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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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Dead plants add life to the compost

I have pots of chrysanthemums and geraniums that were killed by the frost. If I put them in the compost are they likely to sprout seedlings when I put the compost in my garden later?

Dead plants, leaves and other garden debris can be tossed into the compost.

Dead plants, leaves and other garden debris can be tossed into the compost.

Unless they succumbed to some kind of disease, frost-killed plants such as the mums, along with other end-of-the-season garden debris, are a good addition to compost, so toss them in and don’t worry about it. If they are completely dead, they are not likely to re-sprout, say compost experts. If, however, the plants you toss in have mature seeds, the seeds may sprout if the compost doesn’t get hot enough.

Here’s a quick lesson on hot vs. cold compost: The best compost is made with a ratio of nitrogen-rich “green” material such as fruit and vegetable scraps, fresh grass clippings, green yard waste and so forth, and carbon-rich “brown” materials such as dry leaves, straw, soil, woody material and even newspaper and paper towel tubes. The ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is 30:1. A well-working pile will heat up to about 130 – 150 degrees F. (you can buy a compost thermometer that allows you to check the temperature). A pile that heats up to at least 130 degrees F will kill mature seeds of weeds and other plants that you put in there.

That may take more tending and precise calculation than an average gardener wants to do, though, so it’s more likely you’ll end up with a “cold” pile, which still makes compost, but more slowly – over the course of a few months instead of a few weeks. But again, if what you put in is completely dead, it will just rot and not sprout again.

Metro Nashville’s Public Works Department provides a booklet called “The Dirt on Composting” with simple guidelines to composting food and yard waste. Check it out here.

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