New to Virginia gardening

BuggalinaJuJuBee(BayArea CA 9/14)February 14, 2011

Hi everyone!

My sister is moving into a place in Alexandria, VA. She will have a decent sized raised bed for gardening. She wants to grow some veggies and herbs, plus annuals in pots.

I am a gardener in Northern California, Bay Area. Can you guys provide me with some general basics so I know where to steer her? She obviously has a shorter growing season than I do. But what good bits of advice and information can a share with her? What will do well for her to start off with? What is the timing on plantings? She gets her place in early April.



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Hi Julie.

I'm originally from San Ramon in the east bay, it's a bit different in VA. It sounds like she'll arrive right in time to plant after the last frost. I found Southern Exposure Seed Exchange's catalog to be a great resource as well as a great place to order seeds. They put a sun symbol next to all plant varieties that can handle the weather in the mid Atlantic region (cold winter, hot humid summers). The catalog also has a page with recommended planting dates for the mid-Atlantic region.

The biggest difference I have found from the east bay and VA is cilantro and powdery mildew. Cilantro grew wild in our yard in CA. I have to get it in early here or it goes to seed immediately. Due to the humid summers things tend to mildew. Selecting varieties of plants (especially squash and cucumber) with good resistance to powdery mildew is key as well as getting them up off the ground. I also can't grow spinach to save my life. I'm going to try malabar spinach instead. It's a hot weather green.

Hope your sister enjoys VA!


    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 8:49PM
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I had to get used to the seasons here. I grew up in PA, but it's so different! The thing to remember about winter is that there will always be a few days of warm weather in the middle of winter. So get your supplies and wait for it. Don't hit the stores when the warm spell hits, or you will spend it in line. Then spring is a period of ups and downs. Early blooms are risky in anything not frost hardy. There are plenty of warm spells, but frost free isn't until May. Although Alexandria is a tad warmer than Fairfax. Watch out for pollen season in April. It can be brutal. May and June are excellent for growing, July is hotter, and August is too hot. In PA all summer is growing season, but here growing in August takes effort. Herbs may take the heat but need humidity/mildew resistance. It's like there's a spring growing season, an August rest, and a fall growing season.

Tell your sister welcome!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2011 at 6:38AM
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I haven't been able to grow cilantro successfully either, or either parsley's (flat & curly)? Basil goes crazy, thyme and oregano, marjoram, mints all good. Would like ideas on parsley and cilantro, I use it quite a bit. What are some other herbs that grow good here. I grow mine in containers and am thinking of putting them in the ground within a combined bed of other plantings this season. How does everyone else grow their herbs?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 9:35AM
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Oregano, basil, parsley, chives, mints, cilantro all do well for me. Up against the south side of the house in a raised bed. The roof eave keeps offs a good amount of the rain water and I don't water the herbs nearly as much as I do the veggies. Dill didn't do very well for me last year, but then again I was out of room in the herb garden and had to plant it in with the veggies.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 10:06AM
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coffeehaus(7a Central VA)

The mid-Atlantic climate requires a different approach to crops such as spinach and cilantro. You've got to make the winter work for you. So, in September, plant seeds of cilantro and spinach. These seeds require warm temps for germination, but grow best in cool weather. The spinach will germinate in the fall and enter a state of suspended animation all winter. (If you want to get fancy, you could put a low hoop-house over it, but not necessary). Then, come March, it will go mega and you will have enough spinach to eat, cook, freeze, share, bathe in, whatever. As for cilantro, what does not start up in the fall will germinate in the spring, and yes, it will bolt once the weather warms, but let it work for you: let it go to seed, and die back, and you will be rewarded with another crop in the fall and hundreds of little seedlings again in the spring...with no effort on your part. At this moment, my garden is about 50% cilantro plants, and we have to pull them up like weeds to plant the main season crops of corn, beans, etc., but since they are annuals, it's easy. The cilantro flowers have the added advantage of attracting beneficial insects to your garden. No, you probably will not have cilantro in July or August when your tomatoes are begging to be made into salsa, but plan ahead and freeze cilantro pesto in ice cube trays...pop a cube in with your chopped tomatoes, lime juice, chilies, onions and garlic for your own version of salsa cruda. Ditto for dill...let it go to seed and sit back and enjoy the fruits of your non-labor when the numerous little dill seedlings sprout the following Spring. Garlic is also a fall planted crop here.
Here's a link to fall planting from Va. Tech.

Here is a link that might be useful: VPI table for planting

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 8:51PM
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Hi Julie,

I have been running my own landscape design business for 13 years. I would love to help your sister out. Please go to my website at

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 1:02PM
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