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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee: Save these dates!

    Feb. 17: Perennial Plant Society meets at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall. Speaker is Lee Patrick, with Invasive Plant Control, to discuss management techniques for invasive plants and suggestions for native plant alternatives. Refreshments at 6:30, meeting begins at 7 p.m.

    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.

    March 21 – April 26: Cheekwood in Bloom, a six-week festival celebrating spring with garden demonstrations, live music, arts, family activities, entertainment and more at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art. Complete details at www.cheekwood.org.

    April 11: The Middle Tennessee Perennial Plant Society’s annual plant sale is scheduled 9 a.m. – noon (or until the plants sell out) at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. The sale will feature more than 450 varieties of perennials, shrubs, roses, vines and annuals chosen to thrive in Tennessee gardens. A complete list of plants is at www.ppsmt.org (click the “Plant Sale” tab).

    April 25: First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville Herb & Craft Fair, herb seedlings, heirloom tomatoes, handmade specialty items and totes, handmade cards, pressed flower art, natural handmade soaps, hand-knit items, sweet breads and herb breads, spice mixes, teas and herbs. Details will be a www.firstuunashville.org.

    May 16: The Master Gardeners of Davidson County’s 5th annual Urban Gardening Festival at Ellington Agricultural Center. The free community event is designed to educate and engage visitors with garden demonstrations and exhibitors and vendors from throughout the greater Nashville area.

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Liriope needs a trim before spring

We have thick borders of monkey grass alongside our sidewalk, and winter has been hard on it. It turned brown and a lot of it looks dead. Should we cut it down and allow it to come back? Or is it best to dig it up and replace it?

Monkey grassMonkey grass (also called liriope, or lily turf) turns brown around the edges and tips in winter, but you can be sure that it’s a tough plant, and no doubt will soon begin to sprout new growth. The best time to cut the dead foliage is now, before that new growth begins. You can trim it with clippers, but the easiest way is to mow it down. Cutting it now, before it begins growing again, assures that you won’t shear off the tender new tips of leaves.

Late winter is also a good time to divide clumps of monkey grass. Dig it up and pull the roots apart, or take the advice of garden expert Felder Rushing, the author of Tough Plants for Southern Gardens, who suggests cutting straight down into mature clumps and separating individual crowns. Rushing says plants can be divided every two or three years.

Monkey grass is a landscape staple in some areas because it’s tough. It will tolerate less-than-ideal conditions – dense shade, clay soil, drought – and still spread it roots out to grow more clumps of attractive dark green foliage, accented by stalks of tiny flowers in late summer.

It’s almost spring! And time for the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show March 5 – 8, 2015 8 Digging Deepat the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Visit Tennessean.com to read my interview with Fran Sorin, author of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening,  who will deliver the keynote lecture on Friday and Saturday at this year’s show . Complete details about the gardens, lecture series, floral gallery and marketplace are at http://nashvillelawnandgardenshow.com.

Seed giveaway — winners! The seed company Renee’s Garden is introducing Tuscan Baby Leaf Kale for 2015, and offered two packets of seeds for a Garden Bench giveaway last week. The winners (chosen by random drawing) are Diana (who likes kale in soups and salads and is hooked on Zuppa Toscana) and cote8050 (who suggests growing kale under floating row covers to deter insects). Thanks for your comments!

 

Kale for cool-season gardens – and a seed giveaway!

Kale 'Wild Garden Frills'

Kale ‘Wild Garden Frills’

I’ve never grown kale, but I want to try it in my kitchen garden this year. Is it better to start with seeds or transplants? When is the best time to plant it?

'Darkibor' kale

‘Darkibor’ kale

Kale has become a culinary star for its flavor and its reputation as a nutrient-dense superfood. Fortunately, it’s a vegetable that’s easy to grow. It’s also one of those early-season garden favorites that thrives in cooler weather, so you can plan to begin planting it in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked (in Middle Tennessee — USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home — that could be late February or early March). It’s even better as a fall crop. Plant it again in late summer to grow and harvest into winter.

