange color.  Put some shade over it and it will turn back to the pretty purple it is supposed to be.

As many of you may know some of the blue hydrangeas can be changed to pink or vice versa.  Low ph and the bloom is blue, add lime and raise the ph and the bloom is pink.  Not all hydrangeas change color.  With the way hydrangeas are bred today most of the colors are firm.  Even many of the pinks and blues are firm today.

Why do some plants do much better when planted and then transplanted, while others do much better when seeded directly where they are intended to be grown. Tobacco, tomatoes, peppers, to name a few do much better when transplanted.  Farmers have tried for years to direct seed them but have never had much success.  Corn, beans, melons, seem to prefer direct seeding.  With some crops it doesn’t seem to matter.

Shrubs and trees do strange things also.  A red delicious apple is a freak of nature.  An orchid grower in Oregon some years back noticed the apples on a limb of a tree in his orchard were different. He took some cuttings and grafted them and over time they have come to be what we now know as a red delicious.  By the way, most fruit trees have to be grafted on special rootstock. Plant the seed and the fruit you get will be nothing like what you see in the orchard.

Pink, red and various varieties of dogwood are freaks of nature.  Plant a seed off a pink dogwood and you get a white native dogwood.  All of the colored dogwoods and improved whites are grown by taking cuttings and grafting them to white rootstock.  When you see a dogwood with pink and white on the same tree, usually if you look you can find where a sprout came out below the graft and was allowed to grow.

This is just a few examples of Mother Nature and her tricks.  If you look around you will see examples of things nature does that are hard to explain.

Summer Is Fading Fast August 20th, 2018


According to Mother Nature we still have 30 plus days of summer. However, our flowers and gardens, even some shrubs and trees are showing signs that fall is fast approaching.  What should we be doing to get ready for fall?

There is still time to plant some vegetables and get enough harvest to be worthwhile.  Green beans are a very short season crop.  Plant in the next few days and they should produce a nice crop of beans.  Squash should have time to grow and produce a harvest.

Now is the time to start putting cold crops in the ground. Radish will be ready to harvest in about 3 weeks from time of planting.  You could get 2 to 3 crops this fall.  Lettuce, and other greens can be planted anytime starting now. Spinach and other greens planted now can be harvested this fall and should over winter for another harvest in the spring.  Cabbage, broccoli can also go in the next few days. These are just a few of the things that can be planted in the vegetable garden.

Flowers are a little different story.  A lot of summer flowers are beginning to show the signs of wear and tear from the summer.  If they are still looking great I would leave them alone for a few more weeks.  If they are pretty well shot from heat, rain, bugs and disease I would pull them out.  I would not plant anymore summer annuals unless I had a spot that I really needed color.  Then I would look for a garden center ready to make a deal on some late season plants.

Mums and pansies are beginning to arrive in the stores.  Personally, I think it’s a little too soon start buying mums and pansies.  I would wait until after Labor Day.  The early mums are usually small and don’t look all that great. Pansies don’t like the heat and will grow tall and weak in the heat. They could be cut back and then regrown into nice plants.  That just seems like extra labor that could be saved by waiting 2 weeks to plant.

Mums will give you 3 to 5 weeks of color and then be through blooming for the season.  They will come back next year.  Pansies will last all the way through the winter and well into next spring.  In extreme cold weather they may quit blooming and seem to shrink.  Give them a few warm sunny days and they will be right back in bloom.

Now comes the most important part of this blog. If you plan on seeding new lawn or over-seeding your existing lawn get to it.  You should have already killed the existing weeds in the lawn.  If you haven’t then, do it as soon as possible.  Remember, if you apply a weed killer to the lawn you need to wait 30 days before planting new seed. Roundup or similar products are not weed killers.  They kill everything that’s green and in an active state of growth.  They do not affect seed.  You can plant 48 hours after applying them.  They do not hurt shrubs and trees as long as you don’t apply them to the leafy part of the plant.

Fall seeding can be started as early as mid-August.  The earlier you seed the more likely you are to be successful. So, get to it.

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