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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    Jan. 29: Organic Gardening. Discuss topics such as composting, seed starting, planting dates, soil preparation, insects and more with naturalist Deb Beazley, 9 – 10:30 a.m. at Warner Park Nature Center. Call 615-352-6299 to register for this class for ages 13 and up.

    Feb. 6: Birds in the Backyard. Learn about feeders and native landscaping that will attract birds to your garden, led by Vera Vollbrecht, 11 a.m. – noon at Warner Park Nature Center.  Call 615-352-6299 to register for this all-ages class.

    Feb. 12: Planting the seed. Vegetables have begun sprouting in the greenhouse. Naturalist Heather Gallagher leads a class about gardening in winter or age 3 – 5, 10 – 11 a.m. or 1 – 2 p.m. at Warner Park Nature Center. Call 615-352-6299 to register.

    March 3 - 6: Nashville Lawn & Garden Show, live gardens, free lectures, demonstrations, vendor marketplace, floral design gallery at the Fairgrounds Nashville. Information at www.nashvillelawnandgardenshow.com.

    March 18-19: The Garden Party, garden lectures, vendor booths, demonstration, floral arrangements, exhibit of garden and nature-relate art, Friday and Saturday, with a family-friendly garden party event Friday evening, 7 – 11 p.m. featuring music by the band Dixiana, food and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase. The event will be at the Lane Agri-Park Community Center, 315 John R. Rice Blvd. in Murfreesboro. Tickets are $6 for the daytime event, tickets for the Friday night event are $8; children 13 and under admitted free with a paying adult ticket. To learn more: www.BoroGardenParty.com and www.facebook.com/BoroGardenParty.

    April 9: Perennial Plant Society sale -- one of Nashville's top gardening events hosted by the Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee. More than 450 varieties of shrubs, roses, vines, perennials and annuals, plus garden experts on hand to offer advice. Sale at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds opens at 9 a.m. - noon or until plants run out (arrive early!).

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Remove English ivy from trees

The large trees around our home are covered with English ivy. Is there a way to keep it from growing up into the limbs of the trees?

P1040778 (2)English ivy growing up into trees (and another invasive creeping vine, wintercreeper euonymous) are most evident now, when the trees are bare. It’s this time of year when you can see just how quickly and how thickly those vines – which are evergreen — can climb into the tree canopy. Left to grow, English ivy vines can engulf the tree within a few years.

Once the vines have grown up into the limbs, there is no quick and easy way to get them down. The vines will have grown stout trunks that continue to reach up and branch out as they cling to the bark. The National Park Service, which has an interest in keeping English ivy from displacing native flora on public lands, suggests several methods for controlling the vine. It likely will require a combination of manual, mechanical and chemical methods.

Use a hand axe or pruning saw to carefully cut large vines near the ground, which will deprive the upper portions of nutrients. Try not to damage the bark of the tree itself. Cut smaller vines with loppers or pruning shears. It will take a few weeks for the vines to succumb, but then you can pull as much as possible off the tree, or allow the dead vines to eventually fall off.

Cutting followed by application of a systemic herbicide to the cut surfaces of the still-rooted vines may be effective in getting rid of the plant, NPS says; be aware, though, that cutting will re-invigorate growth, so you have to continue to be diligent about removing new growth, which can usually be pulled up from the ground.

Gardeners have a saying about English ivy: “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps.” It can be slow to get started, but once it gets going, it quickly leaps out of bounds. Keep this in mind if you’re tempted to add English ivy to the landscape.

Winter garden tips & tasks

Gardening doesn’t stop just because winter has set in. We gardeners find plenty of ways to keep busy until spring calls us outdoors again.

January

African violet

Can’t get outdoors to garden? Tend to your houseplants.

Satisfy your urge to garden by tending to your houseplants. Beyond regular watering and feeding, clean the leaves, trim dead foliage and flowers, and re-pot plants as necessary.

