The Garden Shed

A Community Newsletter published by the Piedmont Master Gardeners

July 2022-Vol.8, No.7


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Table of Contents

July in the Ornamental Garden

As any gardener knows from experience, July’s heat and humidity can dampen our enthusiasm for working in the garden.

July in the Edible Garden

The summer growing season is in its heyday!

Straw Bale Gardening

The planting medium that's also a raised bed

Dogs in the Garden

You can live with a dog and be a happy gardener, too

Upcoming Events

Learn about insects and trees

How to Remove English Ivy

The sun never sets on 𝘏𝘦𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘢 𝘩𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘹

July in the Edible Garden

We are entering July, the heart of the summer growing season. Spring plantings have run their course. Harvest of summer vegetables is beginning and there is still time to plant warm weather crops. With an average first frost date of October 15-25 in our hardiness zone 7a, pay attention to the time-to-harvest information of the crops you plant to be sure you give them enough time to mature before frost risk becomes too high. Also, if you plan on making a fall planting, look at where you want to plant which crops, considering crop rotations for disease and pest management and shading by mature or trellised plantings.

It is still ok to plant beans, cucumbers, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkins, squash, corn, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, but best to do it soon to be confident of harvesting prior to frost. Check the Vegetable Harvest Guide from the Iowa State Extension for typical time from seed planting to harvest for common garden vegetables. For a listing of recommended planting times for hardiness zones 6a-8a refer to VA Cooperative Extension (VCE) publication Virginia’s Home Garden Vegetable Planting Guide.

Planting time for fall crops like lettuces, cabbage family crops and greens begins in early to mid-August so begin to prepare beds for those plantings. Remove spent plants, composting them if not diseased and if they haven’t set seed. Otherwise, it is best to dispose of them.

If you started a compost batch in the spring, it should be maturing now. Screening it and adding the finished material to beds prior to planting will give fall plants a good start. Organic fertilizers can also be added to beds prior to planting to give soil life a chance to make nutrients accessible to the new crops. Find basic fertilization info in the Garden Shed article A Fertilization Primer: Plant Needs, Fertilizer Choices and Application Tips.

Maintaining Plant Health

Rotating crops is an important priority to minimize disease and pest proliferation. A three-year cycle is recommended.

Splashing soil onto plants during watering is a common mistake that can spread soil borne diseases onto crops. Water at the plant base, as gently as possible to minimize splashing. A light straw or leaf mulch can help prevent soil splashing while helping to conserve soil moisture during hot, dry summer weather.

Watering early in the day is best to help prevent fungal diseases.

Advice for Tomato Growers

Tomatoes are a prized summer crop for many of us. It is best to support plants with stakes or cages. If you use stakes, tie plants loosely to the stake with a soft twine or cloth strip. Add ties to give support as plants grow and fruits develop. Prune lower leaves that touch the ground to reduce susceptibility to soil pathogens. Allow up to two main stems and pinch off all other “suckers” that sprout at leaf/stem intersections to focus the plant on fruit production rather than vegetative growth.

Sucker at tomato leaf-stem joint: Photo: R Morini

Cages require more upfront investment and off-season storage space but reduce plant maintenance during the growing season. If you use cages, prune plants to 3 or 4 main stems. The additional vegetation will help protect fruit from sun scald.

In all cases, remove diseased foliage with shears disinfected with a 10% bleach solution. Bag and remove it with your trash. As noted above, mulching helps maintain moisture, hold down weeds, and reduce soil splash during watering.

A more complete guide to growing tomatoes is provided in the VCE publication Tomatoes.

Summer Pests

Summer is the peak activity period for many garden pests. Get help dealing with pests from the June 2022 Garden Shed article Eleven Common Garden Pests: Identification and Management.

For more help identifying insects check the video Garden Insects: Friend or Foe, from the University of Georgia Extension.

The list below offers other ideas to help maintain garden health during July:

  • Watering is extra important in the hotter months, affecting overall plant health, and the taste and texture of many vegetables. The garden typically needs about an inch of water per week, more during very hot periods. Early morning is the best time to water. Giving leaves time to dry before dark reduces susceptibility to fungal diseases.
  • Rain barrels are a great tool for reducing summer water use. They can reduce runoff, conserve water resources, and reduce water/sewer bills.  Natural rainwater is also better for plants than chlorinated water. They are located under downspouts. Rainwater passes through a diverter that sends it to the barrel. When the barrel is full, the water is sent back down the downspout. Rain barrel water isn’t considered potable and can pick up pathogens from fecal matter on roofs, so should be applied to the base of plants, not sprayed on foliage. The benefits of rain barrels are discussed in the publication Rain Barrels from Penn State Extension.

Stirrup hoe weed removal. Photo: R Morini

  • It’s important to control weeds around vegetables because weeds can out-compete vegetable plants for nutrients, water, and sunlight. The best method of control is by mechanical extraction, meaning good old-fashioned weed-pulling or the use of a hoe. For small weeds, the “stirrup” hoe (also called “hoop” or “scuffle” hoe) is recommended because its shallow soil penetration removes weeds without bringing weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate. It’s also easy on the knees and back.

Fusarium wilt of basil (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. basilicum)
Debbie Roos, NCSU Agricultural Extension Agent, Chatham County, NC

  • Fusarium wilt of Basil is a fungal disease specific to sweet basil. The fungus attacks the water-conducting tissue (xylem) within the stem. Infected plants will grow normally until they are six to twelve inches tall, then suddenly wilt. The stem may become curved and develop brown streaks. The fungus can over-winter and survive many years as spores, ready to cause new infections in basil or other mint family members that are planted in the same soil. There is currently no fungicide approved for its treatment, but it can be controlled somewhat by removing diseased plants, rotating planting locations, and by planting disease-resistant varieties. Additional information on basil is available from the NC State Extension publication Basil Problem and from Garden Shed article Basil: Beautiful and Aromatic.
  • Cucumbers develop a bitter taste if the soil is not kept consistently moist. Leaf mulch will help maintain soil moisture.
  • Harvest cucumbers for pickling when they reach 2-4 inches in length; for table use, harvest when no longer than 5-6 inches. Remove over-ripe cucumbers to encourage continuous production.
  • Withhold water on potatoes when the plants begin to die down. Water and fertilizer may disturb the dormancy stage and cause regrowth, and may also cause potatoes to crack.
  • If you use insecticides on vegetables, always check the label to understand how long you need to wait before safely harvesting and eating.

