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  • February garden tips & tasks

    Fight cabin fever by getting on a sunny day to pick up sticks, leaves and other garden debris that has accumulated.

    Keep bird feeders filled to attract a wide variety of winged visitors to your garden in winter.

    Plant a tree if 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 don't mound it up around the tree's trunk.

    A Valentine's Day bouquet of roses will last longer if you cut off the bottoms of the stems at an angle bfore you place them in lukewarm water in a clean vase. Remove the lower leaves from the stem before you place the bouquet in water.

    Dig winter annuals out of the garden beds: deadnettle, henbit, chickweed and other unwanted plants before they take over the beds.

    Cut back or mow over liriope (monkey grass) before new growth begins.

    Don't overwater your houseplants. Before you add water, check the soil's moisture level by sticking your finger into the soil.

    Provide nesting boxes to welcome birds to your garden Cavity-dwelling birds may start a family in a simple box with 11/2-inch entry hole.

    Grow your own transplants indoors under lights. Start seeds of cool-weather plants now to have sturdy transplants to set out in a few weeks.

    Save the date - Middle Tennessee garden events

    Planners of the ever-popular Nashville Lawn & Garden Show announce that next spring's show will be March 2 - 5, 2017 at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The theme will celebrate Gardens of the Future with garden displays, lectures, vendors, floral designs, and special features for children. The centerpiece of the all-indoors event is, as always, the walk-through, interactive garden displays from some of Middle Tennessee's top landscape and gardening companies. Free lectures are planned each day on a range of garden-related topics, and visitors can shop the Marketplace with more than 150 vendors. Complete details will be available soon at http://nashvillelawnandgardenshow.com, where you can also sign up for the email newsletter and receive updates.

    The Perennial Plant Society's annual Plant Sale will be April 8, opening at 9 a.m. at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The sale offers newly released and hard-to-find perennials from top local nurseries -- more than 450 varieties of perennials, vines, grasses, shrubs and annuals. The event supports local scholarships for Tennessee horticulture students and monthly gardening programs, open to the public, at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. For information visit www.ppsmt.org.

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Will old seeds sprout?

I have packets of lettuce and spinach seeds left from two, three and more years ago. If I plant them this year, will they grow?

seed-packets-oldSeeds of many vegetables can remain viable for at least a couple of years, but if you want to be sure they’re still good, you can perform a simple test that garden author Judy Lowe describes in her book, Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

Place ten seeds, evenly spaced, on a wet paper towel. Roll the towel up with the seeds inside and seal it in a plastic bag. Place the bag in a warm spot, such as the top of the refrigerator.

Begin checking the seeds after three days to see whether any seeds have sprouted. After fifteen days, you’ll have the germination percentage (for example, if eight of the ten seeds have sprouted, you have an 80 percent germination rate).

“If the rate is 50 to 70 percent, you’ll know to sow the seeds more thickly than usual,” Lowe suggests. “When the germination rate is less than 50 percent, buy fresh seeds.”

Put your backyard birds on the map

Each year, scientists collect data on wild birds, based on reports from people who enjoy watching them in their own landscapes. The Great Backyard Bird Count, held each February, is a citizen-science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology and the National Audubon Society that provides data that helps investigate a variety of questions about bird populations, migration patterns, diseases and more.

tufted-titmouse-wood-thrust-shop-s-poe

Tufted titmouse on a shelled peanut feeder. Photo courtesy The Wood Thrush Shop/Photo by S. Poe

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count is Feb. 17 – 20. Anyone can participate. Create a free online account at eBird (http://ebird.org), a real-time, online checklist program, and for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see.

How to attract birds to your yard? “We like to say that 80 – 90 percent initially is the type of habitat you’re in – open field, more wooded, if there’s water source nearby – these are all the main contributing factor to what type of birds you’ll see,” says Jamie Bacon at The Wood Thrush Shop in Nashville. Bird feeders – and the seeds you put in them — also help bring in the winged visitors. “As far as feeding birds, sunflower seed is the no. 1 attractant to songbirds. Pretty much all the songbirds with sunflowers,” Bacon says.

