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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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Bay was chilled to the bone

Question: I bought a bay tree more than 10 years ago. It was about 6 inches tall, and it grew well in a pot. I’ve repotted it several times, set it outdoors after frost and brought it indoors in winter. Last winter, I forgot to bring it in until after a freeze. The leaves got crispy, so I picked them off and cut back to almost about 3 – 5 inches. Some of the branches are brittle, but some are not. The roots and the base of the plant are still alive. I’ve kept it watered but haven’t seen any growth – not a bud. I don’t want to throw it away. Will it live? – Shirley R.

Bay laurel. Photo by Leo Michels.

It’s hard to say whether a bay that suffered through a freeze will come back. Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), the source of bay leaves used in cooking, is native to the Mediterranean area, where it generally doesn’t get cold enough to freeze. It is not at all hardy here, so of course you’re doing the right thing when you bring it indoors before it gets cold. In this climate, it’s best treated as a houseplant in winter.

This one little slip-up last year may have cost you your tree – but maybe not. Information at the Herb Society of America’s Web site  suggests that in some circumstances, given the perfect spot, some varieties of bay laurel may survive the winter outdoors in the ground. The plant will die back above the ground, but may send up shoots from the roots in the spring.

So try this: Now that it’s warm, set the plant outdoors, don’t let it dry out, watch to see if new shoots begin to form at the base, and hope for the best. As it grows (if it grows!), an occasional light dose of balanced fertilizer might not be a bad idea. Be sure to bring it in before it gets cold again, and give it a sunny window and a moderate amount of moisture. Good luck!

Turning Toward the Sun is the online journal of my own gardening endeavors. Today I talk about Garden No. 3, a new flower bed I’m planning in Mom’s back yard.

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