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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    July 5: The Nashville African Violet Club will meet at 2 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 2905 N. Mt. Juliet Rd, Mount Juliet, TN 37122.  For more information, contact Julie at  Julie.mavity@gmail.com  or 615-364-8459.

    July 7: Nashville Rose Society meets at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall, refreshments and beginners program at 6:30; main program begins at 7 p.m. Open to the public. www.nashvillerosesociety.com.

    July 9: Nashville Public Library Seed Exchange program, “Home Canning in 2015 – Be Safe and Successful,” 6 – 7:30 p.m. at the Green Hills Library. www.library.nashville.org/info/seedexchange.asp.

    July 11: Nashville Public Library Seed Exchange program, “What is Wrong With My Tomato Plants?” 10:30 a.m. – noon at the Main Library Conference Center. www.library.nashville.org/info/seedexchange.asp.

    July 12: The Tennessee Gesneriad Society will meet at 2 p.m. at Cheekwood, in Botanic Hall. The program will be a slide show of the international flower show from the Gesneriad Society convention.  For more info contact Julie at Julie.mavity@gmail.com or 615-364-8459.

    July 18: A Rotten Good Time! at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center. Learn how vegetable scraps from the kitchen garden can be turned into compost to use on plants in the garden. Christie Wiser leads this all-ages program. Call 615-862-8539 or email shelbybottomsnature@nashville.gov to register.

    July 18: Nashville Public Library Seed Exchange program, “Preparing Your Garden for Winter,” 10 – 11 a.m. at the Donelson Library. www.library.nashville.org/info/seedexchange.asp.

    July 18: Nashville Public Library Seed Exchange program, “Gardening with Native Plants with Margie Hunter,” 11 a.m., Goodlettsville Library. www.library.nashville.org/info/seedexchange.asp.

    July 21: Perennial Plant Society meets at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall. Feature speaker is UT’s Carol Reese; topic is Four Seasons in the Garden, spotlighting seasonal favorites. Refreshments at 6:30 p.m., meeting begins at 7 and is open to all. www.ppsmt.org.

    July 22: Garden cooking at Warner Park Nature Center. Create a nutritious treat using the bountiful produce from the organic garden, 10 a.m. - noon. Nature Center staff leads this class for kids age 6 – 12. www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation.aspx.

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Rose of Sharon is an easy summer favorite

I remember a large Rose of Sharon shrub that grew in my grandmother’s yard that had big, pretty flowers every summers. I’d like to have one for my own garden. Can this shrub be started from cuttings?

Lil Kim Proven Winners

Lil’ Kim Rose of Sharon (H. syriacus) from Proven Winners Plants.

The old-fashioned rose of Sharon, or shrub althaea (Hibiscus syriacus), is easy to grow, and often pops up in unexpected places from dropped seeds. It can also be propagated from stem cuttings. Here are general guidelines for taking cuttings of rose of Sharon and other woody ornamentals:

Cut lengths of softwood (soft, succulent new growth) or semi-hardwood (partially mature wood of the current season’s growth) about six inches long from a healthy host plant. Remove the bottom leaves, and dip the cut ends in rooting hormone powder. Stick the cut ends about one-third their length into a rooting medium that drains well, such as perlite or vermiculite. Cover the cuttings with some sort of plastic covering to maintain a humid environment, and place them in indirect light.

Keep the rooting medium moist until roots develop. It will likely take several weeks, but you’ll know the cuttings have grown roots when you tug gently on the cuttings and feel resistance. Transplant them into containers to allow them to grow to a larger size before you plant them in the garden.

Rose of Sharon grows and blooms best in full sun, and thrives in almost any well-drained soil. Once established, it tolerates heat and drought. Flowers bloom on new growth, so if it needs pruning, you can do that task in winter.

Spider mites can ruin your roses

What could be stripping the leaves off the branches of my roses? I spray with a product that is supposed to protect roses from insects and diseases, but it hasn’t helped.