My story on the different types of bird feeders to use in your landscape is online now at Tennessean.com. To learn more about the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit the Web site, http://gbbc.birdcount.org.

 

Force blooms for an early touch of spring

Forcing branches of early-flowering shrubs into bloom indoors is a quick way to bring a little spring into your home.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Stems from many late-winter flowering shrubs and trees flower readily indoors under the right conditions, says Judy Lowe, author of Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky: Some of the favorites (and easiest) are forsythia, flowering quince, spicebush and kerria.

Here are Judy’s tips for coaxing branches into bloom:

Continue reading

Prune boxwood in winter

Our boxwoods are quite large – too large for the space they’re in. I meant to cut them back last summer but never got around to it. Is it too late to prune them now?

boxwoodMost boxwoods don’t require regular pruning unless you’re keeping them sheared in a formal garden space, but if you need to control the size of the shrub, now – or late winter to early spring – is actually the best time to do the job. Continue reading

Water worries for houseplants

Question: I use tap water to water all my houseplants, but I’ve heard that’s not always a good idea. What difference does it make?

peace-lily-2Most people don’t think about the water they use to water houseplants —  just turn on the tap and fill the watering can. But what’s in your tap water may make a difference in how your plants grow.

Garden author Barbara Pleasant talks about water problems in her book, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. She says most plants prefer “soft” water, which contains low amounts of calcium and magnesium salts, over “hard” water, which contains high amounts of these elements. Water softeners remove the mineral salts through filtration or magnetization, but the water still contains high levels of salt, she says. This could lead to problems when it is used to water plants. Continue reading

Japanese maples stand out in winter

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‘Japanese Sunrise’ is a favorite cultivar for many home gardens because of its multi-colored winter bark. Photo by S. Hamilton, courtesy UTIA.

On a snowy, gray day, what plant can add a bit of cheer in the landscape? Japanese maples, says Sue Hamilton, director of UT Gardens. Each month, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture highlights a “Plant of the Month,” and Japanese maples get the honor for January 2017. Several selections exhibit brilliant bark color when the temperature falls – bright red or orange or yellow or coral pink, “They make quite a show in the winter landscape,” she says.

Sue says they’re also easy trees to maintain. Depending on the cultivar, the size can range from 6 feet to 25 feet tall, but many are in the 10 – 15-foot range, which makes them a good addition to almost any landscape.

“Foliage is a lime green in spring, darkening in color as summer approaches,” she says. “Fall foliage is either a bright, showy shade of yellow or a fusion of red, orange and yellow.” They do best in moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. The grow in partial shade but bark coloration will be best when the tree grows in full sun, and young twigs and branches will be more color intensive that the tree trunk itself, she explains. Continue reading

Longer life for poinsettias

Question: How long do poinsettias last? The plant I brought home early in December still looks nice, and I hate to throw it out. Will it keep growing?

poinsettiaThe length of a poinsettia’s life generally depends on how much care you’re willing to give it. Some people bring it home to display for a few days, and without any attention at all it dries out and begins to drop its leaves within a couple of weeks.

If yours is still doing well, you’ve given it at least the minimum amount of TLC: indirect light in a room that’s not too warm, enough water to keep the soil moist but not soggy. If you continue to care for it, the plant should last well beyond the holidays. Continue reading

Frost-killed plants are ready for the compost

Question: I have a new compost bin for composting vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc. I also have a lot of dead plants in pots that were killed by the frost. Can I use these in the compost bin?

compost

Dead plants, leaves and other garden debris can be tossed into the compost.

Unless they succumbed to some kind of disease, frost-killed potted plants, along with other end-of-the-season garden debris, are a good addition to compost, so toss them in and don’t worry about it. In fact, they add a much-needed source of “brown” to the nitrogen-rich “green” kitchen scraps, a mixture that’s necessary to produce good compost. Here’s a quick lesson to get your started, adapted from “The Dirt on Composting,” a booklet produced by the Metro Nashville, Tenn. Public Works Department: Continue reading