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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    Every Thursday in July is “Family Night Out” at the gardens at Cheekwood. Bring a blanket and picnic dinner, and enjoy magic shows, puppet shows, live music and more, beginning at 6:30 p.m. July 3, Magic of America Magic Show; July 10, Dennis Scott: Kids Show; July 17, Nashville Puppet Truck presents The Frog Prince; July 24, Nashville Ballet, Degas and the Little Dancer; July 31, Mr. Greg’s Musical Madness. Find the complete schedule at www.cheekwood.org.

    Now - Sept. 7: Andy Warhol’s Flowers exhibit opens at Cheekwood. Nearly a dozen screen prints from the artist’s original Flowers series, paintings, studio photographs and more. Information: www.cheekwood.org.

    July 15: Perennial Plant Society meets at Cheekwood in Botanic Hall. Speaker is Nancy Murphy of the BellGarden at BellevueMiddle School; the topic is soil structure and fertility. Refreshments and plant swap at 6:30, the meeting begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. www.ppsmt.org.

    July 24: Warner Park Nature Center presents “Butterflies of Tennessee” with author Rita Venable, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. 615-352-6299 to register for this adults-only class.

    July 26: Mid-State Iris Club’s annual iris rhizome sale, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. (or until sold out) at Martin’s Home & Garden, 1020 NW Broad Street in Murfreesboro. All rhizomes marked with variety name, color and price, and prices range from $5 - $15.

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Troy Marden’s garden wisdom — and a book giveaway!

Annabelle

‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is among the plants that garden expert Troy Marden recommends.

A friend invited me to a gathering whose guest was the popular Middle Tennessee-based author and garden designer Troy Marden not long ago. He was there to share his considerable knowledge and to talk about his new book, Plant This Instead!, which came out earlier this year. The subtitle is “Better Plant Choices: Prettier, Hardier, Blooms Longer, New Color, Less Work, Drought-Tolerant, Native.”
That’s a lot to cover, but let Troy explain: “It’s a book about making better, more informed choices.”
A book about native plants? “It’s a book about good plants. It’s not all about natives,” he said. “There are tips about how to be successful with new varieties. We don’t like plants that misbehave. This considers what their replacements in our landscape might be.”

What are some of those misbehavin’ garden choices?

“Take beebalm, for example,” Troy says. “You have to manage it.” Specifically, Monarda didyma – that hardy and resilient beebalm that you find everywhere — can be fabulous in bloom. “However, the same characteristics that make it tough and resilient also make it aggressive when it comes to planting it in the garden,” he writes in Plant This Instead!. “Beebalm, like its cousins peppermint and spearmint, has the ability to take over an enormous area of valuable garden real estate in a very short period of time.” It’s one of the plants he calls a “garden thug.”

©Troy B. Marden

©Troy B. Marden

Instead, consider the better-mannered wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, or take a look at Eastern beebalm, Monarda bradburiana, which has greater tolerance for drought and resistance to powdery mildew, and which grows in noninvasive clumps.

From garden thugs, the conversation shifted to what is meant – really – by the term “low maintenance” when you’re talking about a garden. In Troy’s world, gardening is not a low-maintenance endeavor.

“What you have to decide is, what does ‘low-maintenance’ mean to you?” he told us. “You have to think about how much you want to have and how much time you want to spend tending to it.”

Plant This book jacketAnd if your idea of a perfect landscape seems overwhelming, here is probably the best bit of wisdom Troy could pass along about growing and enjoying a garden: “Rather than having a huge garden that demands all your time and energy, do what you can in the way that you can do it to the best of your ability.”

Learn more about Troy at his website; catch Troy in person or on TV (he’s a popular and respected plantsman and speaker and one of the hosts on the Nashville Public Television show Volunteer Gardener), or read Plant This Instead!

And here’s a chance to win a free copy of the book!
Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite flowers. Respond by Friday Aug. 1 at 6 p.m., and your name will go into a drawing to win a signed copy of Plant This Instead! by Troy B. Marden.
August Garden Calendar
In August, do we really need to think about fall? Yes! It’s time to consider the cool-weather plants in your kitchen garden. See the August Garden Calendar and Garden Events, Tips & Tasks in The Tennessean.

Summer is hard on the lawn

QUESTION: Our lawn has looked great all summer – until now! The grass is turning brown in patches, even though I water it regularly. What’s wrong?

