Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999
Photo of Tom Corbin, Gardener

Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener

Questions and comments can be directed to
tomrcor@aol.com - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."

Early Winter Gardening Reminders
(November/December, 2008)
(Posted November 21, 2008)

With the advent of our unusual November cold snap, most gardening activities have come to a quick halt! Perhaps the change in weather indicates the region will have a "normal" winter season.


There are two schools of thought regarding cleaning up the garden before winter. One thought is to leave any attractive plant tops that have unusual color or form, dried leaves, or seed heads for winter interest. Such remains sparkle with a dusting of frost or snow. The other thinking is to cut down all perennial tops for a uniform, clean look to the winter garden letting the evergreens and "backbone" plantings carry the garden though the winter months.

Photo of Tom's Garden
Tom's 2008 Garden
Click Here for Summer Color

Late Summer Photos Added August 21, 2008
Photo of Tom's Garden

Photo of Winter Blossom
"Put the Garden to Bed"

In Fairlington's small spaces, most gardeners follow the second line of thought and "put the garden" to bed by removing the spent perennial tops with the exception of any evergreen perennials or grasses.

Wait until late January or February to shear off the tops of grasses; be sure to do this before the new growth begins.

Many perennials have basal growth which gives some winter interest. Sedums, for example, produce little rosettes of growth and the native, yellow - blooming loosestrife sends up clumps of purple leaves which last throughout the winter.

Hellebores also send up new growth now in preparation for flowering in the early spring. Remove the old, leathery leaves when the new ones fill in. If you can find it, the Chinese sacred lily has evergreen strap-like leaves all winter. And if you're lucky enough for it to flower, the spikes of red berries last into the cold months.

Pansies and Cabbages

If you planted pansies for winter interest, remember to periodically "dead head" (remove the spent flowers) them. I have found that planting smaller pansy plants means they adjust more quickly and produce earlier and stronger growth in the early spring than do the larger, say six or eight inch, pots of pansies. The larger the plant the more likely it is to be damaged by the wind. Cabbages and "flowering" kale look nice in the winter garden, but both often suffer from really cold temperatures and look unkempt and become "mushy".

If you have some empty large pots, you might find some interesting evergreen or berried shrubs at drastically reduced prices now to fill them for patio color this winter. Just remember to water any container plants when the temperatures are above forty degrees.

Photo of Pansies

Photo of Ornamental Kale

Depending upon the vagaries of the weather, you can usually continue to plant spring-flowering bulbs until late November or even early December. Once the ground freezes solid, it's time to quit! Any nurseries that have bulbs have reduced the prices now and there are some bargains out there. Tulips are you best bet since they can be planted later than the other bulbs and take root more quickly.

Consider Tulips in Containers

You can always plant a dozen or so tulip bulbs in a large container and have some portable spring color to move around when they bloom. If the container is large enough, the bulbs will not freeze. Placing them near the brick walls in your patio will also ensure that they don't freeze. After flowering, discard the spent tulips and put in your spring or summer annuals.

Photo of Window Box

Empty window boxes, adding the soil mixture to your border. Wash and scrub the boxes with a brush and water. If empty window boxes seem sad and lonely to you, fill them with pine, hemlock, spruce, fir, and holly boughs.

So decorated, the boxes will brighten your home's appearance during the upcoming holidays and beyond.


Indoor Flowering

Inside, pots of blooming narcissus make an attractive addition to your holiday décor. Simply place the bulbs in some gravel in a shallow container, covering about a third of the bulb, and add water (maintain the water level up to the top of the gravel; do not cover the bulbs with water). When the tips begin to grow, move into bright light. Some gardeners say that adding a jigger of vodka or gin to the water just before flowering keeps the plants standing "tall" - funny, vodka and gin seem to have the opposite effect on humans! Discard the bulbs after flowering.

Many stores now have Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus available in a variety of colors. If kept moist, but not wet, and kept in bright light in the coolest part of your house, they will flower throughout the holidays.

If you have the space to keep these plants after flowering, reduce the amount of water and in the spring take them outside to a shady spot on your patio. Let them stay outside until the cooler fall temperatures (which enable them to set flower buds) before returning them to the house.

Photo of Christmas Cactus

Photo of Amaryllis
Amaryllis Bulbs

Amaryllis bulbs are an old stand by for indoor flowering and now come in many colors - many with stripes and other variations - and sizes.

  • These bulbs like to be kept in tight quarters, so the pot should be only a couple of inches wider than the bulb itself.
  • Plant in a good growing medium leaving about a third of the bulb exposed.
  • Water well after planting, and leave the pot in a dark area until you see the tip of the flower bud begin to emerge.
  • Bring the pot into bright light and rotate it to keep the flower stalk growing upright.
  • If you don't rotate the pot, the stalk grows towards the light and often dislodges the bulb. It usually takes about six weeks for an amaryllis to bloom after planting. Starting some bulbs now means you will have some lovely flowers to brighten the dull days of January!

After flowering, keep the leaves growing until spring at which time you can take it outsider until next fall. In the fall, turn the pot on its side to let the bulb dry off before bringing it back inside for another year of flowering. Remove a few inches of the soil and add some fresh soil. Water and repeat the growing steps for repeat bloom.



"Go Green"

In the interest of protecting our environment, there are many thing the small-time gardener can do to limit our impact on the planet.

Plant native species. The American Horticulture Society (located near Mt. Vernon), Blandy Farm (the VA arboretum near Winchester, VA), Green Springs Farm (located off Little River Turnpike), and local farmers' markets offer native species which will grow in our area.

Use natural products. Limit the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers in the garden.

Consider drought tolerant plants. Once established many plants, including native species, are drought tolerant. Discover them through a little garden research.

Promote Natural Growth Patterns. Encourage the natural growth form of plants and shrubs. Sheared plants are stressed out and use more water than those left to grow in their natural pattern.

Photo of Earthtaken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972.

Photo of Flowers
Photo of Flowers
Signs of Spring
Tom's Garden - April 2008
Posted April 17, 2008
Photo of Flowers
Photo of Flowers
Photo of Flowers
Photos by Andy Eschen and Larry Fickau
Fairlington Flowers - May 2008
Posted May 28, 2008
Photo of Flowers
Turn your backyard into a haven for wildlife



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