Knock Out roseKeep an eye on roses when it’s hot and dry. That’s when spider mites do their worst damage, say rosarians at the Nashville Rose Society, and they can turn a lovely rose bush into an ugly mess.

The tiny creatures get on the undersides of leaves and feed on the plant’s juices. The damaged leaves look speckled, turn yellow and fall off.

Spider mites are not insects; they are more closely related to spiders, so insecticides won’t have any effect. You can use a miticide, but it can be expensive. The best and cheapest way to control them is with a blast of water directed at the undersides of the leaves, rosarians say. If you do this every three days for a week or so, you break the mites’ gestation cycle.

Here’s a little more information about the tiny arachnids: Adult mites are less than 1/50 inch long. They use their mouthparts to pierce individual plant cells and remove the liquid. They produce webs that can coat the foliage with a fine silk that collects dust, making the leaves look dirty.

You can’t see them, but you can certainly see the damage. Heavily infested plants will be discolored, and if they are not controlled, the rose can be stunted, or even killed.

Keep snails from snacking on the garden

I grow herbs and flowers in brick raised beds around my patio. In the evenings, I often see dozens of snails around the bricks and in the beds around the plants. How do you keep snails from eating everything in the garden?

snail 4The best way to keep snails (and their slimy mollusk cousins, slugs) from dining in your garden is to keep them out of the beds in the first place. Garden experts and home gardeners have a variety of tips and techniques for this, mostly involving barriers to separate the mollusks from your plants, but also ways to trap them and remedies to reduce snail and slug habitat. The tips here are from two sources, The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food and Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver:

  • Soft-bodied snails and slugs a reluctant to cross scratchy materials, such as pine needles or crushed eggshells. A continuous barrier of that powdery, sharp-edge irritant, diatomaceous earth, should keep snails at a distance. Others have suggested spreading coffee grounds or sharp sand around vulnerable plants.
  • Copper gives slugs and snails a mild electric shock when they come into contact with it, so a strip of copper flashing tacked around the outside of raised beds can be an effective deterrent.
  • Strips of hardware cloth around the bed can also keep snails from crossing. Make sure it extends a couple of inches above the bed, and for extra protection, cut the wire so that it leaves sharp points along the top edge.
  • Set out traps. A shallow pan of beer, or of yeast, sugar and water, lures them in, and they drown. A suggested recipe: 3 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of granulated yeast, and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Snails and slugs stay in the shade during the day and come out to dine at night when it’s cool and moist. You can prop a wide board about an inch off the ground to create an alluring daytime shelter, and collect and dispose of them after they’ve gathered there.
  • Reduce snail habitat by cleaning up around the beds. Loose bricks, boards, moist piles of leaves and other garden debris provide dark, cool places for slugs and snails to hang out during the day while they’re waiting for nightfall to come out and dine at your garden buffet.
  • If you normally water the garden in the evening, change your routine to morning watering so the soil surface dries quickly.

If one technique doesn’t work, try another, or try a combination of techniques to reduce the snail population in your garden.

June garden tips & tasks

Lots of bright sunshine, and just enough rain — that’s perfect June weather, and what we always hope for. Here are this months tips and tasks to help you enjoy your time in the garden.

Early June

tomato red

Tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

Have you put off planting seeds in the kitchen garden? You can still plant bush and pole beans, squash, zucchini, cucumber, okra and eggplant, sunflowers, zinnias and other summer favorites.

Remove any leftover foliage of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs, which most certainly has turned yellow or brown by now.

Morning is the best time to water lawns, perennial, annual and vegetable beds. About an inch of water per week is enough to keep most plants and lawns thriving.

Summer tomatoes will begin to ripen. Make sure they receive consistent moisture. Use mulch around the plants to keep them from drying out quickly. Replenish mulch around in all garden beds to help keep plants’ roots moist as the weather heats up.

