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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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Frost-killed plants are ready for the compost

Question: I have a new compost bin for composting vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc. I also have a lot of dead plants in pots that were killed by the frost. Can I use these in the compost bin?

compost

Dead plants, leaves and other garden debris can be tossed into the compost.

Unless they succumbed to some kind of disease, frost-killed potted plants, along with other end-of-the-season garden debris, are a good addition to compost, so toss them in and don’t worry about it. In fact, they add a much-needed source of “brown” to the nitrogen-rich “green” kitchen scraps, a mixture that’s necessary to produce good compost. Here’s a quick lesson to get your started, adapted from “The Dirt on Composting,” a booklet produced by the Metro Nashville, Tenn. Public Works Department:

The best compost is made with a ratio of nitrogen-rich “green” material such as fruit and vegetable scraps, fresh grass clippings, green yard waste and so forth, and carbon-rich “brown” materials such as dry leaves (and dead, dried plants), straw, soil, woody material and even newspaper and paper towel tubes. A good carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is 30:1, but the most important thing to remember is that you need some of each.

A well-working compost pile will heat up to about 130 – 150 degrees F. (you can buy a compost thermometer that allows you to check the temperature). This is considered a “hot” compost. But even if your compost recipe is not that precise – you just chuck in kitchen scraps whenever you have them, and add dry material whenever you can – you’ll still end up with rich organic material from a “cold” pile, which turns into compost more slowly. An advantage of a “hot” compost pile is that it is more likely to kill mature seeds of weeds and other plants that you put in there; with a “cold” pile, after you spread or dig the compost into your garden beds, you are likely to find sprouts of plants with mature seeds that you tossed into the bin in past seasons.

The booklet provided by Metro Nashville’s Public Works Department with simple guidelines to composting food and yard waste can be found here. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has a page on composting with even simpler guidelines that you can see here.

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