• Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Upcoming events in Middle Tennessee

    Coming soon: The annual Nashville Lawn and Garden Show returns to the Fairgrounds Nashville Feb. 27 – March 1, 2020 in the new Expo Center building. This year’s theme is Gardens in Focus, and will examine the changing trends and realities of modern cityscapes, community initiatives, container and water-wise gardens, organic foods, sustainability and more. To learn more, visit the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show’s website. 

    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

  • Categories

  • Archives

FEBRUARY Garden Tips & Tasks

Flowering quince

In Middle Tennessee, where The Garden Bench calls home, February can be unpredictable. One day the temperature may be in the 50s or 60s, with sun and blue skies; the next day there could be snow.

I write from Zone 7A on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Map, where the low temperature could be 0-5 degrees F., but in truth, the temperature rarely gets that low. Still, there’s the chance that it could, so mid-winter, wherever you are in the region, is a good time to take it easy. Don’t rush the season, but spend time planning for it. Spring, the best season for enjoying a garden, is on its way.

  • Got cabin fever? A little time in the garden can be a cure. Get outside on a sunny day and pick up any trash, twigs and other garden debris that may be littering your landscape.
  • Plant a tree. On a day when the soil isn’t frozen, dig a hole that is slightly wider than the tree’s root ball, but no deeper. Place the tree in the hole; replace the soil and water it well. Add mulch, but do not mound it up around the tree’s trunk.
  • Lenten roses (Helleborus) should be blooming now. Enjoy the blooms indoors by floating them in a bowl of water (an idea via Instagram from garden expert Brie Arthur, author of Gardening With Grains and The Foodscape Revolution.)
  • If you insist on pristine, weed-free beds in your kitchen garden, dig up the deadnettle, henbit, chickweed and other winter annuals that are likely beginning to emerge before they take over your garden beds. (Chickweed is edible, you know. Good for salads.)
  • Turn your attention to houseplants, but don’t overdo it. Too much water can be as bad as too little. Before you add water to the plant’s soil, check the soil’s moisture level by sticking your finger in.
  • Welcome birds into your garden by providing nesting boxes. Cavity-dwelling birds may start a family in a simple box with a 1½-inch entry.
  • Pansies in containers may benefit from a little attention. Snip off dead flowers and ragged leaves and provide a dose of liquid fertilizer (follow label directions) to perk them up and get them through the rest of the winter.
  • Wild onions may grow tall in an otherwise winter-clipped lawn. If you don’t like the look, go after them with a trowel to dig out the bulbs and roots. This is easier just after a rain, when the ground is moist.
  • Some vegetables can be direct-sown in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Later in the month, plant spinach, lettuce, radishes and snap peas in the kitchen garden. A gardening friend here in Middle Tennessee likes to follow an old gardening tradition of planting peas on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, she says, the weather doesn’t always cooperate.
  • Coax branches of late-winter or spring-flowering shrubs and trees to bloom indoors. Cut 2- to 3-foot branches after the buds begin to swell, split the bottoms of the stems, then place them in a vase of water in a cool room. When the buds begin to show color, move the vase into a warmer area, and welcome spring into your home.

Houseplants: Share the wealth

I have three houseplants I’d like to share with a friend: a heartleaf philodendron, ZZ plant, and an African violet. What’s the easiest way to divide them?

Many houseplants can be shared. Some root from leaf or stem cuttings, others can be removed from the pot and divided at the rootball. All three of the plants named here are easily propagated.

Heartleaf philodendron: These are easy to root from stem cuttings. You can try to simply cut the tip of a stem with several leaves from the parent plant just below a node (where a leaf attaches to the stem). Remove the bottom leaves, and place the stem in a jar of water. Change the water frequently, and with luck, the stem will begin to grow roots at the node. When there are enough roots to support the plant’s growth, transfer it to a pot filled with sterile potting mix.

A better method, though, is to dip the freshly cut stem in rooting powder (usually sold in garden centers) and stick the stem into seed-starting mix. Water the mix gently, or spray with a mister, and cover the pot and cutting with plastic. Mist it daily. New growth should appear in a few weeks, and the new philodendron can be transplanted into regular potting mix.

ZZ plant: Zamioculcas zamiifolia – ZZ for short – grows from rhizomes (fleshy, sometimes bulbous underground stems), so it’s a simple task to share parts of an overgrown plant. Simply lift the plant out of the pot and separate the rhizomes by pulling them apart gently Replant the rhizomes into clean pots with new potting mix, water, and maintain as usual.

You can also propagate ZZ from plant cuttings. Plant the cuttings in potting mix that drains well, water lightly, and place the cuttings in a warm, brightly lit area. This is a slow-growing plant, so it may take weeks or months before the new plant shows signs of rooting. Whatever you do, don’t overwater. ZZ is usually happier on the dry side.

(For more information about Zamioculcas zamiifolia, check out my article How to Care for a ZZ Plant at HGTV.com.)

African violet: These sweet little plants are easily shared by rooting petiole (leaf stem) cuttings. Cut a healthy leaf with its stem from the parent plant, trim the stem to about and inch or inch-and-a-half long, and stick the end of the stem into damp seed-starting mix. You may want to cover the pot with plastic to keep the cutting humid and warm. In any case, check daily to make sure the soil remains lightly moist. In a few weeks, you will see tiny plantlets emerge from the soil. At that time, you can transplant it to regular potting mix and cut away and discard the parent leaf.