You can plant transplants, but it’s just as easy to sow seed directly in the prepared garden bed. Like most vegetables, kale grows best in full sun. Plant it in loamy soil that you may amend with high-nitrogen fertilizer. Sow in rows, or broadcast the seed over the area, spacing the seeds an inch or two apart. Cover with about ¼ inch of soil and keep the soil moist as the seed germinates. The seed company Renee’s Garden provides a video about planting kale that you can watch here. You can also grow kale in containers.

Portuguese 'Tronchuda Beira' kale.

Portuguese ‘Tronchuda Beira’ kale.

Thin seedlings as they begin to sprout; you can use the small, tender leaves in salads. Harvest by cutting the outside leaves of a plant as they get large enough to use; the crown of the plant will continue to grow.

Kale is a member of the same family as cabbage, broccoli and other Brassicas, and as such may need protection from cabbage worms and cabbage loopers. Row covers can keep adult insects from laying eggs on the plants as they grow.

There are several varieties of kale – smooth and curly leaf types, large, sturdy leaves and smaller, tender leaves, dark green, light green and purple-green varieties. (Ornamental kale, usually sold in fall to enhance landscapes with its frilly, brightly colored leaves, is edible but not as tasty as the leaves grown for culinary use.) There are dwarf varieties suitable for small plots and containers.

Seed giveaway – grow kale!

'Tuscan Baby Leaf' kale.

‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ kale.

Growers at the seed company Renee’s Garden are introducing Tuscan Baby Leaf kale for 2015, a milder, more tender kale that is good to use for salads and stirfry. Owner Renee Shepherd has offered two packets of the seeds for readers of The Garden Bench.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite ways to use kale (in stirfry? Salads? Soup? Smoothies?), or just say “I want to grow kale!”). Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a packet of Tuscan Baby Leaf kale seeds, just in time for spring planting.

 

Keep your Valentine flowers fresh

Happy Valentine’s Day! Did someone give you flowers?

Mixed bouquet

Whether they’re cut flowers or potted flowering plants, from a florist or from the nearest grocery store, here are tips from a variety of sources and experts on keeping the blooms fresh so you can enjoy them as long as possible.

mixed bouquetCut flowers: If someone hands you a bouquet of cut flowers in a cellophane wrapper, try to get them back in water as quickly as you can. Flowers that have been out of water for any length of time have reduced ability to conduct water into the stems, so hold the stems underwater and cut a bit from the bottom and leave them in water until you can arrange them in a vase.

Use a clean vase and cool water with a floral preservative added. When you cut the stems to the desired length, remove the lower leaves. Check the water level of any arrangement of cut flowers every day, and change the water frequently. Keep the flowers away from heat sources and out of cold drafts.

Miniature rosesMiniature roses: If you want your miniature rose to keep blooming, place the pot where it will get a lot of sunlight. Water the plant thoroughly when the soil feels dry, and groom the plant regularly to remove dead flowers and foliage. Fertilize in spring and summer. Miniature roses can be planted outdoors when the weather warms.

Florist azaleasFlorist azalea: Bloom time will be longer if you keep the azaleas cool at night, though they also do best indoors when they receive good sunlight. Keep the soil moist. If it makes it until spring in good condition, plant it a part-shade spot outdoors.

CyclamenCyclamen: These plants also require sun during the day and cool temperatures at night to develop flower buds. They will quickly droop if they are allowed to get too dry. Most houseplant lovers enjoy these for a few weeks or a couple of months while they are in bloom, and discard them when their time is up.

Rose closeupAnd when the subject is roses, I can’t do better than to give a shout-out to fellow garden blogger Chris VanCleave at Redneck Rosarian. If someone has ceremoniously presented a beautiful bouquet cradled in a sturdy box or wrapped in cellophane, the blooms require (and deserve!) special care. Here’s a link to his excellent advice on preserving your Valentine’s Day roses.

What’s blooming indoors? African violets

My African violets have flowers for just a few weeks, then go for months without blooming at all. How can I get them to bloom longer?

