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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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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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