Snip the growing tips of chrysanthemums. This encourages new, fuller growth, and delays flowering. Plan to pinch them back again next month, which will encourage them to flower better in the fall.

Middle of the month

Japanese beetle

Watch for Japanese beetles on plants and flowers.

Blueberries continue to ripen. If you want to get them before the birds do, cover the plants with bird netting.

Gladiolus and other tall, top-heavy perennials may need stakes to help keep them standing.

Cut basil frequently to use in the kitchen. Pinch out the flowering spikes of the plants to encourage bushier growth.

If you discover Japanese beetles munching away at your favorite plants, flick them off into a bucket of soapy water. Many garden experts discourage using Japanese beetle traps, which may lure more to your yard than they catch.

Vacation plans? Ask a friend or neighbor (or a young gardener looking for a little extra income) to water garden beds and containers if it doesn’t rain.

End of June

hosta 1

If you find holes in your hostas, you can probably blame slugs.

Shrubs and trees planted this spring should be watered regularly to help them continue to adjust to their first summer in the landscape.

Holes in your hostas are probably the work of slugs. Place a saucer of beer or yeast mixed in water near the plants to trap them.

Remove the faded flowers (a task called “deadheading”) to encourage more blooms of daisies, coreopsis and other summer favorites.

If ferns and other hanging arrangements are under shelter and out of the rain, they dry out quickly in the summer heat. Be sure to provide water frequently. You may need to water every day.

Spider mites strike when the weather is hot and dry. On roses, look for them if you begin to see yellow, speckled leaves. If you spot them on roses or other shrubs, blast them with a strong spray of water directed at the undersides of the leaves every two or three days.

In Saturday’s Tennessean: The gardens at The Craighead House, the historic property owned by Nashville landscape designer Steve Sirls, has been placed in the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Gardens. Read it now at Tennessean.com.

Roses may be at risk for fungal disease

My rose bush is developing little black spots on some of the leaves. What’s causing this, and what can I do about it?

Yellow rose

Roses may develop diseases that affect the foliage.

For questions on roses, I always go to the helpful experts at the Nashville Rose Society, and their Web site. It looks like there are at least two fungal diseases that cause black spots on the leaves of roses: one appropriately called black spot, and the other, anthracnose. You can tell the difference by looking at the edges of the spots. Black spot has the feathery margins, which give rise to some of its other names: leaf blotch or star sooty mold.

Both make a rose look really bad for awhile, which is why people who are serious about growing fancy, beautiful roses stick to a rigid schedule of spraying. Fungicides are to ward off the ugly fungal diseases, pesticides to keep away chewing and sucking bugs.

Both blackspot and anthracnose overwinter on the plant and develop during a cool, moist spring. The best way to minimize the risk of developing diseases is with preventive maintenance: Clean up dead leaves and decaying matter around rose bushes, prune out diseased canes, make sure the rose bush is in a place that has good air circulation, and water in the morning, to give the foliage plenty of time to dry during the day. Fungicides, applied on a regular schedule in early spring, can help prevent infection.

Prune to preserve the sweet scent of mock orange

Our two mock orange shrubs are full of blooms right now, but they haven’t been pruned in many years and they are very tall and lanky with a lot of dead wood, and look terrible the rest of the time. When can they be shaped up or pruned?

Philadelphus - mock orange

Mock Orange

The flowers of the mock orange shrub last only a week or two in late spring in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a (where The Garden Bench calls home), but they can provide a stunning show, and the fragrance, which is said to resemble orange blossoms, is delicate and sweet.

Those flowers bloom on the previous year’s growth, so you should prune the shrubs right after they finish blooming this year, which allows time for new growth to mature and bloom next spring.

If the shrub is in really bad shape but still vigorous, you can actually do a rejuvenation pruning, removing the oldest stems at ground level to encourage vigorous new growth. Information from the National Gardening Association suggests cutting out about a third of the stems. Pruning the shrub every year encourages it to grow more densely.

