Fall Clean-up in the Garden Continues

These Canada Geese wandering near the Teaching Garden would be better off flying south than walking!

Cleaning the garden up for a long winter’s rest continues.  Plants that were not sold were huddled together, watered for the last time and covered with pine needles.  Each garden bed has signage that was removed for storage.

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The Lavender Bed as it looked in April and now, plates removed for storage.

The mouse nest found in the hose barrel was evicted.  Garden Beds are cleaned out and mulched.  The Cornus sericea Red Twig Dogwood is attractive all winter long with its distinctive red branches.  It will stand out beautifully against a snowy white backdrop.
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Still, a few flowers are still in bloom and a delight to see.
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Philadelphus Microphyllus Mock Orange ‘Natchez’ , orange colored mums beside a butterfly weed that has released its seeds and R. Officinalis Creeping  Rosemary.

Part of the joy of autumn is to see the colorful leaves.
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Fothergilla gardenii Hamamelidaceae Bottlebrush and the Jamestown Maple tree, one of four that surround the garden.  What a treat to the eye!



Frost is in the air!

The Teaching Garden is doing well despite the light frost we experienced earlier this week. Only a few plants were affected.  The green beans and tomatillos wilted and had to be pulled.

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Celosia ‘Red Velvet’ before frost and after frost.

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Dahlias before frost and after frost.   

There are still plenty of flowers to appreciate.
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Korean mums, Leonotis leonuris ‘Lion’s Tail’, Iris Autumn Bugler re-blooms

The purple martins have packed up and left their house.  They have been gone since August, headed south.  Their “high rise” birdhouse and “single apartment” gourds were taken down.
Master Gardener volunteer, Bill, said they found four nests out of six sections in the large birdhouse.  He said the birds actually prefer the gourds because there is more room in them and they are cooler.  They like to “eat on the fly” so they won’t return until there are insects flying about for them to eat.  The blog page for April 9, 2015 shows the birdhouses being assembled.  Bill’s advice if you want to hang gourds in your yard to invite purple martins – be sure to use outdoor acrylic paint not oil-based paint.  A good winter project?

Visually Interesting Grasses

wpid-wp-1444145624463.jpgOverlooked in the Teaching Garden are the grasses.
Pictured: Pink Muhly Grass.
We tend to overlook grasses because they do not have colorful blossoms but as the garden is winding down, the grasses are noticeable standouts.  Good reasons to grow grasses are: they are drought tolerant, seeds are consumed by birds and other wildlife, in mass they are impressive, they create a wonderful vertical visual in the garden and they provide a changing visual dynamic as they can change colors in their stems, leaves and seed heads.  Best reason of all – deer don’t like eating them.

Here are some impressive grasses that stand out.

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Pictured below are Korean mums in the Four Season Garden.  Who doesn’t like showy flowers?

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The volunteers for the Cooks’ Garden were busy.  Gisela disturbed a toad hiding under the celeriac plant and hot yellow peppers that she was pulling out.

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The growing season is not over.  New items were being planted.


Various lettuces – endive, simpson and red tongue.  Cilantro was also put in.

Observant Brenda noticed that the Hamamelis virginiana Witch Hazel has bloomed with its yellow, fragrant flowers that look like fringe petals.  Birds like to eat the fruits (the small brown capsules).  This shrub will be more and more impressive as it goes into fall.

The great series of  “Saturday in the Garden” lectures is over for the season so the volunteers were moving the chairs to store off-site for the winter — and you thought Master Gardener volunteers only do gardening.


Soil Health and Planting Trees

What an ideal day for the last “Saturday in the Garden!”  The sun was out, the weather was perfect and the speakers great!

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First to talk was Thomas Bolles, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) for Prince William County, Environmental Educator.  Thomas told us tips for improving soil health.  His handout had these points:

  • Soil test to check the pH and adjust if needed – basically every 3 years. The Virginia Cooperative Extension has an excellent explanation sheet on how to do this “Soil Sampling for the Home Gardener” 
  • Add organic matter (compost) regularly or whenever you disturb the soil. This is one of the best things you can do to feed the soil.  The ideal soil would have 25% air, 25% water, 45% minerals  and 5% organic matter.  Synthetic fertilizers that you get in the store are mostly salts and not the best choice to use.  We want to reduce our need for chemicals and improve the health of our soils naturally.
  • Keep the soil covered throughout the year. Use perennial ground covers, cover crops and/or mulch to reduce eroision, feed microbes and reduce nutrient loss.  Exposed soil can become dead soil very quickly.  Mulch but don’t use colored mulches – the dyes are not good for the soil.
  • Minimize soil disturbances. Minimize the use of rototilling and walking on the soil thereby compacting the soil.  By disturbing the soil, what we don’t kill we are driving out.  Thomas compared it to constant earthquakes.  If we disturb the area (cause mini-earthquakes in our soil), our bio-diverse community of microorganisms, worms, etc. will leave.
  • Don’t work saturated ground. If you must till, make sure the soil is dry enough to do so and stay off saturated soils.
  • Fertilize appropriately.  Do what your plants need.  You don’t need to fertilize your lawn every 3 months.   The Cooperative Extension can help you if you’re not sure on how much and when to fertilize.
  • Increase/maintain plant diversity; great for the eco system. This will create balance.  Without it you’ll have more disease and issues with pests.
  • Use “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM) – identify the problem and treat it with the lowest, possible  treatment. Too much treatment can hurt or kill other organisms in your soil.  The Cooperative Extension can help you understand this guide.
  • Water wisely. Water appropriate to the crop, water deeply and infrequently.
  • Create dedicated paths to limit compaction & damage. Use stepping stones or paths to stay off the soil whether it be in your garden or a heavily used area of your lawn.
  • Measure! Know the area of your different management areas so you can water and fertilize correctly.  A vegetable garden may have different needs than a lawn.
  • Calibrate your sprinklers and spreaders.
  • Look at your soil regularly.   Measure a 12″ square and see if it is green, diverse & healthy with worms.  If not, aid it with compost to boost the microorganisms.

