The Wit and Wisdom of Andre Viette

By Susan Harris

The famous garden writer, nurseryman, and radio host Andre Viette delivered a whopping dose of his gardening “tips” to Homestead customers over the weekend and your intrepid blogger was writing as fast as she could.  The highlights:

Lawn
“Lawns are easy!”  All it takes to have a successful lawn are: cutting high (to at least 3″), watering deeply (not frequently), and using a good fertilizer.   He likes Espoma’s organic lawn fertilizer.

Planting
When planting trees or shrubs bought in pots, check the roots and if they’re pot-bound, slice off the bottom 1-2 inches of the root mass, and slice down the slides, too.  This will allow roots to move into the surrounding soil.

Viette says all this advice about not planting in summer is “hooey”.  His proof?  At his garden in St. Thomas he plants year-around, even in July, and it’s always hot there.   Good soil preparation and watering deeply are the keys to successful planting, even when it’s hot.

Declaring Maryland’s soil to be “absolutely awful,” he recommends amending the soil with organic matter (plus some starter fertilizer with beneficial mycorrhizal bateria).  But do NOT amend your clay soil with sand - because sand+ clay = cement.   And speaking of cement, he cited one North Carolina study that found most suburban soils to have the density of concrete.

Fertilization
He recommends against using synthetic fertilizers – they only last a few weeks in the soil, have been linked to watershed pollution, and cause rapid growth that leads to plant floppiness.  Organic fertilizers break down slowly.   (There’s more on his website about fertilizers.)

Bulbs
Choose “naturalizing” bulbs – conveniently listed on his website.  After all, why have 6-8 weeks of foliage for just one season of bloom?

Dividing Perennials
If  $35 seems like too much to pay for a single hosta, remember that it can be divided - something you can’t do to a  blue spruce.  In fact, he did the math and arrived at this amazing figure: if you divide a plant into three parts and keep doing that, after seven years you’ll have 2,187 of them!!  So if the recession has taken a bite out of your budget for plants, buy fewer but buy the best, then divide.  With good soil preparation, they’ll soon become huge.

Growing Tomatoes
Tomatoes – the most grown plant in the U.S. - need good soil and should also be relocated every year for disease prevention.   Unlike some of the modern hybrids, heirloom tomatoes are generally not disease-resistant.

Roses
The one rose that SAVED the rose business?  The Knockout, which blooms from May to frost, and is virtually disease-free.

Japanese Beetles
These voracious critters only eat 3 percent of garden plants -  roses, hibiscus, and a few others – so if you hate them, choose from the other 97 percent.   And another surprising statistic?  Traps for Japanese beetles have proven to cause up to 20 times the damage – because they attract them from far and wide.

Watering
“Everybody waters wrong,” Viette declared.  Those underground sprinkler systems are “Death!”  That’s because they’re set wrong, based on what’s best for golf courses.  Once established, you should never have to water your garden again. (Viette doesn’t water at all.)   When you DO water, make sure it’s gently and deeply.

Container Gardening
Contrary to the often-repeated advice to never re-use potting soil, Viette recommends simply replenishing it before re-using.  He dumps it in a pile, then adds compost, Plantone, Osmocote, green sand, plus some of that starter fertilizer with beneficial bacteria.

Climbing Hydrangeas Not Blooming?
Try a bloom boosting fertilizer that’s 50-60 percent phosphorus.

TRENDS IN GARDENING
With a weekly three-hour call-in show, Viette hears it all.  Lately he’s noted a shift in the gender of those callers, though – male callers now out-number female callers.   They’re younger, too.  “Gardening is BIG.”  And it’s no longer a matter of vegetable gardens versus ornamental gardens – now it’s cool to mix them up and have it all.

What’s hurting gardening most?  Deer.  They’re particularly hard on his beloved hostas and dayliles, though his biggest worry about deer are their ticks and the risk of Lyme disease.

Viette’s reaction to the native-plant advocates telling us not to plant “exotics”?  “‘It’s ridiculous!”  Then he calmed enough to explain:  “I get carried away because I love plants – and 93 percent of garden plants are from somewhere else.”   He remembered one occasion when, hearing butterfly bushes damned as a “horrible bush,” he stood up and yelled “I love buddleias,” and everyone cheered.   And the notion that native plants are easier than exotics?  Simply not true.  (Here’s a recent rant about the mistaken notion that natives are easier by a Baltimore horticulturist, who happens to also advocate for native plants.)  In fact, Asian plants often do better, and that’s the very reason they’re so popular.  DO grow the best natives, though – like ferns.

For more Viette wisdom, visit his info-filled website In the Garden Radio.

2 Responses to The Wit and Wisdom of Andre Viette

  1. I love going to Andre’s talk – his enthusiasm and love of gardening is infectious.

  2. Pingback: Blog your next in-store talk

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