I hope you find this information helpful and look forward to sharing ideas again next month.


Feature image: Mid-June Edible Garden, Photo: R Morini

How to Remove English Ivy

The neighbors were skeptical: “Wow”, “yikes”, “have fun”, “good luck with that!” I was giving them a heads-up that I was finally removing the English ivy – mixed in with vinca, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, wisteria, and of course poison ivy – from 1600 sq. ft. along the back edge of my yard (header picture). And I won’t lie, it took some elbow grease, a little ibuprofen, and about 20 hours on my hands and knees, but now I have a nice open space for native, non-invasive plants.

ivy-covered tree broken in half during an ice storm

Picture 1. An ivy-covered tree, broken off during the January 2022 ice storm.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is native to Europe but has been grown in North America since the early 18th century. Its usefulness as ground cover is undeniable: it’s evergreen, grows quickly, and tolerates shade, drought, and a variety of soil types. These characteristics, of course, also make it easy for English ivy to spread where it isn’t wanted. Notably, English ivy can climb – and destabilize – walls, fences, and trees (Picture 1). What’s more, few native insects or birds feed on its leaves and seeds. For these reasons, many gardeners these days are removing English ivy and replacing it with less aggressive ground cover that supports native species.

After a little reading – my sources are listed at the end of the article – I decided to remove my English ivy by simply cutting it out. But it’s worth mentioning other methods that might be useful under the right circumstances:

  1. Herbicides. Herbicide sprays are usually ineffective because mature English ivy leaves have a waxy coating that sheds liquids. However, immature leaves, which are bright green and appear in the spring, will absorb herbicides like glyphosate/Roundup. Spot application might be a good way to tidy up the inevitable regrowth after manual removal. (And as discussed below, concentrated herbicides can be used on large roots that can’t be pulled out.)
  2. Occlusion. A thick tarp or heavy plastic sheeting can kill English ivy by blocking sunlight and depleting the energy stored in the roots. The main drawback to this method is that it’s slow: it can take two years to fully wipe out the ivy’s extensive root system.
  3. Repeated mowing. Mowing will remove the ivy’s leaves, which will then grow back. But if the new leaves are then mowed back, allowed to regrow, mowed back again, etc., eventually the roots’ energy stores will be depleted. (It would be interesting to try spraying glyphosate on the new leaves that regrow after mowing, but I haven’t read any reports of this.)
    Tools for ivy removal: shovel, clippers, rake, gloves, boots, long pants

    Picture 2. A few basic tools are all you need.

Removing English ivy

The tools for manually removing English ivy are pretty simple (Picture 2): clippers, shovel, and rake (if the ivy is covered by leaves). In addition, use personal protective gear: long pants, boots, and rubber gloves. This is because English ivy has the little-known property of triggering a skin rash similar to the one caused by poison ivy. Mostly the sap of the English ivy causes the rash, as opposed to the leaves, but manual removal involves a lot of cutting of stems and roots, and therefore a lot of exposure to sap. (Impress your friends and family: the main allergen in English ivy is falcarinol, as opposed to urushiol in poison ivy.)

Start by cutting the vines with a shovel or edging tool in two parallel lines (Picture 3), making a strip about 4 feet wide. This is the really critical step because it ensures you won’t be trying to pull long vines out of the ground. Then rake away the leaves on the strip between the shovel cuts (Picture 4) – no need to remove them along with the ivy.

Use shovel to cut two parallel slices, about 4 feet apart

Picture 3. Start by making parallel cuts with a shovel.

Use shovel to cut two parallel slices, about 4 feet apart

Picture 4. Then rake the leaves off to the side.

Next, use clippers to cut across the trimmed and raked strip, perpendicular to the initial shovel cuts (Picture 5, step 1). Cut right at ground level, or even a little below, to make sure to cut the roots and not just the vines. While cutting, pull the freed vines back towards you, making a loose pile and exposing the soil (Picture 5, step 2). Then simply work backwards, cutting across and pulling back, until the entire strip is free of ivy (Picture 6). It took me about an hour to clear one 4 by 20 foot strip.

After cutting with shovel, cut perpendicular with the clippers at soil level, then pull the cut ivy towards you. Work backwards to clear the strip.

Picture 5. (1) Cut the ivy’s roots, going across the row perpendicular to the shovel cuts. (2) Pull the ivy back towards you. Repeat.

Strip, 4 by 20 feet, cleared of ivy

Picture 6. First strip, (mostly) clear of ivy.

After that, it’s just a matter of repetition. Make a new cut with the shovel to create another 4-foot strip. Rake the leaves if desired, then dive in with the clippers to remove the ivy. Proceed one 4-foot strip at a time (Pictures 7 and 8), until the area is cleared (Picture 9).

Area cleared on the first day

Picture 7. End of day 1.

Area half-cleared

Picture 8. Halfway there.

Area fully cleared of ivy

Picture 9. The end. (Actually, just the beginning.)

A couple of “technical” points: (1) It’s possible to pull out many of the shallower roots entirely, rather than merely cutting them off at soil level. No guarantees, but I think this should reduce regrowth. To do this, work the clippers under the roots and gently pull them up to the surface, without breaking them (Picture 10). Then pull horizontally, i.e. parallel to the ground, to free the ends of the roots (Picture 11). And (2) For large root stumps still in the soil, consider “painting” some concentrated glyphosate/Roundup on the cut ends with a cotton swab.

ivy root being pulled out of the ground with clippers

Picture 10. Gently expose the middle of the root.

ends of roots pulled out of the ground

Picture 11. Then pull horizontally to release the ends.

