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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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Japanese beetles fly in to dine on your garden

I’m having a problem with Japanese beetles. I have beetle traps hanging around my garden and they catch a lot of them, but beetles are still chewing on my wisteria and rose bushes. I don’t want to spray, so every day I hand-pick them off. What else can I do?

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Those Japanese beetle traps work by using a chemical that mimics a pheromone produced by the female Japanese beetle to lure the male beetles. You now see how well this works, as you are drawing more and more Japanese beetles into your yard where, on the way to the trap, they stop to dine on your plants.

Extension agents say that if you use these traps, it’s best to place them a good distance from any plants you want to save, so they will be lured away from the plants.

Generally, most experts advise against using them at all.
Good for you for choosing not to spray chemical killers – the honeybees and other pollinators are safe in your landscape. Handpicking the beetles or knocking them off into soapy water is an effective short-term method for reducing the population in your garden. The best time of day may be early morning, when they apparently are more sluggish.

Biological control of Japanese beetles begins with understanding their life cycle. Young grubs hatch in the soil in late summer and feed on roots, then spend winter in the soil. They become active in spring and continue to feed. Adult beetles begin to emerge in June.

You can treat the lawn with milky spore, a bacterium that kills the grubs in the soil. Milky spore builds up in the soil over several years and suppresses the grub population over time — no grubs, no Japanese beetles to hatch and harass your plants.

The University of Tennessee Extension has a publication about controlling Japanese beetles. You can read it here.

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