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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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Seed saving at the end of summer

What is the best way to keep some of my garlic and seeds from the sunflowers to plant next year?  How do I store them? Do black eyed peas and green beans save well for next year? Seeds from bell peppers? I’ve never saved seeds before, so this is all new to me. – Anne-Marie

You know you’re a real gardener when you start thinking about saving seeds for next year. Congratulations! In most cases, seed-saving is ridiculously easy. Here are some guidelines:

Harvest sunflower seeds when the heads droop and the petals drop.

For garlic, if you’ve harvested and cured the bulbs properly, all you need to do is set some aside to plant this fall. Keep a few heads of garlic in a dry, cool place, and when the time comes (late September to mid-October is a good time to shoot for), break them apart and plant individual cloves in a prepared bed. They’ll get a good start in the ground this fall, and be ready to harvest early next

Sunflowers are also easy to harvest. When the back of the flower’s head turns yellow, cover it with a paper bag. This will keep the birds and squirrels from harvesting before you do, and as the seeds fall naturally, they will drop into the bag. You can also cut the flower off with about a foot of stem and hang the flower head upside-down in a paper bag in a warm, dry place. Shake the flower head every now and then to let the seeds fall into the bag. The important thing here is to keep things dry so the seeds don’t get moldy, and a paper bag allows the air to circulate. After they are completely dry, a canning jar makes a good seed-storage container.

Peas and beans can be left on the plant until they are dry, then harvested. Make sure they are
absolutely dry (I’ve dried them on a window screen “shelf” in the attic), then open them by hand and store the seeds in a jar. If frost threatens before you harvest, pull up the whole plant by the roots and hang it upside down in a dry place until the pods are dry.

For peppers, cut the bottom off a fully mature pepper and strip the seeds out of the center. Spread them to dry on a paper towel and allow them to dry in a cool location until the seeds are dry enough to break when folded.

You didn’t ask about saving seeds of tomatoes, but a lot of people do, so I’ll include it here. This is  one of the more labor intensive processes. Select a tomato that is completely ripe. Cut it in half crosswise, and squeeze out the jelly-like substance the holds the seeds. Place this into a small jar and add a little water, cover the jar loosely and place it in a warm location for about three days, stirring it once a day.

You’ll notice that a layer of fungus begins to form on the top of the mixture after a couple of days. This is a good sign, because the fungus eats away the gelatinous coat and produces substances that help control some diseases. After three days, fill the jar with warm water and let the contents settle, then begin pouring out the water, tomato pulp and immature seeds, which will have floated to the top (the good, viable seeds will settle at the bottom of the jar). Repeat the process until the water is almost clear and the bottom of the jar is lined with clean seeds, then strain the water off these seeds and spread them out onto paper towels or newspaper. Allow the seeds to dry completely before you store them.

After you’ve harvested, dried and packaged the seeds, be sure to label them carefully so you’ll know next year what you have.

The International Seed-Saving Institute (where I found most of this information) has a straightforward, non-flashy but excellent Web site that walks you through the process of saving seeds of the most common vegetables. Check it out at www.seedsave.org.

Click over to Turning Toward the Sun: A Garden Journal for an update on the rabbit situation.


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