In general, mock orange (Philadelphus is the botanical name) grows best in full sun but can tolerate a little shade. It does well in most types of soil, as long as it has good drainage. Mock orange is good to use as a background shrub or a specimen plant in the landscape. If you’re considering a new shrub, be sure to plant it where you can enjoy that sweet, though fleeting, fragrance.

Book giveaway – winners!

southern gardeners handbookLast week we announced a book giveaway – two copies of Southern Gardener’s Handbook by Middle Tennessee author Troy B. Marden. Commenters Rhonda and Amanda were picked in random drawings, and they’ll receive copies of the book from the publisher, Cool Springs Press. Thanks for your comments!

Zinnias for summer – and a Book Giveaway!

I love seeing zinnias in a summer garden, and want to plant them in my yard this year. Is it too late to grow them from seeds?

ZinniasYou’d get that great summer zinnia look a little sooner by planting bedding plants, if you can find them, but early May is not too late to plant zinnia seeds. In fact, they get off to a better start if you sow seeds after the soil has warmed, as they sprout and grow quickly.

Sow the seeds in a prepared garden bed (good garden soil in full sun) about ¼-inch deep. Keep the bed moist, and once they’re up, thin the plants to at least six inches apart. This is important to provide good air circulation around the plants; a bed planted too thickly may be more susceptible to powdery mildew when summer’s humidity sets in.

Then, just wait a few weeks for them to start blooming. Butterflies will love them, and you’ll be able to cut flowers for summer bouquets from the time they start blooming until frost knocks them down. The more you cut, the better and bushier the plants will be.

There are dozens of zinnia varieties, tall and short, and a range of colors. Most of the familiar forms are common zinnia, Zinnia elegans, but gardeners who wish to avoid the powdery mildew problem may want to try Z. angustifolia, or narrow-leaf zinnia, which grows in a mounded form. The flowers resemble miniature daisies, and the plant blooms from early summer to frost.

A fun fact that I found at the Rodale’s Organic Life website: when zinnias, which are native to Mexico, were introduced in Europe, the flowers were referred to as “everybody’s flower” because they were so common and easy to grow.

Book Giveaway! Southern Gardener’s Handbook by Troy Marden

©Troy B. Marden

©Troy B. Marden

If you ask Troy Marden about the best plants for a garden, he’ll most likely talk about soil.

“That may not be the answer you expected and it’s usually not the answer most people want to hear,” he says. “People want to plant pretty flowers, trees and shrubs.

“But if you don’t start with your soil – amend it, feed it, nurture it – the results will be lackluster.” That’s especially true here in the south, where we often try to coax a garden out of heavy, wet clay.

Troy is one of the Mid-state’s favorite go-to garden experts, so we listen to what he says. He’s passing along more of his garden knowledge in a new book, Southern Gardener’s Handbook, published this spring. Besides his thorough lesson on soil and how to make it better, he offers his ideas for best practices on watering, fertilizing, understanding microclimates, sun and shade, compost and “greener ways to garden.” This is followed by three hundred full-color plant profiles, organized under ten plant categories from annuals to vines.

“I wrote this guide as comprehensive, but approachable,” Troy says. “Interesting enough for the more seasoned gardener, but easy enough to understand for those who might be getting their hands dirty for the first time.”

southern gardeners handbookThe Giveaway: Here at The Garden Bench, we are giving away two copies of Southern Gardener’s Handbook from the publisher, Cool Springs Press.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite May blooms – or just say “Count me in!” Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, May 15, 2015, and your name will go into a drawing to win one of two copies of Troy Marden’s Southern Gardener’s Handbook.

Small space, big returns: It’s possible to grow edibles and ornamentals even if you don’t have a plot of soil that you can call a garden. In Saturday’s Tennessean, master gardener Mary Boyd discusses several ways to garden in small spaces. Master Gardeners of Davidson County is getting ready for its annual Urban Garden Festival on May 16.

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