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    Nov. 17: Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee meets at Cheekwood's Botanic Hall. Speaker is Lee Patrick of Invasive Plant Control Inc. Refreshments at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m. www.ppsmt.org.

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Winterize your roses

I’ve heard gardeners talk about “winterizing” roses. What does that mean? And how do you do that?


Winterize rose shrubs to prevent damage from cold and wind.

If you live in an area that experiences intense cold or cycles of freezing and thawing, you may have heard about the importance of winterizing your roses. While rose shrubs are generally hardy, some varieties may be vulnerable to extended cold weather and strong winter winds. “Winterizing” helps protect roses from winter damage.

The process begins in late summer. You should discontinue fertilizer applications about mid-August, to slow down new growth. Stop cutting off the dead blooms in early October, which signals the plant to stop producing new growth.

Now comes the important “winterizing” part: Between now (late November) and mid-December, cut the canes back to 2 to 3 feet tall to keep them from blowing around in the winter winds, loosening the soil around the roots. Rose experts at the Nashville Rose Society suggests placing a 12-inch high mound of soil or mulch around each bush. To minimize winter damage at the end of each cane, you can also erect a small cage of chicken wire around each bush and pile about two feet of hay or other loose organic material inside.

Miniature roses and others grown in containers can be moved to an unheated garage or other space where the temperature remains above 20 degrees. Plants should be watered just enough to keep them moist.

For advice on roses in Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home), I usually turn to the rosarians at the Nashville Rose Society, who provide excellent information on growing roses at their website. We are in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, and the schedule reflects normal conditions in our climate. Gardeners in colder areas may adjust accordingly.

Rose enthusiasts can also get information (and see photos of beautiful blooms) from Birmingham, Alabama-based rose expert Chris VanCleave aka “The Redneck Rosarian.” He writes about roses, hosts podcasts, and keeps the conversation going with #RoseChat on Twitter.

Hellebores for winter blooms

Every year I see Lenten roses blooming in my friends’ gardens in December, and I intend to grow some in my own garden. When is the best time to plant them?

Hellebores The Garden Bench

The blooms of Lenten roses – hellebores – are welcome in a garden when everything else is dormant. They are tough plants, with evergreen foliage and flowers that bloom in January and February (or, as you note, as early as December). The flowers of established plants generally last well into spring.

Middle Tennessee plantsman Troy Marden includes hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) in his Southern Gardener’s Handbook, in the chapter on Perennials for the South. He notes that fall is a good time to plant Lenten roses. They can grow in a bed that’s partly shady, and they do best in rich, well-drained soil.

Hellebores may grow slowly at first, but once they’re established they quickly get bigger. Marden suggests a dose of composted manure or organic fertilizer in spring to encourage lush growth and abundant blooms the next year. They also self-sow, and the young seedlings can be dug up and transplanted in spring.

Reminder: It’s tree-planting time

Fall’s cooler weather signals the start of tree-planting time.

“It’s better to plant while the tree is dormant, after the leaves are gone,” says Randall Lantz, landscaping and horticulture superintendent for Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation. Strong root growth is important for the tree’s survival, and after leaf drop, the trees can put their energy into growing roots without having to support the top, he explains.

ball burlap treesSurvival also depends on planting the right tree in the right place.

“Look at your neighborhood and see what’s thriving all around, and also determine what kind of space you have,” says Lantz. “Think about whether you need a small tree or a ‘canopy’ tree, which can be very large.

When it’s time to plant, keep these guidelines in mind:

∙ Most trees need good drainage, so make sure the spot you select drains well.

∙ Don’t plant too deep. A young tree with its root ball wrapped in burlap should be planted a couple of inches higher than the soil level. “Trees tend to settle after they’re planted,” Lantz explains.

∙ Dig a hole that is several inches wider than the root ball (ideally, it should be about twice as wide), with a flat bottom, at a depth that is an inch or so less than the height of the root ball. Place the root ball in the hole and backfill with native soil.

∙ Finally, water the newly planted tree well to settle the soil around the root ball. Trees planted in fall and winter will be ready to grow and thrive next spring.

In Saturday’s Tennessean: Belmont Mansion’s Central Parlor goes back in time; Adelicia would feel right at home.

Enjoy the crisp fall weather. Tap here for a list of garden tips & tasks for November.


