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Garden Plot: Shutdown holds orchid show hostage

Friday - 10/4/2013, 10:31am  ET

Garlic is great to grow in the winter. In this week's Garden Plot, Mike McGrath tells you all you need to know to grow cloves in your garden. (Getty Images)

Plant garlic where your tomatoes were

WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath


Federal shutdown endangers orchids

You can add orchids to the long list of things endangered by the federal shutdown. Yes, I said orchids. The National Capital Orchid Society has been staging a huge show and sale -- one of the largest on the East Coast -- over Columbus Day Weekend for the past 65 years. But this year's event may have to be moved at the last minute or canceled altogether if the shutdown keeps the U.S. National Arboretum closed.

The free three-day event features thousands of exotic orchids on display and for sale, with orchid experts aplenty on hand to dish out advice on how to successfully care for one of nature's greatest wonders. It's scheduled for next Saturday, Oct. 12, through Monday, Oct. 14, at the arboretum...if it's open. For up-to-the-minute info, visit the society's website.

But the rose show will go on

Kathryn George of Gaithersburg writes: "About 14 years ago, a garden report on WTOP announced the dates for that year's Potomac Rose Society Fall Show. It sounded like fun, so I went, came to join the society, and now request that you announce the 75th Annual Potomac Rose Society Rose Show, which will be held next Saturday and Sunday the 12th and 13th at Merrifield Garden Center's Fair Oaks location in Fairfax."

Our pleasure, Kathryn. (You almost make it sound like it's also our fault, somehow…)

The show is free, open to the public next Saturday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. and features the finest specimens of roses grown by professionals and talented amateurs in our region. The society will also have "consulting rosarians" on duty to answer your questions about America's favorite flower. Ahem: Organic answers, we trust.

Here's a link to the society's website.

And here's the full program for the show.

Warm weather means there's still time to sow grass seed

Wai in Rockville writes: "Is it too late to put down grass seed? I have a decent lawn, with some thin to bare areas, and my thought is to go over it a few times with a rented "verticutter," sow the fresh seed and then rake some compost on top."

Well Wai, in many previous seasons, you would have missed the window to sow seed. But this ridiculously warm weather-forecast to continue for quite some time is keeping the soil nice and warm for speedy germination.

But rather than cut slits in your soil with that rented machine, I'd instead put a nice amount of compost down over the entire lawn (raking in an inch of compost is the absolute best way to feed your lawn for the fall), sow matching seed in the areas that need help, gently rake the seed into the compost and then keep it all well-watered.

Now, the eminent arrival of Tropical Storm Karen is suddenly making that watering much more interesting than any of would like. Until recently, rain was expected to be scarce in the week to come, so my original advice was to use a gentle spray to soak the seeded areas - gently - for half an hour every morning until the seed sprouts, which should only take about five days. That's still the best non- hurricane advice.

But now it looks fairly certain that any seed sown this weekend will be naturally watered on Monday and perhaps too heavily for comfort at times. So DO still water after seeding, and if the prediction is for heavy rains to start fast, spray the newly seeded areas down a bit in advance of the rain if possible. Washouts most often occur when heavy rain hits hard, dry soil, and although it may seem counter- intuitive, slightly moist soil can absorb heavy rains better than dry.

And make sure you have extra seed on hand. If some of your fine work does get washed away sow some more seed after the rain.

Then, when (if) things get normal again, water deeply once a week when we don't get rain during the growing season; cut with a sharp blade; and never cut lower than 3 inches.

Deer in the D.C. area? And just how did this happen?

Dawn in Stafford is shocked -- shocked -- to learn that there are deer in her neighborhood. Even worse, the cruel beasts have plundered her personally. She writes: "I put some mums and pansies in my front yard, but all the flowers were quickly eaten. How can I keep the deer from eating my flowers? They come right into my front yard -- right between the houses, which are only 20-feet from the street! When I come outside, they didn't even run away! How can I have any flowering plants in my yard?"

Well, there are lists of plants "that deer eat last," but they'll even chow down on those if they get hungry enough, Dawn. The only sure way to keep deer out of your landscape is with specialized "invisible" fencing that's 11-inches taller than Shaquille O'Neal.

Otherwise, you can protect individual plants with deer repellent sprays. Look for products with high concentrations of putrescent egg solids as their active ingredient, rotate between several brands, and reapply after rain (or tooth marks).

Motion activated sprinklers (like "The Scarecrow" brand) can be very effective at keeping them out of fairly large landscaped areas -- at least until freezing weather comes.

But you can't ever let your guard down. Each deer eats six to eight pounds of greenery a day, and your deer have clearly become much too comfortable around people. As the saying goes, "they know where you live..."

Time to get garlic in the ground

Home-grown tomatoes and peppers are great, but I don't enjoy growing them half as much as I enjoy growing garlic. Part of that enjoyment comes from using that portion of my garden space productively over the winter. Some comes from the fact that garlic practically grows itself. But the biggest enjoyment is the superb taste of home-grown garlic --there's just nothing like it.

So get some planting garlic from a local farmer's market, garden center or catalog (not conventional garlic from a regular supermarket. It's been treated with a sprouting inhibitor). Carefully break open a bulb and separate out the cloves. Then plant each clove (butt-end down/pointy end up -- if you can't figure this part out, you shouldn't be allowed outdoors without supervision) six-inches deep and six-inches apart in your richest soil.

Mulch the planting area (raised beds work great for garlic in our region) with some shredded leaves after the soil freezes hard, and then let the garlic do the work. Next season, you'll harvest a big head full of cloves from each little clove you planted.

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