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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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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
summer.

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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