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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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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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