Finally, how best to dispose of the vines? Don’t just dump them on a compost or brush pile because they may re-root. Even shredding vines with a lawnmower or wood-chipper could leave pieces large enough to grow new roots. A good option is to dry the vines thoroughly on a tarp or piece of pavement, then shred them. Another method is to put the vines in black trash bags and leave them in the sun for several weeks, until they’ve “cooked” enough to be non-viable. Personally, I took advantage of Charlottesville’s excellent $35 bulk pickup service.

Final thoughts, a few months after removal

I removed the vines from the ground in December 2021. Six or seven months later, I’m honestly surprised by how little English ivy is growing back. I’ve checked the cleared area every few weeks this spring, and I’d say that no more than a couple dozen English ivy sprouts have emerged. They’ve been easy to find and remove, but I’m sure that it will be at least a few years before the last remnants of the vines are gone.

The next challenge for this area will be the seeds that have been lurking under the vines. Mostly I’m concerned about Japanese stiltgrass (PDF link), which has already taken over another corner of the yard. To tackle this, I’ll be relying on invasive species alert emails from the Blue Ridge Partnership for Invasive Species Management (PRISM), which describe timing and methods for controlling the most common invasive species in the Virginia Piedmont.

The good news, though, is that the area is mostly clear of invasive plants. And now I have a fantastic blank slate for native, deer-resistant, shade-loving wildflowers, shrubs, and understory trees that will provide habitat and sustenance for birds and insects and maybe even – I’m thinking of trying to grow ramps out there – the local two-legged mammals.

References and further reading

Blue Ridge Partnership for Invasive Species Management (PRISM) Blue Ridge PRISM

Controlling English Ivy in Urban Landscapes North Carolina Cooperative Extension

English Ivy- Friend or Foe? North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Pest Alert – English Ivy Rash North Carolina Cooperative Extension

English Ivy Control Clemson Cooperative Extension

Ivy Removal in a Home Landscape Oregon State University Extension Service

English Ivy Can Be Contained Oregon State University Extension Service

Managing Invasive Plants: Methods of Control (PDF link) University of New Hampshire Extension

Take Ivy Off Trees Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia [This topic wasn’t covered in this article but for safety reasons – see Picture 1 – it’s critically important.]

All pictures by the author.





July in the Ornamental Garden

As any gardener knows from experience, July’s heat and humidity can dampen our enthusiasm for working in the garden.  However, a good strategy is to work in the cool hours of the morning or evening.  Just 10 or 15 minutes a day maintaining your garden can make a huge difference in how it looks and performs.  Here are a few suggestions (for new gardeners) or reminders (for seasoned gardeners) for keeping your garden looking perky and well maintained despite the heat:

Deadheading and “Deadleafing” a hardy geranium. Photo: Cathy Caldwell

Deadhead spent blossoms.  Devote a few minutes each day to snipping or pinching off spent blossoms. Just choose one or two plants that need your attention and focus on those.  The result will be a tidier looking garden with less stress and wear and tear on you.  As a bonus, deadheading can trigger the production of more blossoms on many ornamental plant species.

Trim plants of old, tired, or tattered-looking foliage, flower stalks, or damage caused by pests or disease. Large-leaved plants, particularly hostas, look much more attractive if you trim off the leaves that have suffered heavy slug damage.

Selectively cut back or shear plants that have finished blooming to spur fresh new growth and perhaps some re-bloom as well.  For general information on perennial plant care, see the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s (VCE) publication 426-203 on the culture, maintenance and propagation of Perennials.  For the new gardener who would like more detailed information on perennial plant maintenance, Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s book on The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is a useful, well-organized resource on the subject.

Stake or cage taller perennial species to keep them from flopping over or collapsing.  Plants fall over for many reasons, including too much weight from flowers, too much moisture, too much shade, or overly rich soil.  A number of plants may simply be cut back, pinched, or sheared to keep their height under control without loss of blooms.  Goldenrod, asters, balloon flower, tall daisy species, catmint, and Boltonia fall into that category.  Other plants should not be cut back but staked or caged instead to avoid damaging flower buds.  Lilies, hollyhocks, foxgloves, and Crocosmias fall into this latter category.

Pinch back fall-blooming perennials, specifically chrysanthemums and asters, before mid-July to keep their overall dimensions under control and to prevent them from setting buds before fall.  Do not pinch back these plants after mid-July because they won’t have enough time to set new flower buds for the fall.

Neatly edge flower beds and replenish mulch as needed.  This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to make your garden look fresh and inviting.

Monitor moisture levels.  July is often the hottest month of the year and typically one of the driest.  So, in the absence of adequate rainfall, provide supplemental water to plants as needed.  Be water-wise and use drip irrigation or a hand-held hose or watering can to water slowly and deeply at the base of each plant.  Infrequent deep watering is generally best for established plants.  This encourages them to send their roots deeper into the soil, which helps them become more drought tolerant.   Plants that are becoming established in the landscape should receive about an inch of water per week.  Newly installed trees and shrubs may require more water, particularly during their first year or two in the ground.

Keep the garden from looking crowded and overgrown.  Dividing some of those overgrown perennial clumps and thinning them out will improve the overall appearance of your garden.  While fall is preferable for dividing most perennials, some, such as bearded Irises, may be safely divided in summer in the absence of a drought.   If you do attempt to divide your perennials in the summer, choose a cool, cloudy, or overcast day to do it.  Water the plants deeply the day or evening before so that they are well hydrated.  Dig them up, divide them, and plant the divisions right away so that the roots don’t dry out.  Cover the root zone with mulch to cool the soil and help retain moisture.  Give the divisions some protection from the sun while they become established.  Shade cloth or a row cover or even an old umbrella tilted at an angle can provide huge benefits as temporary protection from strong sunlight.  Water early in the day for maximum benefit to the plants and continue to keep them well watered for the remainder of the summer.

