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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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Lemon verbena likes warmer winters

Last year I planted lemon verbena in a new herb garden because I loved the fragrance. I thought it was a perennial, but it seems to have died over the winter. Will it come back this year?

LemoLemon verbenan verbena (Aloysia citriodora) is a tender perennial, which means it may survive a mild winter in some areas, but it will succumb to extended periods of below-freezing days and nights. The Herb Society of America notes that this herb is marginally hardy in Zone 8 – that’s where extreme minimum temperatures might be about 20 degrees, so you can see that it prefers warmer climates. It is native to Argentina, according to the HSA.

Even so, it’s worth adding to the garden for its delicate lemon fragrance and its culinary uses. Fresh leaves add a lemony flavor to sweet and savory dishes – sauces and marinades, ice creams, custards, tarts, frostings and fruit salads. It can also be dried, makes a nice tea by itself or combined with other herbs, and adds a fresh fragrance to sachets and potpourris.

Plant it in full sun in fertile soil. In the ground, lemon verbena will likely grow in a season to a lemony-sweet smelling 3-foot tall plant with woody stems. It flowers in late summer to early fall.

As the weather warms, depending on the microclimate in your garden, you may find that it had died down to the ground but may send up fresh shoots from the roots. You can also grow lemon verbena in a container, and keep it in a sunny, south-facing window or under plant lights in winter.

Harvest the leaves after the plant is at least eight inches tall. To dry the leaves, hang the branches in a well-ventilated location out of the sun until the leaves are crisp, then strip the leaves from the stem and store them in a tightly sealed container.

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