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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Today's guest: White House Horticulturist Dale Haney

White House Horticulturist Dale Haney
White House Horticulturist Dale Haney
June 17, 2003

Dale Haney
Good Afternoon, I'm Dale Haney, the White House Horticulturist and I'm happy to be here today and take questions about the grounds and gardens of the White House. Let the games begin...

Larry7, from Chicago writes:
Please help me here, my neighbors are starting to give me the ole' evil eye due to...crabgrass...I have it...they don't. I have seen pictures of the White House lawn and it does not appear to have that problem. What can you suggest that I do to get rid of it?

Dale Haney
Good question. You need to apply a pre-emergent crabgrass control early Spring and this should control your crabgrass problem. That's why we use a pre-emergent here at the White House.

Gerrad, from NY writes:
Do you have an herb garden at the WH? If so, what sort of herbs do you grow? Are they used in the WH kitchen? I am one who thinks that fresh herbs add that something special to any homecooked meal.

Dale Haney
We do grow a few herbs in the East Garden. We grow thyme, rosemary and chives. The chefs do use these herbs. I definitely agree that fresh herbs add something special to a meal. If you've got them, you should use them.

tinycarver, from Georgia writes:
I have recently taken a class in the art of Bonsai. Does the White House have any Bonsai trees? If so, can you please post a picture of these beautiful, miniature trees?

Dale Haney
We don't have any Bonsai trees. But we have received many gift Bonsais from foreign leaders. We always donate those to the National Arboretum. They have an entire section of Bonsais. So if you are planning a trip to Washington, make sure to drop by and take a look at them there. Here's the web address:

Nichole, from Washington, DC writes:
Mr Haney, I go to school at GW and I am an avid gardner. I was wondering if volunteers were ever needed to help with the White House grounds. The grounds always look magnificent. You do a wonderful job!

Dale Haney
We don't have a volunteer program at this time. But the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum have volunteer programs which I would suggest you take a look at. Thanks for the question, Nichole and the compliment.

Ryan, from San Jose writes:
Hi Dale, What is the oldest known tree on the property and who planted it?

Dale Haney
The two Southern Magnolias trees were planted by Andrew Jackson between 1829 and 1837. They are planted at the South Portico on the East side. His wife Rachel died before President Jackson was sworn in. He brought these two saplings up from the Hermitage and planted them in her honor. The trees are in great health and in full flower today. There are many, many flowers on them right now and they look beautiful.

Tanya, from Westbrooke writes:
When was the Rose Garden constructed and for what purpose?

Dale Haney
In 1913 Mrs. Wilson planted the first rose in the rose garden. Mrs. Wilson named it officially as the "Rose Garden." Throughout the years, it has changed. But the way it looks today is due to President and Mrs. Kennedy. They put grass in the middle and put the flowers off to the side so the area could be used for outdoor functions.

Ray, from San Antonio, TX writes:
Is there anything edible planted on the grounds of the White House?

Dale Haney
We have a couple apple trees, concord grapes and we have herbs (previously discussed). The concord grapes were planted on the grape arbor in the East Garden in 1963.

Clarice, from Madison, WI writes:
How do you decide what flowers to plant where? How often do you change the flowers in the flower beds other then for the season? Do you change the flowers based on who is visiting the White House?

Dale Haney
The north and south fountains are changed three times a year. In the spring we have a variety of tulip bulbs and grape hyacinth in the fountain areas of the gardens.

In the summer we change to the annual summer displays such as: geraniums, marigold lilies, salvias, lilies, lantana, foxglove, hollyhocks, petunias and of course we plant the Laura Bush petunia that Texas A&M developed when President Bush was Governor of Texas.

In the fall we display mums, salvias, asters. The fall colors with the leaves and the mums complement each other well.

My favorite display is the spring. After a long winter, it is wonderful to see the bulbs come up. At the North Fountain there are 4,000 oxford tulips with a border of 8,000 grape hyacinth. The South Fountain is planted with 8,000 oxford tulips and 16,000 grape hyacinth.

We don't change the flowers based on guests who are visiting the country.

Mary, from New Vernon, New Jersey writes:
Are you the same Dale who takes care of Barney and Spot?

Dale Haney
Barney and Spot hang out with us as we are doing our everyday gardening and mowing. They hang out with us during the day while the President and First Lady are busy. Barney plays with the volleyball and Spot plays with a tennis ball. And Spot loves to swim this time of year in the pool. They are very helpful in the gardening.

Lori, from Texas writes:
Which is your favorite, Spot or Barney?

Dale Haney
I love them both, but I do have a soft spot for Spot. I was there when she was born and now she's back. Spotty was born to First Dog Millie during President George Bush's administration in 1989. Barney is a great little dog too -- he has his own mind and does his own thing. You gotta love him.

Jocelyn, from Ephrata, PA writes:
When did the tradition of each president planting a tree start? How many trees are on the White House grounds today that are a result of this tradition?

Dale Haney
That started with President Cleveland. Earlier Presidents did do tree plantings. We can go back to Andrew Jackson for the oldest. There are 35 or 36 trees which have been planted by Presidents (commemorative plantings). The grounds are open to the public one weekend in the Spring and one weekend in the Fall. For more information on this -- contact the visitors office or go here: /history/tours/

President and Mrs. Bush planted a cutleaf silver maple in July, 2001 on the South Grounds.

