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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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Banishing ‘leaflets three’

QUESTION: What’s the best way to get rid of poison ivy?

Growing up where pavement and neatly trimmed lawn were the modern idea of landscaping, I didn’t encounter poison ivy until I became a real gardener. But by the time  I did learn the mantra (Leaflets three – let it be!) I knew to keep well away from it. Unfortunately, it seems to show up everywhere these days.

The best way to deal with poison ivy is, of course, to treat it very carefully. Fitzroy Bullock, a professor at Tennessee State University’s Cooperative Extension Program, has written a fact sheet on identifying the vine and dealing with it in the landscape.

When you find the sweet little seedlings in garden beds (often at the edges of the lawn, along fence lines, places that don’t get regular mowing), you can dig them out, roots and all, and dispose of them. Wear long sleeves and gloves to do the job. If you use disposable gloves, you can throw them away when you’re done, and avoid the possibility of accidentally getting the plant’s irritating oil on your skin. Some have suggested using a plastic newspaper bag as a glove, of sorts. Put your hand in the bag, use it to pull the vine out of the ground, then peel the bag off, inside out, with the vine inside.

If it’s a big vine with a well-established root system, it’s a bit harder to get rid of. Cut it as close to the ground as possible, and to keep it from growing back, immediately treat the stem with a garden herbicide that contains glyphosate (such as Roundup). Don’t spray the vine itself, and be careful not to let the spray get onto other plants, because glyphosate – or even a drift from the poison – will kill or damage most every green thing it touches.

Even after it’s dead, a large vine can be a problem. The toxic leaves dry up and fall on the ground, and later, after the aerial roots that have held it up begin to die, the whole vine could fall. Dispose of dead leaves and vines carefully, because the toxin is still present.

You may need to apply a second helping of herbicide if the vine begins to grow again from the stump. Apply herbicide again when the new, young leaves have opened fully.

If you are sensitive to the plant and accidentally make contact, expect intense itching, rash and blisters – not a serious situation, but certainly bothersome for a few days. It’s a good idea at any rate to wash your skin with soap and water after a day in the garden.

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