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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    Now - Oct. 31: Cheekwood Harvest fall festival. Stroll the grounds at Cheekwood to see the scarecrows and outdoor model trains, visit the pumpkin patch, and take a look at more than 5,000 chrysanthemums in deep autumn colors in the Robertson Ellis Color Garden. Complete schedule details at www.cheekwood.org.

    Oct. 4: Happy Harvest at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center. Time to clean out the garden and put it “to bed” for the winter – and make ice cream flavors with the fall harvest. Noon – 2 p.m., registration required for this all-ages program. 615-862-8539.

    Oct. 9: “Sustainable Kitchen Gardening Year ’Round,” a workshop on growing edibles during the winter months, led by Cindy Shapton, the Cracked Pot Gardener, 6 – 8 p.m. at the Cracked Pot Homestead in Franklin, Tenn. $45 per person. Also held on Oct. 11, 10 a.m. – noon. Register at www.cindyshapton.com.

    Oct. 11: Flower Fun at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center. Learn ways to use wilted flowers and petals in a workshop for age 13 and up, led by Sarah Gilmore. 1 – 2 p.m., registration required: 615-862-8539.

    Oct. 11: Farm Day at Bells Bend Park Outdoor Center, a family-friendly event with hayrides and farm games, farming equipment, barnyard animals and garden programs, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. 615-862-4187.

    Oct. 17: Trees of Fall at Beaman Park Nature Center. Enjoy the colors of the autumn woods while you learn to ID trees based on color and other characteristics with naturalist LinnAnn Welch. 9:30 – 11 a.m. Call to register for this all-ages program,
    (615) 862-8580.

    October 21: Perennial Plant Society meeting topic is "Rain Gardens" with speakers from the Tennessee Environmental Council and the Harpeth River Watershed Association. Refreshments at 6:30, meeting at 7, open to the public. www.ppsmt.org.

    Oct. 24: Darling, You Look GOURDgeous! at Warner Park Nature Center. An activity for ages 3 – 5 years to learn about gourds, squashes and pumpkins, led by Rachel Koch. 10 – 11 a.m. or 1 – 2 p.m., registration opens Oct. 9. Call 615-352-6299 to register.

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Pamper those strawberry plants

I have strawberries that did well in the spring but seems to have suffered a bit over the summer. What’s the best way to prepare the bed for winter? It is okay to use mulch on strawberry plants?
Strawberry plantsStrawberry plants have shallow roots, so it’s possible that they suffered from drought if you didn’t water regularly. They also need to be mulched, which can help suppress the growth of weeds. Pine straw is a good mulch to use in a strawberry bed, because it can cover the soil without smothering the crowns of the plants.

Here’s advice on strawberries from garden expert Barbara Pleasant, from her book The Southern Garden Advisor:

Pull weeds from the strawberry bed in September, then feed the strawberries with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. This should be the heaviest fertilization because strawberries produce latent buds, which become next year’s fruit, Pleasant explains. Water the bed well.

Mulch the bed in November. Pinch off leaves that are discolored and pull up any weeds that may have popped up.

Fertilize again in February, with a lighter dose this time, and prepare to enjoy the berries in April and May.

By the way, Pleasant says she prefers the spring-bearing varieties over those that are everbearing, which don’t produce as well. She recommends four varieties: ‘Earliglow,’ ‘Apollo,’ ‘Cardinal’ and ‘Surecrop.’

October in the garden is anything but dull. Metro Parks offers ways to keep your garden mind entertained. Head Outdoors for Fall  (plus Garden Tips, Tasks & Events) in the October Garden Calendar in Saturday’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

Plant perennials now, enjoy them later

I’m still seeing perennials for sale at garden centers. Some of them are being sold at reduced prices. Can they really be planted this time of year?

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Spring is the typical planting time, but for gardeners who are willing to be patient or take a chance on a plant that may look like it’s past its prime, early fall is a good time to plant. Many of the plants on sale still have plenty of life, even though they don’t look their best right now.

