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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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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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