Check containerized plantings daily for sufficient moisture levels.  Potting soil dries out at the surface, but it may be wet deeper in the pot.  Stick your finger into the soil about two inches.  If the soil at the tip of your finger feels dry, then add water.  Water the soil – not the leaves.  Bear in mind that plants have different moisture needs.  Succulents, for example, prefer to be kept on the drier side whereas many annuals prefer evenly moist soil.  How often you need to water will depend on the planting medium used, the type of container, the amount of sunlight, and the plants themselves.

Weeding – This task never fails to be included on every “to do” gardening maintenance list during the growing season.  It is one of those never-ending chores that most ornamental gardeners detest. But here’s why it’s important:  Weeds compete with ornamental plants for moisture and nutrients plus they have an amazing capacity for self-preservation.  For example:

  • Oxalis (Yellow wood sorrel) – This prolific annual weed is highly successful at reproducing itself. It looks innocent enough with its tiny yellow flowers and clover-leaf shaped foliage.  But the flowers give way to seed capsules, which explode, throwing the seed several feet away.
  • Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense), Ohio State Weed Lab,

    Horse Nettle – This perennial weed reproduces by seed as well as by an extensive root system. If you dig it out of your garden (rather than use an herbicide), remove the entire root.  Any root fragments left in the soil can remain viable for years and will wait patiently to sprout until growing conditions are ideal.

  • Crabgrass – A summer annual, this weed certainly qualifies as one of the top ten nuisances in both the lawn and the ornamental garden. It germinates from mid-spring to mid-summer and reproduces by setting seeds and by rooting at the lower joints.  To control it, dig it out by the roots and make sure you get every bit of the plant.

Tackle these and other weeds when they are small, easy to pull, and less likely to require an herbicide to control them.


Powdery mildew – This easily recognized fungus appears as white or grayish talcum powder-like spots or splotches, usually on the upper sides of leaves. Powdery mildew affects a wide range of plants including crape myrtles, lilacs, garden phlox, sunflowers, zinnias, and dahlias, just to name a few.  To avoid the problem in the first place, buy healthy plants.  Select mildew-resistant varieties if possible.  Space new plantings far enough apart to allow good air circulation. Provide adequate moisture and nutrients to keep them healthy.  Remove any diseased plant material to help minimize the spread of fungal disease.  If only a few leaves are affected, little, if any, action may be required.  But if the problem is severe and a fungicide is called for, follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully before applying the product to the affected plant.

Aster Yellows – This highly contagious viral-like plant disease is caused by a phytoplasma, a tiny organism that is spread from plant to plant by sucking insects such as leaf hoppers. This disease affects more than 300 ornamentals, vegetables, and weeds.  It is characterized by chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves while the veins remain green), extreme leafy growth, and deformed flowers that often remain green or sometimes exhibit tufts of green foliage within a blossom or in place of a blossom. Some annuals and perennials affected by aster yellows include aster, coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, chrysanthemum, petunia, snapdragon, marigold, and zinnia.  Other than selecting plants that are immune to the disease, there is no effective cure for it. Remove the entire plant to prevent this disease from infecting other plants in your garden.  The aster yellows phytoplasma organism will not survive once the plant dies.


It’s a bug-eat-bug world out there and keeping insect populations under control is one of the gardener’s biggest challenges in summer.

Red spider mites are a type of arachnid and not true insects. They may be tiny, but they can do a lot of damage.  Pale, green coloration on foliage may be an indication of spider mite damage.  Roses, evergreen species, and marigolds are examples of plants prone to their damage.  To test for spider mites, hold a white sheet of paper underneath a leaf. Briskly tap the leaf to dislodge any suspected tiny, crawling red mites.  If they are present on the leaf, they will drop onto the paper.  A minor infestation can be remedied with a forceful, direct spray of water from a hose.  Severely infested annual plants should be removed and destroyed.

Aphids are a common pest of many ornamental plants as well as houseplants, vegetables, fruit trees and field crops.  These soft-bodied insects prefer succulent new shoots or young leaves. These pests have sucking mouth parts that allow them to suck juices from plant tissues.  While a mild Aphid infestation is not particularly harmful to a plant, a heavy infestation can stunt the growth of a shoot, cause slightly curled leaves, and delay the production of flowers and fruits.  In addition, Aphids secrete a substance called honeydew, which encourages the growth of an unsightly sooty mold on foliage and interferes with photosynthesis.  Fortunately, aphids have natural predators, such as lady beetles, parasitic wasps, lacewings, and damsel bugs, which help mitigate damage to plants.  Also, a sharp spray of water is usually sufficient to dislodge them from plants.   Asclepias tuberosa (milkweed), hibiscus, and Garden phlox are several plants that are often subject to aphid damage.  A fascinating fact about aphids is that they are capable of reproducing parthenogenetically – that is, without mating.  For more information on how that is possible and to learn about the relationship between aphids and ants, see Virginia Cooperative Extension publication ENTO-350NP on Aphids.

Not all bugs are pests.  Ground Beetles, for example, are the unsung heroes in the battle against garden insect pests.  Of this huge family of insects, approximately 2,500 species may be found throughout the United States.  Most ground beetles have shiny, sometimes iridescent, black, blue-black, brown, or green hard shells on flattened bodies with narrow heads.  They are equipped with large mandibles that they use to capture their prey.  These nocturnal creatures feed at night and hide during the day under mulch, leaves, rocks, boards, or logs.  They have wings but seldom fly, opting instead to scamper quickly away when disturbed.  Both the adult and larval forms of ground beetles have voracious appetites and prey on a variety of soil dwelling pests as well as plant and tree pests.

