Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999
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Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener

Fall 2005 Gardening Tips

The recent rains after the driest September on record seem to have revived the lagging plants and shrubs. Most experts agree, however, that the real damage done to trees and shrubs by the drought will not fully materialize until next year.

Root systems have been weakened, and many trees are subject now to disease and insects due to their weakened state. If we have a severe winter, we will see the loss of more landscape plants that will not be able to tolerate the cold in their stressed state.

Newly Planted Shrubs Need Water!

Any tree or shrub newly planted this fall needs to be watered over the winter when there is insufficient rainfall. Do this when the temperatures are above freezing.

There is much to do to prepare the garden for winter and, indeed, for spring. Since we garden in such small spaces, neatness is everything in our borders. Yes, it would be nice to leave the tops of perennials for the birds and winter interest, but there is something to be said for the clean, trim border in the winter. It is best to cut off the tops of perennials as pulling them off loosens the plants from the soil and can create a "hollow" in the plant's center which allows water to stand causing rot. Be certain to cut the tops of lilies rather than pull out the dead stem.

Selective Pruning Only - Please!!!

It is too late to prune shrubs except to eliminate dead wood. Pruning any spring flowering shrub now will mean few and reduced blossoming in the spring as buds are already set. Any pruning now to azaleas will eliminate the spring blooms.

Do not prune hydrangeas! Except for the newest varieties ('Endless Summer' is one new variety), hydrangeas bloom on "old wood", not growth produced in the spring. Pruning them now means you will eliminate the summer flower buds. Wait until spring growth is well underway and there is no danger of frost before doing any pruning to these plants. The two reasons hydrangeas do not bloom are (1) pruning in the fall/ winter, and (2) flower buds being killed by a late frost/freeze.

Check out for a guide to successful pruning and a shrub pruning calendar. The Virginia Tech Master Gardener web site, will provide good gardening information regarding trees, shrubs, and general landscape maintenance.

Still Time for Bulbs

There is still time to plant daffodils and tulips. You really need to get the daffodils in quickly as they take longer to root. Take advantage of end of season bulb sales. Look for bulbs that are firm to the touch. Plant them with some regular (10-10-10) fertilizer or special bulb food. Fertilize again in the spring when the new shoots are about one inch high. Remember all parts of daffodils -bulb, stem, flower- are poisonous to squirrels. They need no special treatment to keep squirrels away.

Tulips can go in until the ground freezes which usually is not until December. Squirrels do like tulips! I always spray the bulbs with some sort of "rodent repellant" before planting them. Last fall, I used a granular repellant and just sprinkled it on the soil. It worked! Some folks say blood meal is a deterrent. Mass tulip bulbs for spectacular results. Plant clumps of 5/ 7/ 9 bulbs. Don't plant in rows! I always plant them much closer than directions say. A good work horse tulip is 'Queen of Night', an almost black variety. It blooms late and interspersed with other colors is very striking.

Treat tulips as annuals. The bulbs require dry summer conditions which are hard to maintain if you plant annuals in your bulb beds. Tulip bulbs usually "split" after the first season producing mostly leaves and few blooms the second season. It's easier just to pull them up after blooming and replace in the fall.

Bulbs put in this fall will be later to begin growth in the spring than established bulbs in your border. They will also bloom a little later than established bulbs.

Odds and Ends

Planting pansies and winter kale/cabbage as you put in your fall bulbs means you have border interest now and in the spring.

Once you have the border cleaned of old growth and leaves and your winter interest and spring plants in, a dressing of mulch will keep it neat and in place. Mulch out from plants, not up, to avoid volcanoes which are unhealthy to plants. Double shredded hardwood mulch lasts longer. Mulch will help keep plants from "heaving" out of the ground due to freezing and thawing, will keep the soil at an even temperature, and will provide a nice dressing to the dormant border.

Take time to walk around the community to see what plants and shrubs provide winter interest and consider adding some of these (space permitting!) to your border next spring. This is also a good time to check out the end of season bargains on "remainders" at the local nursery. Consider potting up some small evergreens and other plants with winter interest to keep your patio attractive during the bleak days of winter.

Check out the gardening feature on HGTV (Home and Garden TV at for tips and advice! You may also access the site from the Fairlington gardening page.

The following information is from the P. Allen Smith electronic gardening newsletter dated October 28, 2005 and should be of interest to anyone who wants to start an amaryllis for the holiday season.

I like to think of myself as a champion of all flowers big or small, but when it comes to adding blooms to your home during the winter months the amaryllis wins my vote every time. The bloom size is only one of the attributes that makes this bulb so remarkable. Amaryllis are extremely easy to grow and thanks to Dutch hybridizers, there is a color and form to suit any décor.

Newer cultivars include flower forms that are trumpet shaped or fully double. And the cybisters have narrow recurved petals that give the bloom a spidery look.

The brilliantly hued 'Red Lion' always has a role in my holiday decorating and the chartreuse and white petals of 'Lemon Lime' provide the perfect pick-me-up during the cold days of January.

In the fall I pot up amaryllis bulbs in 8-inch plastic pots. When the flowers emerge I simply drop the pots into more decorative containers. For a head turning arrangement I cluster several in a single large planter or I combine the amaryllis with other forced blooms such as paperwhites, hyacinths and tulips for a spring garden.

When it comes to selecting amaryllis bulbs it's helpful to know that larger bulbs do make a difference. The 20 -24 cm bulbs (they are graded by the number of centimeters around the bulb) will often produce two stalks per bulb. A 28 cm bulb will always produce two stems and sometimes three! When you consider that each stalk can be crowned with 2 to 5 flowers you can understand why the amaryllis is considered the king of the indoor blooms.

To grow an amaryllis in your home, simply place the bulb in a container that is a few inches wider than the bulb. Fill with soil leaving approximately a quarter of the top of the bulb exposed. Water and place in a sunny location.

After a few weeks a long stalk will emerge from the bulb, and soon after a beautiful flower will bloom. It's important to have plenty of stakes on hand to give the flower stalk a little support because the blooms can become so large they can become top heavy and topple, breaking the stalk.

While your amaryllis is in bloom, water when dry and to help the flowers last longer keep it away from sources of heat such as air vents and fireplaces.

Now once your amaryllis finishes flowering cut off the stalk, but leave the foliage. This will help reinvigorate the bulb so you will have plenty of blooms next year.

During the non-blooming part of its life treat it like an ordinary houseplant. And then in mid-October cut back the foliage, put it in a dark place, and stop watering. About a month later bring it out, begin watering, put it in full sun and presto, a whole new generation of flowers.

Late Summer Photos of Tom's Garden
Click Here for Photo Gallery
Posted August 26, 2005

Late Spring Photos of Tom's Garden
34th Street
(New Images & Plant Descriptions
Posted May 23, 2005)

Click Here for Slide Show

(Compare with Three Weeks Ago!!)

Photo from Tom's Garden
Commons Resident Guy L. Adams
(Click on Photo for More Images)
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