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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.




I started to write todays blog discussing the pros and cons of organic food versus inorganic food.  I soon found that subject to be entirely to complicated for this column.  I determined that just because something is labeled organic does not necessarily make it so and because it is inorganic does not make it harmful.

For example, salt in its pure state cannot be labeled organic.  There are some elements in it that don’t meet the criteria for organic.  If you bottled the air we are breathing, it would not meet organic criteria.  I went to our pantry and looked at cooking sprays, vegetable oils, many kinds of spices and so on without finding anything organic.

To be fair, I think most of you know that I am not an advocate of either organics or non gmo products.  I have been involved in the manufacture of organic fertilizers, sold both regular fertilizer and organics and both gmo and non gmo seed.  The more I learn about organics and gmo products the less faith I have in them.

With that said I try to stay out of arguments about the merits of either.  If you believe and are willing to pay the price go for it.  I would say that you would be well advised to spend an hour or so googling organic vs inorganic and reading both sides of the story.  As with all things there are two sides to the story.

Just to let you know plain old 10-10-10 fertilizer, the nitrogen is basically extracted from the air you are breathing, the potassium and potash are mined from the ground.  Just saying.

After finding how complicated the above subject was I decided to write on good bugs versus bad bugs.  Woe is me that was just as complicated as the above subject if not more so.  I found out that some bad bugs may at times be good bugs.  I also know that it is extremely hard to control bad bugs without harming good bugs.

Only about 5 per cent of bugs, worms and insects are harmful.  Now the other 95 per cent are not all good.  Some are just around.  They really neither harmful or particularly beneficial.

A good example is the stink bug which we have seen and heard a lot about over the last few years.  They don’t eat any plant material to my knowledge.  They don’t bite or sting.  They are really not nasty at least they don’t leave a mess behind.  They do smell bad.  Yet none of us want them in our house or on our bodies.

Caterpillars can do a lot of damage in a short period of time.  A horned worm can eat much of a tomato plant in a day.  Yet they soon turn into beautiful butterflies.  We want to kill them when they are on our tomato plants, we want to protect them and even feed them when they are butterflies.

Some of the beneficial insects will help to control the bad bugs.  Trying to control the bad guys gets to be a tough decision and I am not going to try to offer a solution here.

I believe that pesticides, (chemicals) have their place.  Read the label, use according to the label they work and do little or no harm.  Don’t take the recommendation of a friend or neighbor or me for that matter, find out for yourself.

Other people would not go near their garden or food with a pesticide.  That’s fine.  You have to figure out for yourself how to manage the problems in your garden and landscape.

So today I have written a lot and said very little.  Some of these things I will address more specifically during the season.  Others may not get answered.

As always if you have a question or topic you would like for me to discuss let me know.  I will see what I can do.

February To Do List



I was just thinking of some of the tasks that should be done sometime by the end of February.  It kind of scares me when I look at the list I came up with.  Not all of us will have all of them to accomplish, but we will all have enough to keep us busy, I’m sure.

Let’s start with lawns.

  1. Watch out for cool season weeds.  Chickweed, henbit. If temps are above 40 degrees treat with a post-emergent herbicide.
  2. Make certain mowers, string trimmers and other power equipment are in good running order.  Sharpen blades and repair or replace damaged equipment.
  3. Try to stay off frozen grass.

Now we can look at houseplants

  1. Make sure houseplants are out of drafts and not touching cold windows.
  2. Keep plenty of humidity around tropicals.
  3. Water regularly and reduce feeding.
  4. Prune if needed.

Flowers and Perennials

  1. Cut back ornamental grasses to 6-8 inches.
  2. Cut back liriope to make room for new growth.
  3. Cut back flowering vines.
  4. Apply a light application of 10-10-10 fertilizer to bulbs when shoots emerge.
  5. Plant bare root roses.

Trees and shrubs

  1. Prune roses as soon as the buds begin to swell.
  2. Prune trees and shrubs of any ice or snow damage.
  3. Trees and shrubs can be planted anytime.
  4. Now is a good time to prune most trees and shrubs.  The exception being anything blooming in the spring.  Prune spring bloomers as soon as they finish blooming.
  5. Don’t fertilize shrubs until you see new growth starting to emerge.

Vegetables, herbs and fruits

  1. Prune dormant fruit trees and grape vines.
  2. Replace the top inch or so of container soil with fresh compost.
  3. Apply dormant oil spray to fruit trees before new growth emerges.
  4. Prepare the vegetable garden.
  5. Start your vegetable seed indoors.
  6. Plant cold hardy plants like sugar snap peas and onion sets.

Miscellaneous, cleanup and maintenance

  1. Do not use salt on walks and driveways.
  2. Don’t forget to water.
  3. Turn your compost pile on a nice sunny day.
  4. Make out a garden calendar.
  5. Place orders for seeds and plants.
  6. Mulch flower and shrub beds.  Edge beds.
  7. Plan your vegetable garden and flower and shrub beds.  This will save you a lot of money.  People that came in our store without a plan spent a lot more than people with a plan.

This is probably not a complete list but it’s a start.  You will think of things I missed and won’t need to do some I listed.

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.

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