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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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Fall — and aphids — in the air

QUESTION: Sometimes we see white, wooly-looking bugs in the air and all over the hackberry trees in the fall. At the same time, there is a black coating of something on everything under the trees. What is this?

These are Asian wooly hackberry aphids, which have been flying around Middle Tennessee for about a decade after making their way to the U.S. sometime in the mid-1990s. The aphid has a tiny mouth that resembles a beak, with which it pierces the leaves to extract the plant sugars. Then, like all aphids and
plant-sucking insects, they excrete a sweet, sticky waste product called honeydew, and in the heat of late summer, that substance grows sooty mold, the black substance you see on patio furniture, plants and anything else under a hackberry tree that is playing host to the insects.

I talked to U.T. Extension agent David Cook about the insects several years ago. He said that the feeding doesn’t cause serious damage to the tree. It’s considered mainly a nuisance pest.

If you feel the need to control the insects, Cook has suggested a systemic insecticide, applied around the tree’s root zone in the spring.

IF YOU THOUGHT last month seemed hotter than usual… you were right. Bobby Boyd at the National Weather Service sent me a list of factoids that made me sweat just to read them. Consider this:

August 2011 in Nashville was the 25th hottest on record. There were 24 days when the temperature was 90 degrees or higher, and one day when it bubbled up to 102. That was August 3, and it broke the record for that date of 100 degrees, which was set in 1952.

The average temperature for August was 1.8 degrees above normal. The average high was 92; the average low was 68.9. Three of the 10 hottest summers in Nashville have occurred in the last five years.

All this makes these past few days of cooler weather even more welcome. Fall, ready or not, is in the air.

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