FREEZE WARNING Tonight for the D.C. Area


Take photos of your favorite plant combinations, before the frost, so you can repeat them next year. Here, we have variegated spider plants, purple heart, and sprengeri asparagus fern, all tender to frosts and freezes.

Right on time, the first freeze of the season is due in the D.C. area tonight. Not all areas will see a freeze (or even a frost), but it’s time to prepare, just the same.

With the turning of the seasons comes a list of things to do to put your garden to bed for the Winter season, so it can rest:

Without delay, bring inside your tender houseplants and tropical plants. Check for insects and spray accordingly, if you believe in spraying. Once inside, I give them as much light as possible and only water enough to keep them alive. I could care less if they grow over the Winter…the only reason I have them inside is to decorate the rooms and keep them alive until I can put them out again the following April. By then, they are beyond ready to go back outside.
• ***Continue watering, as needed, until you put the hoses away for the Winter. Fall can be sunny with very low humidity, and very dry. This year, I’ve found that many of the large trees we installed suffered because of the lack of deep watering during this Summer’s drought. Please be sure to lay the hose down at the base of the trunk—water on a slow trickle—and allow the water to seep in slowly. These large trees have big, deep rootballs and the water must get into the ground deeply so the trees don’t die. DO NOT depend solely on irrigation systems during the first couple of years—monitor your plants for water. Remember that newly-planted items do not have the means to absorb surrounding water until they root. The bigger the new plant/transplant, the more water it’s going to need. I cannot stress this enough.
Once the regular hard freezes arrive, be sure to turn off your outdoor spigots from the inside and store your hoses for the Winter, out of the harsh weather.
When the time changes, change the batteries in your smoke alarms (the twice yearly time changes are good seasonal reminders). And check your dryer vents, too. You’d be surprised how many people forget to check their dryer vents—they can get clogged and become a great fire hazard. There are companies out there to clean the vents for you, if you are not into doing it yourself.

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Time to bring in your houseplants for the Winter!

Other Fall gardening notes:
It’s a great time to plant new plants and to transplant shrubs that might be in the wrong place. They will spend the Winter rooting while the tops of the plants go dormant, and they will be ready to grow in the Spring. I think that Fall planting is the best-kept secret in the gardening world. There are exceptions: certain plants don’t establish themselves in the Fall, for whatever strange reason; and things that are marginally hardy—at the northern limit of their hardiness range where you live–should not be planted in the Fall because they might not have time to root well before the cold weather sets in. They have a better chance of surviving the first couple of Winters if they are well-rooted.
I don’t like to fertilize shrubs in the Fall—especially broadleaf evergreens–because it promotes new growth on the remaining warm days of Fall—only to be frozen off when the hard freezes come in. It’s best to let your plants go dormant naturally so they can withstand the Winter cold more easily, especially if the Winter turns out to be severe. It’s a great time to fertilize deciduous (leaf-losing) trees, however, as they go dormant.
No major pruning should occur now; new growth should not be promoted due to the coming hard freezes. Plants should be allowed to go dormant. Minor trimming and shaping are fine; just no major pruning unless you absolutely have to do it. A great time to prune evergreens is during the holidays, when you might want to bring in some greens to decorate.
Get the weeds out now! They are all setting seeds and those seeds mean many more weeds next year. Save some time, in advance, by weeding now when the weather is nice.
Seasonal color—pansies, mums, ornamental cabbage and kale—these and other seasonal plantings can go in now. Pansies should make it until Spring and should revive after any Winter dormancy; ornamental cabbage and kale often get fried in the first bad freeze; and you decide on the mums…they are perennial and could possibly come back and bloom next year, depending on the variety. Most people replant them every year, though.

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Pansies survive most Winters in our area and provide much-welcome color.

Bulbs—this is the time to plant. Daffodils, narcissus and most other bulbs can go in now until the ground freezes hard. Wait on tulips and hyacinths until at least November. The soil is too hot until then to plant these two. And remember to buy the best quality tulips and hyacinths you can afford…they decline after a few years in our hot, Summer soil. Think of tulips as a present to yourself and buy them fresh every year to get the best show. If you love tulips, it’s worth the money. And remember: deer love tulips, but won’t touch daffodils.