Earwigs are considered to be either beneficial insects or pests or both, depending on your point of view.   Anatomically, they are one of the stranger-looking insects in the garden.  Large pinchers emerge from the tips of their abdomens giving them a ferocious look.  Mostly nocturnal creatures, they feed on plants at night and hide during the day in moist, dark places, such as mulch, soil, plant debris and under rocks and boards. They are regarded as a nuisance because they feed on the flowers and foliage of a wide range of plants, leaving irregular holes or ragged edges.  Despite their destructive eating habits, earwigs do have some useful qualities.  They are omnivorous and help break down organic matter in compost piles.  They are natural predators of aphids, mites, nematodes, insect larvae, slugs, snails, and other slow-moving insects.  For more information, see VCE publication 3101-1527, Earwigs.

Japanese honeysuckle seedling. Note the different types of leaves. Photo: Cathy Caldwell

INVASIVE ALERT:  Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is an aggressive, fast-growing vine that is invasive throughout the entire eastern United states. It forms large tangles that smother and kill other vegetation.  Often found at the edge of a disturbance, such as a path or along the edge of woods, it prefers full sun but is highly adaptable and can thrive in shaded environments as well.  It drops its leaves in colder climates but can be semi-evergreen to evergreen in warmer climates.  It reproduces by seed or from runners.  For advice on when and how to control this invasive species, see the Invasive Plant Control Calendar, which was published in the May 2022 issue of The Garden Shed.  Also see the Blue Ridge Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) fact sheet for information on Japanese Honeysuckle.





Upcoming Events

Jul16, 2022

Garden Basics: Insects  July 16 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm      Free

Insects are an important part of your landscape. Recognize the value of a diverse insect population in your garden community. You will learn:

  • to identify common insects in your garden;
  • the life history of different insects;
  • how to appreciate and support biodiversity in the garden.

Garden Basics classes are free and presented in person at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1118 Preston Avenue in Charlottesville.

Registration closes July 15th. 

Garden Basics is a partnership with the Bread and Roses ministry at Trinity Church.


Tree Identification Walk:  Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards

@Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center at Darden Towe Park, Charlottesville

Saturday July 23rd at 9:00 a.m.  (Limit of 16 people)

Register here.


Urban Tree Walk in Belmont:  Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards

Friday, July 29th at 9:00 a.m.  ( Limit of 12 people)

Register here

Dogs in the Garden

You can live with a dog and be a happy gardener, too.  It just takes knowledge and planning.  Dog parents can build and maintain gardens that bring both themselves and their canine companions pleasure, fun, and a sense of inner peace and tranquility.  Adjust options and advice discussed below, depending on the way you and your companion will use your garden or yard.

Observe and Plan Accordingly

Observation and study will suggest to you what designs and plant selections are likely to work for both of you.  But while your dog can show you what she needs and prefers, the responsibility for interpretations and execution is in your hands.

Whether you’re designing a new garden or making adjustments to an established yard, understand the extent to which your dog will use the space.  Know your dog.  Breeds will differ in their propensities, and specific dogs of a specific breed will differ as well.  While all dogs share commonalities of behavior, some are more likely to patrol a fence and others are more likely to dig.  For your dog and you to enjoy the garden or yard, it should be a fun place for both of you.

Photo: Pixabay

You can train your dog to practice garden-friendly behaviors, but you may want to structure your garden to encourage those behaviors.  For example, you may decide to fence off a portion of a larger space for delicate plantings or you may decide to prevent damage through other design elements that won’t diminish your companion’s pleasure.    For instance, you might create protected areas with hedges or even dense plantings of woody shrubs or sturdy perennials to discourage browsing.  Some textures – such as pieces of pine cone (or whole cones) in mulch, large wood chips, some gravels, or rocks — create an unpleasant walking surface that may deter dogs.  Some gravels and rocks may also be especially good at discouraging digging as well as lounging.  Depending on your dog, any of these may be hazardous.  All will define a break between areas, which may help with training.  Bare spots left devoid of mulch or plantings will attract your dog’s attention as well as weeds.  Consider planting some raised beds.  Dogs usually perceive them as walls and they will elevate delicate plantings out of harm’s way. Container gardening is also a flexible option.

Photo: Pixabay

A dog’s sense of smell is profoundly better than ours; but there is no definitive research on the smells emanating from garden plants that reliably deter dogs. Some natural smells that have been long held to deter dogs are garlic and onion, but both plants are toxic to dogs.  Some suggest vinegar, but do not apply it to plants.  Citrus smells – oranges, lemons, and limes – may help,  and the scent of cayenne pepper is often mentioned.  Cayenne pepper can be harmful if swallowed and is a general irritant.  With little, if any, scientific confirmation, the “Scaredy Cat” plant or Coleus canina, with its skunk smell, is widely touted for repellent qualities.  On the other hand, some plants may be a sensory delight for your companion, these include violet, fennel, rosemary, peppermint, lemon thyme, catnip, and sage. Embrace this and create a separate garden of dog-safe edibles.  A diversity of walking (or running) surfaces, here and elsewhere, will add interest.

Not Everything is Good to Eat

Photo: Pixabay

Considerations of plant toxicity — as well as resilience to your dog’s curiosity and even appetite — should be important considerations in plant selection. Some plants are toxic to dogs, but some experts advise that many toxic plants generally do not taste good to them; most dogs do not single out azaleas and rhododendrons for a snack.  Both are poisonous.  Of course, generally the amount of a toxic plant consumed is important.  In addition to observing your dog’s daily behavior, examining feces is often a good way to become alert to problems.  Symptoms caused by the ingestion of toxic plant material might include vomiting, convulsions, drooling, diarrhea, extreme salivation, lethargy, decreased appetite, lack of coordination, a racing heart, shivering, and nausea or dry heaving.  When in doubt, immediately consult your veterinarian. While these symptoms may never afflict your canine companion, it is critical to be aware of the unfortunate possibility.

