Category Archives: Horticulture

Keeping Your Lawn Healthy This Winter, part 2

The fescue and/or bluegrass lawn that is so prevalent in Henrico is reliably winter hardy. However, while well adapted to winter, these cool season turf varieties may be injured in cold weather. There are a number of things that you can do and also not do to minimize the risk of winter turf damage.


Winter Weed Control: Maintaining a vigorous turfgrass stand will protect against weed infestation. However, during the winter months turfgrasses are not actively growing and are, therefore, susceptible to the encroachment of winter annual broadleaf weeds. Winter annuals germinate in the late summer and early fall months, live during the winter and die in the latespring or early summer with the onset of high temperatures. Examples include annual bluegrass, common chickweed, purple deadnettle and henbit.

Controlling winter annual broadleaf weeds before they are able to set seed will not only reduce the likelihood of an outbreak the following year, but improve the aesthetic quality of the turfgrass stand.

Control of winter annuals includes removing plants now by hoeing or hand pulling. Broadleaf herbicides can also be effective if used while the weed is actively growing or before the weed flowers in spring. Realize herbicides are not effective at cold temperatures. Generally postemergence herbicides are used when temperatures are > 50o F. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.

Voles: Voles will make runways under lasting snow cover in lawns as they feed on grass blades and roots and are protected from predators. Damage is frequently mistaken as mole damage, but moles are not active during winter and actually tunnel below the soil surface. Vole damage appears as runways or winding trails of damaged grass. Lawns usually fill-in as conditions warm in spring. A winter without lasting snow is an excellent avenue of free vole control, as vole activity on exposed lawn areas will be greatly reduced without the protection provided by the snow.

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

Keeping Your Lawn Healthy This Winter, part 1

The fescue and/or bluegrass lawn that is so prevalent in Henrico is reliably winter hardy. However, while well adapted to winter, these cool season turf varieties may be injured in cold weather. There are a number of things that you can do and also not do to minimize the risk of winter turf damage.


Proper Fall Fertilizer: Did you fertilize correctly in the fall? In Henrico, the last date to apply fertilizer is the end of November. Fertilization during the winter period leads to higher potential leaching and runoff risk of the nutrients.

Final Cut: The final cut of the season should be on the lower recommendation for height for fescue or bluegrass. That would make your final cut of the year at 3” height. This keeps your grass from getting too tall and having those tall blades that flop over on itself which can promote diseases. After your final mowing, put you lawn mower to rest for the winter by having the blade sharpened and performing a tune-up.

Stay off Frozen Turf: Trafficking on frost or ice-covered turf usually results in extensive physical “breaking” of the leaves. The xylem and phloem tissues that are involved in moving water, nutrients, and carbohydrates around in the plant are usually severed when traffic is applied to ice-covered foliage. The damaged turf leaf blades don’t fall away completely from the stem, but instead slowly turn brown and die. So follow the practice of golf courses and stay off frost covered or frozen turf. It is OK to go on turf covered by snow. The snow will help cushion and protect the blade from damage as well as protect it from extreme cold.

Stay off Overly Saturated Turf: Winter rains or melting snow can make your lawn saturated with water. When this happens, stay off the turf to avoid compaction. Remember that you just aerated the lawn in the fall to improve compaction in the lawn; do not undo that work now by walking over overly saturated turf.

Be Careful with Ice Melt Materials: Standard ice melt compounds are usually some form (or combination of) chloride-based salts. Limited use of any of these products should cause little injury. Problems begin when they are used excessively and there is not adequate rainfall to wash or leach the material from the area. We are often prone to over applying ice melt just to make sure the ice and snow melts. Keep in mind this can damage concrete surfaces as well as the plants and grass growing along the walks and driveways. If problems develop, they are normally latent and do not show up until spring or summer

World Soils Day, December 5, 2017

World Soil Day (WSD) is held annually on December 5th as a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and advocating for the sustainable management of soil resources.   An international day to celebrate Soil was recommended by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) in 2002.