Good luck with your preparations for the cold weather to come!

Posted under Container Gardens, Garden maintenance, Houseplants, Pruning, The Fall Garden, Weather vagaries

Don’t Forget to Water

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Daylily ‘Africa’ at Woodland Cottage

As Summer slowly begins to slip into Fall here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic, we enter the hot, dry weather of August and early September. The first signs of Fall are just becoming evident: shorter days; a new, golden quality to the late afternoon and evening light; and the fading of many flowers and vegetables in our gardens. Besides watering and weeding, there is not much else to do in our gardens. Still, these are two very important items—don’t let them slide.


Longwood Gardens, July 2015

Watering. After all the rain we’ve had this Spring and Summer, it seems impossible that we’d even need to talk about watering—yet here we are. Right on schedule, we are drying out again, and it will likely remain this way until late September or early October, unless we have a hurricane (let’s hope not).
If you have new shrubs and trees that were installed within the last year or two, and you have a sprinkler system, don’t depend on the sprinkler system to do a proper job of watering your newer plants. Irrigation systems are great for established gardens, lawns, and shallow-rooted plants, but you’ve got to deep-soak your new things, especially when the temperatures are above 90F and we haven’t had rain for awhile. Here are some further notes:

When plants are rooted and growing leaves, they are taking up water from the ground. It’s like suction (and much like our sweating): the leaves “sweat”, and in the process, pull the water from the ground with the roots, up through the plant, and out through the leaves. This is called transpiration. The hotter, drier, and sunnier the weather, the faster the transpiration, thus the increased water need. It’s like a continuous loop of water drawn in and sweated out. When the days shorten in the Fall, plants anticipate the coming cold weather, drop their leaves, and go dormant. Evergreens just go dormant, of course, without dropping all their leaves/needles…most plants in our region just stop from the ground up. The roots will continue to grow until the ground gets below 40 degrees. This is all very simplistic, of course…so much more is going on, but you get the drift.


St. Francis, in the back garden at Woodland Cottage. A favorite spot for the birds.

Things are different when a plant is first planted. That’s because it takes time to root…in other words, the little feeder roots that take up the water have not yet come from the rootball of the transplanted plant and established themselves into the surrounding soil. Therefore, we must baby it for a few weeks until this happens. Too little water, and it can drop its leaves as a defense mechanism because it is trying to conserve water in the stems so that when water is again available, it has the strength saved up to leaf out again. Conversely, when too much water is around the roots and the rootball cannot get any oxygen (because this is important, too), the plant’s leaves often turn a soaked-looking dark brown, and either hang onto the plant or drop, because the plant doesn’t need any water and the systems shut down. Both of these things are really easy to do after plants are just put in…there is a fine balance. Believe it or not, more plants die of over-watering than under watering. Isn’t that crazy? But it’s true.

As the days shorten, and the sun becomes less intense as we move towards Fall, your plants will require less and less water…you can probably cut the frequency a bit. Likewise, plants dry out more quickly when the humidity is low; less quickly when the humidity is high. Monitor carefully so you don’t over- or under-water. Just remember to soak deeply when you do water.

Get to know your garden and its “hot spots”—places that dry more quickly than others. This is true even if you have an irrigation system. Put your fingers under the mulch, into the soil, and check for moisture. Don’t depend on a quick thunderstorm to water for you (much of the heavy rain will run off and not soak into the ground)…deep soak your garden as needed. Let the lawn go dormant or provide one inch of water per week to keep it green. If hand–watering your plants, take the nozzle off the hose, and aim that nice, steady stream of water directly at the center of the plant where it meets the soil. Let the water soak in deeply. When using sprinklers, rain gauges are a big help…or (better) check the soil with your fingers. And remember: like winter-damaged plants, those left unwatered are not guaranteed…another incentive to get out the hose!


The view from Paris Mountain, VA, August 2015

Weeds. Ugh. I know, I know…it’s too hot, too dry, there are too many…etc. etc. Really, though, you must get to them before they go to seed or you are really going to have your work cut out for you. At the very least, go out and cut off those seedheads before they ripen and fall!

