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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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Keep ‘Annabelle’ standing

QUESTION: What is the best way to secure Annabelle hydrangeas to keep the beautiful blooms from breaking in the wind and rain? And why do these beautiful flowers do so poorly when they’re cut for an arrangement? – Debbie

‘Annabelle’ is among the stars of summer.

It’s true. The big, heavy bloom heads of Annabelle hydrangeas make an impressive statement in the summer, but whip them around with a strong wind or pelt them with heavy rain and they can flop over like big, wet rags. Sometimes the stems break, and that spells the beginning of the end for the lovely white flowers.

The best way to keep them standing is to prop them up. Judith King, who writes a Web site devoted to hydrangeas, has several suggestions. She says you can plant them next to a decorative fence, plant three Annabelle shrubs together so they prop each other up, or, early in the spring, surround each plant with a short wire cage. As they leaf out and grow, the foliage hides the cage, and all you see is your tall, lovely hydrangeas, happily standing.

One cultural practice to consider: Some gardeners cut the stems of Annabelles close to the ground in the fall. Since these hydrangeas bloom on new growth, they’ll grow and bloom just fine next summer, but the stems will not have had a chance to thicken. If you leave the stems 18 to 24 inches tall, those stouter stems will help support the newer branches and blooms next year. 

As for why the flowers sometimes do poorly after they’re cut (they sometimes wilt within an hour or two), Judith King says this seems to be caused by a sticky substance that clogs up the stem. Try this:

When you go out to cut hydrangeas, take a container of water and put the stem in water immediately after you cut it. Back indoors, boil more water and pour it into another container. Cut the hydrangea stems to the desired length, then stand the stems in the hot water for 30 seconds. Immediately put them into room temperature water in an arrangement. King says it works like a charm.

Got moles? They’re all over – or under — my kitchen garden. My next plan of attack will be a castor oil recipe that’s supposed to encourage them to move on. Read about it over at Turning Toward the Sun: A Garden Journal.


2 Responses

  1. I’m glad I didn’t read your post on using the Annabelle hydrangea blooms as cut flowers before I cut one. I planted an Annabelle shrub just about 6 weeks ago. My dog, looking for a cool spot, began digging right next to the newly planted shrub–we have since fenced off the area!–and dislodged one of the lower branches that had a bloom on it. I clipped the end and immediately stuck it in a vase. Nearly 2 weeks later, it is still blooming! It’s probably beginner’s luck, and I daren’t try it ever again…

  2. They don’t always wilt when you cut them – but sometimes they do, and this technique is supposed to help avoid that possibility. You can also try it to rejuvenate a cut bloom that has wilted. Good luck with the new shrub!

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