Time to Register for the Arlington/Alexandria Master Gardener Program

The 2017 Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Training for Arlington County/City of Alexandria residents is now open for registration. There will be an orientation on May 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford Street, Arlington, VA. If you would like to come and learn more about the Master Gardener program, contact the VCE Horticulture Help Desk at (703) 228-6414 or e-mail at mgarlalex@gmail.com. Note that there are other Master Gardener programs in the DC/MD/VA area which operate on different schedules. For more information on the Master Gardener program in general, see the Master Gardener page/tab at http://www.pegplant.com

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Bleeding Heart

Last fall, a friend gave me the root of her bleeding heart plant she called Fred. Unfortunately it was some time before I could get the root from her that by the time I did, it was very dry and hard. I soaked it in a tub of water for a day before I planted it. It was so desiccated, I did not think it would make it through the winter. But this spring I was pleasantly surprised by a tuft of foliage peeking through the soil. Fred is alive! Since March, Fred has produced beautiful fern-like leaves and nodding racemes of pendulous blossoms. Each blossom looks like an earring or a puffy locket on a chain and is actually comprised of two outer rose-colored petals and the two inner white petals. If you turn the flower upside down and pull the rose petals apart you will see the lady in a bath. Lady-in-a-bath is another moniker for bleeding heart.

Bleeding heart is an herbaceous perennial that prefers a woodsy environment with moist soil that is high in organic matter. Some shade is best, can be morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled light. With such delicate foliage, you would think that rabbits would decimate bleeding hearts but both rabbits and deer do not seem interested in this perennial. However, by June the leaves do get yellow and ratty and eventually the plant goes dormant as summer’s heat arrives. In order to prevent a gap in the garden, other herbaceous perennials such as hardy geraniums or hostas can grow to fill in the gap during the summer or annuals can be planted in its place.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is the 15th of each month.

DC Water’s Bloom: Recycling Biosolids Into Soil Conditioner

DC and Maryland residents are in luck. Using state-of-the-art equipment, DC Water is now producing and selling Bloom, a soil conditioner made from Class A biosolids. According to DC Water, Bloom can increase organic content in the soil, increase drought resistance in plants, and provide essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Bloom can be used by gardeners for establishing flower and vegetable gardens, remediating poor soil, planting trees and shrubs, and improving and establishing lawns.

Biosolids are organic matter recycled from sewage, which have been treated and processed in order to be used as a soil conditioner. “Drinking and waste water — everything that goes down the drain – comes to DC Water to be cleaned up,” explained Bill Brower, program manager for Biosolids at DC Water. “Our equipment pulls out the solids, the organic matter, before the water goes to the Chesapeake Bay. The solids are heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit to kill pathogens.” Class B has a reduced number of pathogens and is not used for gardening while Class A has essentially no pathogens; thus safe for homeowners and gardeners. By purchasing new equipment, DC Water has been able to create a Class A product with the intent to further their recycling efforts.

Using biosolids as a soil conditioner is not new in our country. Other cities such as Seattle, Tacoma, Austin, Houston, and Boston also use and sell their high quality biosolid soil amendment products. One of the more well-known brands among gardeners is Milwaukee’s Milorganite, which can be purchased in bags at garden centers.

“Adding Bloom to your garden is like adding compost,” said Bill. “Bloom breaks up clay, helps to build tilth, and helps to increase the community of microbes. Over time, Bloom increases drought-resistant properties in plants.”

Some people are concerned that using a biosolid product will have an offensive odor but Bill reassured me that Bloom does not. “Bloom has an earthy odor,” said Bill. “I was showing it to school children the other day and they said it smelled like burnt wood or like dirt.” Part of Bill’s job is to serve as community ambassador, introducing Bloom to gardening clubs and people who manage school and community gardens.  About 30 school and community gardens in the Washington DC area use Bloom in their soil.

Currently, DC Water produces two “varieties”: Fresh and Cured. Fresh is cheaper than cured at $2.50 per cubic yard but more alkaline than cured (8.47 pH) and contains more moisture. Because it contains more moisture, it is heavier and more difficult for a person to lift with a shovel. Thus the Fresh is ideal for landscapers who can use spreading equipment. Cured is $5.00 per cubic yard with a more neutral pH (6.79 pH) and less moisture. Because it is dryer, it does not stick as much to a shovel and is lighter to lift.

DC and Maryland residents can order by calling or completing the online order form. They can have Bloom delivered for a delivery fee or drive to Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, 5000 Overlook Avenue, SW, Washington DC, to have staff load their truck.

The Bloom website is very informative and lists the lab analysis of samples of both varieties with specific amounts of nutrients, metals, pathogens, etc.  Both have nutrients that plants need such as nitrogen and phosphorus, essentially no pathogens, and low concentrations of heavy metals. The presence of heavy metals is similar to the amount found in typical soils and is far below the level found to pose a risk to human health. Bloom meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for use in homes and gardens.

For more information contact Bill Brower, (202) 787-4296, bloom@dcwater.com or visit http://www.bloomsoil.com. To order, visit the website or call (202) 765-3292 Ext. 102.

Peg’s Picks: April 2017 Gardening Events in the Washington DC Metro Area

Peg’s Picks: April 2017 Gardening Events in the Washington DC Metro Area is now posted on the Classes/Events tab at http://www.pegplant.com. There are over 70 events in April and that is not even including Historic Garden Week’s 30 tours the week of April 22-29. Let the games begin!

