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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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Ants on peonies: Welcome visitors or creepy pests?

I love peonies, their flowers and their fragrance. But when ours are blooming they always seem to be covered with ants! They crawl all over the buds. Sometimes they are small ants, and sometimes large black ants. How can we get rid of them?

Ants crawl on peoniesYou don’t want to get rid of them. The ants are not harming the peonies, and in fact they may have a part to play in helping to open the dense flower buds of some varieties. According to the Heartland Peony Society, it is believed that peonies produce nectar that attracts them for this purpose. It’s normal, and temporary. After the peonies are open, the ants often disappear.

What you may want to know is how to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation: using your cut peonies in an indoor arrangement and having ants crawl out of the flowers and across the dinner table!

I found this suggestion at Growing For Market, a website of resources for market farmers: cut the peonies before they open, and shake off the ants. Then put the peonies in water and let them bloom inside. The bud is developed enough to open after it’s cut when it shows color and is as soft as a marshmallow. Indoors, it should open in about two days.

And here’s a bonus bit of information from Growing For Market that’s worth trying at home: at this soft bud stage, peonies can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks. Wrap them loosely in a plastic bag with the cut stems exposed and place them at the back of the fridge. When you are ready to use them, cut an inch from the stem and place them in warm, deep water. Depending on how tight the bud was when it was cut, it may take eight to 48 hours to open.

Congratulations, Cheekwood

For the second time, Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden has been named one of the Best Public Gardens in North America in the USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice contest. President and CEO Jane MacLeod is thrilled: “Each year, our gardens are host to hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to Cheekwood for the world-renowned art exhibitions and spectacular seasonal festivals that make us one of Nashville’s great treasures,” she says. “We are honored by this designation and thank everyone who voted for Cheekwood.”

Cheekwood was one of 20 gardens nominated for the award, a group that included Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, New York Botanical Garden in Brooklyn, and Chicago Botanical Garden. The the top 10 winners were determined by a public vote held on USA Today’s 10Best website in March. The winners are promoted at usatoday.com/travel.


Each spring, hundreds of guests enjoy the gardens during the Cheekwood in Bloom festival. Information about the gardens and events all year are at Cheekwood’s website.



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