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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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Stem cuttings: A good way to share your garden

I have a hibiscus plant growing in my yard. I don’t remember planting it, but one neighbor is fascinated by the blooms and has asked me to give her a cutting from the plant. What’s the best way to do that? – A.J.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) photo by David Wagner.

There are many types of hibiscus, ranging from the tropical Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, which can grow  to the size of a small tree but must be kept indoors in winter in this zone, to H. syriacus, the old-fashioned rose of Sharon or shrub althaea, which is unfussy about soil and weather and is easy  to grow, and often pops up unexpectedly from dropped seeds.

It looks like any of them can be propagated from stem cuttings, so here are general guidelines for taking cuttings of woody ornamentals (such as hibiscus) and growing them into new plants:

Cut lengths of softwood (soft, succulent new growth) or semi-hardwood (partially mature wood of the current season’s growth) about six inches long from a healthy host plant. Remove the bottom leaves, and dip the cut ends in rooting hormone powder. Stick the cut ends about one-third their length into a rooting medium that drains well, such as perlite or vermiculite. Cover the cuttings with some sort of plastic covering to maintain a humid environment, and place them in indirect light.

Keep the rooting medium moist until roots develop. It will likely take several weeks, but you’ll know the cuttings have grown roots when you tug gently on the cuttings and feel resistance. Transplant them into containers to allow them to grow to a larger size before you plant them in the garden.

 Aloe: Easy on the water

QUESTION: I have an aloe plant that seems to be dying, even though I water it once a week. Does it need to be watered more often?

No. Absolutely not. In fact, if you are watering your aloe plant every week, you are watering it too much. While the soil shouldn’t stay bone dry for many weeks at a time, it’s enough to water an aloe plant every two or three weeks in summer, and even less in winter.

Aloe barbadensis (or A. vera) is a succulent, easy to grow and readily available, and it’s true what they say about the ability of the sap to relieve minor burns. Split open a leaf and place it on the burn to alleviate the pain.

Besides a little water every now and then, here’s what else aloe needs to stay healthy: loose soil (add a little sand to potting soil for better drainage), bright light in a sunny window, especially in winter. In
summer, aloe can stay outdoors, but be sure to bring it in before temperatures fall. It appreciates a light dose of balanced houseplant fertilizer every month or so in spring and summer, but don’t fertilize at all in winter.

An update on something awesome: Click over to Turning Toward the Sun to see pictures of the abundant raised beds at a school’s new outdoor classroom.

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