Community Newsletter - The Garden Gate

Each month we will be publishing a community newsletter, bringing you relevant seasonal horticultural information for Rockbridge County. If you would like receive our newsletters as soon as they are published, enter your email address and click on the Subscribe button to the right.

Virtual Plant Clinics

This year, due to the need for social distancing, we are taking our Plant Clinics virtually through Zoom presentations. Upcoming Zoom presentations may be found on the Home page. Following are recordings of recent virtual Plant Clinics:

Identifying Plant Diseases

July 16, 2022

View video


Plant ID: There's an App for that!

June 18, 2022

Slides from this Plant Clinic

View video


To Lawn or Not to Lawn?

April 23, 2022

Slides from this Plant Clinic


The Healthy Gardener

March 19, 2022

Slides from this Plant Clinic

No video is available

Feeding Birds Naturally

February 19, 2022

Slides from this Plant Clinic

View Video


Starting Plants from Seed

January 15, 2022

View Video

Winter Fun: Hunting for Invasive Plants

November 20, 2021

Access code for the video is #o5EaC82

View Video

Checklist for Fall Gardening

October 16, 2021

View Video

Planning…..Purchasing…..AND Planting Tips…

It’s that TIME!  May 8, 2021

Slides from this Plant Clinic

The 3 Gardening P's - Planting - Propagation,

AND Plant Sale Preview - April 17,2021

Slides from this Plant Clinic.  


March 17, 2021

Slides from this Plant Clinic.

Winter Plant Care

February 13, 2021


The Joy of Seed Shopping

January 16, 2021

Resources from this Plant Clinic.

View Video                 



From our Newsletter

Bug of the Month: Tent Caterpillar

By Karen Lyons and Katherine Smith

It is difficult to think about Spring as the leaves fall and the temperatures drop. But it will be here before you know it, with all its splendors and challenges. One of those challenges is the infamous tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum, recognized for those unsightly webs of squirming insects spoiling the beauty of our fruit and landscape trees.


As Master Gardener Katherine Smith points out there are two good times when gardeners can intercept this pest’s life cycle, and one of them would be now. During winter, the egg clusters that were laid in late summer become visible and are easy to remove. (See photo for close-up of egg mass.)


The next opportunity comes as the unfound egg clusters hatch in spring and begin to weave their unsightly tents, usually in a tree crotch. These can be manually removed by inserting a stick and twisting to loosen the web. If left undisturbed, the caterpillars will begin to wander off after they have either defoliated their birth-tree or the leaves become too tough for them to ingest.


Mother nature may assist in control of the tent caterpillar through viruses, fungus or predation by small mammals, spiders,or birds, especially Blue Jays and Cuckoos.


For more information, refer to Fact Sheet by the New Hampshire Extension “Fall Webworm & Eastern Tent Caterpillar”:


Monarch Season at Wide Sky Farm
by Anita Tuttle

A love of gardening seems always to lead to other loves. While working at Bath County Pumped Storage Station (Back Creek) in the mid-80’s, part of my assignment was to check various instrumentation flung throughout the many hundreds of acres. I became entranced by the native flora and left the power company to pursue horticulture at Virginia Tech. Even amongst horticulturists, I was an oddball. Manicured gardens weren’t my thing; instead, I wanted to know how to produce native meadows. I got my chance to delve into that study during grad school.

Tending my plots at Tech and my many gardens before and since, I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction of native plants with the surrounding fauna. I’m still taking baby steps on the path to understanding, but I have been able to observe a few things along the way. I’ve learned a bit about monarch butterflies.

When I was a kid (a hundred years ago), monarch butterflies were fairly common, like several other species that are now in trouble. As the earth has picked up the pace of change, scientists around the world are paying more attention to all manner of species that are struggling to maintain viable populations. Most Master Gardeners are cultivating more native species in order to provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other critters. The rally cry for the past few years has been ‘Milkweed!’ As we have learned, the various species of milkweed are the lone food source for monarch caterpillars. So we plant Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in our sunny, dry spots in the garden; Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) in our wet spots, and maybe even allow Common Milkweed (A. syriacus) to fill in areas on the margins of our properties.

