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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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Azaleas: What happened to the flowers?

Healthy azaleas, but few flowers.

Question: Last year I planted two azaleas that I found on sale. Both were covered in blooms when I bought them, and both seemed to do well over the summer. But this year, only one of them is blooming, and it has just a few flowers. The other one, nothing. Here’s a picture. What’s going on?

One more thing to ask: Did the new azaleas get enough water during the summer last year? Information I found at the Web site of the Azalea Society of America suggests that one reason an azalea doesn’t bloom is because it didn’t get enough moisture to grow flowers (what they say, specifically, is “lack of moisture during the late spring and summer reduces bud formation.”).

Remember that azaleas bloom on last year’s growth, so the effects of what happened last summer would show up this spring. Also remember that after the floodwater dried up last year, we had a pretty dry summer here in Middle Tennessee.

In general, here’s what azaleas need to grow well: Light shade (but some varieties do well in full sun), slightly acid soil (pH 5.5 to 6 is best), good drainage, adequate water – especially the first few years they’re in the ground. An infrequent deep soaking is more effective than superficial sprinkling, say the experts at Azaleas.org.

Established azaleas don’t need fertilizer. And of course, if you find you have to prune them, do the job shortly after they bloom, because they start forming next year’s flower buds this summer; later pruning will likely cut those flowers off.

A thought for today

I’ve been flipping through a new little book called Garden Rules, by Jayme Jenkins (of Eugene,Ore.) and Nashville’s own Billie Brownell. Its subtitle is “The Snappy Synopsis for the Modern Gardener” and it’s meant to appeal primarily to people who are new to gardening.

But here’s something we all – new and old gardeners – could do well to keep in mind: A Watched Garden Never Grows. We live in an always-on world, and we expect instant gratification in everything. But if you look for big, booming, instant results in a garden, you’ll be a frustrated gardener.

“The key to enjoying your time in the garden is to keep your expectations realistic,” the authors say. “Seedlings take days to sprout. Flower buds take time to develop. Perennials like hostas, peonies, bleeding hearts, and Siberian iris take a couple seasons to reach maturity. Trees will take years to provide shade.”

I gave a copy of the book to my daughter, a new gardener who is growing things in pots on the two second-floor decks of her apartment. I’ve mentioned that she should remember this:

“Nature does not operate at twenty-first-century speed, and Nature always wins.”

Garden Rules is published by Cool Springs Press in Brentwood, Tenn.

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