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Gary Garner



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

Wet Fall - September 2nd, 2020


All signs point to a wet fall. The weather forecasters call for the next couple of months being wet and the signs from Mother Nature seem to agree. I would hope that along with a rainy fall that the weather turns cool early.


My reason for wanting it to turn cool early is simple. I like seasonal weather. I usually get tired of a particular seasons weather two to three weeks before the season is over. I am now tired of summer weather and am ready for cool fall weather.


Anyway, back to a wet fall. It is now time to plant fall crops. Fall flowers and vegetables should already be in the ground or be planted soon. Be aware, that if we continue to have cloudy, rainy weather there will be problems with fall plantings.


Plantings not under cover will have lots of black spots on the leaves. If the plantings are thick you may see rot where the plants stay wet. Bloom may be lighter than usual. When plants bloom the blooms may be knocked off the plants by rain and wind.


What can you do about the problems? The answer is probably not much. You need for the plants to dry out quickly after rain. I would make certain my containers were well drained. If it was possible, I might even set containers under cover until the sun came out. I would place my in-ground plantings just a little further apart. This gives more air circulation which helps the plants to dry. Row crops could be planted on beds, which would help with drying.


All of the above are just tips. In the long run we can only guess at the weather, whether it's me or a trained forecaster. The weather can always change in a moment.


If you see some of the above problems at least you will have an idea as to the cause.

What A Year - August 25th, 2020


I am sitting over at the surgery center, while my wife has hand and arm surgery. I got to thinking about the kind of year it has been, especially as it relates to lawns and gardens. I grew up on a tobacco farm and have spent most of my life connected to some form of horticulture. In addition to growing up on the farm I spent fifteen years doing grounds maintenance and landscaping. I then transitioned to garden center ownership for an additional twenty-five years.


All of this leads up to the point I want to make. This has been one of the hardest years I can remember so far as lawns and gardens are concerned. Spring was cool and wet up until almost June. It was so cool and wet that many seed rotted in the ground and did not germinate. In general, some germinated while others did not. If you reseeded the areas that did not germinate and got germination, then you had a very irregular crop.


Shrubs and trees were late blooming because of the cool cloudy weather. Once they did bloom the color was great and lasted longer than normal. Vegetable gardens were slow to grow off and later blooming. Leaf color did not always look just right on many plants. Fungus disease was a problem as it usually is in cool damp weather.


Then came July. A complete about turn from the Spring. Hot, almost every day was 90, and almost no rain. Miserable weather for gardens, flowers or vegetable. Plants that suffered from too much water in the Spring begin to suffer from a lack water. Much of the vegetable garden just stopped growing or blooming.


Now we are well into August. This may have been the worst weather month of all. While it has remained warm the rain has been extremely excessive. My son raises a pretty big garden and usually has bountiful harvests of many kinds of vegetables. He and his wife freeze and can what they want, he shares with friends and neighbors, and sells some. This year he is not going to have enough of most things for his own needs.


His beans were loaded with blooms and the rain beat off most of them. and caused other booms to rot. He has thrown away many five-gallon buckets of tomatoes cracked from too much water. The squash and cucumbers perished from heat and lack of water in July. All of his watermelons burst in the garden from too much water. Most of the cantaloupes are so mushy when you cut them that they are not edible. Looking at the garden as a whole he might get a third of his normal harvest.


He is not by himself. Most old-time gardeners I talk to have similar results. That is what farming and gardening is all about. Not every year is a good year. Some years the harvest is so abundant you don’t know what to do with it. Other years are like 2020. The harvest is scarce.


I repeat what I have said many times. If you can't stand failure or if the death of a plant upsets you, you should not try to plant or grow a garden. I think we learn more from failure than we do from success.

Root Importance - August 9th, 2020



When buying plants one of the most important things to look for is the root structure of the new plant. Potted and bare root plants need healthy, dense root systems to establish and grow well. The roots absorb nutrients and then bring them up through the vascular system of the plant. The roots also store nutrients during dormant periods.


Lush green top growth is not good for transplants. All of that growth has to be supported by the roots. The more growth on the top of the plants the more water and nutrients are required to help the plant get established. I like to prune my plants before I plant to remove as much top growth as possible without hurting the looks of the plant.


Potted plants can be planted anytime the soil is in condition to dig a hole. The only consideration is that the plant should be soaked thoroughly about every ten days. This means giving it enough water that its soaked to the bottom of the root ball. Watering every two or three days for a few minutes is a waste of time and money. Actually, it does more harm than good.


You are more likely to successfully plant a three- or five-gallon potted shrub or tree than you are a one-gallon plant. The reason is simple. The larger plant has a much larger and denser root system. A four pack of bedding plants is a much better buy than a six pack. You get a third more dirt or roots in a four pack.


I mentioned earlier that potted plants can be planted any time you can dig a hole. I should also say bare root plants and balled and burlap plants are best planted in late winter or very early spring before new growth appears.