African violetYou might think African violets are finicky houseplants, but they’re quite easy to grow. And when they bloom in winter, their flowers can bring cheer to an otherwise gloomy day.

African violet expert Julie Mavity-Hudson of the Nashville African Violet Club passes along these tips: African violets thrive in bright, indirect light and average room temperatures. The soil should be slightly moist, but not soggy (“The thing that kills more African violets than anything is overwatering,” she says).

A plant that otherwise looks robust may not bloom because it’s not getting enough light. Move it to a south- or west-facing window in winter, where the light is brighter. Watch for too much sun, though; direct sun will burn the leaves of African violets. They also do well under plant lights.

These plants also bloom better when they are slightly root-bound, so don’t rush to re-pot. They may also benefit from a light feeding of a bloom-boosting plant food every few weeks. With the right conditions, they may bloom nearly non-stop.

 

 

Bring spring in early by forcing blooms

How do you force forsythia and other flowering shrubs to bloom indoors?

Branches of flowering quince can be coaxed to bloom indoors.

Branches of flowering quince can be coaxed to bloom indoors.

Can’t wait for spring? Branches cut from those early-flowering shrubs can be coaxed to bloom indoors weeks before they start to bloom outside. Here are tips for forcing branches into bloom from garden author Judy Lowe, in Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

On a day when the temperature is above freezing, cut 12- to 18-inches stems with the biggest buds. Scrape the cut ends of the branches about three inches up, or crush the ends of the branches with a hammer, and place the branches in a bucket of warm water for 24 hours.

Pour out the water and fill the bucket with cool water mixed with floral preservative, (which you can find at a florist or craft supply store). Place the container in a cool, dark spot.

When the buds begin to show color, move the container into the light, but not in direct sun. Add water to the vase or replace it as needed, and add more floral preservative. Move the vase into full sun when the flowers begin to open.

Branches from many early-flowering shrubs and trees can be forced into bloom. Some of the favorites (and easiest) are forsythia, flowering quince, spicebush and kerria, Judy Lowe says.

Daffodils can be early risers

It’s mid-January, and the daffodils in our yard are already starting to come up. The shoots are about 3 – 5 inches above the ground. Won’t they freeze when the temperature drops?

DaffodilsIt’s not unusual for the shoots of early-blooming daffodils to begin pushing up through the ground, even as early as January – the same time as the crocuses. Cold weather may slow their growth, but it won’t kill them. This time of year, the worst that could happen is that the weather turns warm and stays warm enough long enough that the daffodils bloom. The flowers might then succumb to a snap of extreme cold, but if buds have not begun to show color, they should be fine.

There are several daffodil cultivars that bloom in late winter, and planting those types can extend the blooming season from late winter into mid-spring. Among the early-blooming favorites are cultivars called ‘Sweetness,’ ‘Jetfire,’ ‘Barrett Browning,’ ‘February Gold,’ and others.

When shoots do begin to pop up, daffodil experts say they benefit from a light dose of bulb fertilizer, scattered lightly around each clump or spread over the surface of naturalized areas. Fertilizer can burn new leaves, so if it gets on the foliage, wash it off right away.

Bring on the seed catalogs!

Sow True Seed catalog for 2015

Sow True Seed catalog for 2015

January, when last summer’s garden is a pleasant memory and this year’s garden is a hopeful dream, is a good time to sit down with a stack of seed catalogs (or a list of seed company URLs) and plan this year’s kitchen garden . Here are some of my favorites (where I indulge in a little wishful thinking):

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Offering many Southern heirlooms to gardeners throughout the U.S. and Canada)

Sow True Seed (Open-pollinated, heirloom and organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds, with the corporate philosophy of honoring people and the planet)

Seed Savers’ Exchange (Unusual varieties not found at the big box store seed kiosks)

Seeds of Change (Seeds, supplies, and live plants, too)

Territorial Seed Company (Try out the online garden planner)

Renee’s Garden (Pretty as a cottage garden)

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Recipes included!)

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (Straightforward, with tidy line drawings; more tips and entertaining reading at the website)

Burpee (for sheer volume, and all those luscious pictures!)

 

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