Grass brown patchFor lawn-lovers, the middle of summer often brings disappointment to those who carefully cultivate that carpet of green. I’ve written about the problem here before, but here at mid-summer, it bears repeating.

In Middle Tennessee (Zone 7A, where The Garden Bench calls home), fescue seems to be the preferred type of lawn. It’s a cool-season grass, and it has a tendency to go dormant and turn brown when the weather is hot and dry. It often perks up again when the weather gets cooler.

But lawns can also suffer from brown patch, a fungal disease that can affect fescue lawns. It starts with small brown patches, or a ring of brown grass that gets larger over time. The plant may be green at soil level, but individual blades of grass will be brown.

Before you resort to a fungicide, it’s a good idea to know exactly what the problem might be. I’m not a lawn expert, so when I wrote about this before, I pointed to the popular garden guru and author Walter Reeves’s web site, which provides quite a bit of information about lawn fungus, blights and molds. Here it is again.

In general, lawns do well with about an inch of water a week. They don’t need to be watered every day, but water deeply about once a week if it doesn’t rain. It’s also a good idea to cut the grass higher; when grass is cut too short, it leaves the lawn vulnerable to more weeds and diseases.

Japanese beetles fly in to dine on your garden

I’m having a problem with Japanese beetles. I have beetle traps hanging around my garden and they catch a lot of them, but beetles are still chewing on my wisteria and rose bushes. I don’t want to spray, so every day I hand-pick them off. What else can I do?

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Those Japanese beetle traps work by using a chemical that mimics a pheromone produced by the female Japanese beetle to lure the male beetles. You now see how well this works, as you are drawing more and more Japanese beetles into your yard where, on the way to the trap, they stop to dine on your plants.

Extension agents say that if you use these traps, it’s best to place them a good distance from any plants you want to save, so they will be lured away from the plants.

Generally, most experts advise against using them at all.
Good for you for choosing not to spray chemical killers – the honeybees and other pollinators are safe in your landscape. Handpicking the beetles or knocking them off into soapy water is an effective short-term method for reducing the population in your garden. The best time of day may be early morning, when they apparently are more sluggish.

Biological control of Japanese beetles begins with understanding their life cycle. Young grubs hatch in the soil in late summer and feed on roots, then spend winter in the soil. They become active in spring and continue to feed. Adult beetles begin to emerge in June.

You can treat the lawn with milky spore, a bacterium that kills the grubs in the soil. Milky spore builds up in the soil over several years and suppresses the grub population over time — no grubs, no Japanese beetles to hatch and harass your plants.

The University of Tennessee Extension has a publication about controlling Japanese beetles. You can read it here.

Prune crape myrtle without committing ‘crape murder’

I have developed my crape myrtles into tree forms. Every year I have to cut back the suckers that grow from the base of the trees at ground level. Is there anything I can do to eliminate the suckers?

Crape myrtleThe suckers that grow from the ground around crape myrtles can be the result of improper pruning. If you top the plants every year (and garden experts sometimes refer to this as “crape murder”) they respond by sending up shoots from the base.

There are many sources for information on pruning crape myrtles, but one good one comes from the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. Their suggestion:

Prune crape myrtles as you would any other tree or shrub – by cutting back to a bud, a side branch or a main stem, giving consideration to the ultimate shape of the plant. If you need to cut off only part of a branch, cut above an outward facing bud or side branch. If you need to remove an entire branch, cut just outside the branch collar on the stem, where the branch is attached.

Don’t make random cuts in the middle of a branch or stem. Topping a crape myrtle – or any tree, for that matter – can lead to stem decay and more dead branches. It also encourages the growth of weak shoots at the top of cut stems, which can become top-heavy with flowers and break in a strong wind.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension notes that re-suckering can sometimes by suppressed by applying naphthalene acetic acid after the suckers are pruned. Crape myrtles that are given too much fertilizer may also produce suckers, and have fewer flowers. They advise not to fertilize unless a soil test indicates the need to do so.

The best time to prune crape myrtles has passed for this year. Do the job in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins.

 

This weekend: Beautiful bonsai

bonsai2Bonsai expert Owen Reich invites garden enthusiasts to the Nashville Bonsai Society’s Regional Bonsai Expo July 11 – 13 at Cheekwood Botanical Garden. Reich, Jim Doyle and Young Choe are guest artists, and there will be more than 50 bonsai displays, along with workshops, exhibits and vendors.

