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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee: Save these dates!

    March 5 – 8, 2015: The Nashville Lawn & Garden Show marks its 26th Anniversary as one of Middle Tennessee’s favorite garden events. The theme for the 2015 show is Gardens of Eden, so we can anticipate more than an acre of garden displays showing ways to create your own paradise. The show will be held in the Creative Arts building at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. http://nashvillelawnandgardenshow.com

    March 20 – 22, 2015: The Orchid Society of Middle Tennessee will host the Mid-America Orchid Congress, “Orchids in Rhythm,” at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs in Franklin, TN. The weekend’s agenda will include exhibits, sales and events open to the public. www.orchidsinrhythm.org.

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Tulip bulbs: It’s not too late to plant

I bought tulip bulbs in the fall but didn’t have time to plant them. Is it too late to put them in the ground now?

Tulips

Tulip bulbs planted now will bloom next spring.

Good news: Unless the ground is frozen and you can’t dig, it’s not too late. Tulip bulbs apparently prefer cooler planting conditions. But don’t wait much longer; otherwise, blooming will be delayed. Try to get the bulbs in the ground before the end of December.

Here are general planting guidelines from the National Gardening Association:

Prepare a well-drained bed in full sun. Plant tulip bulbs – pointed end up – about six inches deep – or a couple of inches deeper if voles are a problem in your garden. Space bulbs about 5 inches apart, and apply a granular bulb fertilizer. Firm the soil and water thoroughly.

National Gardening Association suggests planting five bulbs per square foot for a nice display. When you plant a grouping, be care to plant all the bulbs at the same depth to ensure they will all bloom at the same time.

You can also plant tulip bulbs in pots. Fine Gardening magazine suggests this technique: For the best visual impact, select a container with an outside diameter of at least 18 inches that is at least 15 inches tall. Fill the container about two-thirds with lightweight potting mix, and place the bulbs (pointed end up) close together in a tight circular pattern. Cover them with soil, leaving about an inch of space at the top.

In my yard, squirrels try to find hidden treasure by digging in unprotected containers, so I cover the soil with poultry wire cut to fit the pot. Fine Gardening magazine suggests a wire grid such as peony support. Cover the wire with a thin layer of soil; when the bulbs begin to sprout, they will grow through the open grid.

Shop the landscape for holiday decor

Gardeners know how easy it is to come up with creative ideas to decorate for the holidays. A stroll around the yard with a pair of pruning shears can provide an armload of evergreens, branches, leaves, berries, pine cones, seed pods, clippings and other natural materials to assemble festive, one-of-a-kind decorations in your home.

Christmas mantel

Greenery from the garden — boxwood, holly leaves, berries and magnolia leaves — help brighten a mantel for the holidays.

Here are guidelines and a few ideas for using your garden’s gifts to deck the halls, hearth, dining table and more:

  • When you cut branches from evergreens, prune responsibly; you don’t want to run the shape of your shrubs!
  • Fresh greenery dries out quickly and is flammable. Harvest the materials as close to the time you’ll use it so it will be as fresh as possible. Keep greenery away from vents, fireplaces, candles and other heat sources; check it every couple of days and replace anything that has dried out or is turning brown.
  • As you cut material to bring indoors, pound the ends of branches with a mallet, then soak them in water overnight so they will absorb as much water as possible. Consider treating greenery with an anti-dessicant spray (available at nurseries or florists), which adds a waxy coat to slow the process of water loss.
  • Place arrangements in water whenever possible, or use florists foam. Mist evergreen and natural arrangements every couple of days to slow the drying process.
  • Many berries are poisonous, so to be safe, don’t use greenery with berries in a household with small children or pets.

Trees and shrubs that are a good source for nature-made decorations include boxwood, magnolia, nandina, holly, aucuba, rosemary, camellia, ivy, pine (needles and cones), cedar (though it dries out more quickly than other evergreens), yew, spruce and other evergreen shrubs.