An Entertaining Lecture on Herbs at Merrifield Garden Center

Yesterday I attended Merrifield Garden Center’s free lecture on herbs and was pleasantly surprised by the great speaker and the event itself: part entertainment and part educational. Merrifield is known for its free seminars in the spring, which I have promoted on my website for years. The herb lecture was at the Fair Oaks location, which has a spacious room on the second level of the garden center. I arrived early and was surprised to find pastries, brownies, fruit, cheese, crackers, and coffee! Sarah, a Merrifield employee, created this lovely feast and topped it off with an eye-catching display of herbs. Apparently she is known for making such creative displays and generous offerings of refreshments. Sarah was a hoot!  She talked to everyone and encouraged people to submit their drawing on time!

I discovered that at each seat there was a handout on herbs, a 15% discount coupon to use that day or the following day, and a form to complete for the drawing. I did not know there would be a coupon and a drawing but I could tell there were plenty of “regulars” who knew the drill. They seemed to know each other and had been there many times. The mood was so friendly and jolly I almost thought they were part of a gardening club. Filling up on pastries, we completed our forms and dropped them in a large glass container.

At 10:00 am, right before the lecture, Peg Bier, also a long time Merrifield employee, drew slips of paper several times. I did not keep count but was surprised that there were several drawings, not just one. Winners could have their choice of circus tickets or a Merrifield gift card. I did not win but I did use my coupon to buy something after the event.

Peg then introduced our speaker, Nicole Schermerhorn, co-owner of A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields Herb Farm (wearing dark brown in the photo). A Thyme to Plant is a wholesale operation near Richmond, growing and selling USDA-certified herbs and vegetables. Her nephew manages Lavender Fields Herb Farm, the retail garden center that focuses on herb classes and demonstrations. Nicole was very entertaining and down to earth – I could have listened to her for more than an hour. She sprinkled her slide presentation with funny learning experiences and witty conversations with her husband. Nicole provided a lot of detail on cultural requirements, including growing herbs in raised beds, while her handout had information on specific herbs. She was very nice about answering everyone’s questions and offered to stay afterward. A few of the interesting tips I learned were: there are 200 varieties of rosemary but only a few are hardy in Virginia (Arp, Salem, and Hill Hardy); Vietnamese coriander is a heat-loving substitute for the cool-loving cilantro; and parsley is the most nutrient-packed herb one can grow (does not matter if curly or flat leaf). I liked the fact that there was a handout to take home about specific herbs and recommended varieties plus cultural requirements on the backside. If you are new to gardening or new to Virginia, I recommend attending Merrifield Garden Center’s free seminars, especially Nicole’s talk on herbs.

Thirty Tours Across the Commonwealth During Virginia’s Historic Garden Week

fountain turned planter

Sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV), Historic Garden Week (HGW) is an opportunity for the public to tour almost 250 private homes and gardens and historical sites in Virginia. A non-profit organization, the GCV is comprised of 47 member clubs and 3,400 volunteers. Proceeds from the annual HGW, which originated in 1927, fund the restoration and preservation of Virginia’s historical gardens and provide graduate level research fellowships for building comprehensive and ongoing records of historic gardens and landscapes in the Commonwealth. For more than 80 years, the grounds of Virginia’s most cherished historic landmarks including Mount Vernon, Monticello, and the Executive Mansion in Richmond have been restored or preserved using proceeds from this statewide house and garden tour.

Japanese maple among tulips

This year there will be 30 tours hosted by volunteers at local GCV member clubs. The GCV has member clubs in 6 regions: Northern Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Coastal Virginia, Capitol Region, Shenandoah Valley/Central Virginia, and Southern Virginia. For example, in the Northern Virginia Region, there will be tours in Old Town Alexandria, Leesburg and Oatlands, Reston, Warrenton, Little Washington, and Winchester on various days between April 22 and 29. In 2015, I visited homes and gardens in Clifton and Fairfax Station one day and Warrenton another day (the photos were taken on my trips).

inner circle of kitchen garden

The schedule is available online and tickets can be purchased on the day of the tour at numerous locations or in advance. Tours are held rain or shine. Properties can be visited in any order. Also available is the Guidebook, a 240-page, beautifully illustrated publication, which can be downloaded, purchased online, or picked up free at designated public places. I always find them in March at my local library. The Guidebook has descriptions of the tour sites, directions, refreshments, special activities in the area, and other places of interest which usually include historical sites that can be toured at other times of the year (for future reference). The Guidebook is a snapshot of the touring area; it lists names of the sponsoring Garden Club member organizations; area information such as Chamber of Commerce & historical societies; and advertisements from local businesses such as garden centers, antique stores, and restaurants. For more information, visit http://www.vagardenweek.org; e-mail historicgardenweek@gmail.com; (804) 644-7776.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Shamrock Plants

Although it looks like a three-leaf clover because of its trifoliate leaf structure, a shamrock plant is actually a species of Oxalis. These green or burgundy foliage plants are often sold as novelty houseplants, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. The small flowers rise high above the leaves with five white or pink to white petals. Most people grow them as houseplants but they can be grown outdoors in the summer here in Virginia. Because they are small, it is best to grow them in containers (off the ground level) for better viewing. Shamrock plants grow from rhizomes called pips which can rot if overwatered so it is best to let the soil dry out a little between watering. Eventually the plant will go through a dormant period and produce more pips that can be dug up for more plants.

The plant is best grown in indirect light with cool temperatures. Usually it is only after you purchase the plant that you learn of its charm:  the leaves move up and down every day. In the daytime, at maximum light, the leaves are horizontal or open. By nightfall, when light levels are reduced, the leaves bend down almost as if the plant is wilting. Don’t worry, this is normal and does not mean that you have to water.

Shamrocks are beautiful houseplants but there is one caveat: they do not combine well with pets. Oxalis contains a high level of oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.