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  • Garden events in Middle Tennessee

    April 4: Wildflower Week at Beaman Park. 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. Beaman Park Nature Center, 5911 Old Hickory Blvd. in Ashland City.

    April 10: Join naturalist Deb Beazley on a Wildflower Walk, 9 a.m. - noon, to enjoy the spring wildflowers in bloom around Warner Park Nature Center. A wildflower walk is also planned for April 15 with Kim Bailey. Call 615-352-6299 to register for these adults-only events.

    April 10-11: Howe Wild Weekend, featuring a cocktail supper April 10 with Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist; box lunch and lecture with Stewart and Wicked Plants April 11, and native plant sale of spring-blooming wildflowers, shrubs, vines and small trees, 9:30 a.m. until all the plants are sold. Sponsored by the Garden Club of Nashville to benefit the Howe Garden at Cheekwood. Details at www.gcnashville.org.

    April 10 – 12: Trails & Trilliums festival at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly in Monteagle, Tenn. The event includes outdoor family activities and guided hikes, workshops, garden tour, music, art and vendors, and the keynote address by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. Complete details at www.trailsandtrilliums.org.

    April 11:  Middle Tennessee Perennial Plant Society’s annual plant sale, 9 a.m. – noon (or until the plants sell out) at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. More than 450 varieties of perennials, shrubs, roses, vines and annuals chosen to thrive in Tennessee gardens. Free admission; the Fairgrounds has a $5 parking fee. A complete list of plants is at www.ppsmt.org.

    April 11: Celebrate spring and Japanese culture at the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival. The event begins with a 2.5-mile walk at 9 a.m.; festival opens 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Nashville Public Square with exhibitors, entertainment, artists, food, marketplace. Sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Tennessee. Details at http://nashvillecherryblossomfestival.org/

    April 12: The Tennessee Gesneriad Society will meet at 2 p.m. at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall. The program will be a propagation workshop, and all attending will leave with a box of cuttings and information about propagation and care. The program is free and open to the public. Information: email Julie.mavity@gmail.com or call 615-364-8459.

    April 17: Join naturalist John Michael Cassidy for an all-ages Wildflower Hike, 9 – 10:30 a.m. at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center. The leisurely walk to look at wildflowers will be followed by a snack at the Nature Center. Call 615-862-8539 to register.

    April 18: Herb Society of Nashville herb sale, featuring dozens of types of herbs for sale, along with a selection of heirloom tomato, pepper, eggplant and kale plants, handmade pottery herb markers by Roy Overcast, information from The Compost Man, shopping assistants and more. 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Free admission; the Fairgrounds has a $5 parking fee. Find a list of plants for sale at www.herbsocietynashville.org.

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

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

    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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Celandine poppies bloom in spring

I have a shade garden and would love to have celandine poppies. What’s the best way to grow them?

Celandine poppyCelandine poppies, or wood poppies, (Stylophorum diphyllum) are among the prettiest flowers in a shady woodland garden in early spring. Tall stems with bright yellow flowers grow from clumps of lobed leaves in late March, April and May, before developing fuzzy seedpods. This native wildflower grows well in moist, slightly acid humus-rich soil.

When conditions are right, Celandine poppies grow and spread easily. Nashville wildflower expert Margie Hunter, in her book Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee, notes that they “readily self-sow” (other sources describe this as becoming “weedy”).  “If germination gets out of hand, just snip off the large seedpods before they open,” Hunter writes.

Consequently, they are also easy to share. Divide them in spring, or start them from seeds in a cold frame in the fall.

In today’s Tennessean: Sage, thyme and lavender are just a few of the herbs that can look as good in the landscape as they taste in the kitchen. See the story on double-duty herbs in today’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

April is also a great time to get out and meet other gardeners. Check out the Events calendar at left, and in my newspaper column at Tennessean.com.

April garden tips & tasks

Here in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home), April brings the garden into sharp focus. Where to begin? Here’s a list of suggestions, week by week, of tips and tasks for April in the garden.

Week 1

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Prune forsythia and flowering quince soon after they finish blooming. Prune out about one-third of the branches by cutting out the oldest limbs as close to the ground as possible. Mulch around the shrubs to discourage weeds and to retain moisture.

It’s still too early to set out most vegetable transplants, but not too early to prepare the beds. Till the soil and work in organic matter. Cover with mulch until you are ready to plant.

Begin fertilizing roses after new foliage appears.

Keep your mower blade sharp, and when you mow, don’t cut too short. Set the mower so that it removes only about a third of the height of the grass.

The hummingbirds will arrive soon. Prepare a solution of one part sugar to four parts boiling water. Let it cool, then fill the hummingbird feeders. Red food coloring is not necessary.

Week 2

Average last frost date in Middle Tennessee is around mid-April. But don’t be fooled by fickle weather. It may still be too cool for some heat-loving plants, such as basil.

Easter lily

Easter lily

Begin planting ornamental grasses and perennials. Make sure they get regular water after planting.

Peonies tend to flop over in heavy rains, so go ahead and place supports around the shoots now. The growing foliage will cover the supports, and the plants will stay upright in the rain.

After spring-flowering bulbs finish flowering, allow the leaves to remain until they can be pulled easily from the ground. This allows time for them to store food for next year’s growth.

Plant your Easter lily in a sunny spot after the flowers fade. Do not place it in the same bed as other lilies, as it can transmit a disease to other plants.

Week 3

Begin setting out bedding plants. Water plants thoroughly about 12 hours before you plant them. Dig individual holes and place plants at the same depth they grew in their pots. For best performance, break apart and spread tightly wound masses of roots as you plant, and snip off old blossoms. Replace the soil around the roots and water the plants well. Mulch planting beds about in inch deep.

Parsley

Parsley

Plant your herb garden: rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender, oregano, parsley and other herbs can go in the garden now. Just to be on the safe side, save tender basil to plant later in the month.

Set out marigolds, cosmos, petunias, begonias and other annual flowers. Plant coleus for color in shady spots, in containers or in the ground.

Sow vegetable seeds and keep them watered, but not soggy, until they germinate. The general rule is about an inch of water a week. Get out the rain gauge!

Set out tomato transplants. Set them deeply in the soil so that only the top few leaves are showing. Plant basil, or set out basil transplants.

Week 4

Newly planted shrubs need regular, thorough watering to help establish their root systems. Soaker hoses are an efficient way to water.

Geraniums

Geraniums

Plant geraniums in containers or in the ground. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.

Pluck young weeds out of the garden as soon as they emerge. It’s easier to keep them out if you get them while they’re small.

If you MUST prune azaleas, do it shortly after they finish blooming. They bloom on the previous year’s growth, so to prune later risks cutting off next years flowers.

Don’t forget about your houseplants. As the weather gets warmer, they need water more frequently. If you have houseplants that spend the summer outdoors, place them in a shady, protected area.

Get out and meet other gardeners this month! Check out the calendar Events calendar at left, and in my newspaper column at Tennessean.com.

 

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!

 

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