The awe and wonder of seeing that first batch of monarch eggs – for the keenly observant- is almost beyond description. To see those exquisite, tiny, voracious caterpillars wreaking havoc on otherwise lovely plants demands a level of altruism from the gardener, watching their efforts end up as fecal pellets. And the damage increases to the planting with every millimeter of growth by the caterpillar.
There can be few moments spent with Nature that are more a privilege than to be present when a monarch butterfly emerges from the pupa.

The adults will play in the garden and sample from your wide palette of nectar sources. Depending on the timepoint in their season, they might mate and beget more caterpillars. The milkweed plants are tough and recover well enough to feed another brood. As the days grow shorter, your monarchs leave your garden with travel plans for Mexico. Over the next few to several weeks, the monarchs all across the eastern seaboard will follow the same flight path.

I arrived at Wide Sky Farm near Buffalo Gap in Augusta County five years ago. The house was surrounded by six or so acres of woods. I had that timbered the winter of 2014. Since then, I have wrangled brambles, nuked invasives, and brush cut the area with a 6” blade on the end of a weed eater shaft. It hasn’t always been an aesthetically pleasing process. My neighbors have had more graphic descriptions. Two years ago, in 2016, my injuries and physical therapy sessions began to pay dividends. The monarchs found my meadows on their journey to the south.

Last year, I noticed that the monarchs began migrating September 19. They came in waves, settling on the meadow flowers and clinging there for long minutes before rising up and heading south again. This year, migration began on September 18, but was rather halting due to the many and various storms we’ve had in the area. Friday morning, September 28, the drizzle and fog cleared by 11:30 in the morning. I began counting the monarchs. By 1:00 PM, I had numbered 200 and quit counting. On the successive days, I reached 200 in an hour’s time. Wide Sky Farm is situated well for a flyway with long views to the north and south. In just a few years’ time, the monarchs have made this place a waystation.

The three flowers I have in abundance are: Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum laterifolium), Frost Aster (S. pilosum), and Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis & spp.). I didn’t plant any of those; the native seedbank here gave rise to the meadow flowers once I eliminated the competition. As you plant your own gardens, keep in mind that while milkweeds produce the next generations of monarch butterflies, the native asters and goldenrods are the fuel that takes them home for the winter.


Upcoming Programs

In person programs are temporarily suspended, due to COVID-19.  However, we are conducting monthly online Plant Clinics via Zoom.  The next online Plant Clinic is described on the home page.

Past Programs

February 2019 Program "Run On/Run Off-Protect Your Property and Streams", by David Bryer and Phyllis Fevrier


Run On/Run-off- Protect Your Property and Your Streams:   Managing Mother Nature's rainfall, too much or too little, can be challenging.  The Rain Garden presentation will discuss how to make mother nature work for you.  Rain Gardens are designed to handle fluctuations in precipitation, all the while protecting Virginia's waterways and making your personal ecospace a better place to live.  The presentation will cover rain garden siting, designing, building, planting and maintaining and whether one is right for you.  Definition of a rain garden-  natural or manmade shallow depression that temporarily holds water runoff.  The water is then absorbed by plants and infiltrates into groundwater in a controlled manner.  This version of storm water management helps improve water quality.  Click Here for the program slides.

April 2019 Program "Creating Habitat and Food Sources for Monarch Butterflies", by Anita Tuttle

June 2019 Program:  "Hill House Farm and Nursery"

Hosted by Janet Davis

June 27, 7 pm in the Piovano Room at the Rockbridge Main Library

Hill House Farm and Nursery website:

Continuing Education Opportunities/Area Gardening Events:





Following are some online and in-person continuing education opportunities:





VCE offers a variety of video on topics geared to both beginner and more advanced gardeners. Examples of topics include:

Fall Cover Crops and Soil
Firewise Landscaping
Pressure Canning
Cedar Apple Rust
Common Diseases in the Home Garden

For these and many more videos that address specific topics or those of more general interest, visit this link.


The Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener YouTube channel has lots of instructional videos.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond has a slew of online classes, but all do have a fee. This is an amazing world class garden practically in our own backyard.


The Penn State Extension has a number of online classes and webinars:


Another sources of webinars is the Xerces Society’s website:


Mt. Cuba Center, a native plant garden in Delaware, has a series of excellent Classes on Demand, 90 minutes classes on topics such as soil, butterfly gardening, weeds, native groundcovers for $15 apiece.