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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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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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