Virginia Landmarks
December 2, 1998
Fairlington Historic District
Gardening By The Yard
National Register
March 29, 1999
Historic Designation Seal Homes in Historic Fairlington background image - American Flag Homes in Historic Fairlington Historic Designation Seal

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."

(May - June, 2006)

A recent Washington Post's "Home" section reported that garden centers have their peak sales in the first half of May. If you have been to a reputable center within the past few days, you have noticed the "buying frenzy" as customers search for the perfect or newest plants.

It's really a kind of madness that appears this time of year whether you are putting out a complete summer border or just planting a few pots to decorate your porch, balcony, or patio. Everyone seems to catch something of this gardening "madness" - whether it is a major case or just passing symptoms depends on your garden energy and garden space! Emily Dickinson said, "A little madness in the spring, is wholesome even for the king"!

Tom's Garden - Spring 2006
Click Here for Slide Show

Summer Annuals

With the bright sun and warm nights, annuals, which require warm temperatures are ready to put on their summer show. This year you might want to go beyond the "basic" annual selection - marigold, begonia, petunia, etc. - and try something new in your border. Some annuals which are as easy to grow as the old standbys include: coleus, cosmos, globe amaranth, and Persian shield.

Coleus has enjoyed a "revival" in the past years. Once thought of as stuffy Victorian bedding plants, coleus hybrids have been developed in a variety of shapes and colors. One new series worth trying is the "stained glass" strain which has an intricate and colorful leaf design. Coleus thrives in partial shade, but some newer varieties have been developed for sun (check the plant label to be certain). Remember to pinch the tips of the plants to keep them branching out and always remove any flower heads that develop. The newer varieties do not bloom as the older ones did. This plant works well both in the border and in containers. There is even a new "trailing" variety this year.

Cosmos are another old fashioned plant which has been hybridized in many new colors. An attractive plant with fern like leaves, the cosmos likes hot, sunny conditions. It even thrives in poor soil and is easily grown from seed, sown in place.

One mistake gardeners make with the cosmos is to give it too much fertilizer resulting in beautiful plants with no blooms. Keep them deadheaded (remove the spent blossoms) and they will take you through the summer season well into fall.

Globe amaranth is an attractive plant with round "blooms" suitable for drying and using in winter flower arrangements.

Most frequently found in purple, it is also available in pink, reddish purple, and white.

Persian shield is usually thought of as a house plant, but with the trend to putting tropicals out in the summer border, it has found a place there, too.

Its attractive metallic, purple leaves provide interesting color contrast and texture when planted with other annuals and perennials.

Favoring moist conditions and rich soil, it, too, will last well into the fall.

Like the coleus, its tips need to be pinched (to the next set of leaves) allowing it to branch out rather than to continue in it columnar growth habit.

Helpful Annual Tips

Whether you are planting the old stand by annuals or are experimenting with something new, keep in mind the following guidelines for successful annuals:

  • Amend the soil when planting by adding some compost, dehydrated manure, or regular potting soil. (Note: Do not use topsoil.)
  • Purchase healthy, well budded plants with few open blooms.
  • Gently tease the soil away from the roots when planting so the plant's roots have contact with its new soil. Avoid plants which are "pot bound" - the pot is all root and little soil.
  • Water thorough when planting, and then water regularly when there is insufficient rainfall.
  • Mulch to control weeds and to retain moisture.
  • Keep the plant deadheaded (remove spent blooms) to prevent it from seeding and to keep it blooming. (Annuals have one "mission" - to bloom and set seeds! Keeping them from seeding keeps them blooming!)
  • Fertilize with a slow release fertilizer, following the package directions.

Pets in Your Gardens

If you have seen Fido or Garfield chewing a stick or eating grass, you know that pets like plants! Be aware that some plants are poisonous to animals.

Not allowing your cat to roam freely in the neighborhood and keeping your dog on a leash allow you to monitor its behavior and keep it away from deadly plants.

(Note: animal feces and urine washing into storm drains affect the toxicity of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.)

The ASPCA website has a complete listing of plants which are poisonous to cats and dogs. There is also a "hotline" for animal owners who suspect their pet has eaten a poisonous plant - 1-888-ANI-Help (1-888-426-4435).

