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  • May garden tips & tasks

    GARDEN EVENTS IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE

    May 20: Master Gardeners of Davidson County Urban Gardening Festival, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Ellington Agricultural Center Demonstration Garden. Free admission. www.mgofdc.org; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mgofdc.

    June 10: Middle Tennessee Daylily Society show and sale, Ellington Agricultural Center’s Ed Jones Auditorium, 440 Hogan Rd. in Nashville. Sale open at 10 a.m.; show opens to the public at 1 p.m. To learn more about the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society, visit www.middletndaylilysociety.org.

    It’s time to plant those tender herbs and vegetable transplants, such as basil, dill, tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, eggplant.

    If tomato transplants are already too tall and leggy, you can plant them on their sides and cover the long stems with soil. The stem tips will turn upward, and the buried stems will sprout roots.

    Sow seeds of bush beans and pole beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, melons, okra, field peas, pumpkin, squash and zucchini. Follow the directions on the seed package for planting depth and spacing. Vegetables grow best in full sun.

    Cut the faded blossoms of peonies. Fertilize the plants lightly in late spring or early summer.

    Remember the basics of watering: morning is best, so plants’ leaves have time to dry before evening. Lawns, perennial borders and annuals like to have 1 – 1½ inches of water per week.

    Many indoor plants enjoy a summer vacation outdoors. Give them a cool, shady spot in the yard, and don’t forget to water them.

    Prune thyme frequently so it will stay full and green in the center.

    Weeding is easiest after a rain. If the ground is too dry and you need to weed, soak the bed first with a hose or sprinkler.

    Whether they’re growing in the ground or in pots on the porch, pinch the tips of geraniums from time to time to encourage them to branch out and to produce more flowers. Geraniums in pots benefit from regular feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer.

    Remember that mulch can be a gardener’s best friend. Pine straw or composted leaves are good alternatives to hardwood mulch.

    Harvest herbs as they reach their peak. Dry small leaves on a screen, hang small bunches of long-stemmed herbs in a warm, dry room out of the sunlight.

    Plants growing outdoors in containers dry out quickly when it’s hot. Check them daily, and water as needed.

    Don’t go near hydrangeas with the pruning shears unless all you’re cutting is dead branches. If the bigleaf hydrangeas look like they’re not going to bloom, it could be that the buds were nipped in a late cold snap, or the plant was pruned too late last year.

    As the flowers of Shasta daisies begin to open and then to fade, keep them clipped off. This prolongs the blooming season of daisies (and most other annuals and perennials), and keeps the plants looking better, as well.

    Watch for aphids on shrubs and perennials. A strong blast of water from a hose will remove many of them, or spray with insecticidal soap.

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Going underground

QUESTION: I’d like to take a first stab this year at growing potatoes. When do I plant these? Is this the right time of year? Any tips or pointers? – Anne-Marie Farmer

Potatoes in bloom.

The time to plant potatoes is now. And what a great thing to try if you’ve never done it before! Freshly-dug potatoes, washed and then cooked and served with a little butter, a little salt and pepper, are a real treat. 

Potatoes grow best in soil that drains well, so if you need to improve the drainage in your garden bed, add organic matter in the form of compost or rotted manure and till it in. In their book Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening, garden experts Felder Rushing and Walter Reeves suggest spreading a complete fertilizer (1 pound of 10-10-10 per square foot). Till or spade the bed to a depth of 6 or 8 inches, remove any roots and rocks and break up any clods.

You probably already know that what you plant is not seeds, but seed pieces – sections of potatoes cut in such a way that each piece contains one or two “eyes.” Be sure to use certified seed potatoes, not potatoes from the grocery store (which have been treated with inhibitors that keep them from sprouting too soon).  If the seed potato has already sprouted, you have a head start. Cut the tuber into pieces and spread them out to dry a couple of days before you plant them.

When you plant in rows, place the seed pieces 12 to 15 inches apart, with 24 inches between rows. In a bed, space the pieces 18 to 24 inches apart. Plant them 2 to 3 inches deep with the eyes up, and cover them with soil.

Now here’s where a little care and attention pays off: When the sprouts reach about 6 inches, pile soil from between the rows up around the plants. Potatoes develop in the dark, and this covers the tubers growing underground. The hills of soil should end up being about 6 inches high. If we don’t get regular rain, provide about an inch of water a week to the potato bed because dry weather hampers potato production.

Eventually, the plants will open pretty little flowers, and small potatoes are usually ready when those first flowers appear. You’ll find them 4 to 6 inches below the top of the soil, so dig carefully to find those little gems. When the vines begin to turn yellow, dig the potatoes that are left in the ground.

There are other potato growing methods that are more unusual. If your soil is poor, you can grow potatoes above ground by pushing them into the soil surface and covering them with 6 inches of clean straw. The seed pieces will root into the soil, but the potatoes will grow at the soil surface. Add more straw as the tubers develop.

There are also potato-growing containers available. Gardener’s Supply Company has polypropylene grow bags that they say make it possible to grow potatoes in any sunny location. (A side note: I tried two grow bags for potatoes last year, but had better luck growing potatoes in the ground).

There are dozens of potato varieties available. The advantage of growing your own, of course, is that you can try varieties that you won’t normally find in the grocery store.

Potatoes – Solanum tuberosum

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