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

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

Winter Gardening 2010
(Posted January 29, 2010)

After the snows, cold, winds, and rains, everyone is anxious for signs of spring!

Actually the snow and cold temperatures benefit plants. The snows kept the plants insulated, and the temperatures have prevented plants from breaking dormancy too soon as has been the case in the past.

Some landscape materials were probably damaged by the snow falling from the roofs. If you see evidence of breakage, go ahead and remove the damaged and broken limbs; you can also begin pruning evergreens and summer flowering shrubs when you can get outside.

Photo of Gladiolus - Tom's Garden 2009
Tom's 2009 Garden
Click Here for Summer Color

(Posted July 7, 2009)
Photo of Calla Lily - Tom's Garden 2009

Wait Before You Prune - Depends on Plant

Photo of Forsythia

Don't prune spring flowering materials, such as azaleas, quince, forsythia, etc., until after flowering. Pruning them now will reduce their flowering impact.

Wait until you can determine any cold damage to hydrangeas before pruning, then cut back to the first new growth, otherwise, you run the risk of removing any flower buds. The leading cause of non-flowering hydrangeas is pruning them at the wrong time!

Crape Myrtles, one of the last summer-flowering shrubs to leaf out in the spring, can be pruned and shaped now.

Even though some shrubs were "swamped" by the snow, most rebounded nicely with the thaw. I thought some boxwoods and yews were going to be damaged, but they have all up righted themselves with minimum damage.

Be very careful in future snows (and yes, we know there will be some) in removing it from shrubs. If it is light and you can gently sweep it, this will not harm the shrubs; but if it is heavy and wet and frozen on the plants, it is best to wait until it thaws naturally to reduce the risk of plant damage, particularly breakage.

Photo of Snowdrops
Spring Growth

You probably have noticed that the grass is greening somewhat. Also there is evidence of the early growth of spring bulbs. Snowdrops are already flowering in protected spaces.

My patio camellia has two rather spectacular vividly colored blooms already! (Unfortunately, squirrels have eaten many of the buds.)

Photo of Camellia

Bulb foliage has a natural protection from the cold so you don't have to worry about them. It is only when their buds are ready to flower that the cold does any harm. If you planted bulbs this past fall, you will find that they emerge and bloom later than those already established. There is no need to apply mulch to them now or to cover them; they will be fine.

Photo of Grape Hyacinth

The foliage of grape hyacinths sprouted in the fall and looks a little bedraggled now from the cold. Just leave it; this is the natural habit of this bulb. Soon you will see evidence of bright blue flowers.


As you find the garden awakening, it is OK to pull back the mulch gently so as not to damage the fragile sprouts. Also remove any accumulated collection of leaves when the weather permits.

Most mulching in Fairlington, done in the spring, is for aesthetics. Mulch actually should be applied in late fall/ early winter to keep plants settled in the ground and to help prevent heaving from freezing and thawing soil.

Reset any plants that have "heaved" out of the ground over the winter. Sometimes mulch has a tendency to compact, preventing the emergence of sprouts. Gently loosen mulch as new growth emerges and begin to turn it over to supply nutrients. Also remember there is such a thing as too much mulch and unless it is properly decomposing and turned under, it can harm plants.

Winter Pansies

You have probably noticed that fall-planted pansies have been quick to show signs of life with the increasing light. I noticed some in flower on Capital Hill this week end.

Again, when the weather allows and the soil is dry enough to walk on, you can begin to remove any straggling or winter damaged parts. Also remove any dead blooms and continue to "dead head" pansies as they begin to rebloom. A light application of slow release fertilizer now will aid the plants' growth.

Photo of Viola, a smaller pansy, in flower

Turf/ Soil

Be sure to stay off of the turf while it is cold and wet. Walking on it compacts soil and grass so that it hardens into a cement-like surface and stunts the grass. It also creates a "path".