I find that the best time to pull weeds is after a good rain or just after I’ve watered. The weeds slip right out of the ground, for the most part, except for a few stubborn ones; then, I have to get out the pointed trowel (a wonderful tool) or a dandelion weeder.

After you weed, you can put down some mulch to cover the bare ground, if you’d like…it helps to control weeds and helps keep the soil from drying out so quickly.

A field of Queen Anne's Lace at Blandy Farm, The State Arboretum of Virginia, August 2015. Photo by Catherine Giovannoni.

A field of Queen Anne’s Lace at Blandy Farm, The State Arboretum of Virginia, August 2015. Photo by Catherine Giovannoni.

Vacation time. This month, I’m excited about a trip to Southern California. An old friend’s son is getting married in Los Angeles; we’ll attend the wedding, tour some Southern California gardens, and spend some time in San Diego visiting some friends (and our new grandson!), too. What have you all been up to this Summer? I look forward to seeing many of you this Fall and hearing all about your adventures. Please let me know if you’ll need my help this Fall—I have been booking for Fall all Summer!

Posted under Garden maintenance, Garden Travel, Southern Gardens, The Summer Garden, Travel

It’s Time to Greet Spring!


Here’s a link to my Early Spring newsletter. Enjoy, and Happy Spring!


Posted under Garden maintenance, Newletters, The Spring Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on March 21, 2015

First Frost/Freeze of the Season Due this Weekend in the Magical Mid-Atlantic


Right on time, the first frost/freeze of the season is due this weekend, here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic.

Most of you have brought in the houseplants; if not, it’s time to wrap it up. Bring in those tender things: any tropical plants (such as your Summering houseplants), or any tender plants you might want to save that would be susceptible to the effects of a frost/freeze. I just finished getting everything in the door a couple days ago.

Soon: turn off your outdoor spigots for the season; put hoses away when you get the chance. Change the batteries in your smoke alarms (the twice yearly time changes are good seasonal reminders). And check your dryer vents, too. You’d be surprised how many people forget to check their dryer vents—they can get clogged and become a serious fire hazard. There are companies out there to clean the vents for you, if you are not into doing it yourself.

Happy Fall and I’ll have more in my Holiday Newsletter in late November. Hope all of you are well and happy.


Photo by the blogger. If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Houseplants, The Fall Garden, Tropical Plants

High Summer

Daylily 'Africa' at Woodland Cottage

Daylily ‘Africa’ at Woodland Cottage

Here’s a link to my ‘High Summer’ newsletter.

We are beginning to turn the corner into Autumn. Can you feel it?

Enjoy the remainder of your Summer!

Posted under Garden maintenance, Newletters, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Summer Garden, Tree work, Water in the Garden, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on August 15, 2014

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Freeze Warning Tonight (4/15/14) and Maybe Wednesday Night, Too

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I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write this…there is a Freeze Warning posted for tonight, Tuesday, April 15, in the D.C. metro area. Be ready for Wednesday night, too, just in case. This is not uncommon at this time of year when we are teetering between warmth one day and cold the next. The recent warmth brought out new growth on most plants.  

In my own garden, I have Azaleas starting to bloom and the Japanese Maples have leafed-out; I’ll cover what I can. I am not going to worry about the Daffodils and other bulbs, Pansies, Hellebores, Pieris, Camellias, for example—these should go relatively undamaged, other than maybe a few burnt flowers.

Anytime the night temperatures are expected to hover around freezing at this time of year, I consider covering. My goal is to keep frost off the flowers and new growth of tender items. I always keep a stack of old sheets, towels, and blankets for nights just like these when I need to cover plants. Just drape them gently over the plants you are trying to protect. Beware using plastic bags and tarps—they do a good job of protecting your plants, but the air underneath them can heat up too much the next morning when the sun hits the plastic. If you do decide to use plastic covers, be sure to remove them in the morning when the temperature warms a bit. Special frost coverings and blankets are available at some nurseries and hardware stores.

If you have planted tender annuals or vegetables prematurely, cover them. Bring indoors any tropical houseplants you may have set outside when it was warm. The average last date of frost in the D.C. area is April 25th—often earlier to the South and East, often later to the West and North. May 1 is a good marker for planting your tender annuals and vegetables and putting out your tropical plants for the summer. It pays to wait until then.  Still, keep those sheets, towels and blankets on hand for an unexpected cold snap.

