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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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Rubber tree can bounce back

QUESTION: I have a huge rubber plant that is very old. I’ve had to tie it to stakes in the pot to keep it from growing in all directions and out of control. Can I prune it?

A rubber plant, or rubber tree (Ficus elastica) can be transformed from an unmanageable mess into a more dignified plant. It takes a little planning and observation, but the results can be worthwhile, and can provide more plants in the process.

Before you make the first cut, look at the plant to determine how it might look after it’s pruned. New leaves will grow where you cut it, so keep that in mind as you remove the branches. The cuttings you remove can be placed in water, where they will often form new roots. After they grow a good system of roots, they can be potted in soil.

Houseplant experts also suggest a process called air-layering to prune old plants and grow new ones. This is accomplished by cutting into the plant’s stem where you want to prune it. The cut is then wrapped in moss and plastic wrap, and new roots grow from the cut area. After new roots form, cut off the new plant and pot it separately. Early spring, when the plant is entering a period of active growth, is a good time to try to trim it into shape.

Here are general guidelines for keeping a rubber plant alive and well: bright to moderate light (no direct sun) and average room temperature. Keep the soil evenly moist. A rubber plant probably does not need as much water during the winter. It can spend summer outdoors in a protected location, but be sure to bring it in before temperatures begin to drop in the fall.

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