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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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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! Continue reading

Hellebores for winter blooms

Every year I see Lenten roses blooming in my friends’ gardens in December, and I intend to grow some in my own garden. When is the best time to plant them?

Hellebores The Garden Bench

The blooms of Lenten roses – hellebores – are welcome in a garden when everything else is dormant. They are tough plants, with evergreen foliage and flowers that bloom in January and February (or, as you note, as early as December). The flowers of established plants generally last well into spring.

Middle Tennessee plantsman Troy Marden includes hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) in his Southern Gardener’s Handbook, in the chapter on Perennials for the South. He notes that fall is a good time to plant Lenten roses. They can grow in a bed that’s partly shady, and they do best in rich, well-drained soil.

Hellebores may grow slowly at first, but once they’re established they quickly get bigger. Marden suggests a dose of composted manure or organic fertilizer in spring to encourage lush growth and abundant blooms the next year. They also self-sow, and the young seedlings can be dug up and transplanted in spring.

Reminder: It’s tree-planting time

Fall’s cooler weather signals the start of tree-planting time.

“It’s better to plant while the tree is dormant, after the leaves are gone,” says Randall Lantz, landscaping and horticulture superintendent for Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation. Strong root growth is important for the tree’s survival, and after leaf drop, the trees can put their energy into growing roots without having to support the top, he explains.

ball burlap treesSurvival also depends on planting the right tree in the right place.

“Look at your neighborhood and see what’s thriving all around, and also determine what kind of space you have,” says Lantz. “Think about whether you need a small tree or a ‘canopy’ tree, which can be very large.

When it’s time to plant, keep these guidelines in mind:

∙ Most trees need good drainage, so make sure the spot you select drains well.

∙ Don’t plant too deep. A young tree with its root ball wrapped in burlap should be planted a couple of inches higher than the soil level. “Trees tend to settle after they’re planted,” Lantz explains.

∙ Dig a hole that is several inches wider than the root ball (ideally, it should be about twice as wide), with a flat bottom, at a depth that is an inch or so less than the height of the root ball. Place the root ball in the hole and backfill with native soil.

∙ Finally, water the newly planted tree well to settle the soil around the root ball. Trees planted in fall and winter will be ready to grow and thrive next spring.

In Saturday’s Tennessean: Belmont Mansion’s Central Parlor goes back in time; Adelicia would feel right at home.

Enjoy the crisp fall weather. Tap here for a list of garden tips & tasks for November.

 

What’s blooming indoors? African violets

My African violets have flowers for just a few weeks, then go for months without blooming at all. How can I get them to bloom longer?

African violetYou might think African violets are finicky houseplants, but they’re quite easy to grow. And when they bloom in winter, their flowers can bring cheer to an otherwise gloomy day.

African violet expert Julie Mavity-Hudson of the Nashville African Violet Club passes along these tips: African violets thrive in bright, indirect light and average room temperatures. The soil should be slightly moist, but not soggy (“The thing that kills more African violets than anything is overwatering,” she says).

A plant that otherwise looks robust may not bloom because it’s not getting enough light. Move it to a south- or west-facing window in winter, where the light is brighter. Watch for too much sun, though; direct sun will burn the leaves of African violets. They also do well under plant lights.

These plants also bloom better when they are slightly root-bound, so don’t rush to re-pot. They may also benefit from a light feeding of a bloom-boosting plant food every few weeks. With the right conditions, they may bloom nearly non-stop.

 

 

Special care for holiday cactus

Our Christmas Cactus usually blooms around Thanksgiving. Sometimes the buds drop off before they’re open. Can you tell me what’s wrong? What kind of care do they need?

Schlumbergera truncata

Thanksgiving cactus

It’s common to call all of those exotic looking winter-blooming houseplants Christmas cactus, but there is more than one type. (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is the botanical name for Christmas cactus, and it usually does flower around Christmas. But there is also S. truncata, or Thanksgiving cactus, which normally blooms about a month earlier.

In general, any of those “holiday” cacti need bright light and a moderate amount of water. Barbara Pleasant, in her book The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, suggests letting the soil dry out a little between waterings, and providing a dose of a balanced fertilizer about once a month in winter.

Christmas cacti are photoperiodic plants – that is, they respond to the change in proportions of light and dark, and begin to form buds at the onset of longer nights and shorter days in fall. Blooms open a few weeks later.

They can also be finicky about a change in conditions once they begin to bud – if you move them around, for instance. “Once plants begin blooming, they may drop their blossoms if exposed to any kind of stress,” says Barbara Pleasant in her book about houseplants.

