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  • March garden tips & tasks

    If your fescue lawn looks a little skimpy, overseed early this month. Fescue grows best when the weather is still cool.

    Clip dead stems from perennial herbs – thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary. Pruning encourages vigorous new growth.

    Prune nandinas, flowering quince and other airy shrubs by reaching in and removing about a third of the branches at ground level.

    Remove mulch or leaves that may be covering perennials in garden beds.

    Prepare a new garden bed: Have the soil tested (check with your county’s Extension service). Remove grass and dig or till soil 8 to 10 inches deep and mix with soil amendments and organic matter to improve drainage.

    Add fertilizer lightly to perennials as soon as you see new growth. Too much fertilizer may result in lanky growth.

    Herb transplants that don’t mind cool weather -- parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano – can go in the ground now.

    When you cut daffodils to bring inside, cut the stems at an angle and place them in water right away. Change the water in the vase daily to keep them fresh longer.

    Save the date - Middle Tennessee garden events

    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.ppsmtn.org.

    The Herb Society of Nashville's annual Herb Sale will be April 29, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The sale will offer heirloom vegetables, rare varieties of perennial and annual herbs, handmade pottery herb markers and more. To learn more, visit herbsocietynashville.org.

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Hug your hackberry

Question: I have a hackberry tree which came up by seed and I let it grow. It’s now about 5 or 6 yrs old and very tall. This year it has not put out any leaves yet. The other hackberries in the neighborhood are putting out leaves. Could it have died? I thought they were hardy because they’re native and I’d always thought of them as “weed trees”. Do you think it’s just late or should I test it some way to see if it’s alive? It didn’t seem to have any problems last year and it’s not crowded or anything. Thank you so much. — Elaine McKee

Hackberries can have graceful branch structure.

Hackberries are hardy. Some might say, too hardy. A lot of people think of them as weed trees. They get really big and sometimes drop branches in a strong wind. Almost every tree I’ve seen on the ground or lying across a house or car after a big storm this spring has been a hackberry.

That said, I happen to like hackberries. They can have graceful branch structure, and big, bold lines against a clear blue winter sky. Even better, they are a home and food source for the hackberry butterfly, a sweet little flutterer with gold and black wings. The caterpillars feed on the leaves and tender new growth, and the adults flit about in the foliage and around nearby plants. What’s not to like?

Apparently, sometimes hackberries are slow to leaf out, so don’t give up hope. If it was healthy last year it’s probably still okay. You can check by scratching a little of the bark off a twig; if it’s fresh-looking and a little green underneath, the tree is still alive.

Here are a couple of things I learned while I was researching an answer to your question:

-Hackberries are related to elms, and similar in many details.

-The wood of hackberries is very hard and tough and resists breaking.

-Birds and other wildlife like the berries, which have a raisin/plum flavor. The branches are good for building birds’ nests, and owls and squirrels find holes in their trunks inviting.

-They sometimes grow clusters of dwarfed twigs that are called witches’-broom.

-The leaves are susceptible to nipple gall, small growths caused by a tiny insect that lays eggs in the leaves. It’s a cosmetic problem. They don’t hurt the hackberry.

Common hackberry – Celtis occidentalis. They are native from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic, from Alabama to Quebec.

Garden No. 3: It’s a tiny space that I hope to fill with summer flowers. Click over to Turning Toward the Sun: A Garden Journal.

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