Archive for July, 2010

Gardening naturally, gardening organically, gardening without chemicals …

With the increased focus on “going green”, many gardeners have become more environmentally conscious, preferring to move away from using chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides and switching to more environmentally friendly natural or organic fertilizers and pesticides. This has become especially important to vegetable gardeners and home orchardists.

Gardening with organics is not a new concept. The Viettes have been using and recommending organic fertilizers and pesticides for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, as more and more manufacturers jump on the “organics” band wagon, the availability of these products has grown along with the demand!


Good garden soil needs lots of organic matter.

This garden soil has good organic content but would benefit from the addition of more good compost.

Organic fertilizers are great because they release nutrients slowly over time and thus need to be applied less often than chemical fertilizers (usually once in the spring and again in the fall). Organic fertilizers will rarely burn the roots or foliage of your plants and, since they are slow release, they are also less likely to pollute surface or groundwater. More significantly, organic fertilizers add all important organic matter to the soil, thus improving soil structure. Remember, good soil structure improves drainage in clay soils and increases the water-holding capacity of sandy soils. Some organic fertilizers, such as the new formulation of the Espoma “Tones” (Holly-tone, Plant-tone, Tomato-tone, etc.), add beneficial soil bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi as well as nutrients to the soil. The benefits of these microbes in garden soil are becoming increasingly recognized worldwide. Read more about garden soils and plant nutrition.

When it comes to natural/organic weed, pest, and disease control, the choices have become fairly broad. Companies like Bonide with their Garden Naturals brand, Bayer Advanced with their new Natria line, Espoma with Earth-tones, and EcoSMART have developed natural solutions for controlling garden pests, weeds, and diseases. Many of these products rely on natural oils, botanical extracts, beneficial bacteria, and mineral compounds for pest control.

A note of caution! I have received several e-mails from gardeners who want recommendations for organic pest control products because they don’t want to hurt the bees and other pollinators. It is very important to understand that just because these products are natural or organic doesn’t mean they are any less deadly than the chemical control products. Many of these natural controls can kill bees and other beneficial insects just as easily and many are also toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates if they get into ponds and streams.
ALWAYS READ and FOLLOW the label directions when using ANY pesticide, regardless of its origin – organic or synthetic. This is the law!

Ladybugs are wonderful natural predators that feed on aphids, mealybugs, and other garden pests.

Ladybugs are wonderful natural predators that feed on aphids, mealybugs, and other garden pests.


Of course, the safest and most environmentally friendly pest control by far is to introduce beneficial insects and other natural enemies into your garden! Read more about these “natural enemies”.

Other important tips

  • If spraying plants in flower, be sure to spray early in the morning or later in the evening when bees are less active.
  • In times of drought, be sure to water deeply the day before you plan to spray. Plants stressed by drought and heat are more prone to spray damage.

Well, here’s hoping for pest-free gardens that need no pest controls; just water, food, and our tender loving care!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Looking from the farm to the festival site.

The Daylily & Wine Festival – utter those words to almost anyone who works at Viette’s and you are instantly met with groans. They all think I’m crazy but I just love the festival. Sure it’s a lot of work to get the gardens in tip-top shape, the lawns all perfectly mowed, the fences up, the field mowed for the massive parking lot, the garden center all stocked, and the handouts and signs all made. Hmmmm, I’m not really involved in most of that – maybe that’s why I don’t mind so much! Actually, after all the work to get ready, we all really enjoy the festival weekend! It’s a busy time but mostly a lot of fun!

Wine tasting at the Daylily & Wine Festval

Many of Virginia’s award-winning wineries come to the festival and offer tastings of their finest wines.

The Daylily & Wine Festival is a wonderful two day event held on the grounds of Viette Nurseries, this year on Saturday and Sunday, July 17-18. It is put on by the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce and Viette’s and over the years has become one of the most popular summer festivals in the Shenandoah Valley. There are  all kinds of wonderful activities going on at the festival from wine tasting and great food to gardening seminars, crafts, and beautiful music.

Music at the festival

Everyone is dancing to the music! Even the kids can’t resist Jimmy O!

