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Gary Garner



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

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.

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.

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