I would add that buying plants strictly on price may not be a wise decision. Where a plant has grown, how it was cared for while growing is very important in how easy it is getting it established in our soil and climate.


If the garden center or nursey where you are buying doesn’t know the answers to these questions I would strongly suggest you buy elsewhere.

Hydrangea Tips - August 7th, 2020


A lot of questions come up about when to prune hydrangeas. It is not an easy question to answer. One quick answer is the plant may be planted in improper light. Some hydrangeas take more sun than others. If the light they are planted in is too bright or they are in too much shade bloom will be affected. Make certain when you buy the plant, what the proper lighting conditions are for the plant you have purchased.


The most common reason for hydrangeas not blooming is pruning at the improper time. As with most flowering plants there is a proper time for pruning. You should make certain you prune at the proper time according to the variety being pruned.


If you have a variety that blooms on new wood, meaning stems that grew during the current season, you want to prune during late winter. If you have a variety that blooms on old wood, stems that grew during the previous year, you should prune as soon as the flowers finish in summer. They start to set bloom for next year as soon as flowering is finished. If you wait until spring to prune you cut off the buds that were set last season.


Where to plant and when to prune should be determined at the time the plant is purchased. There are hundreds of varieties on the market and new ones come out every year. It is no way for me to sit here and name which variety does what. Ask when you buy and, as always, if you can’t get the answer buy somewhere else.

Hot Weather Maintenance - July 6th, 2020


The summer high temperatures and hot sun can be tough on newly planted shrubs, vegetable gardens, and flowers unless they are properly maintained.


Make certain, first that your shrubs and trees are planted in the proper environment. Some will like full shade, some partial shade to light sun, and some thrive in full sun. Azaleas, for example, like morning sun and afternoon shade. They may live-in all-day sun but they will not be happy. Plant them in full sun and then put gravel around the base and they will likely be dead in two years. The heat will burn the roots up. On the other hand, Japanese holly planted in this same environment will thrive. They like the heat.


Newly planted shrubs and trees should have a two to three-inch layer of mulch, no more, around their base. This holds in moisture and keeps the roots cool. Most shrubs and trees need to be gently soaked every week to ten days to the bottom of the root ball. A five-minute blast of water is a waste of time and water. Usually, it is only necessary to water shrubs and trees through the first growing season.


Vegetable gardens planted in the ground normally do not need a lot of supplemental watering. Mother Nature usually provides for their needs. I was in a garden this past weekend that was beautiful. Lush and green and has only received rain water. It will not be watered this season. Too much water creates lots of foliage growth which only helps to limit the amount of produce produced. Once the vegetables are up and growing fertilization and extra water should be limited. Flowers planted in the ground would be grown in this same manner.


Flowers and vegetables planted in containers are a different story. Make sure your containers are placed in the proper spots according to the plants in the containers. Container plantings in shade may only need water once a week, certainly no more than twice a week. Containers that have plants that perform well in full sun will want to be watered daily. Let me inject here that a raised bed is nothing more than a large container and should be treated as such.


On days such as the day I am writing this, 90 degrees at one o’clock, you will see many of your flowers and vegetables withered. This does not mean they need to be watered. Plants wither as a means of protecting themselves from the heat. If you come out of the house at six the next morning and the plants are still withered then you might need to grab the hose and give them a good soaking.


One last tip. When you water, try to water under the leaves. Try not to wet the leaves. Plants in general do not like wet leaves. If the leaves stay wet long it may produce rot and fungus diseases. Holes in plant leaves are usually caused by water standing on the leaves.


Just a few tips that I hope will help to save you some work over the summer and allow you to enjoy your flowers and garden.

Container Fertilization - June 29th, 2020


More and more people are growing vegetables, flowers and even shrubs and small trees in containers. I personally enjoy container growing. Containers allow me to use plants where and when I can enjoy them. When they are in bloom, I move them where they can be seen and when they finish blooming, I can relocate them and put something else out for show.

With that said caring for container grown plants is much different than caring for plants grown in ground. Plants in containers need a continuous supply of nutrients. Each time you water some of the nutrients are removed from the pot as it drains. A good rule of thumb for watering containers is that when you put a gallon of water in the pot, you should be able to catch a gallon of drainage within about 20 minutes. This also removes nutrients from the soil.

Generally, nutrients should be replaced about every six weeks. If the potting mix you use contains fertilizer, some mixes do some don’t, then your first application of fertilizer should be about six weeks after the plant is potted.

There are many different types of fertilizer that can be used. Pellets sprinkled on top of the soil breakdown when you are watering. A regular liquid feed works well. You can buy liquid feeds or make your own. Read the label on the fertilizer package and follow directions.

As with most gardening subjects I could go on for many pages or maybe a book. Even after reading all that you still have to learn by doing. Experiment, some things will work and some will not. You can only learn to garden by gardening.

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