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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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Come in out of the cold

QUESTION: I would  like to know how to “winter over” geraniums.

Geranium photo by Jonathan Hornung.

By now, anything you want to save from frost should be indoors. So, now that they’re already inside, here are general guidelines for keeping geraniums happy. These tips are from garden author Barbara Pleasant’s book The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual:

Ideally, you would have moved your geraniums to a shady spot outdoors in later summer, to begin to acclimate them to reduced light. Even when you do that, they lose many of their leaves inside, so don’t be surprised when they begin to look very bare. Clean up the leaves, and prune off up to half of the long branches.

They do well as houseplants in bright light from a south or west window, in rooms of cool to average temperature, and in good potting soil. Pleasant suggests feeding them every two weeks with a balanced houseplant food. Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings but don’t let them get so dry that the plants wilt. Blooming should resume after a few weeks, she says.

QUESTION: Is there a successful way to save  Boston ferns over the winter without bringing them into the house? (Too messy!)

Most information sources say that the best way to save Boston ferns over the winter is to treat them as house plants, but even Barbara Pleasant (see above) says that keeping them healthy through winter can be a challenge. They need bright light and high humidity, so you should plan on frequent misting. Southern Living Garden Book advises to cut back all the side fronds to the rim of the pot and leave the top growth about 10 inches high. Place the pot next to the brightest window you can find, and keep the soil moist. Even with that, fronds will break, leaves will turn brown, and a mess will be made, so keep the broom handy, and send the fern back outdoors after the last frost in early spring.

Time to hang up the tools? For some, maybe, but a gardener can always find a reason to be
outdoors, even in winter. To help you plan, check out the four-month, Fall & Winter Landscape & Garden Calendar in Saturday’s Tennessean. A short list of garden classes and events in the coming months is at Tennessean.com.

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