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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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Prune azaleas soon after they bloom

Our azaleas are too large and need to be trimmed. When is the best time to prune them?

AzaleaIn general, azaleas rarely need pruning, but if you find you need to reduce the size of the shrubs, the best time to prune them is right after they finish blooming. The buds for this year’s azalea blooms began forming last summer, so if you prune now, before they bloom, it means you are cutting off many of the flowers before you have a chance to enjoy them.

Southern Living garden writer Steve Bender, who edited the new edition of the Southern Living Garden Book, suggests this method for pruning azaleas: determine where the height or width needs to be reduced. Then, using hand pruners (or loppers, if the branches are thick), reach in and cut back individual branches to different lengths to create a mounding shape. Do not, he admonishes, use hedge trimmers to shear azaleas. Besides looking boxy and unnatural, this results in flowers and foliage that grow only on the outer portions of the shrubs.

Two other notes from Steve’s advice, which you can read here:

-If you do the job at the proper time, you can cut evergreen azaleas back pretty hard – even back to bare wood — and they should survive and flourish.

-If yours are the ‘Encore’ type of azaleas, which bloom in spring and again in late summer or fall, prune right after the spring bloom.

Divide irises after they bloom

Our bearded irises are coming up and they’re pretty crowded this year, and need to be dug up and divided. If we divide them now, before they bloom, will we still have flowers this year?

Purple irisIf your iris bed is crowded but still producing blooms, it is best to wait until later to dig up the iris bed and divide the rhizomes. The experts at the American Iris Society and other sources say iris beds should be divided every three to five years, and suggest mid- to late-summer as the best time for this task.

When the time comes this summer, here is the method suggested by author Judy Lowe in Month-by-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

Cut the leaves in a fan shape about 6 inches tall, then lift the clump with a spading fork, wash off the dirt, and inspect the rhizome for soft spots, damage or disease.

Cut the rhizome into smaller pieces with a sharp knife, making sure each piece includes an eye or a bud. Cut away any older growth. Lowe notes that iris rhizomes are susceptible to fungal problems, and suggests dipping the rhizome briefly into a solution of one part liquid bleach to nine parts water.

Replant the sections: Dig a hole and make a mound of soil in the center, then place the rhizome on top so that its roots spread over the mound. Cover the roots, but maintain the rhizome at soil level or just below it. Bearded iris rhizomes that are planted too deep may rot, she says. Water the bed well.

Dividing in summer allows the rhizomes to become established before the end of the growing season, and more likely to bloom well next spring.

Color Garden book giveaway

Thanks to readers who left comments this week for a chance to win The Nonstop Color Garden by Nellie Neal. Constance is the winner of the random drawing.

Nellie, her book, and information from Doris Weakley of the Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee were featured in a story in last Saturday’s Tennessean. You can read it here.

And watch for another book giveaway soon.

Herbs, garden color, and a Book Giveaway!

I’m planning to grow an herb garden for the first time. When is the best time to set out transplants?

Basil

Wait until warm weather to plant any type of basil.

Now that spring is definitely on the way, of course we’re anxious to get things planted, and the herb garden is a good place to start. Some herbs can withstand chilly temperatures, and may already be available at nurseries or garden centers. Herbs that are more hardy – sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro, rosemary – can be set out very early, but to be safe (and depending on the climate in your area) you may want to wait until closer to the last frost date. (That’s around mid-April in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home).

Tender herbs such as basil absolutely will not tolerate cold weather, and you should

Parsley

Parsley can withstand a chill, and can be planted now.

wait until after the last frost date – or even a few days longer, just in case — to set out transplants.

In general, herbs grow best in well-drained soil in a spot that gets full sun, but there are a few herbs that do well in partial sun or partial shade. Garden author Judy Lowe lists chives, cilantro, lavender, lemon balm, parsley and sweet bay as plants that tolerate a little shade.

And for aspiring gardeners without a place to dig, herbs do well in containers — alone or planted with other herbs in a garden arrangement. At the appropriate time, set transplants in containers in good potting soil. Place them in a sunny spot on the deck, porch or patio, and keep the containers well-watered.

Color all year long – And a book giveaway!

Nellie Neal lo res

Nellie Neal photo by Dave Ingram

Nellie Neal’s appreciation for color in the landscape began while she was college.

“I became aware of this garden that was on my route every day. I noticed that it didn’t matter what day of the year it was, there was something going on that was worth a look.” She watched throughout the cycle of the year: where the azaleas bloomed, where the gardenias flowered. In winter, where the shrubs held gorgeous berries.

“It’s really when I became enamored with how the colors and the form go together to create this effect.”

Today, Nellie is a garden writer and radio host living in Jackson, Miss. and the author color garden book jacket lo resof The Nonstop Color Garden, a guide to designing flowering landscapes for year-round enjoyment.

Nellie offers some of her garden color tips in a story in today’s Style section in The Tennessean. Here at The Garden Bench, I’m giving away a copy of the book.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite season for color — or just name a color you like. Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, March 20, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a copy of Nellie Neal’s The Nonstop Color Garden.

What’s blooming indoors? Meyer lemon

I have a Meyer lemon tree that I keep indoors. It’s often full of blooms and the flowers smell wonderful. I’m always looking for lemons to start growing, but the flowers dry up and fall off and I never get any fruit.

meyer lemon flower closeup 3As long as the tree is indoors where the air is still and there aren’t any insects flying around, your Meyer lemon will most likely continue to be a delightfully fragrant but non-fruit-bearing plant. What the flowers need to produce fruit is the process of pollination.

You’ve heard of the birds and the bees, right? Outdoors, flying insects (bees and other pollinators) go from flower to flower, dipping into the pollen on the stamens – the cluster of thin filaments — and spreading it to the stigma at the center of the flower.

Indoors, if you want fruit, you’ll have to take care of that little detail yourself. Lemon trees are self-pollinating, meaning that the flowers shed pollen directly onto the stigma, but they still may rely on wind or insects — or human intervention, if necessary — to shake things up.

Here’s how you can help: As the flowers open, use a cotton swab or a small artist’s paintbrush to collect pollen from the anthers (the tips of the stamens), then rub the stigma with the swab to transfer the pollen. It’s a slow process, but the tree should begin to produce lemons (which grow fairly slowly, by the way).

Meyer lemons growing indoors where winters are cold need a lot of sunlight, and they also benefit from time spent outside when the weather warms up. Place a lemon tree in a protected spot outdoors, moving it gradually into full sun, when nighttime temperatures stay above about 50 degrees. Outdoors, the bees will do the job of pollinating the flowers, of course.

In general, Meyer lemon trees thrive in good potting mix in a container that drains well. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely, but don’t overwater it, either. Fertilize regularly with an organic fertilizer designed for citrus, following directions on the label. (I’ve used Espoma’s Organic Citrus-tone citrus and avocado food, with good results).