Photo of Ornamental Grass

The general rule for working in the soil is to wait until it dries out and is not frozen. If you "ball up" the soil and it remains in a ball shape, it is too wet to work. Only when the soil falls apart in your hand is it dry enough to work.

Cut back the tops of ornamental grasses now. Waiting until later means that you will "square off" any growing tips. If you look closely, you will see some grasses already greening in the center of the clumps beneath the dried foliage. Also shear off the tops of liriope now.

Some gardeners leave unusual perennial tops for winter interest and bird protection/ food. For a cleaner look, begin to remove spent perennial tops if you didn't do this earlier. Be sure to cut the tops; don't try to pull them off because sometimes this damages the plant and induces rot at the crown.

Hellebores are in bud and blossom. If the evergreen, leather-like foliage looks unattractive, prune it away from the emerging buds and new leaves.

The jury is still out on whether or not it is better to leave the foliage or remove it. Even if these plants are flattened by snow, they usually rebound quickly with rising temperatures and thawing.

Even at this time of year, when there is little immediate evidence of growth, the clean garden has a certain charm and beauty created by silhouettes, evergreens, bark, and shadows.

Photo of Helleborus, or Lenten rose, in flower

Winter Continues

Photo of Spring Flowering Tree

Don't be mislead by the signs of spring; we still have several more weeks of winter to go! And yes, garden centers will soon temp you with plants, mulch, and other gardening accoutrements. Don't accept their tease. Before purchasing any plant material, make sure it has been "hardened" off to the cold; that means it has been acclimated to withstand the cold. Greenhouse items will succumb to the first frost.

The calendar Easter (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox) usually sets the opening of spring when weather begins to "settle down".The last "killing" frost in this area occurs in late April or early May. Unless you are planting winter hardy materials, nothing is gained by planting too early and you usually have to replant.

The calendar Easter (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox) usually sets the opening of spring when weather begins to "settle down".

Practical Web Site offers some simple, practical videos on garden maintenance and general gardening advice.

Looking Forward to Spring

  • Brent and Becky Heath (7900 Daffodil Lane, Gloucester, VA 23061 (804) 693-3966) are premier bulb growers with eight acres of flowering bulb gardens to visit and admire. Spring garden tours begin March 17 (1:00 - 3:00 PM by reservation) and continue through mid-April with the Daffodil Festival scheduled for March 27 and 28. More information is available at

  • Plant Delights Nursery of Raleigh, NC has produced another spectacular catalogue (catalogue price: 10 stamps or a box of chocolates!) - always a treat as a reference and dream device! Their web site is

  • The Virginia Garden Club's 77th Historic Garden Week takes place April 17 - 25 giving visitors a unique opportunity to visit state-wide private homes and gardens - always an inspiration! Some local tour highlights include Alexandria (April 17), Middleburg (April 18, 19), Fairfax - actually in Arlington this year (April 20), Fredericksburg (April 20), and Winchester area (April 24, 25). More information and tour specifics are available at

  • Photo of Mailman

    Note to Readers

    As some of you probably remember, I used to do this column for the All Fairlington Bulletin as an effort to offer to local gardeners some practical advice based on personal experience. I am always interested in who (if anyone) actually reads or uses this advice and will respond to your questions or comments. Drop me a line at and reference "Web Site Garden Column" in the subject heading.

    American Horticultural Society
    Web Site
    Photo of Gardener

    The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is one of the oldest national gardening organizations in the country. Since 1922, we have provided America's gardeners with the highest quality gardening and horticultural education possible.

    We accomplish this with the help of an impressive network of experts -- from the members of our Board of Directors, specialized Advisory Committees, National Great American Gardener Award Winners and corporate sponsors.

    At AHS you’ll get connected -- to great gardens around the world, gardening education for all levels of skill, sources of information on any garden subject imaginable, a community of gardeners eager to share their experiences, other great gardening events and activities, and much, much more.

    "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

    Fairlington Historic District Links

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