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    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.

     

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March garden tips & tasks

March can be fickle: some days feel like spring, others bring blasts of winter. It will probably rain, but then again, maybe not. In Middle Tennessee, home of The Garden Bench, tornado warnings are commonplace this time of year and sometimes they strike – as they did yesterday, across three counties with significant damage and loss in each. Thoughts and prayers to all those families and individuals affected by the devastating storm.

Whatever is in store weather-wise, winter is on its way out, spring is about to arrive. If you are yearning to be in the garden, there are plenty of ways to enjoy it.

Remove winter-killed plants, prune dead branches, clear out broken twigs and limbs, replenish mulch.

Most trees and shrubs are still dormant, so it’s a good time to do any necessary pruning, especially for shrubs that flower on new stems. Do not prune shrubs that flower on last year’s growth – azaleas, hydrangeas and other ornamentals the bloom early in the spring.

Sow seeds of lettuce, kale, sugar snap peas, radishes, carrots, beets and spinach as soon as the soil can be worked.

Run the mower over beds of liriope (monkey grass) or mondo, and cut back other ornamental grasses before new shoots emerge.

Prepare new garden beds, and replenish old vegetable beds by adding compost or other soil amendments. If you are planning to build raised beds, gather materials now and begin building to have them ready when planting time arrives.

Set out transplants of cool-season vegetables (lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage).

Add an inch or two of mulch around shrubs. Don’t pile the mulch against the trunk of shrubs or trees.

Enjoy the daffodils in the garden, but cut some to bring inside, too. As soon as the flowers open, use sharp scissors to cut the stems close to the ground and place them in water. Before you arrange them in a vase, snip off a half-inch of the stem and place them in the water-filled vase right away. The freshest daffodils should last indoors four or five days, especially if they are kept in a cool room.

Shape up some of those hardy herbs. Now is a good time to prune rosemary and sage.

Winter annual wildflowers (or “weeds,” as some call them), such as chickweed and henbit, continue to sprout; dig them up – roots and all, if you can — before they bloom and scatter their seeds.

Dig and divide perennials as needed. Share extras with friends. Fluff up the mulch around azaleas and other shrubs in the landscape, and add an inch or two if necessary.

Do any necessary pre-season mower maintenance; clean and sharpen your garden tools.

Early spring is a good time to prune and shape boxwoods.

Apply a light dose of fertilizer to perennials that are beginning to emerge.

After daffodil flowers fade, allow the foliage to remain until it turns brown. This will take several weeks, but it’s necessary for the bulb to renew itself to bloom again next year.

 

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