Posted under Southern Gardens, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on April 15, 2014

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The Winter That [Seems Like It] Will Never End…

…but we know it will, of course–eventually.

From this (Bluffton, SC, February 2014)...

From this (Bluffton, SC, February 2014)… this (Arlington,  VA, March 6, 2014)

…to this (Arlington, VA, March 6, 2014)

It’s good to be back home in Arlington, though not to this cold and snow! Except for the ice storm that occurred when I first arrived in North Carolina last month, the Winter weather down South this year was gorgeous.

Winter Damage

The lowest temperature got to 5F in my garden this Winter. Plus, there were several stretches of below-freezing temperatures for several days at a time (including this past week).

Almost all broadleaf evergreens have, at least, some leaf burn on them, as we head into late Winter and early Spring. Some have severe burn. Some leaf burn is very obvious; some not so obvious, yet.

In my travels this Winter, I have seen damage as far south as South Georgia. It has been a cold Winter in the eastern part of the U.S.

Winter damage, Bonaventure Cemetary, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Winter damage, Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Ice storm, Wilmington, NC, early February, 2014

Ice storm, Wilmington, NC, early February, 2014

In my own garden, I grow some things that I would not plant in clients’ gardens (before years of testing in local conditions) because their true hardiness in the metro D.C. area is still uncertain. Believe it or not, I welcome a Winter like this one–at least in terms of testing the limits of hardiness for some of the plants in my garden.

The usual suspects have moderate to severe leaf burn: nandinas, loquats, cast iron plants, windmill palms, chindo viburnums, ligustrum, Carolina jessamine, fatsias, loropetalums, camellias, gardenias, mondo grass, liriope, etc.–even aucubas. With the exception of loquat (which is a hardiness zone 8 plant), all are listed in hardiness zone 7 (the predominant hardiness zone in the D.C. area, which covers average lowest temperatures 0F-10F), or lower/able to  take even colder temperatures. I’m even expecting some bud loss on my beloved camellias which, since I’ve had my garden here at Woodland Cottage, have always put on a spectacular late Winter/early Spring show.

Crapemyrtles can be adversely affective by severe cold, too, though we’ll have to wait until they leaf out (often not until May) before we know if they were damaged or not.

Winter damage on Sago Palm, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Winter damage on Sago Palm, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

The difference this year, I think, is a combination of very cold temperatures and long stretches of below-freezing temperatures. Plants’ leaves dried out and burned because they could not get water into their systems to help prevent the dessication.

I’m expecting most, if not all, of these plants to drop/lose all their burned leaves before putting out new growth when the weather is, finally, reliably warm. They may have some stem/branch loss, as well, from the tips back.

Frozen pond/waterfall, Woodland Cottage, Winter 2014

Frozen pond/waterfall, Woodland Cottage, Winter 2014

The best thing to do–as I say every year–is nothing, now–WAIT. It would be a shame to cut back or remove a plant when it appears dead when, actually, its wood is still very much alive. Even if part of the top of the plant is lost, the roots may still be alive and strong, able to push out lush, new growth when the weather warms.

The other reason to wait, from a cost perspective, is that loss from Winter damage is not covered under the plant guarantee.

Spring can be fickle after a very cold Winter (and Easter is not until April 20th this year), so we may have to wait awhile until the weather settles down and balmy weather returns.

Please wait, and please try to be patient. Allow Mother Nature to work her magic. In most cases, it will be well worth the wait.

Here’s hoping for real Spring–soon!!

Camellia japonica, Savannah, GA, February, 2014

Camellia japonica, Savannah, GA, February, 2014




Posted under Southern Gardens, The Winter Garden, Water in the Garden

Help Save the Angel Oak

Angel Oak

The Angel Oak, located in John’s Island, SC, near Charleston, is one of the oldest trees on the East Coast.  The Angel Oak is in danger of being removed for development.  The Lowcountry Open Land Trust is raising money to buy land around the Angel Oak as a buffer to future development.

You can donate and find out more about the Angel Oak here.

I donated.  Please donate if you feel inspired to help save this ancient and beautiful tree.

Photo credit:


Posted under Southern Gardens

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on September 21, 2013

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