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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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Keep hellebores healthy

I inherited a fairly large garden of hellebores when I moved into my current house. There is a problem with black spots on the leaves that I researched on the internet. I have cleaned out the dead leaves from the winter to improve their appearance and air circulation. What is the best way to deal with this problem?

Hellebore-webIf you’ve cut off the dead leaves of the hellebores and gotten any infected foliage around the plants cleaned up and destroyed, you’ve already gotten a good start on controlling the problem by non-chemical means. Leaf spot disease seems to be a fairly common affliction of Helleborus, caused by a fungus, and the first line of defense is to avoid spreading it around, and keep the area inhospitable to fungal growth.

The best information I found about diseases that affect hellebores is at the website of the Royal Horticultural Society. RHS experts note that there are no fungicides specifically designed to treat leaf spot disease on hellebores, but that fungicides labeled for other ornamental plants may help control hellebore leaf spot. (I always recommend the non-chemical methods first).

Hellebores are a beautiful addition to a garden because they bloom when not much else is happening – in late winter and very early spring. In Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home), we often enjoy watching the flowers open in January, sometimes peeking cheerfully through light dustings of snow.

Hellebores grow best in rich, well-drained soil that is somewhat alkaline or neutral pH; they may suffer in soil that is too dry or that stays too wet. The plants enjoy a little sun but thrive in dappled shade. Once established, they may resent being moved, but hellebores that are doing well may self-sow, and you can transplant seedlings in early spring.

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