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

Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener

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

Signs of Spring
(February/March, 2009)
(Posted February 20, 2009)

Those old timers among us who have wished for the "winters of yesteryears" certainly had their wishes fulfilled this season!

With the exception of little snow, this has been an old "timey" winter, one that has not been kind to the landscape (or the heat bills) but has certainly kept nature in dormancy. And if you believe the prophetic skills of the groundhog, we are in for several more weeks of cold! But in spite of groundhogs, there are signs of spring's steady approach.

Photo of Tom's Garden
Tom's 2008 Garden
Click Here for Summer Color

Late Summer Photos Added August 21, 2008
Photo of Tom's Garden

Photo of Daffodil
"Blossoms Beginning to Show"

On Monday, February 16, I saw daffodils in bloom on Quaker Lane across from the Seminary. Yea, Daffodils! Also my hellebores are showing buds and new leaf growth and snowdrops are in bloom - looking like little pearls amid the still winter scene.

Pansies have taken a major "hit" from the cold, but you can see them beginning to reemerge as the days grow brighter and warmer. Obviously there will be some losses, but with the removal of winter-damaged stems, deadheading (removing spent blossoms), and applying fertilizer when the weather permits, pansies will be in full bloom soon.

On your mark, get set, garden!

Different plants respond to spring in different ways. Some plants respond primarily to lengthening daylight, while others respond to warmth.

The oak tree, for example, is one of the last to leaf out; it responds to increased warmth. The common crape myrtle is the very last plant to show new growth! The common pussy willow, on the other hand, and maple and ash trees respond to increased light and are "in bloom and leaf" even with snow and sleet. Spring doesn't just arrive, but we are ready to run to it!

The increasing early signs - snowdrops, hellebores, primroses, daffodils - are a prelude to what lies ahead!

Photo of Snowdrops

OK, so the signs of spring are here - what can I do NOW in the garden border? First, be careful not to do anything when the ground is wet - this includes compacting it by too much walking in the border or on the turf when it is still wet. Second, if you did not remove plant tops in the fall, now is the time to clean them out. Third, gently rake any accumulated leaves from around perennials and shrubs being careful not to damage the emerging growth. Fourth, an application of slow release fertilizer will help your plants get a jump start on the season. And if you are a Fairlingtonian gardener, remember to bag properly all garden debris and put it out with the regular trash for collection!

Some early spring activities include:

  • Remove the winter-damaged leaves from hellebores so that the new buds and leaves can emerge.
  • Don't worry about emerging spring bulb growth - it's natural and the buds are well protected.
  • Early blooming shrubs such as forsythia, quince, winter jasmine, etc. can be pruned immediately after flowering.
  • Do not prune azaleas or hydrangeas now. Buds were set last season, and pruning now eliminates and summer flowers!
  • Buddleia davidii (butterfly bushes) and crape myrtles can be pruned now along with any other shrub that blooms on new growth (this season's growth).
  • Cut back all perennial grasses, liriope, and mondo (or monkey) grass before new growth emerges. By waiting until later, some of the new growth will be destroyed.
  • Prune roses before growth begins.
  • Take some time and plan for the new growing season and "spring at the garden center"! If you have a "plan", you are less likely to be an impulse buyer of all that is out there.
Photo of Forsythia

  • And finally, remember the average date of the last killing frost is usually the last part of April. It is way too early to consider any summer annuals no matter how tempting they look at the nursery. Read those warning signs at the nursery about planting too early.

Healthy House Plants

When your houseplants show new growth, fertilize with some liquid fertilizer and begin more watering. Also wipe the dust off the leaves on indoor foliage plants and examine all plants for insect infestation: treat accordingly with insecticidal soap (always following the manufacturer's directions).

Most homes are too dry for plants, but grouping them together and placing pots on saucers lined with pebbles or pea gravel will increase humidity.

Foliage plants help remove air pollutants in the house from household cleaners and chemicals and general stale air! Leaves absorb the toxins and convert them to harmless substances. Houseplants are an easy way to improve the quality of the interior environment.

Photo of Peace Lilly

Gardening expert P. Allen Smith recommends the following (easy care) foliage plants:

  • Bamboo Palm
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Corn Plant
  • Golden Pathos
  • Peace Lily
  • Red Edge Dracaena
  • Caladium
  • Crotons
  • Fox tail ferns

Follow the "care directions" for light, watering and humidity for good plant health!

Continuing Gardening Education

Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. ( has a wonderful, informative spring catalogue or as they say, "2009 Spring Sales Catalogue and Plant Owner's Manual"! Whether you're ordering or "just looking", all the new materials are here.

By the same token, Bluestone Perennials ( has an informative spring catalogue with 186 plants new for this season. It's a good "dream book"!

And remember, the American Horticulture Society is right in our backyard, located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22308 - right off the George Washington Parkway. Their website (, magazine ("The American Gardener"), and special events calendar always have something of interest to the gardener.

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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