Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999

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."

(January-February, 2007)
(Posted January 9, 2007)

If you have been a long time resident in this area, you probably don't remember anything like the "weather" we've been having since early December. It is more like mid-March outside than January! Perhaps by the time you read this, winter will have returned.

Everyone Talks about the Weather!

Like us, the plants must also be confused. In spite of the "experts" saying that "all will be well" and that this is just "weather" as opposed to some great "climate" change, I imagine we can expect damage to landscape items should freezing weather arrive. It stands to reason that tender plants which have progressed to the flowering stage will be zapped by cold weather. Whereas this will not kill the plant, it will mean that we can expect fewer blooms when true spring arrives.

Spring Plant Spotting - In January

In Fairlington, you have probably noticed that there is much spring material in an advanced state of growth. We should be admiring the glorious holly and Nandina berries, the graceful evergreens, and the amazing bark patterns on some of our trees, especially mature crape myrtles.

Instead, we have deciduous magnolias ready to flower and rosemary, yellow winter jasmine, snowdrops, camellia, Mahonia, hellebore, daffodils, flowering plum trees, and brilliant pansies in bloom, in addition to some summer plants, such as wave petunias, which have not been killed by frosts!

This past week end, I noticed dianthus in bloom in Fairlington Arbor and old fashioned Sweet William in bud. I would be interested in what plants other gardeners have flowering before their traditional blooming dates. Very Unusual!

In my patio - true it is warmer there due to the brick and the fact that it faces south east - I have a passion flower vine which is putting up new growth. This is a tropical plant which is minimally hardy in this area even with protection!

The Washington area inside the beltway has now been classified with Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina in terms of its hardiness zone classification. Someone reported recently that Washington has become the "new" Raleigh in terms of plant hardiness.

Will gardenias replace our azaleas? And pomegranate trees thrive in our patios?

Brent Heath of "Brent and Becky Heath's Bulbs" in Gloucester, VA reports that he has had daffodils in bloom since early December!

With the recent weather extremes nation-wide, don't you imagine we can expect a swing back to colder than normal temperatures in a year or two? Or, heavens forbid, in March and April of this year?


Spring bulbs will not be injured by a cold snap unless their buds are advanced above the foliage. If you have not disposed of the Christmas tree, you can cut off the limbs and gently lay them around tender plants for protection. Never cover them with plastic for protection. Mulching lightly with pine straw or other light mulch will also offer some protection.

Outside Chores

It is such a temptation to get outside and do some gardening, but it is really too early. (I don't think the neighboring "Apple House" has its summer plants in yet!)

Also with the ground so saturated from the recent rains, avoid walking on the turf as this will only compact it and will mean trouble for the grass in the spring.

Of course, one can always "deadhead" (remove the spent flowers) from pansies, pick up twigs and sticks, and continue with any light clean up that was not completed in the fall.

It is traditional to prune roses in late February. The old wives' tale is to prune them when the forsythia flowers. This means that the new growth will be unlikely to be killed by late frosts; however, roses in some areas are still putting up new growth and have not gone dormant. I would suspect some injury to this growth as well as to that of hydrangeas which are easily injured by cold.

Ornamental grasses have not been battered down this season by cold and ice. Always cut them down before new growth starts. Pruning them or shearing them off after the growth begins means you will have "squared off" tips!

The same applies to liriope - shear it before new growth begins. Some folks confuse liriope with mondo grass as they are similar in appearance. Mondo grass does not require shearing each year.


Usually this time of year, gardeners are advised to use the "inside" time to study spring catalogues and make plans for the summer garden while they dream of spring and summer by the fire! But with the outside temperatures in the fifties and sixties, the temptation is to enjoy the outside now!

However, you will want to check out what's new this season from such reliable nurseries as White Flower Farm (Connecticut), Plant Delights (North Carolina), Wayside Gardens (South Carolina), Parks Seeds, Heirloom Bulbs, as well as the summer bulb offerings from Brent and Becky Heath (Gloucester, VA).

If you have not done so, check out P. Allen Smith's web site:
as it offers many interesting gardening tips and ideas.

House Plant Care

The Virginia Cooperative Extension offers the following tips for houseplants:

  • To prolong blooms, protect poinsettias from drafts and keep them moderately moist.
  • Turn and prune houseplants regularly to keep them "in shape". Pinch back new growth for more bushy plants.
  • Over watering indoor plants encourages root rot. Water when the soil is dry to the touch.
  • Keep winter fertilization at a minimum as plant growth is at its slowest.
  • Bring houseplants that normally thrive on the north side of the house to east windows, while allowing the plants from the east more sun on the south. Give the plants that usually are set on the tables away from direct light a short winter visit to one of the less-exposed windowsills.
  • Houseplants and holiday gift plants should not be placed on top of the television as this is too warm and usually too far from windows.

For more ideas, visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension's Web site,

There is still time to "force" paper white narcissus bulbs if you can still find them. Recent studies show that mixing vodka or gin with the water in the growing medium (gravel) keeps them growing and standing tall! (Usually vodka and gin have the opposite effect on humans!)

Also amaryllis bulbs make wonderful, colorful additions to the indoor scene now. You can still find unpotted bulbs at nurseries, or you can go with one already potted and ready to bloom. To prolong the life of the amaryllis bloom, use tweezers to remove the yellow anthers from inside the flower.

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