The photo above is of a Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) that Reich collected in Tennessee and trained as a bonsai. “There will be a number of bonsai on display this year created from trees and shrubs native to the United States, as well as high-end bonsai imported from Japan,” he says. The stand in the display was made in Chattanooga by Tom Scott, and the container is a 250 – 300 year-old Chinese container called a Kowatari Shirogochi Pot.

The picture is just a sample of the unique and unusual bonsai on display this weekend. Complete details here.

Tomato troubles: Blossom end rot

What can I do to keep tomatoes from forming a black spot on the bottom? They look beautiful, then you turn them over and see it. Are the tomatoes safe to eat if you cut the spot out?

 

Tomatoes

Young tomatoes may be susceptible to blossom end rot.

The black spot on the bottoms of tomatoes is a condition called blossom end rot. Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver provides a concise explanation:

Blossom end rot is usually caused by water stress due to lack of moisture, which hampers the plant’s ability to take up enough calcium from the soil. But it can also be caused by too much water, soil pH that is too acidic or too alkaline, too much nitrogen fertilizer, or other problems. The area first turns tan and leathery, and then other pathogens can invade and cause the rot (it turns black and soft).

Rodale suggests removing any tomatoes that show signs of rot so the plant can put energy into developing new, healthy tomatoes. If the soil is dry, water it well and use mulch to conserve moisture. Throughout the season, keep the soil evenly moist by watering as needed.

At the end of the season, be sure to clean up any fruit that falls to the ground, as it may contain secondary rot organisms. And next year, prepare the bed to encourage the plants to develop good root systems – plant in loose, fertile soil, and check the soil pH to see that it measures above 6.5. Add lime as recommended to raise the pH to 6.5 to 6.8, Rodale suggests.

The experts at Rodale suggest to compost the immature fruit that is beginning to show signs of blossom end rot, because they probably won’t ripen properly anyway, but it also looks like it doesn’t hurt to cut off the spot and use the tomatoes if they’re at a stage that you want to do that. In my experience, once they start to rot, they go quickly, though.

By the way, blossom end rot can also affect peppers, eggplant, squash and melons.

July in the garden: What to do with that bounty of herbs? See the July Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com for herbs information, plus this month’s events, tips and tasks.

Hanging plants look like home to wrens

Birds have built nests in our hanging ferns. I have tried putting plastic snakes in the pots, but they only build on top of them! Any suggestions for keeping them from building in the hanging pots?

Carolina wrens sometimes nest in ferns and other hanging plants.

Carolina wrens sometimes nest in ferns and other hanging plants.

The birds making a home in your ferns are most likely Carolina wrens, cute little brown birds that eat insects – and lots of them – and feed them to their babies, say bird experts at Wild Birds Unlimited. And there is really not much you can do, since as far as they can tell, you’ve put out the welcome mat and invited them in. The birds are taking advantage of the foliage to provide cover for their nests, and they’re too smart to be scared away by fake snakes.

Continue to water the plants as usual (trying to avoid the nest if you can) and the plants should continue to do well.

‘Annabelle’ hydrangea stands up to summer

QUESTION: What is the best way to secure Annabelle hydrangeas to keep the beautiful blooms from breaking in the wind and rain?

AnnabelleThis is a question many gardeners ask, especially since one of our favorite varieties, ‘Annabelle,’ is at its best right now, and the big, heavy bloom heads can get quite heavy and messy when they’re hit by soaking rains. Here’s an answer from The Garden Bench a few years ago that bears repeating:

The best way to keep them standing is to prop them up. Judith King, who writes a Web site devoted to hydrangeas, has several suggestions. She says you can plant them next to a decorative fence, plant three Annabelle shrubs together so they prop each other up, or, early in the spring, surround each plant with a short wire cage. As they leaf out and grow, the foliage hides the cage, and all you see is your tall, lovely hydrangeas, happily standing.

One cultural practice to consider: Some gardeners cut the stems of Annabelles close to the ground in the fall. Since these hydrangeas bloom on new growth, they’ll grow and bloom just fine next summer, but the stems will not have had a chance to grow as thick and sturdy. If you leave the stems 18 to 24 inches tall, those stouter stems will help support the newer branches and blooms next year.

 

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