And here are a few fast and easy ideas for bring festive touches of greenery into your home for the holidays:

  • Place sprigs of greenery around a serving platter or punch bowl.
  • Use branches of evergreens above mirrors, pictures or doors. A suggestion is to arrange two bundles of greenery with stem ends together and secured with wire hidden with more greenery or ribbons.
  • Make an easy centerpiece using leaves and sprigs of greenery arranged with ribbons, ornaments, pine cones or berries.
  • Twine fresh ivy around or through a napkin ring for a touch of greenery at each place setting.
  • Place sprigs of fresh greenery in a hurricane globe or clear vase with pine cones or other small Christmas-y items.

 

Special care for holiday cactus

Our Christmas Cactus usually blooms around Thanksgiving. Sometimes the buds drop off before they’re open. Can you tell me what’s wrong? What kind of care do they need?

Schlumbergera truncata

Thanksgiving cactus

It’s common to call all of those exotic looking winter-blooming houseplants Christmas cactus, but there is more than one type. (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is the botanical name for Christmas cactus, and it usually does flower around Christmas. But there is also S. truncata, or Thanksgiving cactus, which normally blooms about a month earlier.

In general, any of those “holiday” cacti need bright light and a moderate amount of water. Barbara Pleasant, in her book The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, suggests letting the soil dry out a little between waterings, and providing a dose of a balanced fertilizer about once a month in winter.

Christmas cacti are photoperiodic plants – that is, they respond to the change in proportions of light and dark, and begin to form buds at the onset of longer nights and shorter days in fall. Blooms open a few weeks later.

They can also be finicky about a change in conditions once they begin to bud – if you move them around, for instance. “Once plants begin blooming, they may drop their blossoms if exposed to any kind of stress,” says Barbara Pleasant in her book about houseplants.

More information and care tips from the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center: the Schlumbergera is native to Brazil, and they grow as epiphytes in tree branches in shady rain forests. They enjoy being outdoors in summer, but bring them indoors when nighttime temperatures get down to 40 to 50 degrees – and certainly before frost. Place them in a cool, dark room, and bring them out into bright light when buds begin to develop.

Here’s how to tell the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus: Look at the stem segments. Thanksgiving cactus each have 2 to 4 sharp serrations along the margins. The margins of Christmas cactus are more rounded. One other distinguishing factor: When the flowers open, look at the pollen-bearing anthers. The anthers of Thanksgiving cactus are yellow; those on Christmas cactus are purplish-brown, according to the plant experts.

Light up your landscape: Landscape lighting provides safety and security, but also enhances your home and garden. Lighting options to consider — plus Christmas lights trendsin Saturday’s Tennessean.

Continue to care for new shrubs in winter

We planted aucubas and hollies in the spring and kept them watered all summer, and they’re doing well. Do we need to water them in winter, too?

Aucuba japonica

Replenish mulch at the base of spring-planted aucuba and other shrubs.

Spring-planted shrubs that received regular water should be well-established by fall, so you can cut back on the amount of water they receive. But don’t neglect them completely. It’s a good idea to replenish the mulch, adding enough so that it’s about three inches thick. Mulch holds moisture in the soil, and also keeps it from freezing and thawing as temperatures swing from cold to warmer and back again. Remove any dead or diseased leaves from under the shrubs before you add mulch, and remember not to pile mulch up against the trunk.

One other winter grooming tip: If you have deciduous trees in the area that have dropped leaves onto the shrubs, take time to remove the leaves, especially if there are so many that they would block the sun.

As I mentioned in last week’s question-and-answer, a yard-full of leaves is a good source of mulch for those shrubs. Chop them with the mower before you spread them on the ground under the shrubs.

Mulch garden beds with fall leaves

What’s the best way to use leaves as mulch in the garden? Can we just blow them off the lawn and into the garden beds?

leaves 2Most leaves can become a good source of mulch for garden beds. And yes, you could just blow them off the grass and into the beds, but it would be better to shred them before piling them onto your garden areas. Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster; a thick layer of leaves left intact may also smother the plants underneath, and prevent water from reaching the soil.

