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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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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.”

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