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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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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.

Plant pansies for fall and winter color

I would like to have pansies in my garden this fall and winter. Is it better to plant them in pots or in the ground?

Pansies 2Pansies can be a pretty addition to the landscape in the fall, either in garden beds or in containers. They’re easy to care for and won’t wither and die when the temperature drops – in fact, they thrive in cool weather.

You can grow pansies from seed, but it’s easier to start with transplants, which are available in nurseries and garden centers everywhere around the region right now. Start with plants that are compact and healthy (if they are already leggy and shaggy, they may never look as nice as you’d wish).

To plant in containers, use a good potting mix and make sure there is adequate drainage (experts at Organic Gardening suggest using a newspaper or paper towel layer over the drainage holes, rather than pot shards or gravel, to keep soil from washing out). Plant densely, and water the plants thoroughly.

In garden beds, proceed with the planting of pansies as you would any other annual: Prepare the garden bed, adding compost or other organic material so that the soil drains well. Space the transplants closely (garden expert Judy Lowe suggests placing them 4 inches apart) and firm the soil around the plants so they won’t be lifted out of the ground as the soil freezes and thaws. Water thoroughly, and add a layer of mulch. Fertilize weekly until frost with a product made for flowering plants.

Pansies grow best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Pansies may begin to look scrappy during the coldest part of winter, but they likely will spring back to life when the weather begins to warm up again. Enjoy them for a while longer in spring, and be prepared to replace them as things heat up. Pansies do not grow well in the summer heat.

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.

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