Some common plants found in Fairlington gardens and common areas which are hazardous to your pet's health include:

  • For Cats - lantana, lily of the valley, castor bean, oleander, poke weed, daffodil, and hydrangea
  • For Dogs - amaryllis, asparagus fern, azalea, lantana, bleeding heart, boxwood, lily of the valley, morning glory, caladium, dieffenbachia, and pokeweed.

Regular Gardening Duties

  1. Water regularly. So far the growing season does not look promising for rainfall. Plants need regular watering for growth and survival. Soak the plants; don't just mist or sprinkle them!
  2. Remove deadwood. Keep the border clean and neat by regular removal of dead flowers and dead/ dying stems. (Think of "deadheading" as garden dusting! And the smaller the gardening space, the more important it is to keep it neat and orderly.)
  3. Fertilize with a slow release fertilizer.
  4. Do not remove daffodil foliage until it turns yellow or becomes "hay". Also don't "braid" it or tie it with rubber bands.
  5. Pull out spent tulips and plant new bulbs in the fall. (Note: catalogues usually give discounts on bulb orders placed by July. They send the bulbs at the appropriate planting time.)
  6. Pinch out the growing tips of chrysanthemums to produce well branched and balanced plants. Those mums you bought last fall which survived over the winter were treated with growth hormones to keep them rounded and compact. This year the plant will "revert" to its upright growth pattern unless it is regularly pinched. "Pinching" simple means to remove the growing tip to a set of healthy leaves. New growth will branch from this point. The rule of thumb is to continue pinching the plant (you can do this with perennial phlox, too) until July 4.
  7. Prune azaleas to shape immediately after flowering. Fertilize now as the flowers fade with a good azalea specialty fertilizer. Remember azaleas will set blooms in the summer, so pruning them later in the season means the elimination of next year's blossoms.
  8. Fertilize hydrangeas in June and again in August with a balanced all-purpose fertilizer. One with too much nitrogen will result in great foliage and not many blooms.
  9. During the hottest days, consider supplementing your summer border with pots of blooming plants to add extra color and pizzazz. Adding some pots of blooming Asian lilies or other striking blooming plant
  10. (hiding the pot in the foliage of other plants) gives a nice oomph to the border! Tropicals in pots add another dimension to the summer garden border. I usually add pots of colorful crotons in the back of my border for some spectacular effects.
  11. Summer your house plants in the shade and "prune" them to establish bushy plants before bringing them back in the house in the fall.
  12. Keep amaryllis bulbs healthy in their pots in a shady section of the patio. In September, turn the pot on its side to keep out water and let the bulb "die off" before bringing it inside to rebloom.

Container Gardens

"Jazz Up" your patio with some colorful container plantings.

Try a combination of plants (usually three) for color, texture, and variety. For sun or partial sun, you might fill several containers with torenia, switch grass (Panicum 'Prairie Sky'), and dusty miller (centaurea gymnocarpa).

Be certain to select containers large enough to contain the roots and to provide space for growth.

Vary the shape of your containers - some tall, some round, some square, etc.Use a potting soil with a slow release fertilizer.

And remember, container gardens, especially those with healthy growing plants dry out more quickly than plants in the garden border. Regular watering is a must.

And yes, it's OK to purchase container gardens already started and growing!

Continuing Gardening Education

The American Horticulture Society is headquartered off of the George Washington Parkway near Mount Vernon - 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22301. The society has an attractive website with much free information (more if you are a member) located at . "The American Gardener" magazine is also available at this site.

Final Note

If you have had particular success with a favorite plant, consider sharing your experience with others. Send along your garden experiences. Also when your garden is at peak spring or summer bloom, snap a photo and send it to for posting in this column. And questions are always welcomed.

Meadows Patio and Garden Tour - 2006
Saturday, July 22nd, 2006 - 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Spring is Here
Check out Our Gardening Page
Late Summer 2005 Photos of Tom's Garden

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Posted August 26, 2005
Late Spring 2005 Photos of Tom's Garden
(New Images & Plant Descriptions - Posted May 23, 2005)

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(Compare with Three Weeks Before!!)

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