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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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Banish the Bradford pear

QUESTION: When should Bradford pear trees be pruned? Is now a good time? How far back should you prune them?

Bradford pear trees are the first to flower in spring, but they are not a good choice for landscape trees.

I’ll answer the last question first, and echo the thoughts of many landscape and forestry experts who believe that these trees should get just one pruning cut – about an inch above the ground.

Seriously, Bradford pears (Pyrus calleryana Bradford’) are not good landscape trees, no matter how lovely they are this time of year. They live fast and die young – a 25-year-old Bradford pear is probably near the end of its life. Because their heavy limbs grow at narrow angles, they tend to split apart. And because they shoot up so quickly and easily, this import from China has been placed on alert as a possible threat by the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council. So, is it time to reconsider?

But back to the question: It’s good to prune trees in late winter, while they’re still dormant. As you are no doubt aware if you’re in Middle Tennessee, “late winter” now seems to mean the same as “spring,” and most things are no longer dormant. So if you need to prune, do it now, before the tree leafs out fully and you can still see the branch structure easily.

Really, though, wouldn’t you rather have something else? Landscape professionals suggest a couple of good native alternatives to the Bradford pear: downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arboria), which has white flowers in spring, dark green foliage in summer and red berries in the fall; and Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), white flowers, green leaves, small blue-black fruit enjoyed by birds in the fall.

Either would be better than a Bradford pear, guaranteed.

 

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