But if you make careful choices and plant now, they will begin to establish good root systems and should spring back beautifully in the garden next year.

While perennials you find now may not be at the peak of perfection, you should still look for healthy plants with no sign of disease. Here are guidelines from the website of Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension and other sources:

  • Look for plants with good color and vigorous appearance. Avoid plants that show any sign of disease.
  • Ease the plant out of the pot and look at the roots look healthy, and not mushy or limp. Avoid anything with roots that have a bad odor.
  • Buy labeled plants (unless you want to be surprised!) and label it in the garden so that you can remember where and what you planted next spring.
  • In the garden, prepare the soil and amend it as needed with compost. Dig a hole a few inches wider that the plant’s pot, remove the plant from the pot and gently loosen the roots, then set the plant in the ground with the base of the plant level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil, water thoroughly, and add mulch.
  • Don’t set them out and forget them. October can be a dry month, so remember to provide water on a regular basis.

Stinkbugs, harlequin bugs plague late-summer gardens

There are flat, brightly colored bugs all over my cabbage and broccoli plants right now. What are they? Are they harmful? How can I get rid of them?
Harlequin bug copy

What you see plaguing your plants are, no doubt, harlequin bugs, and yes, they are harmful to your plants in the brassica family – broccoli, greens, cabbage turnips and kale. This time of year, the bugs you see are probably the adults. They use piercing mouth parts to extract the juices from all parts of the plants, and heavy infestations can cause severe damage – you may see discolored spots on the plants. The leaves of young plants may wilt and die, and mature plants will become stunted.

Getting rid of them can be a challenge. Toxic Free NC, A website devoted to non-toxic solutions to pest problems, suggests removing them by hand if there are only a few (drop them into a bucket of soapy water), or if there are large numbers and you are willing to sacrifice the plants they have damaged, trap them in large garbage bags, seal the bags and let them bake in the sun for a few days.

It’s always good to encourage the natural predators of damaging insects to visit the garden. Praying mantises eat harlequin bugs and other stinkbugs, so if you see them around, don’t shoo them off. There are parasitic flies and wasps that are among stinkbugs’ natural predators, and birds, spiders and toads also enjoy them as a food source.

As a last resort, Toxic Free NC suggests insecticides that are approved for organic farms, such as rotenone, pyrethrin, Neem oil and insecticidal soap. Note that these products can be harmful, so be sure to follow label directions and use as little as possible. These insecticides can also kill the bugs you want to keep, so spray only in the morning or late evening when those insects may be less active. Insecticides are most effective on the pests in the younger larval or nymph stages. The adult bugs are resistant to sprays.

To prevent the bugs from finding your plants in the first place, Toxic Free NC suggests using lightweight floating row covers over your brassica crops, making sure the edges are weighted so the bugs can’t get to the plants. It also helps to control weeds in the garden, as stinkbugs are attracted by weedy areas in or near the garden, they advise.

Potted mums announce the end of summer

I love to use pots of chrysanthemums in my garden in the fall, but they die pretty quickly. How can I get them to last longer?

MumsYou know summer’s coming to an end when you begin to see potted mums at all the garden centers in all sizes and price ranges. As a seasonal accent plant, they are an easy way to add color to porches and patios and late-summer/early-fall gardens.

Mums growing in their plastic nursery pots will last for several weeks if they receive regular water, but they will look better and may last longer with a little more care. Garden center experts recommend transplanting mums into decorative containers using good potting soil, ideally using a bloom-boosting fertilizer. Make sure the container drains well.

Chrysanthemums grow best in full sun but can tolerate some shade, and they need consistent moisture. They can also be planted in the ground, in a sunny location with well-drained soil. In the right location, they will come back year after year.

Garden expert Judy Lowe (in her book, Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky), suggests dividing mums growing in the ground every other year. In the garden, they should be pinched back a couple of times during spring and summer to delay blooming. Lowe also notes that you should avoid planting mums in an area that receives light from streetlights or a security light, as chrysanthemums won’t bloom without nighttime darkness.

