How Does Your Garden Grow? April 2012

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By Elizabeth Federico, Contributing Writer

Do you love to garden but are overwhelmed with all the new “green” talk about “sustainability”? Do you want to include some of this “new” technology in your own backyard, but just aren’t sure how to go about it? Or have you never gardened in your life and just want to try a few veggies in that sunny little corner in the back of your yard?

Our very own Prince William County Government outreach and education system is miles ahead of the curve in making all of the necessary information not only available but easy to understand and navigate. The partnerships which have been formed at the local, state and federal level are truly something to be proud of, and you can find just about all of the information you need to get started online at the Prince William County Government website.

Orange MarigoldsYou have options once you are on the homepage at There are tabs across the top; under the “Residents” drop down menu, you can click “Environment,” or do the same in the “Business” dropdown menu. Alternatively, in the “Government dropdown menu, just click “more topics,” and on the left you will see Virginia Cooperative Extension.” From there, go to “Environment and Natural Resources’ ( There, you’ll find all kinds of wonderful information.

And if you have questions (we know you do), help is available. Email the contact at the bottom of the page, or make a phone call during regular business hours. Or, attend a Master Gardener Clinic at a local garden center. One more option: just pick up your unidentifiable bug and walk it into the Virginia Cooperative Extension office located at 8033 Ashton Avenue, Suite 105 in Manassas. (Put him in a baggie or jar please; you wouldn’t want to lose him on the way; and please be careful not to squish him, as squished bugs are difficult to identify.)

The Virginia Cooperative Extension is almost a secret in Prince William County vast county and underused,” said Paige E. Thacker, director of the Prince William County Office. Thacker graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Horticulture and knows a thing or two about gardening and plants. She is familiar With all the questions, critters and regulations that go along with having a yard and garden. Thacker works with a large network of master gardeners and professionals, and if she can’t answer your question, she’ll find someone who can.

In addition to county residents, property managers or those who work within HOAs may need assistance with turf and water use regulations. It’s not unheard of for an HOA representative to call with “I have residents that are insisting they cannot grow grass, but my bylaws are insisting they do. How can I make everyone happy?”

“We can make recommendations for your HOAs common area landscape contracts and make suggestions about the bylaws for your community,” said thacker. “We can also take soil samples and assist residents with determining how to grow the best turf on your property.”

flower potThe Virginia Cooperative Extension program is a joint program of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state and local governments. The Prince William Office really does have a true partnership with Prince William County Government and everyone is willing to help with everything from taking care of your lawn to getting you the permits you need for a major “do-over.”

But let’s not forget our children. Prince William County, which is home to a great many historic sites including Brentsville’s historic courthouse and the Rippon Colonial Lodge, is partnered with Prince William Forest Park (a Department of the Interior National Forest, federally owned property), Leesylvania State Park (part of our state parks network) and Metz Wetland, offering many great opportunities for educational experiences.

“We have some very beautiful natural areas in Prince William County and we all can play a role in being good stewards in protecting our resources,” said Deb Oliver, the public outreach and education coordinator for Prince William County. “We aren’t just here; we are a part of ‘here,’”

Oliver takes seriously her responsibility to educate not just children but families. She firmly believes that everyone is responsible for the health and well being of the community as a whole. Part of that is being a responsible gardener, using resources such as water and fertilizer wisely and remembering we are not living on this earth alone. (Read more about how Prince William County is celebrating this year’s Earth Day on page 13.)

There are many opportunities for children in Prince William and Greater Manassas when it comes to learning about gardening and conservation. Through the VCE there are Saturday in the Garden classes available for adults and their children (most classes are free; some require a $5 supply fee). These classes take place at the Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow at 9535 Linton Hall Road. Topics for the first two programs in April are Preparing for Spring (April 9) and Pollinators (May 14).

For additional information about Prince William County Extension office classes, activities and events, call (703) 792-7747, or visit their website at For more general resources, visit You can also sign up for a free lawn, landscape and garden update via email at www.pwcgov/eServices/eNotifications.

Happy Gardening!

Elizabeth Federico is a horticulturist for the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington D.C. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech’s horticulture program and a lifelong resident of Prince William County.

The Garden Calendar

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t garden year-round. It’s a passion, and where there’s a will, there’s a way. This garden calendar will help you keep your garden growing all year long.


Watch for emerging snowdrops and crocuses.


Wait for a clear, somewhat warmer day to get your evergreen shrubs and dormant trees under control with a good pruning. Don’t remove a lot—just anything that is impeding a walkway, driveway or getting too close to the house for comfort.
Clipping a good 18 inches should do the trick to provide for new growth in the spring. Do not prune azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods or hydrangeas now unless you are looking to seriously limit flowering this spring.

In addition to pruning, look for early signs of spring regardless of what the silly groundhog says. Daffodils will begin peek up around the end of the month. If it’s been a warm winter, they sometimes arrive as early as Valentine’s day. Winter jasmine (jasminum nudiflorum) is already in full bloom looking much like a lazy forsythia in that it drops over the edges of walls and is evergreen. Witchhazels are blooming as well, smelling wonderfully fragrant with their fuzzy small yellow or orange flowers.


Take care of any crape myrtles now. Cut them back hard and clear off extra shoots that make you crazy. Pruning a crape myrtle is not a necessary thing, but many enjoy their patterned bark as much as they do the flowers. It’s purely a personal preference.

Watch for buds on cherry trees to swell. Star magnolias will flower during March, too, and they’ll be followed by saucer magnolias, if they haven’t been hit with a late frost.


Azaleas bloom this month, cherry trees are covered in pink blossoms and the phlox below is beginning to bloom with blue flowers. Dogwoods will also begin blooming this month. American dogwoods are notorious for anthracnose, which creates dark spots that aren’t particularly attractive on the bark. Alas, it’s all part of the charm of the Virginia state tree.


Lily of the Valley—with its fragrant, bell-shaped flowers—will bloom this month. Also in bloom: roses.


The buddleja is in full flower, the basil that hasnft been attacked by slugs is now ripe enough to be made into a nice pesto, and the cherry tomatoes are ripening.


Seek shade from the hot August sun under a dogwood and enjoy your hostas, which are now in full bloom.


Enjoy the cooler weather and rescue what remains of your raspberries. By the end of the month, most of the leaves will be down from the trees.


Pumpkin Time! Roast some seeds and prepare a pie or two. And whatever leaves you didn’t get up prior to now can be used as mulch.


Put any fall bulbs, including tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth, in the ground now for spring flowering. Interested in growing your flowers indoors? Be sure the box states “for forcing indoors.” Most bulbs have a cold requirement that has to be met or they won’t flower.


The amaryllis will be in full bloom by Christmas. Healthy bulbs will give as many as three flowers. The flower will bloom right through January, up to about the time you should look for snowdrops to peek up through the soil.


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