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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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Protect banana trees from the cold

'Texas Star' banana. Photo by Dave G.

‘Texas Star’ banana. Photo by Dave G.

We planted a new ‘Texas Star’ banana tree this spring. It’s growing and looks great, but how do we protect it this winter? We live in Middle Tennessee, and it is planted in an open area near a pool.

The ‘Texas Star’ banana is said to be a cold-hardy variety, but it still needs coddling over the winter here in Zone 7a, where temperatures regularly fall below freezing. Once they’re exposed to a couple of frosty nights, the leaves will be reduced to a wilted mush. The important thing is to protect the underground rhizomes. The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture grows an impressive Hardy Banana in the UT Gardens in Knoxville, and provides this information for overwintering a banana plant:

Just before frost is expected, use a clean, sharp saw to cut the stems and leaves down to about 8 – 10 inches above the ground, then pile a thick layer of mulch over the crown. They say it’s best to use a heavy mulch (pine bark or hardwood), which won’t blow away easily. Others suggest you cover the stump with the leaves you cut from the plant, or wrap the stump with a blanket, and cover it with an overturned plastic garbage can.

In the spring, remove the mulch after the danger of frost is past, and the rhizome will send up new shoots and grow rapidly when the weather has warmed.

By the way, in this area banana trees are grown for their exotic foliage; it takes a long time to grow bananas, and summer here just isn’t long enough (though if you’ve grown bananas here in Zone 7a, I’d love to hear from you!).

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