And it’s all set in the midst of – the daylilies! They’re the main attraction – well, some would argue that the gathering of many of Virginia’s award-winning wineries is the main attraction but my vote is for the daylilies! They steal the show for me. The festival is timed for peak daylily bloom at the nursery and the gardens are spectacular now. Daylilies are blooming along with many other beautiful summer bloomers like garden phlox, coneflowers, and stunning crape myrtles. It may be hot and dry in the Shenandoah Valley but we’ve been watering and the gardens have become an oasis of brilliant color.


Shenandoah Valley Pipe Band presents the flag ceremony on Sunday afternoon.

I particularly enjoy working the festival weekend because it’s one of the only times I get to come out from behind my computer and interact with our customers in the garden center. It’s a real joy to have that connection with people, whether it’s helping them select the perfect plants for their garden or answering their gardening questions.

Festival site

Festival tents are filled with food, crafters, and many different Virginia wineries.

Then at some point during the day, I get to sneak away from the garden center and wander down to the Festival grounds on “official” Viette business – mainly photographing the event. It’s great fun to wander through the crowd taking pictures of people enjoying the wine tasting, great seminars, fine food, and lively music. Everyone has wonderful time! Share the day with the kids – there are lots of fun activities just for them in the children’s tent!

Visit the Daylily & Wine Festival website for more information on seminars, entertainment, exhibitors, wineries, food, children’s activities, and tickets.

Don’t miss this great event on Saturday, July 17th and Sunday, July 18th!

I hope to see you there!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Iceland icebergs

My son is in Iceland at the moment doing research on glaciers. He just sent me this picture of a glacial lake, Jokulsarlon, where he went swimming today! I guess he was trying to make me feel cooler! It worked so I thought I pass it on!

The heat is on AGAIN!

We had a little respite from the heat last week with temperatures in the low 80’s but now the heat is back with a vengeance and many folks are wondering how this oppressive heat will affect the garden!

Well … according to Andre, the heat affects the GARDENER much more than it affects the garden!!

In fact summer is one of the biggest planting and potting times at our nursery! If it were true that you couldn’t garden in the summer, then there would be no flowers or gardens in tropical places where it is summer all the time!

Here are some important things to remember when you are planting and gardening in the summer heat:

Mow the grass high!

Nothing is worse for the lawn during a hot, dry summer than to cut it short!

  • Andre suggests setting your mower blades to cut the grass no lower than 3″.
  • Grass mowed high develops extensive root systems to better tolerate drought conditions.
  • Taller grass will shade out and compete better with broadleaf lawn weeds, too.
Daylily field at Viette's

Daylilies love the heat!

It’s NOT too hot to plant!

Planting in the heat of the summer does require some extra attention, though.

  • Prepare the soil well according to the Viette recommendations. Of course it’s important to do this ANY time you plant!
  • Using organic fertilizers like Espoma Plant-tone or Holly-tone is important because they won’t burn the roots! The new formulation of the Espoma “tones” also contains beneficial mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria which attach to the roots of the plant and increase water and nutrient absorption – a plus during a hot, dry summer.
  • Water deeply after planting and apply a good quality mulch to retain soil moisture.
  • Take frequent water breaks for YOU too!

Water Deeply!

Deep watering encourages the development of deep root systems which will help your trees, shrubs, and perennials better tolerate drought conditions.

  • When is the best time to water? Andre says, “It doesn’t matter. You can water day or night. It is a fallacy that watering at night promotes disease”.
  • How much and how often should I water? The best watering practice is to water slowly so you have very little runoff and deeply so you only have to water once every 10 days or so. Watering everyday is not healthy for your garden.
  • Aim to put down 1″ or better yet 1 1/2″ of water over an 8-10 hour period each time you water. This slow watering allows the water to penetrate deeply with very little runoff and wastage.
  • Do not try to water by hand! It is time consuming and rarely puts down enough water to do the garden any good. In fact, it may actually be harmful to the plants because normally you won’t be watering deeply enough which will cause the plants to develop shallow root systems leaving them susceptible to drought stress.
  • Use a good sprinkler with a small nozzle for slow, gentle watering. Try the “Viette-made” sprinkler which was specially designed by Andre to put down less water per hour than most other sprinklers.
  • More information on proper watering techniques

Right now in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia we are very dry as well as hot! Not a great combination for lawns and gardens, not to mention our poor farmers. I see the corn fields just withering – so sad! We really need rain and there is none in sight. I hope we get some soon – I just hope it doesn’t come on the weekend of our big Daylily & Wine Festival!!

Until next time – Happy Gardening and try to stay COOL!

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