Some of my favorites include:

  • The Southern Magnolia tree on the East Front was planted by President Roosevelt in 1942.

  • A willow oak on the South Grounds was planted by President Reagan in 1988.

  • A little leaf linden was planted by President George Bush and Queen Elizabeth in 1991 when she visited the U.S.

  • The four saucer magnolia trees which border the Rose Garden were planted by President Kennedy in 1962.

Sam, from Murray, KY writes:
Dear Mr. Haney, What is your favorite streetscapeurban tree for replacing the failed Bradford Pear because of storm damage.

Dale Haney
I like the Willow Oak for a tall tree and for a smaller type tree I like the Japanese tree lilac. They are both low-maintenance and do well in urban settings. For example, you see a lot of the lilacs in Alexandria, Virginia along the street.

Gina, from California writes:
Dale - Thank you for doing this chat. I have had to patch several holes in my lawn after my dog dug holes. Do you have this problem with the President's dogs? I can't seem to get the grass to match, so my yard has different colored spots. How can I make the colors match up? Gina

Dale Haney
Thanks Gina. In the fall, you need to thatch, aerify and then seed and fertilize. Maybe you can establish your green lawn to match again. There's not a lot that can be done in this heat right now. Good luck in the fall!

Sandy, from Flint writes:
Does the White House have an automatic sprinkler system? If it does, does the President determine when that sysytem will be used, set-the-timer, that sort of thing? Or do you have to drag a bunch of hoses out to water the lawn?

Dale Haney
Part of our place has an automatic irrigation system. And in some areas we still have to drag the hoses out for water.

Jack, from Secaucus, New Jersey writes:
I always notice flower arrangements behind the President's Desk in the Oval. What is the President's favorite flower?

Dale Haney
The flowers behind the desk is a basket of roses. They are called movie-star rose. I'm not certain what the President's favorite flower is.

Natalie, from Alexandria, VA writes:
Does each President leave some sort of legacy planting...perhaps a tree, a flower garden, etc?

Dale Haney
In recent years, every President has planted a tree on the White House grounds.

John, from Virginia writes:
Does the White House have a compost?

Dale Haney
We don't have a compost on the WH grounds, but there is a compost pile at the greenhouse facility. If you have the space, you need to keep turning it -- it really does make great topsoil.

Michael, from Pompano Beach, FL writes:
How long does it take to mow all the lawns of the White House?

Dale Haney
8 hours. We mow twice a week. The gardens are mowed at 2 1/2 inches and all other areas are mowed at 3 inches.

Luis, from Los Angeles writes:
I read that Lady Bird Johnson created a Children's Garden at the White House. Is it still there? Have any changes been made?

Dale Haney
It is still here. She put that in just before President Johnson left office for all the President's grandchildren. Within the last six years, we redid the garden to get everything back down to size. The fountain is still there with fish in it. The bronze plaques are still there in the garden and the miniature wrought iron furniture is still there as well.

Teri, from Sacramento, CA writes:
Are you able to have plantings from every state and territory?

Dale Haney
We are still following the Olmstead Plan of 1935 at the request of President Roosevelt. Today on the South Lawn, we still go by the Olmstead Plan. The only real big changes are the two gardens. The other big change would be the putting green which was installed during the Eisenhower Administration.

The President brought the Olmstead Brothers in because they anticipated building the Jefferson Building Memorial. At that time all the plants were planted off to the side, opening the vista to the Jefferson Memorial.

The Olmstead Plan dictates the outline of the grounds.

Ripley, from Saginaw writes:
Was there a president who loved to garden?

Dale Haney
All of our Presidents have had an interest in gardening. As you walk through the grounds there is so much to see from the past which have taken place here. It would be hard not to have an interest in these beautiful grounds.

Wuyanbu, from Canton, Ohio writes:
Mr. Haney: You certainly have a wonderful and prestigious job as the horticulturist for the White House. How would you advise a student who wanted to become the next White House horticulturist? Thank you

Dale Haney
You need to get into a good horticulture or landscaping program. You have to learn the basics. You have to understand basic gardening. The programs are out there and they do work! You start by mowing your grass at home and maintaining your hedge. You need to teach yourself, but the most important thing is to keep learning and work hard.

Ron, from Aurora writes:
I've got a big problem with pesky chinch bugs, Dale. So bad, I'm thinking of setting my entire lawn on fire and just re-seeding. What's your recommendation?

Dale Haney
You can go to your garden center and they can recommend a good insecticide. It can be controlled. Contact your local extension agency.

Mario, from San Francisco, CA writes:
Mr. Haney, What is the most fulfilling part of your job? Regards, Mario

Dale Haney
Being able to come to the White House to work everyday. I've been here for 30 years now and everyday you never know what you are going to tackle or what you are requested to do. That's what makes it so interesting. We also work with all the special events that happen outside. It is a fascinating place to work.

Large_Marge, from Topeka writes:
What is the significance of the East Garden?

Dale Haney
The East Garden was being re-done when President Kennedy was assassinated. Mrs. Johnson carried through the plans that Mrs. Kennedy had put together at the time. In 1965, Mrs. Johnson went to Congress and asked that it be renamed the Jackie Kennedy garden. It is a garden which the First Lady often uses at her events. It is the most viewed garden as you can see the garden through the windows as you tour the White House.

Dale Haney
Thanks for the questions. I hope I've helped a little bit. Look forward to doing it again. Dale