Newcomer’s Guide to Gardening By the Master Gardeners of Arlington and Alexandria in partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension
Section One What You Need To Know Local Quick Facts
Local Quick Facts • Arlington & Alexandria Virginia are in Zone 7 of the Zone Hardiness Map • Last frost date in the Spring is 4/10 to 4/21 • First frost date in the Fall is 11/8 to 11/28 • Average rainfall in this area is about 40 inches per year • Clay soils and how to amend them • Mulching-reasons and resources
Clay Soils • Clay is the dominant soil in our area • Get a soil test from your VCE office It is easy to do, inexpensive and provides valuable information on your soil • Amending Clay with organic matter is a must! Compost, topsoil, manure, and fertilizer should be worked into the top 4-6 inches before planting, followed by a layer of mulch. This amends soil by improving aeration, nutrients and minerals available to plants, and drainage providing an improved soil for planting in. Other elements may need to be added also as per recommendations on soil test results.
Mulch & Compost • Why mulch? Mulching helps your plant beds in many ways. A layer of mulch applied each fall protects plants over the winter, reduces weeds in the spring, retains moisture in soil, and improves soil quality by amending soil as the mulch breaks down. Using mulch actually can save you time and money-it retains moisture in the beds and reduces your time spent watering. • Free Mulch & CompostFree Leaf Mulch in Arlington is available for pickup at N. 26th Street near Glebe Road and Marymount University and at the Arlington Trade Center on S. Arlington Mill Drive. For home delivery (at a fee), call 703-228-4570 for recorded message. In Alexandria free Leaf Mulch is available for pickup at the Eisenhower Avenue composting site near Clermont Avenue. For home delivery and cost, contact the Recycling Center at 703-751-5872.
Example of poor muching practices Always leave root flare exposed. Only 2-3” of mulch necessary.
Section Two Cultural & Integrated Pest Management Practices
Cultural & Integrated Pest Management Practices • Beneficial Insects-benefits and identifying • Plant Selection-how to choose • Pesticides-proper use of • Watering-efficient practices • Sanitation-preventing disease and infestation • Planning-three season color • Weed Control-control methods • Composting-how to • Soil Improvement-recommendations
Beneficial Insects • Good bugs aid the gardener in many ways. They aid in production of flowers by pollination, destroy various weeds, improve soil conditions, and prey on harmful insects in the garden. Some good bugs are Ladybugs or Ladybeetles, Lacewings, Praying Mantis, Bees and many Wasps, Assassin Bug and all of their larvae are beneficial feeding on many harmful bugs.
Control Methods • Handpicking by inspecting plants often and turning leaves over to examine you can spot many potential threats to your plants. Insect traps, baits, repellents and Biological Controls can be very effective when used properly after an accurate assessment of harmful insects. Ask the Master Gardeners for help with this..
Bad Bugs • Japanese Beetles both larvae and adults • Aphids • Lacebugs • Mites • Caterpillars & Worms • Adelgids
Predators & Parasites • Take advantage of natural predators, parasites, and pathogens that are already in your garden-encourage spiders, toads, and dragonflies. Learn to recognize eggs and larvae of beneficial insects including parasites and egg cases. An example of this is the tomato hornworm. This colorful caterpillar is a pest to your tomatoes but is often seen with a number of white egg cases on it's back. A parasitic wasp lays these eggs on the caterpillar that will ultimately kill it when the wasp eggs hatch. So leave this one alone and more wasps will emerge to benefit your garden. Many wasps are important pollinators too
Predators and Parasites • Beneficial Nematodes
Plant Selection • Choose the right plant for your growing conditions-sun,shade or part shade, wet or dry, protected or exposed areas, and evergreen, deciduous, perennial and annuals in your garden. • Choose disease and insect resistant species and varieties, as well as award winners-don’t be afraid to ask a Master Gardener or Nursery staff for recommendations. • Select healthy well developed plants with good root systems • Buy from reputable source
Well Developed Root Systems • Check the plant before you buy it! • Carefully remove the root ball from the container or ask a staff member to do it for you to examine the roots
Pesticides • Always follow manufacturer label instructions • Only use as needed-don’t apply them to everything in your garden if only one or two plants are affected.Pesticides used incorrectly can be very dangerous and harmful. They can harm and kill beneficial insects, worms, birds and other wildlife, as well as pose a serious health risk to humans. They can also leach into and contaminate groundwater, upset the balance of your soil and increase resistance in pests. • Make sure to correctly identify pest before treating and apply as recommended by the Master Gardeners
Watering • 1 Inch per week is recommended, this wets soil 5-6 inches deep • Water less often but deeper and promotes healthy root development. • Water your lawn at night for best absorption and less evaporation • Water your garden in the morning allowing plants time to dry before nightfall and prevent many fungal diseases. • Stay out of the garden when the soil is wet-this prevents the spread of disease on shoes and compaction of the soil. • Use drip irrigation system if possible for best efficiency
Sanitation • Clean up and remove all garden waste. This includes leaves, dead stalks of flowers, trees and shrubs, spent flower heads and seeds, dead annuals and infected plant material. Many pests and diseases over winter in these materials and infection can be prevented by maintaining a clean garden.