Fall gardening: Time to tend to your lawn, and Garden Events, Tips & Tasks at Tennessean.com.

Best time to transplant hydrangeas

We have hydrangeas we’d like to move to another location in the yard, where they can get more sun in the morning. When is the best time to move them?
Hydrangea vertHydrangea experts say that the best time to transplant the shrubs is when they are dormant (after most of the leaves have fallen off). Information at the Web site Hydrangeas! Hydrangeas! suggests waiting until November or December, but anytime after the weather cools should be fine.
Prepare the new site before you dig up the shrub. Hydrangeas are generally happy in a site that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, and in soil that drains well. When you begin the move, dig up as much of the root ball as possible and move it to the new site, setting it at the same depth it had been growing. Fill the hole with soil and water deeply. Be extra attentive to the newly transplanted shrub during the first growing season, making sure it gets enough moisture as it adjusts to its new site.

Garden with greens

I don’t care for turnips, but I love turnip greens and I’d like to grow them myself this fall. When is it time to plant them?
GreensThe time to begin planting turnip greens – and many other kitchen crops that thrive in cool weather – is now! Prepare a bed in full sun with well-drained, fertile soil. You can sow the seeds in rows about 1½ feet apart and cover with about ½ inch of fine soil, or you can broadcast the seeds over a prepared bed. August heat in some areas can be brutal on fall plantings, so for all summer-sown fall vegetables, keep the soil moist while seeds germinate. Thin the plants when they grow to about 2 inches tall.

Among the fast-growing, greens-only varieties are All Top, Alamo, Seven Top, Shogoin and Topper.

Don’t stop with turnip greens! Mustard greens, spinach, collards and kale are among the other types of hearty greens you can try. For a longer harvest, sow in successive plantings two weeks apart.

And don’t give up on turnips just yet. My favorite way to enjoy them is drizzled with olive oil and roasted with a variety of other root and winter vegetables. One secret is to harvest turnips while they’re still small, when they seem to have a milder flavor.

Here’s a recipe adapted from a Bon Appétit magazine recipe at Epicurious.com:
Roasted Root Vegetables
Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
Beets, trimmed but not peeled, scrubbed, cut into ½-inch pieces
Medium red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
Garlic cloves, peeled
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat the olive oil. Spread vegetables evenly on a prepared baking dish and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

August in the garden: Find more about this month’s garden tasks in my August Garden Calendar and Garden Events and Tips at Tennessean.com.

A bountiful harvest: sunflower seeds

We grew sunflowers this year, and I’d like to save the seeds. What is the best way to harvest them?
sunflower 2As summer begins to wind down and the sunflowers begin to droop, you know it’s time to harvest. Sunflower seeds are ready to harvest when the back of the flower heads turn yellow. The seeds themselves will turn dark.

Seed-loving birds may begin to find them before you do, so if you’re planning a seed harvest, you may want to find a way to protect them until they’re fully mature. Extension services and other experts suggest covering the flower heads with brown paper bags. (Don’t use plastic bags, which may cause moisture to form around the flower head and cause the seeds to rot.) When you’re ready to harvest, use scissors or a knife to cut off the flower head with several inches of the stem.
You can harvest sunflower seeds to save for the birds to enjoy later, or for a nutritious snack for yourself and your family. Hold the flower head over a large bowl and rub or pluck out the seeds. Store them in a dry spot in sealed containers until you are ready to set them out for the birds.

Writers at the Mother Earth News website have an easy method for preparing sunflower seeds for snacking. Soak the unshelled seeds overnight in salt water – about 1/8 to ¼ cup salt for each quart of water. Drain off the water and spread the seeds on paper towels or clean towels and allow them to dry for several hours. When they are completely dry, spread the seeds evenly on a cookie sheet and bake them at 300 degrees F for 30 – 40 minutes. After baking, place the seeds in a bowl and toss with one teaspoon of butter for each cup of seeds. Season with salt, if desired.

Sunflower seeds are high in potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.

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