More information and care tips from the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center: the Schlumbergera is native to Brazil, and they grow as epiphytes in tree branches in shady rain forests. They enjoy being outdoors in summer, but bring them indoors when nighttime temperatures get down to 40 to 50 degrees – and certainly before frost. Place them in a cool, dark room, and bring them out into bright light when buds begin to develop.

Here’s how to tell the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus: Look at the stem segments. Thanksgiving cactus each have 2 to 4 sharp serrations along the margins. The margins of Christmas cactus are more rounded. One other distinguishing factor: When the flowers open, look at the pollen-bearing anthers. The anthers of Thanksgiving cactus are yellow; those on Christmas cactus are purplish-brown, according to the plant experts.

 

Plant perennials now, enjoy them later

I’m still seeing perennials for sale at garden centers. Some of them are being sold at reduced prices. Can they really be planted this time of year?

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Spring is the typical planting time, but for gardeners who are willing to be patient or take a chance on a plant that may look like it’s past its prime, early fall is a good time to plant. Many of the plants on sale still have plenty of life, even though they don’t look their best right now.

But if you make careful choices and plant now, they will begin to establish good root systems and should spring back beautifully in the garden next year.

While perennials you find now may not be at the peak of perfection, you should still look for healthy plants with no sign of disease. Here are guidelines from the website of Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension and other sources:

  • Look for plants with good color and vigorous appearance. Avoid plants that show any sign of disease.
  • Ease the plant out of the pot and look at the roots look healthy, and not mushy or limp. Avoid anything with roots that have a bad odor.
  • Buy labeled plants (unless you want to be surprised!) and label it in the garden so that you can remember where and what you planted next spring.
  • In the garden, prepare the soil and amend it as needed with compost. Dig a hole a few inches wider that the plant’s pot, remove the plant from the pot and gently loosen the roots, then set the plant in the ground with the base of the plant level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil, water thoroughly, and add mulch.
  • Don’t set them out and forget them. October can be a dry month, so remember to provide water on a regular basis.

Keep your daffodils happy

After a long winter, the daffodils are finally beginning to bloom! Do they need any special care to make them bloom better?

Daffodils from AnnaDaffodils are generally easy-care spring bulbs, but a little extra care each year can increase and improve blooms over time. The American Daffodil Society offers these tips:

As daffodils bloom, topdress the soil with 0-10-10 or 0-0-50 fertilizer. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer, which may produce more foliage than flowers.

Daffodils need water while they’re growing, so if there is a dry spell, provide regular water until after blooming has stopped.

After daffodils bloom, leave the foliage until it turns yellow. This is the time the bulbs are gathering strength to bloom again next year.

The weather in late winter and early spring can be capricious, and it’s always possible that a hard frost or freeze can cause the stems to collapse, leaving the flowers drooping to the ground. If that happens, go ahead and cut some of the flowers and enjoy them in a vase indoors.

Vote for Cheekwood!

Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art is one of the finalists for BestPublicGarden in USA Today Travel’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards list. Those who love and enjoy the beautiful gardens are encouraged to vote daily for Cheekwood in an online poll to help win the award.

Our beloved Middle-Tennessee favorite is in good company. The list, compiled by expert, author and lecturer Cindy Brockway, also includes ButchartGardens of Victoria, British Columbia; ChicagoBotanic Garden in Chicago, Illinois; HuntingtonBotanical   Garden in Los Angeles, California; LongwoodGardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and United   StatesBotanical Garden in Washington, D.C., among others.

“Thanks to recent high-profile exhibitions, expanded programming, and recognition like the 10Best list, Cheekwood is seen more and more as a national treasure, right in our back yard,” says Cheekwood President and CEO Jane O. MacLeod. “We invite our community to help build our national reputation by voting for Cheekwood in the 10Best online poll.”

To vote for Cheekwood, visit 10best.com/awards/travel/best-public-garden between now and March 31. Vote early and often – yes, you can vote every day. As of this writing, Cheekwood ranked a very close third among the 20 finalists for total votes.

What’s blooming indoors? Cyclamen

I received a cyclamen as a Valentine’s Day gift. It’s very pretty with its heart-shaped leaves and delicate flowers, but how long will the flowers last? How should I take care of it?

CyclamenFlorists cyclamen – the potted blooming plant that you likely will find in grocery stores or a home improvement store’s garden center – provides a nice stroke of blooming color indoors in midwinter. Flowers can be snowy white, or shades of pink, lilac or bright red. Under the best conditions, the plant will continue to send up those delicate blooms for several weeks.

Keep the plant in a place where it receives bright light (up to an hour or two of direct sun), but where the temperature is cool. Keep the soil slightly moist; if the roots dry out, the plant will wilt. Houseplant expert Barbara Pleasant (The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual) suggests watering it by placing the pot in a shallow container of tepid water for about 15 to 30 minutes. If you do water from the top, she cautions to avoid getting water in the plant’s crown.

