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  • May garden tips & tasks


    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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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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