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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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Tomato troubles

I have two questions for The Garden Bench:

1. The tomatoes on one of my tomato plants keep turning flat and black on the bottom before they get anywhere near ripe.  Any idea why that is and what to do about it?
2. When is the best time to dig up the garlic I planted last fall? — Anne-Marie Farmer

Soil with sufficient calcium produces prettier tomatoes, without blossom end rot.

The tomato question is a timely one, Anne-Marie, because it’s July, when most gardeners who grow things to eat think about tomatoes. So, to answer your questions here:

1. The tomatoes have a condition called blossom-end rot. It’s fairly common, and is due to a calcium deficiency in the soil. Try adding a bit of pelleted garden lime. It may not help immediately, but it will add calcium to the soil that will be available to plants in the future. You can also work crushed eggshells into the soil.

Recently I read the suggestion to put about 3 cups of whole milk (not 2%, not skim) into a hose sprayer and use it to spray the soil around the plants. Try not to get milk on the leaves, and rinse it off with plain water if you do.

2. Dig up the garlic after the leaves have started to turn yellow. Let the bulbs dry in the sun for a few hours, then lay them out on screens where they can cure for a couple of weeks. After they are cured, brush off as much soil as you can, but don’t wash them. You can braid the bulbs together and hang them to dry, or dry them in mesh bags. If any are damaged, use them as soon as you can.

Early-spring planting, early-summer harvest: Click over to A Garden Journal to see what we pulled out of the ground.

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