So Many Helping Hands

Two groups were busy on Monastery grounds last Saturday.  Jacob Johnson, a Boy Scout with Troop 1196 was working on his Eagle Project planting trees with help from his troop members, family and friends.  With Sister Pat’s approval, he was planting trees on the grounds and will have tree identification labels for each — appropriate for the concept of The Teaching Garden.


Jacob was planting Blue Atlas Cedars, Deodar Cedars, Arnold Promise Witch Hazel & Red Bud among other trees.

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Master Gardener Volunteers meanwhile were busy under the direction of volunteer Jean Bennett, in charge of the Four Seasons bed, to remove a young, vigorous Witch Hazel tree that had grown too big for its spot and Sister Pat stated she would like it for the Columbarium used by the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia.  It will be moved in early spring next year but to prepare the tree for the move the volunteers did root pruning.  You cut a circle into the soil, about two feet deep or so around the drip line of the tree cutting off roots to discourage them from growing out any more.  Jean had to use her Japanese Hori knife to cut some of the roots.  A saw would have been used if they came across a bigger root.

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After severing the roots, they will water the tree to ease the stress they caused the tree and will treat it as a new tree, giving it water and attention.  This process will force the tree to make a root ball having intact roots so it will be easier to transplant next year.

Found hidden in the Montauk Daisy plant is a Praying Mantis egg sac. Sharing the delights of a dill plant is a Swallowtail caterpillar and a honey bee.

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In the Cooks’ Garden, yellow beans are still being harvested and the sweet potatoes are growing so much they had to be pulled back from the fence.

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Below are definite signs of autumn –

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The 60+ pound pumpkin, milkweed dispersing its seeds and purple asters, that bees, butterflies and skippers are attracted to (as well as humans!)

Happy First Day of Fall!

The dominant color in the Teaching Garden right now is Yellow.  Yellow is a great Fall color, perfect for this first day of fall!

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4) wpid-wp-1442934293558.jpg  In the Native Bed, there are four varieties of Goldenrod   1) Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’  2) Solidago caesia Blue Stemmed Goldenrod 3) Solidago nemoralis ‘Grey Goldenrod’ 4) Solidago flexicaulis  ‘Zig-zag Goldenrod’

Goldenrod pollen is often blamed for causing hay fever; the true culprit is ragweed. Have no fear growing Goldenrod.  Both plants bloom from late summer to early fall, but goldenrod, true to its name, produces masses of bright golden flowers on single-stemmed plants.  Ragweeds have small, green flowers that release pollen freely into the wind.

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Coreopsis pubescens ‘Sunshine Superman’Lantana with its berry-like seeds and another Lantana with variegated leaves, and it wouldn’t be Fall without mums.

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Varieties of coneflowers (Rudbeckia).  First picture has a orange and yellow spotted Ailanthus webworm, the ermine moth Atteva aurea on its petal.   This distinctive moth can be seen visiting flowers during the day and is also attracted to lights at night.

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Re-blooming Irises, yellow dahlia flowers, and zinnias.

The Master Gardener Volunteers worked together to tidy up the vegetable beds by putting newspapers down to prevent weeds and mulching.  Still growing in the garden are the small tomatoes ‘Amy’s Apricots’ which I was told is as sweet as candy.

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wpid-wp-1442936049562.jpg   A garden fairy watches over the garden and welcomes Fall!



Bulking Up for Winter

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Low-flying geese flew over the Teaching Garden.  Insects and hummingbirds were seen in the garden bulking up for winter.  They are eating and gathering nectar for the next stage of their lives.  Swallowtail caterpillars were feeding on dill.  Monarch butterflies were on the butterfly bushes.

Hummingbirds were flitting around the garden and making their little chirping noises as they fed on the following plants:

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Above left to right: ‘Hot lips’ sage, Salvia Hybrid ‘Amistad’, Brazilian verbena.

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An unusual sight – berries on the Native Trumpet Honeysuckle.  Birds usually eat the red berries before we are able to observe them.  Master Gardener Volunteer, Leslie, who has worked in the Teaching Garden for many years, says this is the first time she has seen berries on the honeysuckle.  Since the birds are not eating them right away, does this mean we’ll have a mild winter?


Another unexpected sight is in the Woodland Garden.  Plants in this shaded part of the garden usually have their showy moments in spring.  What a surprise to see Tricyrtis hirta Toad Lily aka Hair Toad Lily in glorious bloom.