Planning • By doing some planning you can maximize your garden enjoyment and make use of three or even four seasons. You can design your plantings so that you have color and interest all year long. By choosing the right plant for the location in your garden you will have thriving plants and spend less time and money replacing them. • Use a planting plan or diagram. This is very helpful when you go out, buy new plants and are trying to find a spot in your garden for them. It will help you avoid digging up something that you forgot was there.
Weed Control • Weeds often harbor pests and compete for nutrients and water, as well as being unsightly • Control Methods-handpicking selected weeds, spot application of appropriate weed killer after you have identified the weed, and pre-emergence weed killers
Composting • Components of a good compost pile are: a good base to allow for drainage and airflow, even moisture, proper ratio of green/Nitrogen to brown/Carbon is 1:3, regular turning and aeration of pile • Patience will be rewarded. Composting is a natural process that does take some time. Finished compost needs to age a few months before use. • Work compost into soil to improve soil quality and plant vigor and performance • Its free, easy and rewarding
Soil Improvement • Get a soil test • Add Organic Matter to your soil and work it in to the top 4-6 inches • Maintain slightly acid soil PH 6.5 • Use chemicals and fertilizers sparingly and only after careful analysis to ensure correct application-too many or the wrong ones can do extensive damage and upset the natural balance of the soil
Section Three Do’s and Don’ts Lawns, Trees, Shrubs & Perennials
Do’s & Don'tsLawns • Don’t spend money on unnecessary fertilizers and lawn services before getting a soil test from the Extension Service. • Do fertilize with a slow release nitrogen fertilizer and only in the fall; prevent forced growth, disease, and chemical runoff into our natural water systems. • Don’t collect your grass clippings; leave them on the lawn to decompose and provide free nitrogen fertilizer. • Do water only once a week in summer if rainfall has not been one inch; water in the morning to prevent disease and promote deep roots. • Don’t mow lower than 2-1/2 to 3 inches; let the grass shade its own roots and crowd out weeds and reduce Japanese Beetle larvae. • Do consider relatively low-maintenance ground covers for areas such as slopes where it is difficult to mow or shady areas where it is difficult to grow grass.
Do’s & Don'tsTrees • Do surround trees with mulch to protect them from mower and trimmer damage. • Don’t mulch within 3-6 inches of the trunk; prevent bark rotting and rodent access. • Do use permeable paving set on stone dust rather then in cement for paths and patios to reduce run-off and increase the water that reaches tree roots. • Don’t discard the leaves you collect in the fall; chop them up with your mower and compost them for future use as nutrient-rich mulch or soil conditioner. • Don’t top your trees to reduce their height; consult a certified arborist.
Do’s & Don'tsShrubs and Perennials • Do select non-invasive varieties that will do well in this area under the specific conditions in which they will grow, e.g. sunny or shady, wet or dry. • Do group plants with similar requirements together and mulch them to conserve moisture and your energy. • Do select healthy plants that will thrive in the location you will put them in. • Do ask for help in making selections-the more information you have the better.
Section Four Resources
Resources • Virginia Cooperative Extension, Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington. Phone 703-228-6400 (www.offices.ext.vt.edu/arlington). Has knowledgeable staff that can offer advice on local conditions, pest management, plant and insect identification; has specific brochures and flyers available for the public; runs the Master Gardener program as well as the Hortline (see below); can provide information on soil testing as well as soil test kits. • Horticultural Line (Hortline) /call or walk-in clinic located at Extension Office, Room 12, Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington. Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon. Phone: 703 –228-6414. Call with questions and/or bring in gardening samples for help identifying, diagnosing problems, etc.