Watch for pests that may attack houseplants or outdoor plants that spend the winter indoors. Take quick action if you begin to see aphids, mealybugs, scale or spider mites.  A shower of lukewarm water may take care of light infestations of many insects.

Herbs and summer annuals that you may be growing indoors on a sunny windowsill should be pinched back periodically to keep them from becoming too tall and leggy. If plants are not getting enough sunlight, you may need to move them to a brighter location, or grow them under lights. Provide a dose of houseplant fertilizer every few weeks throughout the winter.

Save that poinsettia from Christmas to grow in your garden next spring. Place the pot in bright, indirect light and continue to water enough to keep the soil moist, but not Poinsettiasoggy. After the danger of frost passes, place the pot outdoors and cut back the stems. It should continue to grow into a bushy, green plant that will die back at the first hint of frost next fall.

Watch the garden beds for signs of “heaving” – uprooting of plants by thawing and freezing soil. Tuck the plants’ roots back into the soil and cover with a layer of mulch.

The blooms of hellebores are beginning to brighten the landscape in some areas. Cut back last year’s dried foliage to allow new buds and foliage to thrive. If you’re planting hellebores for the first time, prepare a bed of well-drained soil. Hellebores will tolerate shade, but bloom better if they receive adequate sunlight, and should thrive for years with little maintenance.

If the soil isn’t frozen, it’s a good time to plant a tree. Dig a hole that is wider than the rootball, but no deeper. Place the rootball in the hole, fill the hole about halfway with soil, make final adjustments, then fill the rest of the hole and add water. Plant the tree only as deep as it grew originally. Add mulch, but do not mound mulch or soil up around the trunk.

Winter is a good time to prune deciduous trees, while they are dormant. Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees now; to do so would cut off the buds that would bloom this spring.

Bring spring in early by forcing paperwhite narcissus bulbs in pots indoors. Grow them in soil or in water. They’ll bloom quickly and fill your home with a lovely (some say overwhelming) sweet fragrance.

Peruse mail-order catalogs or their online equivalent for new ideas and old favorites to add to your garden this spring.

February

Feeling house-bound? Cure cabin fever by getting out on a sunny day to pick up dry leaves, twigs and other garden debris that may have accumulated on lawns and in garden beds.

Welcome the birds by keeping feeders filled. Safflower seed attracts cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees and more. A suet feeder draws woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches. Take part in the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 12 – 15. Learn more at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

chickweed

Some weeds may continue to grow.

In some areas, annual weeds that thrive in winter grow easily in cultivated perennial and vegetable beds. Dig them out or pull them up as soon as they begin to sprout to keep them from spreading.

Liriope (aka monkey grass or lilyturf) in the landscape benefits from a little winter maintenance: trim last year’s foliage before the new growth begins to emerge.

Houseplants that like humidity may suffer in the heat inside your home. Add humidity around the plants by lining a waterproof tray with stones, filling the tray with water and placing the plants on top of the stones.

Summer annuals can grow indoors over the winter, but they tend to get leggy if they’re not getting enough light. Move them to a sunnier spot, if possible, or grow them under lights.

It’s a good time to have your soil tested to find out what amendments might be needed. Contact your county’s extension office to learn how to have a soil test done

Flowering quince

Cut branches of spring-blooming shrubs, such as flowering quince, to bloom indoors.

Bring the promise of spring indoors by cutting branches of spring-flowering shrubs (forsythia, flowering quince and so forth) to force into bloom. Scrape the ends of 12- to 18-inch branches and place them in a container of warm water. Place the container in a dark, cool spot at first, then move it to a sunnier place when the buds begin to open.

The 2016 gardening season may begin late in February in some climates! In the kitchen garden, plant cool-season vegetables such as snap peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, beets, kale, mustard, bunching onions, turnip roots and greens. In colder climates, start those seeds indoors so you have transplants ready to set out in the garden when the time comes.

Begin making plans for spring and summer garden beds. If you grow a kitchen garden, begin to start seeds indoors so they will be ready at the appropriate outdoor planting time.

