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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    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 show will have more than 20 displays with 500 or more blooming orchids. Vendors will have a wide variety of blooming orchids for sale. The show and sale are free 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.

    March 28: Introduction to Foodscapes and Permaculture Design, presented by Nashville Foodscapes, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Cost of the workshop is $25. To register, click here or email jeremy@nashvillefoodscapes.com

    March 29: A Journey Through the Permaculture Design Process, presented by Nashville Foodscapes, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Cost of the workshop is $50. (Recommended that participants are familiar with Permaculture design, or take intro class on March 28). To register, click here or email jeremy@nashvillefoodscapes.com

    April 2 - 4: Wildflower Week at Beaman Park. April 2, wildflower hike, 10 a.m. - noon; April 4, Tree hike, 10 a.m. - noon; Wild Food display, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.; wildflower hike, 2 - 4 p.m; wildflower photo exhibit reception, 5 - 6:30 p.m.; Full Moon hike, 6 - 8 pm. Call to register, 615-862-8580. Beaman Park Nature Center, 5911 Old Hickory Blvd., Ashland City, TN.

    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 18: Herb Society of Nashville herb sale, Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Find a list of plants for sale here.

    April 24: Nashville Tree Foundation’s High Tree Party. honoring the winners of this year’s Big Old Tree Contest, of Davidson County’s oldest and largest trees, 4 p.m. at Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. Details here.

    April 25: First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville Herb & Craft Fair, annual and perennial herbs, heirloom tomato plants, native plants plus craft items -- gardening aprons, specialty items, handmade pressed flower art and jewelry, natural handmade soaps, yeast breads, spice mixes, jams, jellies and other items. 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., 1808 Woodmont Blvd. Details here. 

    May 3: Mid-State Iris Association annual Iris Show, 1:30 - 5 p.m., Franklin Synergy Bank, 1 East College Street, Murfreesboro, TN. Free admission.

    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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Prune azaleas soon after they bloom

Our azaleas are too large and need to be trimmed. When is the best time to prune them?

AzaleaIn general, azaleas rarely need pruning, but if you find you need to reduce the size of the shrubs, the best time to prune them is right after they finish blooming. The buds for this year’s azalea blooms began forming last summer, so if you prune now, before they bloom, it means you are cutting off many of the flowers before you have a chance to enjoy them.

Southern Living garden writer Steve Bender, who edited the new edition of the Southern Living Garden Book, suggests this method for pruning azaleas: determine where the height or width needs to be reduced. Then, using hand pruners (or loppers, if the branches are thick), reach in and cut back individual branches to different lengths to create a mounding shape. Do not, he admonishes, use hedge trimmers to shear azaleas. Besides looking boxy and unnatural, this results in flowers and foliage that grow only on the outer portions of the shrubs.

Two other notes from Steve’s advice, which you can read here:

-If you do the job at the proper time, you can cut evergreen azaleas back pretty hard – even back to bare wood — and they should survive and flourish.

-If yours are the ‘Encore’ type of azaleas, which bloom in spring and again in late summer or fall, prune right after the spring bloom.

Divide irises after they bloom

Our bearded irises are coming up and they’re pretty crowded this year, and need to be dug up and divided. If we divide them now, before they bloom, will we still have flowers this year?

Purple irisIf your iris bed is crowded but still producing blooms, it is best to wait until later to dig up the iris bed and divide the rhizomes. The experts at the American Iris Society and other sources say iris beds should be divided every three to five years, and suggest mid- to late-summer as the best time for this task.

When the time comes this summer, here is the method suggested by author Judy Lowe in Month-by-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

Cut the leaves in a fan shape about 6 inches tall, then lift the clump with a spading fork, wash off the dirt, and inspect the rhizome for soft spots, damage or disease.

Cut the rhizome into smaller pieces with a sharp knife, making sure each piece includes an eye or a bud. Cut away any older growth. Lowe notes that iris rhizomes are susceptible to fungal problems, and suggests dipping the rhizome briefly into a solution of one part liquid bleach to nine parts water.

Replant the sections: Dig a hole and make a mound of soil in the center, then place the rhizome on top so that its roots spread over the mound. Cover the roots, but maintain the rhizome at soil level or just below it. Bearded iris rhizomes that are planted too deep may rot, she says. Water the bed well.

Dividing in summer allows the rhizomes to become established before the end of the growing season, and more likely to bloom well next spring.