Lists of plants toxic to dogs, and other animals, are readily available online and in some of the sources listed at the end of this article.  Natural plant toxicity is not the only threat to dogs. Plants with thorns can hurt paw pads and scratch eyes.  Seeds from decorative grasses can endanger eyes and ears.  Even if gardens and plants are safe, we can make them dangerous with fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides.  Instead of these harmful chemicals, encourage the presence of beneficial insects, which some pesticides agents will kill, along with the intended victims. Read directions carefully and limit use and – better yet – fertilize with fish fertilizer, and use strong sprays of water and horticultural oil to control aphids and spider mites.  Finally, do not use slug and snail baits containing metaldehyde.

Levels of toxicity vary widely by plant and, as noted, sometimes large quantities must be eaten to cause harm.   For this and other information, consult the encyclopedic American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Poisonous Plants: Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List [dogs, cats, horses] as well as the American Kennel Club, Poisonous Plants for Dogs: A Full List and Fruits and Vegetables Dogs Can or Can’t Eat.

The examples that follow are offered only to spark your curiosity.  Levels of toxicity as well as toxicity associated with plant structures or parts are not given.  Note that bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers can be especially dangerous.  Regarding the examples that follow and others, check and double-check each selection you make in the above sources.  Among common non-toxic plants are abelia, daylily, tiger lily, Easter lily, marigold, petunia, zinnia, and sunflower.  Among common toxic plants are autumn crocus, begonia, boxwood, bluebell, chrysanthemum, daffodil, daisy, granny’s bonnet (Aquilegia vulgaris),  hyacinth, hibiscus, hydrangea, foxglove, geranium, iris, oleander, peony, rose of Sharon, spring crocus bulbs, and tulip.  Toxic shrubs and trees include American holly, English holly, Japanese holly and Chinese holly, chinaberry, ficus, avocado, and yew.  The Piedmont’s ubiquitous crepe myrtle and dogwood are not toxic.  Some sources have reported the latter’s berries as harmful to dogs, with the ingestion of large amounts causing vomiting and diarrhea.   It is common for dogs to eat grass. Sometimes they do it out of boredom; in some cases, it may indicate a nutritional deficiency. Finally, even the ingestion of non-toxic plant material can result in stomach upset.

Fruits and Vegetables

If you plan to install or already have a vegetable garden, there are many non-toxic things to plant and many plants to avoid.  For any garden, a fence is always the ultimate safety measure, short of exclusion.  Defecation and urination in a garden in which human food is grown is a health risk.  Toxic herbs and vegetables include chives, onions, chamomile, garlic, hops, leeks, oregano, some parsleys, and rhubarb.  Among other toxic plants are cherries, grapes, and tomato leaves and stems and green tomatoes. Edibles include apple (remove seeds and core), peach (thoroughly remove the pit), pear (remove the pit), and pumpkin.  The leaves of fruit trees present a danger because a chemical present at ingestion metabolizes into cyanide.  Fallen leaves in the fall are most dangerous.

Considerations for a Shared Habitat

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

There are many things to consider for your shared habitat.  Things that make you happy will make your dog happy as well, for instance:  shade, water (for pleasure and hydration), and shelter from wind and rain.  Paths can make travel across a large space efficient for canine and human alike; but a path that forces your dog to take an inefficient route to a favorite space may be ignored to whatever extent possible. However, for art’s sake, you can play with your dog’s navigation by building a snaking path that incorporates within its boundaries a straight line to her habitual destination.  Further, consider that some path surfaces may become too hot in the height of summer.

Some mulch beds may present unanticipated danger. For instance, cocoa bean mulch might prove deadly if ingested in large quantity. It has an enticing rich chocolate scent but contains theobromine.  Symptoms of poisoning are similar to those experienced from chocolate ingestion: vomiting and diarrhea and, in instances of significant consumption, muscle tremors and other signs of neurological distress.   If your pal is an indiscriminate eater, consider another option.  Cedar, cypress, and pine are good mulch choices. Some dogs may be sensitive to dyes and any mulch with sharp edges can be hazardous, especially if swallowed. Discourage mulch chewing.

Even the spacing of deck boards can be hazardous.  Your dog’s name tag might become wedged between them, pinning her.  Be sure deck material is safe.  The space between railings can be hazardous, too.

Deep-water features can be deadly as well, if there is not a way for a dog to leave them.  Also, discourage drinking from ponds. Something as simple as an ultra-safe kiddie play pool will provide your companion with hydration and seemingly limitless hours of fun.  To that play pool, add some or all of the following: toys, a dig-pit, a den, a pad for sleep or rest, a run, a tunnel, and some snacks or even meals and you have a dog resort!   Play and landscape features and structures for a dog, which may be purchased or built, can be portable for optimal positioning.  Add your interaction as trainer and camp counselor, playmate, and masseur and everyone will have fun. Remember, if your dog is bored in the garden she may create a more interesting space on her own – and you may not approve!  Dogs love to run, so be certain to allow space for fetching, sprinting, and endless and varied kinetic eruptions.  Finally, don’t let “bugs” spoil the fun: fleas and ticks lurk in leaf litter and tall grasses, while mosquitoes breed in standing water. Rake, cut, and empty as appropriate.

Hide or Camouflage

In your design, you can use plants to hide things, from a fence to a trash bin.  Vines, for instance, can turn a fence into a trellis and bushes can hide a path worn deep along a fence line by your dog’s patrolling.  In some locations, creating a solid barrier will limit or eliminate external distractions.  It will also afford more security.  Hide your compost bin, but even more importantly, secure it.  Ingestion of its contents can kill.

