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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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Learn to love a lemon

My friends gave me a small Meyer lemon tree in a pot for my birthday. It already has a few tiny lemons growing! How should I take care of it?
Meyer lemon
As you probably already know, Meyer lemon (or any citrus) must be grown in a container anywhere the temperature gets to the freezing point in winter, because it will have to come indoors. With that in mind, plan to treat it as you would any high-maintenance houseplant – give it the right soil, lots of light, enough (but not too much) water, a little fertilizer, and plenty of TLC.

Use a container with adequate drainage, and a good potting mix. Some sources recommend placing a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot for additional drainage. Choose a soilless potting mix that contains vermiculite or perlite; never use garden soil for your Meyer lemon in a container.

The tree can spend the summer outdoors where it can get plenty of sunlight (the recommended amount is at least 8 hours a day). In fact, if you want lemons, place the plant outdoors before it blooms, so the bees and other pollinators can do their job when the flowers emerge; otherwise, you’ll need to fertilize the flowers by hand in order for lemons to form.

Be sure to water the plant regularly. A layer of mulch on top of the soil will help retain moisture, but don’t smother the trunk of the tree with mulch, and allow the soil to dry between waterings.

Meyer lemon (and other citrus plants) benefits from regular applications of plant food. I use Espoma Organic Citrus-tone, but there are other choices available. Follow the instructions on the package. Citrus-tone’s recommended fertilizing schedule suggests feeding in late winter (before the plant blooms), late spring (after it blooms) and in fall.

As the weather begins to cool down, prepare the tree to come indoors. Begin to bring it into the shade well before the first frost date, so that it can begin to acclimate to lower light conditions. When you bring the plant indoors, place it in a south- or southwest-facing window – or as sunny a spot as you can find – and provide supplemental light if necessary. Regular, light misting with water from a spray bottle helps provide the humidity citrus plants need.

Watch for aphids, spider mites, mealybugs and scale, all of which may be attracted to your Meyer lemon. If you find signs of insect infestation (webs, speckled leaves, sticky residue) treat the plant with insecticidal soap.
Lemons generally ripen in six to nine months. It takes a bit of care and attention to produce fruit, but the flavor of Meyer lemons, which is somewhat sweeter than other lemons, is worth the extra work.

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