November garden tips & tasks

Summer’s over, and the winter holidays are approaching. It’s time to begin thinking about spring. Naturalist Deb Beazley, who leads classes in organic gardening at Warner Parks Nature Center in Nashville, says it’s good to begin planning for next year, even while this year’s garden is still on your mind.

fall leaves

Rake fall leaves from the lawn and use them as mulch.

Fall is a good time to begin to prepare the space for next year’s garden, provided the ground isn’t wet. “At least begin to kill off the grass,” she says. You can accomplish that by covering the parts of the ground you want to turn into garden with clear plastic, newspapers or mulch. If you prefer to use raised beds, build them now. “Get the soil in and get it acclimated. Now is a good time to fill it up and let it settle,” Beazley suggests

Seasoned gardeners can think about bedding down the garden for wintertime. But rather than let the soil lie fallow, she recommends putting it to work by sowing a winter cover crop, such as buckwheat, winter rye or clover. Plan to work it back into the ground with shallow tilling early next spring, which puts nitrogen back into the soil.

It’s also leaf-gathering time, and those leaves you rake up can provide a deep layer of mulch on garden beds in the winter. While you’re leaf gathering, set some aside for later, too; the leaves you rake off the lawn this fall will come in handy next summer, when you can again use them for mulch.

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

Other garden tips and tasks to enjoy this month:

∙ If your landscape is blessed with large trees, leaf removal may be your biggest garden task this month. Fall leaves are a great addition to the compost.

∙ If the weather is mild, you can still plant cool-weather ornamentals early this month – colorful kale, ornamental cabbage, or pansies if you enjoy having flowers in the landscape in winter. Place transplants close together for best color impact, and firm the soil around them to keep freezing and thawing soil from pushing them out of the ground (a process called “heaving”). Add mulch for more winter protection.

∙ Plant spring-flowering bulbs. As a general rule, plant bulbs – pointed end up – at a depth about three times the width of the bulb.

∙ Fall is a good time to plant shrubs. Dig a wide hole that is only as deep as the shrub’s root ball, place the shrub in the hole and fill in the soil. Be sure to firm the soil around the shrub’s root ball, water well, and add several inches of mulch.


Solomon’s seal glows in a woodland garden

What should I do with Solomon’s seal in the fall. Is it better to cut it back? Or just leave it?

solomon's seal

Solomon’s seal blooms in spring, and its leaves and stems turn golden in the fall.

One nice thing about Solomon’s seal (besides its preference to grow and bloom in shade) is how little maintenance it requires in the garden. It comes up in the spring and opens its white, bell-shaped flowers early in the season, provides soft green foliage all summer, then its leaves and stems turn a glowing yellow in the fall before the plant dies back to the ground. Why not just leave it and enjoy it?

Solomon’s seal’s graceful, arching stems and broad leaves are a nice addition to a woodland garden, growing happily alongside ferns, astilbe, hosta, hellebore and other plants that thrive in semi-shade conditions. It grows best in loose, fertile soil that receives regular watering, and spreads slowly by rhizomes. If you have a thick clump of Solomon’s seal, dig and divide the rhizomes and replant them in other areas or share them with gardening friends.

Japanese anemone can be an attractive nuisance

We planted Japanese anemone a few years ago and it’s beautiful now that it’s blooming again, but it’s also spreading all over the place and taking over the garden bed! We’ve tried digging it up and cutting it back, but it just grows more. What can we do to keep it from spreading?

Japanese anemoneHere is an example of a plant that you can fall in love with once a year. The rest of the year, you may find you want to rip it out of the ground.

Japanese anemone has a lot to recommend it. It’s a perennial that grows in sun but is also happy in partly shady conditions. It doesn’t mind acid soil. The foliage grows tall (2 – 4 feet) in attractive mounds. Deer and rabbits don’t seem to care for it, and it blooms reliably in fall, opening masses of pretty white or pink flowers that sway in the breeze after summer-blooming perennials have given up for the year.

It’s a little finicky about soil; it requires good drainage and may languish during periods of drought, but the main complaint gardeners have is that it’s aggressive. It can take a couple of years for it to get established, but once it’s settled in and conditions are right, the plant spreads rapidly and forms dense clumps that take over whatever else might be in its way in the garden bed. Some have called it, generously, a “nuisance” plant.

Here in Zone 7a, Japanese anemone dies back after frost but it’s one of the first things to peek out of the soil in later winter, and once the weather warms, it takes off again. In my garden, it comes up through gravel paths, between rocks in a stacked stone wall, and is making its way into nearby raised beds in the kitchen garden.

