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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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Plant potatoes in early spring

This year I’d like to grow potatoes in our raised bed garden. Can the seed potatoes be planted this early in the spring?

Potatoes in bloom.

Potatoes in bloom.

Growing your own potatoes is a good way to try varieties that you won’t find in the grocery store, but make sure you get the timing right. Potatoes that are planted in soil that is too wet and cold won’t grow, but if the likelihood of a hard freeze is no longer a danger in your area, then now is a good time to plant them. In their book Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening, garden experts Felder Rushing and Walter Reeves suggest planting seed pieces 3 – 4 weeks before the average date of last frost (that date is around April 15 in Middle Tennessee, where The Garden Bench calls home).

Make sure the bed is in full sun – at least 8 hours — and the soil drains well. You can improve the drainage by tilling in organic matter. Remove rocks and roots and break up big clods of dirt to provide a welcoming environment for the growing potatoes.

To plant seed potatoes, cut the potatoes so that each piece contains one or two “eyes.” Spread the pieces out to dry for a couple of days before you put them in the ground. If you plant in rows, place the seed pieces 12 to 15 inches apart, with 24 inches between rows. In a bed, space the pieces 18 to 24 inches apart. Plant them 2 to 3 inches deep with the eyes up, and cover them with soil.

Now here’s where a little care and attention pays off: When the sprouts reach about 6 inches, pile soil from between the rows up around the plants. Potatoes develop in the dark, and this covers the tubers growing underground. The hills of soil should end up being about 6 inches high. If your area doesn’t get regular rain, provide about an inch of water a week to the potato bed because dry weather hampers potato production.

Eventually, the plants will produce flowers, and small potatoes are usually ready when those first flowers appear. Dig carefully and you’ll find them 4 to 6 inches below the top of the soil. When the vines begin to turn yellow, dig the potatoes that are left in the ground.

There are other potato growing methods that are more unusual. I’ve heard of growing potatoes in straw, in a stack of old tires, and in specially-designed “grow bags. A side note: I tried the grow-bag method one year and got lots of nice foliage, but not a single potato. I had better luck growing them in the ground in raised beds.

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