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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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Star of Bethlehem: pretty weeds

What are the little white six-petal flowers that come up in the lawn every spring? We see more of them each year.

Star of bethlehem 2You are probably referring to Star of Bethlehem, which pops up in airy clusters from clumps of grassy leaves about mid-spring. The small (about 1 inch) flowers open in the morning and close by sunset, and flowering lasts two to three weeks. If you are trying to cultivate a weed-free expanse of lawn, you likely will decide before long that this delicate white flower – small and sweet-looking in one or two little clumps — can be a weedy nuisance.

The plants, which are an imported species, grow from small bulbs, and reproduce by seed but primarily by formation of bulblets that grow at the base of the parent bulb, and each bulblet produces a new plant. After it blooms, the plant dies back and remains dormant until next spring, but even though the growing period is short, the plant is aggressive, and will quickly take over an area of the lawn or supplant native vegetation. The flowers and bulbs are toxic and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, pain, swelling and skin irritation.

The most effective way to get rid of Star of Bethlehem is to dig up the bulblets – each and every one – before the foliage dies back. This is not an instant fix, but may reduce the number of plants in your lawn over time.

Star of Bethlehem is native to North Africa, parts of Eastern Europe and western Asia. In Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home), it’s ranked as a “lesser threat” by the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council. The USDA Forest Service has clear guidelines about how to handle this bulb: “Do not plant this species and eliminate the plant if possible.”

Celandine poppies bloom in spring

I have a shade garden and would love to have celandine poppies. What’s the best way to grow them?

Celandine poppyCelandine poppies, or wood poppies, (Stylophorum diphyllum) are among the prettiest flowers in a shady woodland garden in early spring. Tall stems with bright yellow flowers grow from clumps of lobed leaves in late March, April and May, before developing fuzzy seedpods. This native wildflower grows well in moist, slightly acid humus-rich soil.

When conditions are right, Celandine poppies grow and spread easily. Nashville wildflower expert Margie Hunter, in her book Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee, notes that they “readily self-sow” (other sources describe this as becoming “weedy”).  “If germination gets out of hand, just snip off the large seedpods before they open,” Hunter writes.

Consequently, they are also easy to share. Divide them in spring, or start them from seeds in a cold frame in the fall.

In today’s Tennessean: Sage, thyme and lavender are just a few of the herbs that can look as good in the landscape as they taste in the kitchen. See the story on double-duty herbs in today’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

April is also a great time to get out and meet other gardeners. Check out the Events calendar at left, and in my newspaper column at Tennessean.com.

April garden tips & tasks

Here in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home), April brings the garden into sharp focus. Where to begin? Here’s a list of suggestions, week by week, of tips and tasks for April in the garden.

Week 1

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Prune forsythia and flowering quince soon after they finish blooming. Prune out about one-third of the branches by cutting out the oldest limbs as close to the ground as possible. Mulch around the shrubs to discourage weeds and to retain moisture.

It’s still too early to set out most vegetable transplants, but not too early to prepare the beds. Till the soil and work in organic matter. Cover with mulch until you are ready to plant.

Begin fertilizing roses after new foliage appears.

Keep your mower blade sharp, and when you mow, don’t cut too short. Set the mower so that it removes only about a third of the height of the grass.

The hummingbirds will arrive soon. Prepare a solution of one part sugar to four parts boiling water. Let it cool, then fill the hummingbird feeders. Red food coloring is not necessary.

Week 2

Average last frost date in Middle Tennessee is around mid-April. But don’t be fooled by fickle weather. It may still be too cool for some heat-loving plants, such as basil.

Easter lily

Easter lily

Begin planting ornamental grasses and perennials. Make sure they get regular water after planting.

Peonies tend to flop over in heavy rains, so go ahead and place supports around the shoots now. The growing foliage will cover the supports, and the plants will stay upright in the rain.

After spring-flowering bulbs finish flowering, allow the leaves to remain until they can be pulled easily from the ground. This allows time for them to store food for next year’s growth.

Plant your Easter lily in a sunny spot after the flowers fade. Do not place it in the same bed as other lilies, as it can transmit a disease to other plants.

Week 3

Begin setting out bedding plants. Water plants thoroughly about 12 hours before you plant them. Dig individual holes and place plants at the same depth they grew in their pots. For best performance, break apart and spread tightly wound masses of roots as you plant, and snip off old blossoms. Replace the soil around the roots and water the plants well. Mulch planting beds about in inch deep.

Parsley

Parsley

Plant your herb garden: rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender, oregano, parsley and other herbs can go in the garden now. Just to be on the safe side, save tender basil to plant later in the month.

Set out marigolds, cosmos, petunias, begonias and other annual flowers. Plant coleus for color in shady spots, in containers or in the ground.

Sow vegetable seeds and keep them watered, but not soggy, until they germinate. The general rule is about an inch of water a week. Get out the rain gauge!

Set out tomato transplants. Set them deeply in the soil so that only the top few leaves are showing. Plant basil, or set out basil transplants.

Week 4

Newly planted shrubs need regular, thorough watering to help establish their root systems. Soaker hoses are an efficient way to water.

Geraniums

Geraniums

Plant geraniums in containers or in the ground. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.

Pluck young weeds out of the garden as soon as they emerge. It’s easier to keep them out if you get them while they’re small.

If you MUST prune azaleas, do it shortly after they finish blooming. They bloom on the previous year’s growth, so to prune later risks cutting off next years flowers.

Don’t forget about your houseplants. As the weather gets warmer, they need water more frequently. If you have houseplants that spend the summer outdoors, place them in a shady, protected area.

Get out and meet other gardeners this month! Check out the calendar Events calendar at left, and in my newspaper column at Tennessean.com.