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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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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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