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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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For asparagus, a good bed is the best way to begin

Question: I want to start an asparagus bed in my garden. Where can I get some plants? – James W.

Before we talk about plants, let’s talk about where to put them. I’ve pulled out my copy of the Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening by Walter Reeves & Felder Rushing and turned to the “Asparagus” page. The first thing the authors say here is, “Planning is essential for these plants because a well-prepared asparagus bed can last many years before needing reworking.” After that, Rushing and Reeves instruct to “Plant asparagus as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring.” Asparagus is a cool-climate plant, and we are about to slide into the hot season, so maybe now is not the time to rush out to buy plants, especially if you haven’t already prepared a place to put them.

But maybe you have. Here are the details: The bed should be in full sun, away from trees or shrubs whose roots would complete with the asparagus. It has to be well-drained, because if it’s boggy or soggy the plants will rot and die out. The recommend planting in sandy soil, but any well-drained soil will do.

In this bed, dig a 6-inch deep trench, about 15 inches wide. Asparagus plants are sold as crowns, clusters of roots. Set the crowns in the trench about 1 foot apart, spread the roots out and cover with soil. Water and wait.

Growth in the first year will be spindly, and you shouldn’t harvest any the first year. Keep the soil moist throughout the first year, and pull weeds as they appear. Mulch will help keep weeds under control. Cut the ferns back in the spring before new growth begins. In the second year, harvest a few spears in mid-spring. The third year is the time for a bigger harvest – 4 to 6 weeks, and every year thereafter harvest asparagus for 6 to 8 weeks in the spring.

Now, the plants. Local nurseries that offer vegetable starts are likely to have asparagus crowns for sale. There are several different types, and you may find different varieties at different locations. Or check garden catalogs/Web sites. Several 2011 mail-order companies offer asparagus crowns. The variety called ‘Jersey Knight’ seems to be a popular favorite. Check Seeds of Change, The Cook’s Garden, Burpee Gardening, Territorial Seed Company or any others for asparagus crowns.



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