Please Be Sure to Water!


Yosemite National Park

I think all of us here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic were hoping for some good, soaking rains from Tropical Storm Hermine this past week; alas, it is drier than ever.  We must be very diligent about watering (soaking) our gardens as we prepare our plants to go dormant before they head into winter. I am beginning to see plants drying out in some of the gardens I am visiting. Please, please—WATER!!!

Lantana, Balboa Park, San Diego

Lantana, Balboa Park, San Diego

Watering. After a very hot July and August, early September promises more heat and drought,  and it will likely remain this way until late September or early October, unless we have a hurricane (let’s hope not—at least not the windy component!).

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 plants, especially when temperatures are above 90F and we haven’t had rain for awhile. Here are some further notes:

When trees 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…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.

My grandson, Julian, at the San Diego Waterfront Park

My grandson, Julian, at the San Diego Waterfront Park

Things are different when a plant is first planted. That’s because they take 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 them for a few weeks until this happens. Too little water, and they drop their leaves as a defense mechanism because they are trying to conserve water in the stems so that when water is again available, they have 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 overwatering 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 once 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!

African Tulip Tree, Balboa Park, San Diego

African Tulip Tree, Balboa Park, San Diego

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.

Sunset, Big Sur, CA

Sunset, Big Sur, CA

Vacation time. We were fortunate to travel to California again this summer. More about our trip in the Fall Newsletter. 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 Fall Garden, The Summer Garden, Water in the Garden, Weather vagaries


Winter.2014.Darien.Savannah.Bluffton.Beaufort.Wilmington.Woodland.Cottage.3.6.14 2014-02-27 028

Dear Friends in the D.C. area,

I know this is getting old! Here we go again: Freeze Warning for Saturday night, April 9th. This Saturday night’s freeze could be the coldest of the recent late freezes. If it gets into the 20s, we could have widespread damage.

In my own garden, there was some damage from the 31F or 32F we got the other night. I had damage on the new growth of Daphniphyllum, Hydrangea, Bush Ivy, Ligustrum, and the blooms on my Loropetalums.

In my own garden, I am particularly concerned about Japanese Maples (new leaves), Hydrangeas (new leaves), Boxwoods (new growth), Azaleas (coming into bloom), Loropetalums (flowers), Ligustrum (new growth), and Clematis (new growth and flower buds). Some perennials could be burned, as well. To the degree that I can cover these plants (some of my plants are just too big to cover), I am going to do so. Saturday night, my yard will be draped with sheets, blankets, tarps…whatever I can find to cover my vulnerable plants.

You may want to protect your Roses, as well.

To reiterate:

  • Tender annuals, vegetables, etc. The average last frost date for the D.C. metro area is April 25th (earlier to the south and east of the city, later to the north and west), yet some impatient gardeners have undoubtedly gotten too early a start. If you are one of them, be sure to cover your frost-tender annuals, vegetables, etc., to protect them from the frost. If you have pots planted with tender plants or haven’t planted your tender plants yet, and you can bring them inside, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do so Saturday night.
  • If you’ve put your houseplants outside on the porch or patio already, bring them in and leave them inside until all danger of frost has passed.
  • Tender buds, flowers and foliage. Tender foliage on hydrangeas, Japanese maples, and the more tender perennials may be especially vulnerable, as might azalea and camellia flowers coming into blossom or buds showing color, and very tender new growth on evergreen and deciduous shrubs. Many early-flowering shrubs, bulbs and perennials can take a little cold, however. If you are worried and want to protect any plants, you can cover these items with frost cloths, tarps, sheets or light blankets to help protect the flowers from frost. Be sure to remove them during the day, so the plants beneath them don’t overheat.

Let us all think good thoughts and hope the temperatures moderate Saturday night!!

Here’s hoping this will be the last time I need to send a frost/freeze message this Spring, yet I will keep you posted if more cold weather comes our way.

Posted under Spring Flowers, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on April 8, 2016

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Possible Frost/Freeze Early Next Week


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Just as we were getting used to all this balmy, Spring weather, March rears its ugly side to hit us with possible damaging frosts and freezes on Sunday and Monday night (Monday night is predicted to be the coldest). Here are a couple of things to keep in mind over the next few days:

  • Tender annuals, vegetables, etc. The average last frost date for the D.C. metro area is April 25th (earlier to the south and east of the city, later to the north and west), yet some impatient gardeners have undoubtedly gotten too early a start. If you are one of them, be sure to cover your frost-tender annuals, vegetables, etc., to protect them from the frost. If you have pots planted with tender plants or haven’t planted your tender plants yet, and you can bring them inside, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do so both Sunday and Monday nights.
  • If you’ve put your houseplants outside on the porch or patio already, bring them in and leave them inside until all danger of frost has passed.
  • Blooming camellias, etc. Blossoms on early-blooming shrubs and trees can take some cold weather, for the most part. But if you are worried and want to protect them, you can cover these items with frost cloths, sheets or light blankets to help protect the flowers from frost.

Let us all think good thoughts and hope the temperatures moderate Sunday and Monday nights!

If you are thinking of getting my help this Spring for some landscape work, please let me know soonest, as my Spring calendar is filling up early this year.


Posted under The Spring Garden, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on March 19, 2016

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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.

March.2011.3.27.11 054

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

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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A Tale of Two Seasons

Woke up to this:


Every twig, every leaf, every surface has snow on it.






When I look up into the trees, the first thing that pops into my head is “reindeer antlers”, for some reason.  What do you think?


Soon, I hope, the temperature will rise above freezing so the snow will begin to drop off the plants.  It’s heavy and wet, and many of the shrubs are arching over a bit too much for comfort…I am praying for no breakage.