Dogs and Lawns

Photo: Pixabay

Some dog feces and urine can be a fertilizer, but concentrated amounts will burn your lawn. Nitrogen is the culprit.  When your dog squats while eliminating, only a small area is targeted, but concentration – not volume — is the problem.   Lawns that are highly-fertilized are especially vulnerable to nitrogen overdose.  Female dogs are most likely to squat; but male dogs are most likely to spray.  This can reduce the impact on your lawn,; but puts trees, shrubs, and other plants at risk.  The greater the urine dilution, the less the potential lawn damage.  While you will find advice on ways to dilute urine, the safest way is to increase the water in your dog’s food.  The same principle applies when you see urination occur; heavily irrigate the area as soon as possible.  Feces are not as destructive.  The nitrogen is released slowly and the possibility for removal exists.  Often the surrounding grass will close the spot; otherwise, sod or seed the affected area.

Be prepared for lawn damage by growing “replacement” turf.  You might also grow grass or oats in a pot for your dog to nibble on.  In fact, when considering salad for your pal, think of planting a garden for her comprised of some canine-safe edible herbs (mentioned previously): violet, fennel, rosemary, peppermint, catnip, lemon thyme, and sage.

Short of training your dog to eliminate on her walks (poop and pee responsibly and carry a poop bag), establish a comfortable and easily- cleaned elimination place, surfaced with rocks or safe mulch, and train and encourage her to use it.  Appropriately sized pea gravel (small rounded, very smooth stones the size of a pea, available in sizes) can be a functional surface for toilet areas as well as for walks and dog runs.  Based on the size of your dog, a pea gravel size should be selected which will not become wedged in paw pads.  Note that pea gravel can become hot in the sun.  For male dogs especially, include a pee post. To put the odds in your lawn’s favor, plant grass that is resistant to dog urine.  Tall fescue is a good choice. For a deep dive into dog pee and your lawn, read Dr. Steve Thompson, DVM, Dog-On-It” Lawn Problems.

It’s Up to You!

Gardens and yards can be places of joy and rejuvenation.  They can be all this and more for you and your canine companion with a little planning.  This article, and the sources listed below, invite you to learn about dog-friendly gardening.   Be limited to neither; your dog is depending on you!




Bush, Karen.  Dog-friendly Gardening: Creating a Safe Haven for You and Your Dog.  Hubble & Hattie, 2012.

Shelbourne, Toni and Karen Bush.  Help!  My Dog is Destroying the Garden: How to Have a Garden Friendly Dog.  Copyright Toni Shelbourne and Karen Bush. Ebook. Available from Amazon 2017. 

Barthel, Tom.  Dogscaping: Creating the Perfect Backyard & Garden for You and Your Dog.  BowTie Press, 2009.

Smith, Cheryl S.  Dog Friendly Gardens: Garden Friendly Dogs.  Dogwise Publishing, 2004.

Web Resources

American Kennel Club.  Fruits and Vegetables Dogs Can or Can’t Eat. 

American Kennel Club. Poisonous Plants for Dogs: A Full List

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).  Poisonous Plants: Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List [dogs, cats, horses]. 

Colorado State University Extension.  Dog Urine Damage on Lawns: Causes, Cures and Prevention.  CMG GardenNotes #553. 

Goatley, Mike, Jr.  (Virginia Cooperative Extension).  “What grass should I use for my lawn?”  Crop and Soil Environment News (March 2008). 

Michigan State University Extension.  Growing Fruits and Vegetables for Your Dog. 

Michigan State University Extension.  Cocoa Mulch and Dogs

The National Wildlife Federation.  Create a Dog-Friendly Wildlife Garden.  

Pennsylvania State University Extension.  Petscaping: Creating a Pet-Friendly Garden

Piedmont Master Gardeners.  Virginia Cooperative Extension.  Best Turf Grasses for Central Virginia

PETMD.  How to Keep Dog Pee from Ruining Your Lawn

River Road Veterinary Clinic.  Norwich, Vermont.  Compost Toxicity in Dogs.

Thompson, Steve, DVM.  “Dog-On-It” Lawn Problems. 

University of Maryland Extension.  Dog Urine Damage on Lawns

Walther, Richard, DVM.  What Vegetables Can Dogs Eat? A List of Good (& Bad) Veggies for Dogs. 



Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening is rapidly turning into a trend, but it did not grab my attention until I learned that a much-admired vegetable gardener in my neighborhood had taken it up.  Not only had she taken it up, she’d had great success with it.  Then it came to my attention that a couple other gardeners I know had been straw-bale gardening.   Why had these gardeners made the switch?  As you’ll see from the interviews summarized below, there were some pretty compelling reasons.

Polly Hawkes 

Cathy Caldwell (“GS”):   Why did you decide to try straw bale gardening?

Polly Hawkes (“PH”):   I was interested in it because of massive garden failures I have had in years past related to viruses and pests. I heard about straw bale gardening on a podcast from “Joe Gardener” (Joe  The premise is that you create basically “sterile” soil in the straw bales when you “condition” them— without the viruses and fungi that linger in regular garden soil for years. Also supposedly, the bugs aren’t as likely to climb up the straw bale and get to the plants.

GS:   How did you get started?

PH:   After listening to that podcast, I bought the suggested book by Joel Karsten who apparently pioneered the practice.  I followed the procedure outlined in the podcast and by Mr. Karsten in his book, Straw Bale Gardens: Breakthrough Method for Growing Vegetables Anywhere, Earlier and with No Weeding.  

GS:  In a nutshell, what is the procedure and how did it work out?

PH: There is a fair amount of work at the front end —  “conditioning” the bales on a daily basis by adding granular fertilizer — I use organic fertilizer — on top of each bale and thoroughly watering it in.  But since that process produces heat, I was able to plant earlier and cover the plants if there was a frost warning. The care after planting is minimal but frequent. The bales must be watered every day but with only about a gallon of water per bale.