Thomas then had us walk around the garden and showed us various cover crops being used.  They use dill, buckwheat, crimson clover and rye.  Pictured below is daikon radish which grows large and breaks up the soil nicely.  The frost will kill the vegetable and the space it created in the soil will help aerate the soil.


Next Paige Thacker, VCE Horticulture Agent, Unit Coordinator/Agency Director for Prince William County spoke about selecting and purchasing trees because now is the best time to plant trees.


Her tips are:

  • Be sure what you buy is the right plant for the right place. If you buy the wrong plant for the area you have in mind, it will be prone to disease and insects.  The Cooperative Extension can give you advice.  See “Links” above if you wish to contact them.
  • Inspect the plant and select a plant with good color, healthy form and free from insects or disease. Select a tree with obvious trunk flare and healthy roots.  If need be, remove the tree from the container and check out its roots.  Look for circling roots.  Many times if they are like that in the beginning, they are prone to grow that way and will girdle themselves. Remove the container, burlap, zip ties, etc.  You can stake the tree but only for 6 months to a year only.
  • Before you plant, call Miss Utililty at 811. Someone in the audience said it is better to do that than call 911.  Miss Utility will come out in 2-3 days and mark where underground lines are so you don’t hit an utility line when digging your hole.
  • The flair of the tree should be right at the soil line.
  • Native soil is best. Do not use other matter such as peatmoss, compost, etc. into the hole. This will cause problems with water movement and encourage the root growth to not spread out into the natural soil.
  • Make the hole 2 1/2 up to 5 times the width of the pot. No need to go deeper to keep the flair at soil level but wider is better.  Paige’s advice “Make a $100 hole for a $25 tree” and it will be the best investment you can make.  You want your roots to grow out.  Right the roots if they are circling and don’t worry if you break off the end tips of the roots, they will regenerate.
  • After care – make sure you water 1 inch per week. If it rains a half of an inch, add a half inch of water to make it one inch of water.  Don’t water the tree, water the soil to encourage the roots to grow out.
  • You may want to protect your new tree from deer and put fencing around the trunk such as chicken wire.

    This handout “Tree and Shrub Planting Guidelines” was provided to the group.

The talks gave you a greater appreciation for the living soil that surrounds our home.  If we take care of our soil, whatever we plant whether it be trees, lawn or garden, it will thrive and all will benefit and reap the rewards.  The Teaching Garden is proof of that!

Reminder – “Saturday in the Garden” Last of the Season

The last “Saturday in the Garden” will be on Saturday, October 10, 2015, 9 a.m. – noon.  The Plant Sale will also be going on at the same time.

Come on out for the Plant Sale.   Helpful volunteers will help wheel your purchases to your car.

and hear Master Gardener volunteers talk about

Living Soil – Healthy soil is a web, retaining and cycling nutrients into the right forms at the right rates, building soil structure, suppressing disease-causing organisms, protecting plants, and decomposing toxic compounds. Learn about the necessary elements of a healthy soil web.

Join the Cooks’ Garden team and learn seed saving tips.

Taught by VCE – Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers
Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow,  20136. All programs are free and run from 9 a.m. – Noon.
Free but registration is requested, please call 703-792-7747
or email master_gardener@pwcgov.org

Still Blooming!

The many days of rain have not discouraged the flowers.  The Teaching Garden’s rain gauge showed just under 4 inches. wpid-wp-1444146576844.jpg  The cooler evenings  hasn’t affected many of them either.

The mums were in full color
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Brilliant colors still from

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marigolds, Celosia ‘Red Velvet’ that is so large it has to be staked, and Lantana ‘Lucky Flame Improved’.
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Insects are still attracted to their nectar, pictured above.  Bad bugs were being picked off Cleome (below) .  The plant is beautiful to look at and great at attracting bad bugs.  Master Gardener Volunteers were picking off the bad bugs and sending them to the “Bad Bug Swimming Pool.”  It’s never too late in the season for the “pool” to be open.
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The Salvias are doing great.
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Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ golden leaved Pineapple Sage, ‘Amistad’ the purple salvia hybrid blooms in spring & autumn, and Salvia greggii Autumn Sage ‘Radio Red.

Rhus glabra Laciniata Cut-Leaf Smooth Sumac with its changing leaves from green to red reminds us autumn is on its way.
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You can see how much it has changed.  The picture on the left was taken Tuesday, Sept. 8 and the one on the right on Tuesday, Oct. 6.  Not too far away from the shrub is the cattail-looking plant of purple millet.

While the flower beds were being manicured, seeds saved, etc., the volunteers in the Cooks’ Garden removed the last pumpkin vine because the Cucumber Beetles were having their fall feast on it.  Harvested were the sweet potatoes and butternut squash and brought to the Monastery.  The volunteers for the Cooks’ Garden will soon have a meeting to discuss the 2015 season – what worked and didn’t work in the garden and will start planning for 2016.   Gardeners are always looking forward to next season!