Frequently Asked Gardening Questions (Press arrow to find answers!)

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.

Recommended Gardening Activities (in Henrico County) for...

January
  1. Clean & sharpen garden tools, lawn mower blade.
  2. Check perennials for frost heave; tamp & mulch if needed.
  3. Remove late falling leaves.
  4. Remove snow from evergreen branches.
  5. Water stressed foundation shrubs & plants if scarce rain.
February
  1. Remove leaves & debris from perennial beds & shrub borders.
  2. Apply thin layer of compost to shrubs after slow-release fertilizer.
  3. Prune roses, evergreens & summer-blooming shrubs.
  4. Cut back ornamental grasses, like liriope, to 1/4 height.
  5. Remove suckers and crossing branches from crape myrtles.
March
  1. Amend soil if needed. (Do a Soil Test first!)
  2. Divide & transplant perennials.
  3. Plant strawberries, roses, vines & ground covers.
  4. Patch bare spots & plant cool season grass seed.
  5. Prune summer-blooming shrubs.
April
  1. Plant flowering plants for pollinators.
  2. De-thatch & aerate warm-season grasses (Bermuda, Zoysia).
  3. Prune spring-flowering shrubs after they bloom, if needed.
  4. Cut oldest stems of lilac, forsythia & quince to the ground after flowering.
  5. Apply slow-release or organic fertilizer, if needed.
May
  1. Apply weed control to lawns.
  2. Plant warm-season vegetables (tomatoes, squash, peppers & cucumbers).
  3. Plant annuals (seeds after temperatures stay above 60F), summer bulbs & tubers.
  4. Dig & divide spring-flowering bulbs after leaves yellow & wilt.
  5. Deadhead roses, rhododendrons after blooms fade.
June
  1. Dig, divide & replant crowded spring-flowering bulbs.
  2. Mulch trees & shrubs (1-3″ deep); keep away from trunks.
  3. Look for brown patch in lawn & treat.
  4. Fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after blooming, if needed.
  5. Look for pests and disease; treat as needed.
July
  1. Deadhead summer-blooming plants.
  2. Remove water sprouts and suckers from the base of crape myrtles & fruit trees.
  3. Monitor soil moisture, esp. around shallow-rooted trees & shrubs.
  4. Water plants & lawns deeply if < 1″ rain/wk.
  5. Inspect plants for pests and disease; treat as needed. 
August
  1. Keep lawn at 3″ height; leave grass clippings.
  2. Water plants & lawns deeply if < 1″ rain/wk.
  3. Cut back aggressive vines (ivy) that are overgrown.
  4. Continue to weed and deadhead flowering plants.
  5. Inspect plants for fungal problems, pests and other disease; treat as needed.
September
  1. Add compost to gardens before fall planting.
  2. Plant cool-season vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbage, lettuce, arugula, spinach, cauliflower).
  3. Aerate, fertilize and over-seed cool-season lawns, or start new cool-season lawn from seed.
  4. Divide perennials like hostas, liriope, daylillies, if needed.
  5. Fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs!
October
  1. Continue to divide and transplant perennials.
  2. Plant spring-blooming bulbs at the end of the month.
  3. Plant shrubs and trees.
  4. Cut peonies, phlox, & other herbaceous perennials to the ground around 1st frost.
  5. Pull up and compost frost-damaged annuals.
November
  1. Replenish mulch (2-3″ deep) around tender plants.
  2. Keep leaves off the lawn to prevent smothering the grass. Leaves may be mulched and used around trees and shrubs.
  3. Plant shrubs and trees.
  4. Continue watering if < 1″ rain/week.
  5. Store pesticides and herbicides safely.
December
  1. Continue leaf removal and mulch them if possible. 
  2. Prune tall flowering perennials after flowers die.  May leave the seed heads for the birds.
  3. Remember to water foundation plants if needed.
  4. Drain and store hoses at the end of the month.
  5. Remove snow from branches before freezing, to prevent breakage.