Master Gardener Program • Classes are given January through March on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, 60 hours of classroom training plus 60 hours of volunteer work. Contact Virginia Cooperative Extension, at 703-228-6400. Master Gardeners operate on a volunteer basis and their main function is to help educate the public and encourage gardeners. They volunteer at plant clinics, HortLines, demonstration gardens and assist people in diagnosing and recommended treatments for plant related problems and pests.
Farmers Markets and Plant Clinics • Arlington, at N. 14th and Courthouse Rd. On Saturday mornings, 8-11 am from mid-April to late Sept. Master Gardener volunteers are available to answer gardening questions. Call 703-228-6423 for information. • Old Town Alexandria Farmers Market and Plant Clinic located at the Alexandria Market Square on King Street, on Saturdays from 6:30-9:00 am May through September • Del Ray (Alexandria) Farmers Market and Plant Clinic on Saturdays, May through September, from 8:30-11:00 am. Located at the corner of East Oxford and Mt. Vernon Avenues in Alexandria. • Arlington Central Library Plant Clinic in the East Lobby, 1015 N. Quincy Street, on Tuesday evenings, April-October, from 7 to 9 pm
Master Gardener Hard at Work • The HortLine is a service the Master Gardeners provide to answer questions homeowners have about plants,problems and what to do about them
Soil Testing, Garden Clubs, Community gardens, Local Garden Centers • Soil testing-The Virginia Cooperative Extension office has information and mailing instructions for sending soil samples to Virginia Tech for analysis and recommendations. • Garden Clubs-contact the National Capital Area Federation of Garden Clubs at www.ncafgardenclubs.org or call 202-399-5958, or contact your neighborhood civic association for information • Community Gardens-available for those without access to a yard, these gardens are available for a nominal rental fee. Contact the Virginia Cooperative Extension for more information on 703-228-6426 • Garden Centers-check yellow pages in telephone directory, under Garden Centers and Plants-Retail; Home Depot and Lowe’s carry gardening equipment, supplies, and plants; many fine nurseries, some with several locations, such as Campbell & Ferrara, Hybla Valley, Behnke Nurseries, Merrifield Garden Center, Burke Nursery
Demonstration Gardens • Demonstration Gardens are gardens with a theme that are maintained by Master Gardeners and open to the public • Waterwise Garden, E. Monroe Avenue at Simpson Park in Alexandria, demonstrates a low-maintenance garden in an exposed, dry area • Simpson Park Gardens, E. Monroe Avenue at the end of Leslie Avenue, past the YMCA, in Alexandria contains butterfly, scented, and tufa gardens • Organic Vegetable Garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park on Marcey Road in Arlington has a greenhouse and demonstrates organic gardening techniques • Rock Quarry Garden at Bon Air Park on Wilson Blvd and N Lexington Street in Arlington is a garden with rocks, slopes, shade, sun, and part-shade • Sunny Garden, also at Bon Air Park in Arlington, illustrates the variety of plants that thrive in the sun
Arborists, Mulch & VCE Offices • Arborists-check yellow pages under Tree Service (look for a certified arborist), call the Virginia Cooperative Extension, or ask neighbors for a recommendation. Also visit www.goodtreecare.com for a CA in our area. • Free Mulch in Arlington is available for pickup at N. 26th Street near Glebe Road and Marymount University and at the Arlington Trade Center on S. Arlington Mill Drive. For home delivery (at a fee), call 703-228-4570 for recorded message. In Alexandria free mulch is available for pickup at the Eisenhower Avenue composting site near Clermont Avenue. For home delivery and cost, contact the Recycling Center at 703-751-5872. • Websites • The Virginia Cooperative Extension (www.ext.vt.edu) website at Virginia Tech for Arlington and Alexandria specifically, contact www.offices.ext.vt.edu/arlington
Websites & Information • U.S. National Arboretum (www.usna.usda.gov) • American Horticultural Society and Garden (www.ahs.org) • National Capital Area Federation of Garden Clubs (www.ncafgardenclubs.org) • American Horticultural Society and Garden-7431 E. Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22308. 703-768-5700. Website: www.ahs.org. • Green Spring Gardens Park at 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312; 703-742-5173. Five acres of gardens, wonderful horticultural library, educational programs. Website (www.greenspring.org) has a list of recommended plants for the DC area.