Saturday’s Plant Sale and Program

The early rains may have kept some people home but for the garden, the showers were most welcomed!   At the Plant Sale, the Master Gardener Volunteers loaded plants into wheelbarrows for buyers and everyone was happy.


If you stayed home due to weather or other obligations, you can still purchase plants whenever the Master Gardeners are at the garden which is Tuesday mornings 9-noon, Thursday evenings 6-dusk and Saturdays 9-noon.  You can pay with exact change or by check.  Most plants sell for $5 and up.

The first talk about Preparing the Landscape for Winter & Fall Tree Planting was given by Paige Thacker, the Horticulture Agent, Agency Director for the Prince William Unit of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.  Recommended practices are:

  • Clean up dead plant material and foliage.  By removing these, you are removing potential diseases and harmful bugs.
  • Mulch flower beds and around trees.  Keep mulch 2″ away from trees and shrubs.  Rake or better yet, mulch your leaves.
  • In times of low precipitation, irrigate landscape plants deeply and infrequently, at a rate of 1″ per week.   Use a tuna can to measure the amount. Evergreens and Broadleaf Evergreens like Holly, keep growing during the winter.
  • Soil test the lawn, veggie garden, and flower beds.
  • Plant new trees and shrubs.  Fall is a great time to plant these.  Remember to always plant at least two times bigger (better yet is 3 to 5 times bigger) than the width of the pot.  Inspect the root system and if they are circling the plant, spread them out.  Put native soil back in the hole.  If you use amended soil, the roots will not tend to spread out into the surrounding soil.  Don’t forget to mulch.
  • Store pesticides in a safe location and don’t allow liquid pesticides to freeze/thaw.  You can safely dispose of them at the County’s landfill at certain collection times.

There are good publications at Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) website at Virginia Tech on planting trees.  Now is not the time to prune.  Pruning stimulates growth and we want plants to be dormant for winter.  You can prune if the branch is damaged but not for aesthetics.  VCE has a Shrub Pruning Calendar and Tree Pruning Calendar to guide you. Be sure to clean and sharpen your tools.  It was recommended that you keep a journal and make notes of successes and failures to help plan for next year.  It is important to provide extra attention to our landscapes in the fall to help them over-winter and start spring in peak condition.   Master Gardener Volunteers Jean, Susan and Mary demonstrated the removal and dividing of a Red Twig Dogwood (it has great winter interest with its red branches and is available at the Plant Sale).  Several weeks ago they cut 1 1/2 feet around the plant to prepare it for its removal.  When they dug it out they made sure they had the main and feathery roots.  We were reminded that plants are very resilient and want to live.

Next Thomas Bolles, Environmental Educator for the Prince William Unit of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, spoke about Cover Crops.  Points he made were:

  • Use cover crops to protect bare soil, prevent erosion and suppress weeds when garden spaces would be otherwise left fallow.  They can be worked into the ground, used as mulch or added into compost.
  • Use cover crops to build soil structure and improve soil fertility.  Some will even add nitrogen back into the soil.
  • Helps maintain soil organism populations which helps improve soil structure to increase water infiltration, water holding capacity and space for root growth.
  • Many cover crops are also useful for attracting and providing habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

At VCE’s website they have links about Soil Health and Cover Crops and when to plant Cover Crops.  Thomas showed us the daikon radishes he grew in his garden.  This is a great cover crop to grow to help break up our clay soils.  Thomas then walked us around the vegetable gardens and said they use no pesticides or fertilizers.  They are successful because they get ahead of any potential problems, they scout for bugs, diversify the plants and use cover crops.  Given to people in attendance were various cover crops seeds:  Abruzzi Rye, Hairy Vetch, Crimson Clover Rye, Winter Rye and  Daikon Radish.

If you have any questions or want to know more, please contact the Prince William County Extension Horticulture Help Desk at 703-792-7747 or email

Don’t forget – Plant Sale and Talks!

It all starts tomorrow, Saturday, September 12 from 9 a.m. until noon:

wpid-wp-1441726665791.jpgCome early to get the best selection of plants (at a reasonable price) looking for a good home.

Enjoy the talks given by VCE – Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers.