Checking my notes, I see we had a dusting of snow on March 27, 2011.  The photos show the flowers much more advanced than this year.  It’s been a cold, cold March–many days more like January.  While snow is not uncommon this late in the season (and even a dusting on the flowers in early April is fairly common), I can’t remember having this much so late.  I measure 3″-4″, and it’s still snowing.

The cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin are due to peak in a week–really?  Hard to believe on a day like today, yet it will come to pass.  My hillside of blooming daffodils is hidden under the snow this morning.

Can’t wait for shorts, flip-flops, and flowers! 006



Posted under The Spring Garden, The Winter Garden, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on March 25, 2013

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Preparing for Hurricane Sandy–Garden and Home

As more information becomes available about the landfall of Hurricane Sandy, it seems that the Mid-Atlantic will be affected, perhaps severely. Begin to prepare now while there is still plenty of time. We don’t know exactly what conditions we’ll experience, of course, until it happens, but best to be prepared. As many of you know, my garden suffered tremendous damage during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. I lost three 100+ year-old trees and it took a couple of years to get the garden back in shape. Remember, Isabel was only a strong tropical storm/minimal hurricane and she did a lot of damage. If you choose to make preparations, here are some thoughts:

Put away in your garage, shed or inside, as these can be blown around and cause more damage, or they can be damaged by wind and/or debris—basically anything that can move or is not planted:


–Empty pots/containers


–Outdoor furniture

–Awnings—secure or take down




–Wind chimes

–Potted houseplants and outdoor plants, including hanging baskets

–Secure gates so they do not swing/blow off.

–Utilize outdoor working shutters over your windows if high winds are predicted. And pull indoor shades/shutters/curtains to protect windows, and put down the storm windows if you have them.

Other precautions:

–***Clean gutters, clear drains so water can flow. This is especially important now because the leaves are falling.

–Unplug irrigation, outdoor lighting systems, and pond pumps to prevent damage from power surges if the storm is imminent. Unplug major appliances and computers for the same reason.

–If your garage, shed, basement are prone to flooding, get things up off the floor.

–From an Arlington friend: Unlatch the garage door from your electric garage door opener so you can operate it manually and get your car out of the garage.

In my neighborhood of North Arlington, we lost power for 10 days after Isabel, and had no landline or cell phone service for the same period. For this reason:

–Have a transistor radio on hand—get your batteries now. This was great for me as I heard the latest information and it really helped kill the boredom!

–Likewise, plenty of candles and matches, and some good books! 

***Please be aware that unattended candles is a major cause of house fires. And do not run generators inside!

–Have flashlights and plenty of batteries on hand.

–Have a car cell phone charger just in case the cell service comes back on, but the house power doesn’t.

–Have a manual can opener.

Fill your car with gas, get some cash, and get your medicines refilled. You can’t do these if streets are blocked or power is out. Run the dishwasher and wash clothes while you can.

Have a first aid kit handy.

***Very important: Fill at least one bathtub with water. I learned this from my youngest sister, who lives in hurricane-prone Eastern North Carolina. Why? In case the water-treatment plants close or lose power to their pumps. This happened to one of my best friends in Fairfax County during Isabel. You can always boil water if you have a gas stove or outdoor grill. And you will have water available for washing and, especially, to manually flush your toilets.

Another learned lesson: If a neighbor’s tree(s) fall into your yard, their homeowner’s insurance likely will not pay for the damage past their property line into your yard. Your insurance could pay for it, so know what damage your insurance covers. I was told after Isabel to pay for the tree damage on my property and save my homeowner’s coverage for any future, major damage to my home since many insurance companies will discontinue coverage after a couple of big claims. Just thought I’d pass this on.

If you have power, and some of your neighbors don’t, offer to store their perishable food and suggest they can charge their cell phones in your house. Likewise, showers, etc. These were great helps in our neighborhood, which suffered sporadic, long power outages, during the Derecho. We must all be available to help one another during the period after rough weather.

Our gardens will recuperate if damaged—and remember: Look on this as an opportunity if damage does occur. My garden suddenly had some sun after the trees fell, and I had lots of empty holes to fill with new plants (empty holes in the garden are a gardener’s dream!!). Years after Hurricane Isabel, my garden is so much better from the changes. But all that said, I sure don’t want to go through it again!

Be safe. If you can’t get in touch with me, I will get back to you when I can. I was basically incommunicado for 10 days after Isabel.

Posted under Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on October 26, 2012

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Bearded Iris in Wilmington, NC…on March 2??

Tornadoes over much of the East today as we enter meteorological Spring.  Terrible and sad.  It’s the season for unsettled weather.

We had temperatures in the mid-80sF here in Wilmington, NC, yesterday.  I had some surprises on my ‘coffee walk’ this morning around our garden.  The most astounding bloom is the Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) that popped into flower overnight in the thick, humid air.  Here’s what I saw this morning:

Even the Azaleas are confused.  I saw a bud showing color–this bush is on the South side of the house, against a brick wall, so it does bloom earlier than others.  But March 2?  The Azalea Festival in Wilmington is not until mid-April.  And this is a mid-season bloomer, the Indica variety ‘Formosa’.

Sunday, I head back to Arlington, VA, for my Spring season.  I understand much is blooming in my garden at Woodland Cottage.  Can’t wait to see it!  But always sad to leave Wilmington behind.

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

Rash of Spring, Fever or Freeze?

Here’s an article I wrote last week, Rash of Spring, Fever or Freeze?  It was published in Lumina News of Wrightsville Beach/Wilmington, NC, on February 16th.  Enjoy!

Posted under Climate Change, Southern Gardens, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, The Winter Garden, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on February 20, 2012

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