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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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Poinsettias in the spotlight

QUESTION: I like to decorate with poinsettias for Christmas. What’s the best way to keep them looking good from now until New Year’s?

Poinsettias are a tropical plant, native to Mexico, so the first thing to remember is to keep them out of the extreme weather. If it’s a cold day when you bring them home (less than 50 degrees), don’t leave them in the car too long, and make sure they are protected on the trip from the car to the house.

Once inside, place them in a spot that gets indirect light. They’ll do well and last longer in a room that is not overly warm – 68 to 70 degrees is just about right. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Most likely the plastic pot will be wrapped in foil; it’s best to take the foil off when you water, to avoid trapping water that will cause the roots to rot. If the leaves become dry and curled, that’s a sign that it needs water. If a poinsettia wilts, that’s an indication that it may be getting too much.

Those are the basics for keeping a poinsettia looking cheerful through the holidays. If it starts to look a little sorry after that, don’t feel bad about tossing it into the compost. However, as often happens, a poinsettia can surprise you by pushing on healthy and strong into the New Year, and it’s a shame to discard something that’s growing so vigorously.

So, let it grow. Keep the soil moist and it should continue to thrive. As spring approaches, cut it back to about 8 inches tall and fertilize with an all-purpose plant food, and after there is no longer any danger of frost, re-pot it and set it outdoors, or plant it in the ground where it can survive as a nice, interesting green plant all summer (and succumb to its inevitable fate at the first sign of frost).

Here’s an interesting tidbit that comes from California poinsettia grower Paul Ecke Ranch: National Poinsettia Day is coming up! Dec. 12 marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, who gets credit for introducing the plant to the U.S.

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