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Tips and Tricks from County Master Gardeners: Fall Edition Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Tips and Tricks from County Master Gardeners: Fall Edition

The Master Gardeners are back to help residents prep their lawns for the coming fall and winter seasons. Master Gardener Volunteers John Meenan and Sunny Greene will be taking questions about testing soil, planting grass and other fall maintenance lawn and garden projects. Join them online Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 2 p.m. to learn more about the Master Gardeners program, how to become a volunteer and how to find gardening success with your own plot of land in the county.

Pamela Smith : Thank you for joining us today. My name is Pamela Smith and I have two Green Spring Master Gardeners joining me, Sunny Greene and John Meenan. Gil Medeiros will be joining us shortly. He is a Fairfax County Master Gardener.

Ellen : what type of conditions do resurrection lilies like. I have some planted under my maple tree and they use to come back every year now I am down to one. The other is planted in the shade of an ash tree and is down to one plant that blooms in July while the others in the front yard are in bloom now. Where is the best options for the plant to multiple and be happy. I have some sun in the front and side yard.

Pamela Smith : Resurrection lilies need a minimum of 5-6 hours of full sun so you should move them to a sunnier spot. They also have two other cultural requirements, deep, loose, well drained soil  and ample moisture year round. The ash tree is taking up too much moisture from the soil and does not allow sufficient sunlight. They are tough plants once you give them what they want. Good luck!

Maxine : How does one decide what size pot to use for planting a container garden of vegetables on one's deck?

Pamela Smith : Hello Maxine,
Go to the Cooperative Extension website for the following publication 426-336 called Vegetable Gardening in Containers. This pub contains a chart showing the minimum size container you need for each type of vegetable. Always seed in more than you think. You can always thin out the seedlings as they grow. Have fun!

First Time Homeowner : I moved into my home in March and had planted three new azalea bushes at the request of my HOA. Over the summer, the leaves on one has turned brown but the other two seem to be thriving. On the brown-leaved specimen, there are SOME green leaves growing near the bottom of the bush now. Is the azalea done for, or does it have some life in it yet? Your advice on what to do (even if it's to dig it up and start over!) is appreciated.

Pamela Smith : Hello,
  This has been a tough year for new plantings. It's hard to say without knowing where the plant is located (sun, shade, soil, etc). Don't give up yet. Azaleas are tough. Once the cool weather comes, see what happens. Be sure to keep all three plants watered during this dry spell. If you see no further growth in the spring, then pull it out and get a replacement. Good luck.

Anonymous User : I'm going to have my lawn aerated (first time homeowner here). In what order do I need to then seed, add top dressing and fertilize? (I already have a report from VaTech about the kind of fertilizer I need) Thanks!

Pamela Smith : This is the best time to renovate your lawn! The first thing to do is core aerate your lawn (actual plugs are removed from the soil, not just spikes), then apply starter fertilizer (found in hardware stores or garden centers) that is suggested by the soil report from VaTech. Then seed and follow with a top dressing. Keep the seed well watered!

Anonymous User : I have large gaps in my lawn and wish to fill it in with the exact same grass that exists in the rest of the lawn. Is there anywhere to take a plug of it to have the grass identified?

Pamela Smith : Hello,
  There are plenty of opportunities to find an answer to your question. Call a local nursery or garden center first to find out if they can answer the question for you. If so, then take a good size sample, describe your lawn ( deep green, fine blades, etc.) for them to analyze. The Fairfax County Master Gardeners have plant clinics at most farmers markets in the area. You can also bring a sample and description to them.   However, most lawns are a blend, so you might not be able to match it perfectly.

Anonymous User : what's a good way to treat/condition a yard when you have dogs (and associated waste products)?

Pamela Smith : We love our dogs but they leave behind unwanted presents in the lawn! Their urine is so concentrated that it needs to be leached out before you try to grow grass in this area. Water the lawn very well (four to five inches over a few days) and try to keep your pets off the lawn ( if possible). For the future, be sure to remove pet waste from the lawn immediately and dispose of it properly (not in compost.) You may have to be satisfied with a less than perfect lawn because of the pets.

Anonymous User : Hello, I have been working on my lawns for a couple of years(on my own and have had professional landscaper) and I just can't seem to create a thickness of grass. We have done all the normal maintenance throughout the years with regular fertilizers, grass seed, aerating and such, but something is amiss. I would like to in the next couple of weeks aerate, spread seed and cover my entire property with compost material(this I have never done). Will this help and if not, what will? Many thanks in advance.

Pamela Smith : Hello,
  Have you had a soil test taken?
This will tell you if you need to fertilize or add lime. You can obtain a free soil test kit at local farmers markets, libraries and Green Spring Garden. You have to match the grass type to the sun/shade conditions in each part of the lawn. You may need different types for different areas. Full sun would need tall fescue mixed with Kentucky Bluegrass, shady areas need fine fescue. Deep shade needs something other than grass (groundcover etc.).  Also the amount of traffic on the lawn is a factor in whether you will have a thick carpet of grass or not. Top dressing (no more than a quarter inch and finely milled) of compost will greatly help in adding organic matter to the soil which is always a plus for plants of all types.

Bob : Is there anything you can do about borers in a Maple tree?

Pamela Smith : Hello, 
  It is most important to first identify the pest. Contact a certified arborist to take a look at your tree. is an association of certified arborist. They can recommend someone to you.  We suggest you get estimates from at least three different arborists. Good luck.

Fig tree : God afternoon. When's the best time to plant a fig tree??

Pamela Smith : You can plant it now but you run the risk of losing it to tough winter conditions. Fig trees are not always hardy in this area. If you do plant it now, mulch it heavily to help it during severe freezing periods. We suggest you plant the fig in the spring when the soil warms up. Figs also make good container plants that you can bring inside in the winter.

Brian : Hi, I have a question about fall/winter prep for one of my trees. Three years ago I planted a fig tree in my backyard and it began producing figs that same year. The next spring, however, the branches did not produce leaves or fruit and I though it had died over the harsh winter. After a few weeks, new branches and leaves sprouted from the roots and it recovered but did not produce fruit. This same process has repeated for each winter/spring since. Is there something that I can do to ensure that my fig tree makes it through the winter? Thanks for your time and expert knowledge!

Pamela Smith : When it comes to figs in this area, there are no guarantees unless you plant it in a container and bring it inside each winter. We have had two successive harsh winters which have done a job on your fig. If you want to keep nurturing this fig, be patient. Add lots of mulch this winter. You may lose it despite your best efforts in which case, there will be plenty of different varieties to choose from this coming spring. 

Lawn care help : I have a couple of blad spots in my lawn and need some advice to prepare for winter while still treating this bald and brown spots. No real shade in front yard. Thanks

Pamela Smith : Scratch up the bald spots with a cultivator or stiff rake, scatter seed, cover with a fine top dressing and water daily maybe even twice a day until the seed germinates. You can put down a little starter fertilizer before you seed but it is not absolutely necessary. Straw will help keep the seed bed moist but put it on very thinly. You can leave the straw in place once the seed germinates. It will add organic matter to the soil. Good luck.

Pamela Smith : Thank you for joining us today. We enjoyed answering your questions. For more answers, call the Master Gardener Help Desk at 703-324-8556. Also visit us at Green Spring Gardens and  the Fairfax County Master Gardener Association website at