Polly harvested these tomatoes from her straw bales on June 21. Photo: Polly Hawkes

When we are away, I set up a sprinkler. Although it is not ideal to water from the top because the leaves get wet and may invite fungi and viruses, I had little problem with that. Using the sprinkler on a timer set to go off for about 30 minutes every morning did just fine.

Last year was my first attempt and I had great success with tomatoes, especially the heirloom ones, but not so much with squash. Those squash beetles found their way very quickly and I only got ONE squash that wasn’t damaged by “critters.”  This year, I have already harvested my first tomatoes!

I did a bit of research on the “conditioning” process and learned that watering basically turns the straw bale into a compost pile.  But the bales need a nutritional boost from nitrogen, which is another reason for the fertilizer.  As one expert explained it:

Like any composting process, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen will speed up the natural composting process, allowing beneficial bacteria and fungi to do the work. A straw bale has a large amount of carbon already in it, so nitrogen will need to be added to get the composting started. Rapid composting is preferable so that the bale is still intact and acts as a natural container. This usually can be accomplished in just a few weeks.

— Alabama Ext/

My research indicated that the conditioning process takes about two to three weeks.  All that watering can lead to the growth of mushrooms, which could be poisonous, so they should NOT be eaten.  Another word of caution:  the heat created by conditioning can be pretty intense, so unless you want to fry your transplants or seeds, you have to allow a few days of cooling before planting.  Newbies should follow one of the detailed day-by-day schedules found in the Sources section below.  

Tomatoes in straw bale garden. Photo: Polly Hawkes


Rebecca Trexler 

Rebecca has had excellent tomato harvests with her straw bales, and is trying peppers and bush beans this year.  For the conditioning process, Rebecca uses organic fertilizer, and plants seeds or transplants into a bit of  her own homemade compost.  When I learned this, I did a bit of research and found that while it’s possible to place the plants into the conditioned straw bale, most gardeners surround the plant with a bit of potting soil or compost. A sterilized medium is recommended by one expert, but most do not make this specification.  Use of a potting medium is also recommended for gardeners who wish to start seeds in the top of the bale.

GS:  How are your straw bale gardens doing?

RT: Everything is looking great so far—tomatoes are bushy and have flowers, and the peppers and beans are looking strong and healthy. The bad thing this year is that the bales are full of volunteer tomato seeds so I won’t know until later if these are seeds I planted or just random sprouts from my compost!  Next year I’ll put a potting mix layer on top of the bales to start my seeds and then add compost once things are growing.

The cucumbers I put in from seeds are still really small so we’ll see how they work.  As you can see, all the bales look like a bunch of chia pets!  In the past, they’ve sprouted a few green straw shoots but never this bad. Oh well, I pull as much as I can and put it around the edges for a kind of mulch!

Beginning of the season. Photo: Rebecca Trexler

New this year: I stole an idea from the podcaster Joe Gardener, who makes tomato cages out of cattle panels. Instead of cages, I have two panels on either side of my line of bales with posts to keep them up. They are really sturdy and I can easily get my hand through them. I’m also hoping they will keep the deer from eating the tomatoes since I don’t have any fencing to keep them out.

GS:   You seem to have learned a lot from your experiences so far. What recommendations would you give a gardener just starting out with straw bale gardening?

RT:   I’d say just give it a try. I had success the first year and learned from that, particularly about what worked in my yard to keep them on mostly level ground and with easy access for watering.

Photo: Rebecca Trexler


Dabney Farmer

Dabney has been growing a wide variety of vegetables in straw bales for several years.  I had been observing the development of her enchanting “fairy garden” in the front yard, but only recently learned that she was a vegetable gardener, too.

GS:  What are you growing in your bales?

DF:  Tomatoes, peppers, beans, and pumpkins.

I noticed that the pumpkins — and some other plants, too — were growing out of the sides of some of Dabney’s bales, and Dabney explained that this enabled the vines to “run” along the ground.  My research indicated that some gardeners plant the sides of bales with flowers or herbs, but this was a first!

Dabney’s straw bales with pumpkins growing from the sides. Photo: Cathy Caldwell

GS:  Do you get new bales each spring?

DF:  Yes, but it’s important to get straw, not hay.

Straw Bales, NOT Hay Bales.  Dabney’s comment led to some research explaining this important distinction.  There are a couple important differences between hay and straw bales.  First, hay is grown from pasture grass and may have viable seeds that sprout into grass weeds in your bale; that’s not nearly as likely with straw, which is the byproduct of grain production. Second,  a hay bale is more likely to contain herbicide residues, which can damage your crop.   Hay farmers are more likely to spray their fields with a herbicide; it’s against agricultural regulations for grain farmers to use persistent chemicals, though that’s not a guarantee.  However, nurseries and garden centers often carry straw bales, and they have usually made certain their supplier’s bales are pesticide-free.

GS:  What advice would you give to gardeners who are just trying straw bale gardening for the first time?

DF:  Don’t place your bales on a deck because the water will damage it.  Be sure they get a lot of sun.

These three straw bale gardeners infected me with their enthusiasm, and I expect you’ll have the same reaction.  A straw bale can function as a type of raised bed as well as a growing medium.  And it makes vegetable gardening possible — and more successful — in problem soils.


Straw Bale Gardens Complete: Breakthrough Method for Growing Vegetables Anywhere, Earlier and with No Weeding (Joel Karsten, Cool Springs Press; 2nd edition, 2019)

“Using Cereal Straw Bales in Home Gardens,”Washington State Ext,  (downloadable free online)  (Linda Chalker-Scott, Associate Professor in Horticulture, Washington State University)

“Gardening in Straw Bales: An Easy & Inexpensive Solution to Make Growing Food More Accessible for All,” Joe Gardener Podcast No. 148, ( Joe L’amp’l)

“Straw Bale Gardening,” York/Poquoson Master Gardeners/VA

“Straw Bale Gardening,” Washington State University/Benton County Extension (2013)

“Straw Bale Gardening,” & Garden Information Center