- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Master gardener George Graine admits he was afraid to start his first garden in 1988. Until then, he considered cutting the grass and trimming the shrubs to be enough yardwork. The rest was a chore and a bother and something he did not understand, he says.

However, Mr. Graine needed something to do after retiring from 29 years as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy. He joined Fairfax County’s Neighborhood Plant Clinic, now called the Master Gardener Program, to become a master gardener. He trained for three years, then continued participating in the annual 10-week gardening lectures program.

“I had this yard. I needed to do something with it,” the 71-year-old says as he looks out at a quarter-acre of deciduous and evergreen trees shading some of his mixed flower, shrub, fern and ornamental grass gardens.

Mr. Graine, Fairfax County representative to the Virginia Master Gardener Association, grows hostas and impatiens in the shady areas of his lot and day lilies and a host of other flowers in the sunny areas.

“I have many different gardens,” he says, describing the result as eclectic and a collector’s set. “My wife, [Gwendolyn Graine], always complains, ‘You do this work to yourself.’”

Aspiring gardeners need to know a few things before they begin the work of planting and caring for a shady or sunny flower garden, according to metro-area gardeners and extension agents.

A garden that receives at least eight hours of direct sunlight daily is considered to be a full-sun garden, while a full-shade garden receives two or fewer hours of sun, says Monica Lear, horticulture extension agent for the Arlington County Extension Office. A part-sun garden receives six to eight hours of sun, while a part-shade garden gets two to four hours, she says.

Annuals, plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season, and perennials, plants that survive year to year, vary in how much sun they need.

“Not all perennials will make it through [the winter]. You want to make sure you plant plants that are recommended for this area,” says Ms. Lear, who holds a doctorate in plant pathology.

Annuals that do well in the sun in the metro area include petunias, marigolds, geraniums and sunflowers, and those that prefer shade include impatiens, begonias and Dahlberg daisies. Sun-loving perennials for the metro area range from the poppy to the day lily, while those preferring the shade include hostas, periwinkles and trilliums. The pansy, an annual, does well in sun or shade.

The shade-lovers prefer the morning sun and could wilt in the hotter afternoon sun, Mr. Graine says.

“Just about all plants need some sun for photosynthesis,” he says.

More important than how much sun a plant receives is the type of soil in which it’s planted, classified according to the percentage of sand, silt and clay in the soil, says Robert DeFeo, regional horticulturist for the National Park Service, National Capital Region, in Southwest.

“You have to select the right plant for the right site. It’s a lot easier than trying to manipulate the site,” Mr. DeFeo says, adding that clay holds moisture and does not drain as well as sand. “Ninety-five percent of plant failures that I’m asked to look at are soil-related,” he says.

Robert Pritchard, gardener supervisor at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Southwest, likes to say, “You should always put a $1 plant in a $100 hole, not a $100 plant in a $1 hole.

“The most important thing for both of these gardens in shade and sun is soil preparation,” Mr. Pritchard says. “[The plant] will award you in the top part in either its foliage or flowers.”

Before preparing the soil, a soil testing kit can be obtained from the local extension office to determine soil type, the soil’s pH or acidity level, and the level of 18 essential nutrients in the soil.

“The main difference in shady versus sunny plants is that many of the shade plants can thrive in a more acidic soil,” says Diane Berndt of Fairfax, master gardener for the Virginia Master Gardener Program.

Another difference is that shade-lovers generally need less watering and weeding than plants that do well in the sun.

Annuals and perennials come in seed form or as starter plants planted in 4-inch pots or four- or six-packs, called market packs.

“Buy healthy plants free of visible diseases and insects,” Ms. Lear says.

She recommends that the soil be turned to a depth of six to eight inches and that two to three inches of compost be added to improve soil condition and aid root development. The flowers should be planted in the turned soil as deep as the root ball or to the same level they were planted in their original containers, she says.

“Space plants according to the recommendations,” Ms. Lear says, adding that plants too close together do not receive good air circulation and those too far apart will not be aesthetically pleasing.

Once in the ground, the plants should be watered and two to three inches of mulch added to reduce weed growth and retain moisture, Ms. Lear says. Watering should be continued to penetrate six to eight inches into the ground, she says.

When planting, “Mix it up. Don’t put everything in one area,” says Adria Bordas, horticulture extension agent for the Fairfax County Extension Office. “Mix perennials with annuals so you will always have a good old standby that will do well.”

A mixed-bed garden of spring bulbs, annuals and perennials can keep a garden colorful from early May to the first frost, says Audrie Whitney, past president of the Landscape Design Council, part of the National Capital Area Federation of Garden Clubs Inc. in Northeast.

“You plan it so things are blooming one after another,” Mrs. Whitney says.

Mrs. Whitney recommends “deadheading” annuals and some perennials by removing the spent or faded flowers so the plants can continue blooming. Removing dead flowers from spring bulbs, which return year after year, should be delayed for six to eight weeks to allow the plants to photosynthesize for the next year’s bloom, she says.

“Make sure when the summer is over you clean up your beds,” Mrs. Berndt says.

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