A soil test can provide information on the proper amount of lime and fertilizer to apply to your lawn, garden and other areas of your landscape.  When gardeners apply only as much lime and fertilizer as is necessary and at the appropriate time, nutrient runoff into surface or ground water is minimized, money is saved, and plant health is optimized. Soil testing can also be used to diagnose common nutrient deficiencies for plants that are growing poorly.  Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends that the soil be tested every three years.

More than a third of garden samples tested by the Virginia Tech Soil Lab have too much lime, creating an alkaline soil that can cause micro-nutrient deficiencies in plants, yet many gardeners blindly add lime to their garden and lawn yearly.

So Don’t Guess, Soil Test!

Soil testing is easy and simple.  It can be done anytime the soil is workable.  Kits are free, however, there is a fee for processing the test and postage to mail to the soil lab at Virginia Tech.  In order to promote the practice of soil testing, the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District has established a soil test incentive program to offset the cost of soil analysis for Henrico County residents. Henricopolis will provide up to 2 coupons per household to cover the $10.00 processing fee for a standard soil test (not including postage).  People wishing to participate in this incentive program must request a soil test voucher. Vouchers are available by email or in-person at the Henricopolis SWCD office.  Emails must include your name, physical address, and number of vouchers requested (maximum of 2 per household).  Email requests to

Soil Test kits may be obtained from the Henrico Extension Office or at your local Henrico Library.


Plant Profile: Lycoris

 Carlton Hines, 2017 Henrico Master Gardener Intern

Lycoris is a flowering plant and perennial herb from the Amaryllis family. It is known commonly as the resurrection lily, surprise lily, spider lily, and/or hurricane lily. It grows by bulb, and never bears leaves and flowers at the same time. Its leaves are strap or lance-shaped, its flowers contain three to six petals, and their fruits are either in the form of fleshy berries or dry capsules.

Photo Credit: By Blue Lotus – Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

Blue-green foliage grows in the fall through spring from a bulb, then dies back to the ground without a single bloom. After “taking much of the summer off” they suddenly erupt with growth. Within a 5-day period, they reach heights of 18 inches, boasting circular clusters of 2-inch-long flowers. The backward curving sepals and petals, combined with long, upwardly arcing pistols and stamens, resemble a spider. The flowers bloom for several weeks, coinciding with hurricane season. Only two species of Lycoris are readily available in the United States, which are Lycoris radiata and Lycoris squamigera.

Lycoris radiata are the least winter hardy species, growing in USDA Plant Hardiness zones 6-10. Bulbs require 9” spacing with the top ¼” exposed. They grow 12”-18” tall with an equal spread. Red, non-fragrant, showy flowers bloom between August and September in full sun to part shade with medium water requirements and medium maintenance. Flowers will prefer some shade in warmer climates. The naked flower scapes bear an umbel and 4-6 light coral red flowers. Leaves appear in fall, overwintering and lasting through spring. L. radiata are not prone to pest and insect damage.

Lycoris squamigera are more cold hardy, growing in USDA Plant Hardiness zones 5-9. Bulbs should be planted 5”-6” deep and spaced 6” apart. They grow 12”-18” tall with an equal spread. The naked flower scapes begin their growth in late summer to bear 4-7 funnel-shaped flowers that are fragrant and rose pink in color. Flowers bloom August to September in full sun or part shade with medium water requirements and low maintenance. L. squamigera is called the “magic lily” and is found typically in shady woodlands. Plants are not prone to pest and insect damage.

Photo Credit: By Namazu-tron (Self Shot) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bulbs are best grown in organically rich soil in a sheltered location. They are effectively planted in open woodland gardens or meadows, with annuals, perennials, and groundcovers. They should be mulched in winter. The bulbs are very durable, tolerating poor soil and dry or overly waterlogged conditions. They may take a few seasons to establish, but over time will naturalize by bulb-offsets.

In warmer regions, growth begins in fall, enduring through spring. In colder regions leaf growth starts in spring. Leaves die back without too much of a mess, leaving a nitrogen-rich food source for its bulb. Harsh winters may diminish flower hardiness, which can prevent them from flowering the following summer. If growing in pots, bulbs require a large growing space with potential for deep root development. Containers that are too small will cause “failure to thrive” syndrome and not flower at all.