Grow Siberian iris from seed

I have several Siberian iris pods that have dried and split and produced seeds. Can I plant them to grow new irises? When is the best time to plant?

Siberian iris croppedAfter the irises bloom in the spring, they may form seed pods, and those ripe seeds (which should be dark and shiny) can be saved and planted to grow new irises. But they require specific conditions to germinate successfully, including a period of cold weather, so the best time to plant iris seeds is in late fall and winter.

Iris experts suggest two ways of germinating iris seeds. This information comes from Margie Valenzuela of the Tucson Area Iris Society and Sally G. Miller at the Dave’s Garden online community of gardeners:

Soak the seeds in water for at least 48 hours, or for several days, changing the water every day. This causes the seeds to plump up and allows them to germinate faster. Plant the seeds about a half-inch deep, about a half-inch apart in a planter box filled with seed-starting potting mix, and keep the soil moist (but not wet) at all times. You may want to cover the container with wire mesh to keep squirrels from digging in the pot. You can also plant the seeds directly in the ground this winter, in a prepared bed. When they begin to germinate, iris seedlings look a bit like grass, but the leaves soon acquire their typical flattened growth pattern.

Other experts provide information about growing seedlings indoors, under lights. They still need a period of chilling – about 12 weeks in the refrigerator, after soaking the seeds in a sterilizing solution of one part bleach and ten parts water. After they’ve had their chill, plant the seeds in seedling mix and grow them under fluorescent lights indoors, moving the seedlings to the prepared garden bed as weather permits, and keep them well-watered during the first year.

Irises grown from seed may not bloom the first year. And when they do bloom, you may find they don’t emerge as the exact plant that grew them – they likely will be interesting hybrids, fertilized nature’s way by bees and other pollinators.

December garden tips & tasks

You may live in a climate that can grow a garden all year, and if so, good for you. The rest of us may be glad for a little break, and time to gather energy for the next gardening season, which will be here before we know it.

Tulips

Plant tulip bulbs now to bloom next spring.

Even during this down-time, though, some may find it hard to stay out of the garden, and for those of us who can’t stay indoors, there are still reasons to get out there. Consider these garden tips and tasks – out in the yard and around the house — that are perfect for a sunny day in winter:

If you bought spring-flowering bulbs but haven’t put them in the ground, rest assured that it’s still not too late to plant them. Even planted this late, they’ll be better off in the ground than in the bags you brought them home in! But do try to get them in the ground by the end of the month.

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

If it's below 50 degrees out, protect new houseplants when you bring them in from the car.

If it’s below 50 degrees out, protect new houseplants when you bring them in from the car.

∙ If you buy new houseplants, keep them covered on the trip from the store to the car, and the car to the house. Cold air could harm plants that are not accustomed to the chill. Inside, watch for mealybugs, aphids and scale on houseplants and outdoor plants that are wintering indoors. If you find evidence of these or other pests, take action right away.

∙ Water houseplants regularly, but test the soil for moisture before watering. Many houseplants need less water in winter.

∙ Trim dead foliage and flowers of houseplants and outdoor plants that are indoors for the winter. Clean the leaves, and re-pot plants as needed.

∙ If landscape plants are uprooted by freezing and thawing soil, tuck the roots back into the soil and cover with a layer of mulch.

∙ Be sure you have drained and stored hoses and sprinklers before a prolonged cold spell. Those tools last much longer when they’re protected from freezing.

Bright, filtered light and moderate water keep a poinsettia happy for months.

Bright, filtered light and moderate water keep a poinsettia happy for months.

∙ Here’s how to take care of your Christmas poinsettia so that it last through the holidays and into next spring: If the outdoor temperature is below 50 degrees, protect it from cold air when you move it from the car to the house. Place it where it can receive bright, indirect sunlight for about six hours a day. Remove the foil wrapper when you water, to allow water to drain, and keep the soil slightly moist, but not soggy.

∙ Take a walk around your landscape and through your garden, considering what you’d like to add, move or change next season.

 

Winterize your roses

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

Rose

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.

 

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