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Frequently Asked Questions

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Q. How can I attract birds and butterflies to my yard?

A. Like people, birds and butterflies require food, water and shelter. Like people, they prefer that their food and water be close to where they live. And like people, they favor certain types of homes and certain types of food. If you plant to meet their needs, then they will flock or flutter to your garden. Virginia Tech’s publication on Creating Inviting Habitats for the birds, bees and hummingbirds examines the habitat requirements for birds, hummingbirds and butterflies, and then gives an overview of planning your garden space to accommodate them.

Q. When is it safe to plant vegetables in the spring?

A. Many stores put stuff out early, so you may be tempted to plant too soon. You must wait until after the last frost. The average last frost for Henrico County is April 10 in the east end and April 20 in the west end. Note: That is the average date. So we can expect that some years we may get frosts later than those dates. For tomatoes and peppers we need to have soil temperatures in the 50s for several days before planting, or you risk stunting growth.

Q. What is boxwood blight and should I worry about it?

A. Boxwood blight is a potentially serious disease threatening Virginia’s boxwoods. It was first confirmed in Virginia in 2011 and has been found in over 30 counties. For more information on boxwood blight, check out the Virginia Cooperative Extension Boxwood Blight Taskforce page.

Q. After a long, cold winter, some of my evergreens are turning brown and look dried out. What is this and what can I do?

A. This type of injury, called “winter drying” or “winter burn”, is usually observed in late winter or early spring on evergreen plants. Broadleaved evergreens such as rhododendron exhibit browning or even total necrosis of their leaf margins (leaf scorch) depending on the extent of injury.

Narrow-leaved evergreens, such as white pine, exhibit slight browning of needle tips when injury is slight. Extensive injury may result in browning and premature abscission of entire needles. The injury occurs during sunny and/or windy winter weather when plants lose water from their leaves through transpiration faster than it can be replaced by roots which are in frozen soil.

Management: Plants which are properly watered during dry periods in late autumn are better equipped to withstand this type of injury. Thoroughly watering the soil around plants once every two weeks (once per week for new transplants) during extended dry periods throughout the growing season will also prove helpful. Placing a protective barrier of burlap over or around plants to protect them from winter winds and sun will help to reduce the incidence of this injury. Anti-desiccant sprays applied once in late autumn and again in mid-winter may also prove helpful.

There are two take-away messages: 1. properly water during dry periods and/or use a protective barrier and 2. Before pruning, allow the damaged tree/shrub to begin new spring growth. Often, if the damage did not injure the branch, new growth will emerge. If new growth does not emerge, the branch was severely damaged and should be pruned above where green color is still visible.

Q. What can I do about violets in my lawn?

A. These species are very shade tolerant and prefer lawns located on moist, fertile soils. Violets tend to be most visible during cool weather of spring and fall. Leaves of the common violet are oval to kidney-shaped with a heart-shaped base. Flowers may be white, blue, purple, or yellow. All violets reproduce by seed, and perennial violets also spread by creeping roots and rhizomes. Violets are a host plant for the Variegated Fritillary, Great Spangled Fritillary and Meadow Fritillary butterflies.

To keep violets from invading lawns, maintain a thick lawn by proper lawn care practices. One control option is to dig out existing ground ivy or violets. Pull up all the roots and stems or the plant will grow back. Refer to the current PMG for chemical recommendations

Q. When do you prune azaleas?

A. The best time to prune azaleas, so you can enjoy the flowers, is right after they bloom. A great resource on pruning is Virginia Tech’s Shrub pruning calendar.