It takes diligence and a sharp tool to keep it within bounds. Where you don’t want it to grow, dig it up. Try to get as much of the root as possible (which can be difficult, because the roots break easily). If you want to divide it to share with friends, spring is a good time for that task. Be sure to warn anyone who receives your gift of Japanese anemone that it can become an attractive nuisance.

Betty brown tree trailThe Betty Brown Tree Trail & Arboretum, Nashville’s first downtown arboretum, honors Elizabeth Moorhead Brown’s work to advocate for the city’s urban forests. Read the story in Saturday’s Tennessean.

The beauty of beautyberry

A friend gave us a cutting from a beautyberry shrub a couple of years ago, and the new shrub bloomed and produced berries for the first time this year. When can we take cuttings to plant more of them?

beautyberry 2You can increase your plantings of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) by taking softwood stem cuttings in summer or fall, according to the USDA Plants Database. Cut 4” – 6” long stems, dip the cut ends into rooting hormone and stick them into potting mix or other rooting media. Water the cuttings and cover them with plastic to keep the material moist. Roots should develop in a few weeks.

After rooting begins, remove the plastic for longer intervals each day for a week or so, finally removing it permanently. Plant the rooted cuttings and water them well.

The mature fruit — those beautiful berries — can also be planted in the fall to germinate next spring.

Beautyberry, which also goes by the names sourbush, bunchberry and French mulberry, is an easy-to-grow perennial shrub that is native to the U.S. Several special of birds are drawn to the purple berries in late summer and fall, as are squirrels, raccoons, possums and deer.

And interesting note from the USDA Plant Database: farmers in the early 20th century crushed the leaves and rubbed them on themselves to repel mosquitoes and other biting bugs. Native American cultures also used the roots, leaves and branches for medicinal purposes, to treat malarial fevers, rheumatism, stomach aches, dysentery and colic.

October in the garden: Click here for a list of October garden tips & tasks.

October garden tips & tasks

Winding down from summer, gearing up for fall. These garden tips and tasks will get you outdoors to enjoy crisp fall weather.

Early in the month

maple leaves in fall

Rake leaves as they begin to fall and add them to the compost.

Leaf-raking is about to begin (or in some cases, has probably already begun). Shred leaves with the mower and place them in the compost, or shovel them directly onto garden beds as mulch.

Continue to provide water if the weather is dry. Herb beds, especially herbs that last through winter, benefit from regular moisture as the weather cools down.

Plant garlic. Prepare the soil so that it drains well and mix in a good balanced fertilizer. Separate the garlic bulb into individual cloves, and plant them about 2 inches deep and about five inches apart, pointed ends up. Add mulch to suppress weeds. Garlic will grow over the winter and will be ready to harvest next spring.

Cheery pots of mums brighten porches and garden, but remember to provide water to keep them fresh as long as possible.

Bring your houseplants back inside before nights begin to turn crisp. Clean the pots before you bring them in, and check the containers and the soil for hitchhiking insects.


Plant summer herbs in a pot to grow in a sunny window – or under lights – over the winter.

Harvest that second planting of bush and pole beans, cucumbers and summer squash, along with any tender herbs, before frost threatens.


Many perennials can be divided in fall.

Perennials that need to be divided can be dug and replanted now. Prepare the new planting bed by removing weeds and amending the soil. Do this before you dig the plants to be divided so that perennials can be replanted immediately. Keep newly transplanted roots and foliage watered.

Bring any tender perennials – potted citrus trees, tropical hibiscus, bougainvillea, etc. – indoors and set them in a sunny spot to spend the winter. Provide regular water throughout fall and winter.

Clean up spent flowers, rotting foliage and other debris from perennial and annual beds to prevent harmful insects and diseases from overwintering.

Later this month

As leaves continue to fall, rake or blow them from newly seeded lawns to keep falling laves from shading the new grass.

Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Be sure to provide enough water now and throughout the plants’ first year. A layer of mulch helps keep the soil moist.

spring-flowering bulbs

Now is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs.

Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Some garden wildlife consider bulbs a tasty treat, so you may need to protect your plantings by laying poultry fencing across the planting bed and covering it with soil. The foliage will grow through it next spring. Garden critters won’t bother daffodils, which are poisonous to chipmunks and other rodents, but tulips are often in danger of becoming a rodent’s dinner.

Say goodbye to summer gardening by cleaning mowers, trimmers and other power tools, emptying hoses and storing them indoors, and cleaning dirt and mud from garden tools before putting them away for winter.



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