Color Garden book giveaway

Thanks to readers who left comments this week for a chance to win The Nonstop Color Garden by Nellie Neal. Constance is the winner of the random drawing.

Nellie, her book, and information from Doris Weakley of the Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee were featured in a story in last Saturday’s Tennessean. You can read it here.

And watch for another book giveaway soon.

Herbs, garden color, and a Book Giveaway!

I’m planning to grow an herb garden for the first time. When is the best time to set out transplants?

Basil

Wait until warm weather to plant any type of basil.

Now that spring is definitely on the way, of course we’re anxious to get things planted, and the herb garden is a good place to start. Some herbs can withstand chilly temperatures, and may already be available at nurseries or garden centers. Herbs that are more hardy – sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro, rosemary – can be set out very early, but to be safe (and depending on the climate in your area) you may want to wait until closer to the last frost date. (That’s around mid-April in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home).

Tender herbs such as basil absolutely will not tolerate cold weather, and you should

Parsley

Parsley can withstand a chill, and can be planted now.

wait until after the last frost date – or even a few days longer, just in case — to set out transplants.

In general, herbs grow best in well-drained soil in a spot that gets full sun, but there are a few herbs that do well in partial sun or partial shade. Garden author Judy Lowe lists chives, cilantro, lavender, lemon balm, parsley and sweet bay as plants that tolerate a little shade.

And for aspiring gardeners without a place to dig, herbs do well in containers — alone or planted with other herbs in a garden arrangement. At the appropriate time, set transplants in containers in good potting soil. Place them in a sunny spot on the deck, porch or patio, and keep the containers well-watered.

Color all year long – And a book giveaway!

Nellie Neal lo res

Nellie Neal photo by Dave Ingram

Nellie Neal’s appreciation for color in the landscape began while she was college.

“I became aware of this garden that was on my route every day. I noticed that it didn’t matter what day of the year it was, there was something going on that was worth a look.” She watched throughout the cycle of the year: where the azaleas bloomed, where the gardenias flowered. In winter, where the shrubs held gorgeous berries.

“It’s really when I became enamored with how the colors and the form go together to create this effect.”

Today, Nellie is a garden writer and radio host living in Jackson, Miss. and the author color garden book jacket lo resof The Nonstop Color Garden, a guide to designing flowering landscapes for year-round enjoyment.

Nellie offers some of her garden color tips in a story in today’s Style section in The Tennessean. Here at The Garden Bench, I’m giving away a copy of the book.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite season for color — or just name a color you like. Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, March 20, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a copy of Nellie Neal’s The Nonstop Color Garden.

What’s blooming indoors? Meyer lemon

I have a Meyer lemon tree that I keep indoors. It’s often full of blooms and the flowers smell wonderful. I’m always looking for lemons to start growing, but the flowers dry up and fall off and I never get any fruit.

meyer lemon flower closeup 3As long as the tree is indoors where the air is still and there aren’t any insects flying around, your Meyer lemon will most likely continue to be a delightfully fragrant but non-fruit-bearing plant. What the flowers need to produce fruit is the process of pollination.

You’ve heard of the birds and the bees, right? Outdoors, flying insects (bees and other pollinators) go from flower to flower, dipping into the pollen on the stamens – the cluster of thin filaments — and spreading it to the stigma at the center of the flower.

Indoors, if you want fruit, you’ll have to take care of that little detail yourself. Lemon trees are self-pollinating, meaning that the flowers shed pollen directly onto the stigma, but they still may rely on wind or insects — or human intervention, if necessary — to shake things up.

Here’s how you can help: As the flowers open, use a cotton swab or a small artist’s paintbrush to collect pollen from the anthers (the tips of the stamens), then rub the stigma with the swab to transfer the pollen. It’s a slow process, but the tree should begin to produce lemons (which grow fairly slowly, by the way).

Meyer lemons growing indoors where winters are cold need a lot of sunlight, and they also benefit from time spent outside when the weather warms up. Place a lemon tree in a protected spot outdoors, moving it gradually into full sun, when nighttime temperatures stay above about 50 degrees. Outdoors, the bees will do the job of pollinating the flowers, of course.

In general, Meyer lemon trees thrive in good potting mix in a container that drains well. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely, but don’t overwater it, either. Fertilize regularly with an organic fertilizer designed for citrus, following directions on the label. (I’ve used Espoma’s Organic Citrus-tone citrus and avocado food, with good results).

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.

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