The “Saturday in the Garden” agenda:

  • Fall Chores in the Garden– Join Master Gardener Volunteers as they prepare for fall and winter in the garden.  Topics for discussion include clean up, plant division, soil preparation.
  • Fall Cover Crops in the Cooks Garden–  Cover crops protect soil from erosion and enhance soil productivity and health, yielding better vegetables.  Cooks’ Garden Master Gardeners show you how.

The Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery is located at 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow,  VA 20136. All programs are free and run from 9 a.m. – Noon.   Registration is requested so enough handouts can be made.  Please call 703-792-7747 or email

So Excited about Upcoming Plant Sale

Sign on the side of the Teaching Garden shed –


Master Gardener volunteers were busy getting ready for the upcoming plant sale this Saturday, September 12, starting at 9 a.m. till noon.  Come early for best selection.

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Beds in the garden were thinned out and Master Gardeners will be bringing in plants from their own home gardens.  Volunteer Fred was even painting the new fencing surrounding the compost area.   Fall is an excellent time to plant, planning ahead for next year.  This is your opportunity to get wonderful plants at a very reasonable price and all proceeds support the Teaching Garden.   By all means, stick around because there will also be the “Saturday in the Garden” program taught by VCE – Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers.

  • Fall Chores in the Garden – Join Master Gardener Volunteers as they prepare for fall and winter in the garden.  Topics for discussion include clean up, plant division, soil preparation.
  • Fall Cover Crops in the Cooks Garden –  Cover crops protect soil from erosion and enhance soil productivity and health, yielding better vegetables.  Cooks’ Garden Master Gardeners show you how.
The Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery is located at 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow,  VA 20136. All programs are free and run from 9 a.m. – Noon.   Registration is requested so enough handouts can be made.  Please call 703-792-7747 or email
It always is a pleasure to see the caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly feeding on the milkweed plant.  Milkweed plants are left to go to seed pods where the wind will carry the milkweed floss with their seeds aloft making more milkweed plants, the only food source for Monarch caterpillars.  Praying Mantis are feeding on bugs as well.  Master Gardener Volunteer Leslie reported seeing a hummingbird.
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Sedums aka Stonecrop are looking very nice.
Varieties include Metrona, ‘Purple Emperor’, Autumn Joy
In bloom are the purple “Stokesia laevis” Stokes’ aster ‘Blue Danube’,
an yellow/orange annual related to Trumpet Vine,
brilliant burning plumes of Celosia and Adelia ‘Rose Creek’ Abelia Grandifora
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In the Cooks’ Garden, sweet potatoes were dug up,
tomatoes were pulled from the bed and cover crop was planted.  Come to the lecture this Saturday to find out what fall chores and cover crops would benefit your garden.
See you at The Teaching Garden!

Attractive Beds.

The Master Gardener Volunteers have been working hard edging and mulching the various garden beds.  Many flower plants extended out into the lawn areas and are now trimmed and looking fine.  Enjoying the attractive beds were box turtles and praying mantis coupling up.  Thanks to Lynne for providing the “turtle love” photo.

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The strangest looking caterpillar was found on the Winterberry bush.


Leslie helped identify the Harris’s Three-spot (Harrisimemna trisignata) that feeds on many woody plants.  Its looks are very confusing and initially looks like it has been half eaten.  Its head is loose from the body attached by some long hairs and will bounce around when it thinks it is in danger.
Delephinum  Sedum ‘Autumn Joy leaves were chewed off by deer.  Deer usually don’t eat this plant but Master Gardener Leslie explains that with the dry weeks we have been having, the succulent provided moisture for the deer.
Colorful flowers in bloom – Hibiscus, Gladiolus, and Morning Glory.
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The Crape Myrtle trees are in glorious color.  There are the tall kinds and the middle one is a minature crape myrtle Lagerstroemia indica ‘dwarf Victor’ which gets only about 4 feet tall so it fits into the garden bed nicely.
Enjoying The Teaching Garden were visitors from the Manassas ‘Centennial Garden Club’ and ‘Montclair Garden Club.’  From left to right are Betty, Janet and Linda standing in front of the tall (over 7 feet) Rudbeckia laciniata Asteraceae ‘cut leaf coneflower’ grown in the Native Bed. They were admiring the various flower beds and brought their lunches to eat while on the grounds.  They couldn’t have chosen a more lovelier spot.