You can chop the leaves easily by mowing over and collecting them in a bagger attachment, or by using a shredder.

These guidelines for using leaves as mulch are from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds.

*Oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds.

*Leaves can be mixed into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure.

One other piece of advice comes from Deb Beazley, a naturalist at Warner Park Nature Center who leads workshops on organic gardening: When you rake leaves, set some aside for later. Next spring and summer, when you need more mulch, you’ll have a handy source of fall leaves to use.

“Cover them in bags so they don’t decompose by the time you need them next June,” she suggests.

Replace landscape plants in fall and winter

We have lost many of the shrubs around our home. How late can we replant all of the landscaping around our residence? Is November too late?

ball burlap treesIf you are planting shrubs and trees, November is actually a good time to replant. Trees and shrubs planted when they are dormant have an easier time establishing good root systems before they begin actively growing again next spring. They will need to be watered at planting time and throughout the season, but not as often as you would have to provide water in spring or summer.

Here are general guidelines from UT/TSU Extension for planting balled-and-burlapped and container-grown trees and shrubs:

-Choose your location and begin by digging a wide hole, two or three times the width, but no deeper than the height of the root ball.

-Handle the trees carefully before you plant. Never pick up or carry a tree by its trunk, especially a balled-and-burlapped tree, due to the weight of the root ball. If they can’t be planted right away, water the trees well and place them in an area away from direct sun.

-Water a plant in a container before you take it out of the pot. After you remove the plant, cut any roots that circle the ball of soil (if the roots and soil don’t come out easily, cut the plastic away from the root ball. Don’t pull the plant out by its trunk). Use a sharp knife to make two or three vertical cuts, and gently loosen the ball to expose more roots to the soil.

-Place the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is an inch or two above the soil line. Remove any nails or rope lacing and cut away the burlap, leaving the burlap at the bottom of the root ball. If there is a wire basket, cut as much of it away as you can without disturbing the root ball.

- Backfill the hole with the soil that was removed from the hole, watering when the hole is about half full and again after you finish backfilling. Rake over the soil to even it out with the ground, and cover the area with 2 or 3 inches of mulch (keeping the mulch away from the shrub’s trunk.

-Don’t forget to provide water to newly planted shrubs and trees if the weather is dry.

Daffodil dreams? Time to plant bulbs

I love daffodils! We are planning our first garden in our new house and want to plant bulbs to come up next spring. When is the right time to plant?

Daffodils 2Fall is typical bulb-planting time, and the cooler it is, the better, according to daffodil experts. Anne Owen of the Middle Tennessee Daffodil Society in Nashville (Zone 7a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map) says the best time is when the soil is 52 – 54 degrees (usually November in Middle Tennessee). But you can buy bulbs and begin to dream about spring daffodils, and prepare the planting areas as soon as you like.

Daffodils enjoy well-drained soil, so if your soil needs to be amended with compost, do that before you plant. “Lighten heavy clay with perlite or sand, or use a raised bed soil mix,” Owen suggests. You can work soil conditioner into the soil – anything that will create a loose growing environment for the bulbs.

Daffodils grow best in full sun. Keep in mind, though, that they grow and bloom early, while there are fewer leaves on trees that will cast shade, so even a tree-canopied space may have more sun in late winter and early spring than you realize.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble to prepare beds for the bulbs, you can simply dig holes and drop the bulbs in the ground. Choose an area where you won’t need to mow until early summer, Owen says. Daffodil foliage should be left standing for many weeks after the bloom time is over, because this is when they’re gathering strength for the bulb to bloom again next spring.

Plant large bulbs (pointed end up!) about six inches apart. Bulbs can benefit from a dose of low-nitrogen fertilizer at planting time, Owen says. Water the bed well after planting.

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