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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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Good bugs vs. Bad bugs

Question: I have found several big green caterpillars covered with something that looks like white eggs on two of my tomato plants. What are they? How can I get rid of them?

A tobacco hornworm covered with wasp cocoons, and one without.

A tobacco hornworm covered with wasp cocoons, and one without.

What you are seeing is a good example of Nature helping you to control some of the pests in your garden. The green caterpillars are tobacco hornworms, which can chew up big portions of a healthy tomato plant before you even know they’re there. The white things are the cocoons of braconid wasps, parasitic wasps whose larvae feed on the hornworm, ultimately killing the caterpillar. The wasps, which are very small and not a stinging type, are considered beneficial insects in large-scale agricultural production and in home gardens.

Here’s how it works: A female braconid wasp lays eggs under the skin of a hornworm. The eggs hatch, and the larva begin eating the caterpillar’s insides and chew their way out through the host’s skin when they mature. On the outside, they spin the little oval cocoons along the caterpillar’s back and sides. By the time the adult wasps emerge, the hornworm is weakened and will soon die.

If you see a green hornworm on tomato plants – and they’re hard to spot, being exactly the color of tomato leaves! – pluck it off and dispose of it. But if you find one with white cocoons all over its back, leave it in place. It’s hosting another generation of parasitic wasps that will seek out and destroy hornworms on your tomatoes.

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