This is a good technique to use when you accidentally knock a leaf off your established African violet. More plants for your friends, and for your own indoor garden!

Silky dogwood shows its colors

Each month, UT Gardens at the University of Tennessee suggests a Plant of the Month to garden writers and gardeners in the state. The January, 2020 featured plant is Silky Dogwood (Cornus amonum), a deciduous shrub native to the eastern U.S. that has small white flowers in late spring and clusters of blue berries in late summer and fall.

The silky dogwood that’s featured this month, though – a variety called ‘Cayenne’ — shows its best feature in winter, when the stems can stand out in bright, beautiful red against an otherwise brown landscape, or (if we’re lucky) with a background of fresh snow.

“Red twig dogwoods are hard to beat for their dramatic colorful show of stems in the winter,” says Jason Reeves, a research horticulturist at UT Gardens in Jackson, TN. Common cultivars include ‘Baileyi,’ ‘Cardinal,’ ‘Isanti,’ ‘Winter Flame’ and others. Continue reading

January garden tips & tasks

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is one of the easy-to-grow houseplants that can bring a touch of the outdoors to your home in winter.

Garden enthusiasts can always find a way to enjoy their favorite pastime, even in winter. If you’re missing the outdoors because of snow or rain or blustery winds, consider these tasks to keep you in touch with your garden:

  • Begin a garden journal. Use it to jot down ideas and lists of plants you want to grow this year.
  • Keep bird feeders filled to attract a wide variety of winged visitors to your garden in winter.
  • If you bring home new houseplants, protect them from the cold air on the trip home. Once you bring them in, keep them separate from other plants for a few days to watch for pests.
  • When the ground freezes and thaws, plants can be pushed out of the ground – a process known as “heaving.” If this happens, tuck the roots back into the soil and cover the area with a layer of mulch.
  • You can grow herbs on a sunny windowsill indoors, but pinch them back regularly to keep them from getting tall and “leggy.”
  • Birds also need water in winter, so provide water in a birdbath or shallow pan and change it frequently.
  • Winter is a good time to have the soil in your lawn or garden beds tested. The Extension Service in your county can provide materials and instructions for testing.
  • Watch for pests on houseplants and tender outdoor plants that spend the winter indoors. If you see evidence of aphids or scale infestations, take action immediately to keep them from spreading to other plants.

Shrubs for shade

We’d like to plant shrubs at the back of our lot in an area that, unfortunately, doesn’t get full sun. Can you suggest evergreen shrubs that will do well in the shade?

To grow to their target height and remain full, most evergreen shrubs need some sun, but there are several that can get by with less. Here are a few suggestions: Continue reading

Grow food with your flowers

From The Foodscape Revolution by Brie Arthur: ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas makes a good backdrop for a basil edge.

A few weeks ago I talked by phone with Brie Arthur, the author of The Foodscape Revolution, to include her voice in a story for The Tennessean in advance of the

Photo courtesy Brie Arthur

Nashville Lawn and Garden Show, which was the first weekend in March. Her book, and her gardening passion, is about making space in your landscape for food, growing it alongside the trees, shrubs and ornamental plantings that can make up a tidy landscape, even if you live in a neighborhood under the rules of a persnickety homeowners’ association.

The story in the paper turned out to be more about the show than about how to beautifully flout the HOA’s rules, but Brie and I had talked for much longer, as gardeners are inclined to do, about the benefits and the joy of growing food and flowers. Since many of her ideas weren’t included in the story about last weekend’s garden show, I’m happy I can share them here. Continue reading

March into the garden with these tips and tasks

Gardeners in Middle Tennessee (home of The Garden Bench) know that, in spite of what the calendar says, early spring has arrived. It’s almost March, and buds are swelling, bulbs are up and many are blooming, tips of favorite perennials are poking up through the mulch. And while we know that winter can – probably will – visit us again in a few days, we can get outdoors and enjoy the emergence of the new season with these early-spring tips and tasks.

Spanish bluebells emerging

Prepare new garden beds: Have the soil tested (check with your county’s Extension service to learn how). Remove grass and dig or till soil 8 to 10 inches deep and mix with soil amendments and organic matter to improve drainage.

Add a dose of fertilizer to perennials as soon as you see new growth. Keep it light; too much fertilizer may result in lanky growth.

Cut back liriope and other ornamental grasses. It’s easier now that it will be once new growth emerges.

If your fescue lawn looks a little skimpy, overseed early this month. Fescue grows best when the weather is still cool. It’s best to wait until early fall for a complete lawn renovation.

Plant lettuce and other cool-weather crops

Herb transplants that don’t mind cool weather — parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano – can go in the ground now. And of course you can also plant seeds and transplants of radishes, lettuce, spinach and other cool-season vegetables.

Clip dead stems from perennial herbs – thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary (if your rosemary survived; many Middle Tennessee gardeners’ rosemary plants succumbed to the cold this winter). Pruning those perennial herbs encourages vigorous new growth. Remove mulch or leaves that may be covering perennials in garden beds.

If you need to prune nandinas, flowering quince and other airy shrubs, don’t shear the shrubs. Reach in and remove about a third of the branches at ground level.

Give pansies a light dose of fertilizer as they continue to bloom through early spring.

When you cut daffodils and other early-spring flowers to bring inside, cut the stems at an angle and place them in water right away. Change the water in the vase daily to keep them fresh longer.