Cyclamen (sometimes called Persian violet) is generally considered a sweet but temporary visitor, and after several weeks of blooming, the entire plant begins to deteriorate – at which point most people toss it out. Pleasant says they can be brought back into bloom.

She writes: “Allow the foliage to dry until it withers in late spring, and then clip off the old foliage. Place the dormant plant in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months, providing just enough water to keep the roots from drying out completely. In late summer, return the container to a bright location, and repot the plant in fresh soil as soon as new growth appears. Resume watering and feeding, and blooms should emerge 2 to 3 months later.”

What’s blooming indoors? Gloxinia

QUESTION: A friend gave me a gloxinia with purple and white flowers as a Christmas gift, and told me it’s a houseplant that’s easy to grow. How should I take care of it?

Sinningia ‘Peridots Darth Vader’ . Photo courtesy Tennessee Gesneriad Society

Sinningia ‘Peridots Darth Vader’ . Photo courtesy Tennessee Gesneriad Society

Gloxinia is in the plant family of gesneriads, a family that includes hundreds of tropical blooming plants. Many of them have found favor as houseplants – including their more familiar cousins, African violets.Florist gloxinias (Sinningia is the botanical name) are favored for their showy, trumpet-shaped flowers and velvety leaves. They need sufficient light to grow and bloom well, says Julie Mavity-Hudson of the Tennessee Gesneriad Society, so placing them near a south-facing window with filtered light (not direct sun) is ideal. If that’s not an option in your home, you may be able to provide the light they require to bloom by placing them under a two-tube fluorescent fixture. Gloxinias do best in average room temperature, with the soil kept moderately moist.

While they have been grown as perennial plants that die back and return after a period of dormancy, it’s good to know that most gloxinias from florists and retailers are hybrids that are grown as annuals, bred to be showy for awhile but not long-lived – a brief but lovely life. The bloom period may last about two months, then the plant will begin to fade, so don’t be disappointed that it may soon look ready for the compost bin.

And if you want to explore more about the family of gesneriads, check out the Gesneriad Society web site to learn more about these beautiful and unusual plants.

 

Amaryllis start-up time

When should I start new amaryllis bulbs in pots to have them on display through the winter?

'Flamenco Queen' amaryllis is from Colorblends.

‘Flamenco Queen’ amaryllis is from Colorblends.

Start potting them up now! The big, luxuriant amaryllis flowers generally begin to bloom six to eight weeks after the bulb is placed in potting mix and watered. Start several bulbs at weekly intervals, and you can have those tropical blooms on display from the December holidays on through winter.

An amaryllis is a large bulb, so select a pot that is a little larger and has a drainage hole. Add good quality potting mix to the container along with the bulb (pointed end up, of course), leaving about a quarter to a third of the bulb exposed. Water it well and place it in a spot that’s warm and sunny. You probably won’t need to water again until the soil feels dry, or when you begin to see growth from the top of the bulb.

Amaryllis comes in a range of colors, from white to soft pink to blazing red, bi-colors, giants and miniatures, some with double flowers — sure to brighten up any winter day. The  amaryllis pictured here is ‘Flamenco Queen’ from Colorblends, a Connecticut-based flower bulb wholesaler that sells direct to home gardeners.

Thin those overgrown glads

QUESTION: I have a bed of gladiolus in my condo courtyard. The plants have grown so thick that they look crowded and messy, falling over each other. I know I need to thin them out, but when? And how?

glads redGladiolus grows from a tender corm, and in cold climates, garden experts suggest digging up the corms in the fall and storing them over the winter. In Middle Tennessee, I doubt that many gardeners go to the trouble. Winters here are just not that cold, and the glads pop up with no problem in the spring.

But you can still dig them up in the fall for the purpose of thinning them out. Whether you’re lifting them out for winter protection or for thinning, the University of Tennessee   Extension suggests digging them up on a bright, sunny day in the fall, after the foliage dies back but before a heavy frost. Cut the foliage flush with the corms and dry them outdoors during the day, but move them to a warmer, well-ventilated area to continue drying.

After a week or two, the old corms should separate from newly produced corms; gently pry them apart and discard the old one, along with any that are diseased or scarred. Dry them in a warm place for a few more days, and when they are cured, store them in a cool, well-ventilated area through the winter.

Next spring, put the corms back in the ground. You only get one flowering stem per corm, but you can stagger the planting over several weeks to have a succession of blooms – the Extension office suggests planting at two-week intervals, beginning in late April or May and ending no later than 60 days before the first frost to provide flowers from about mid-summer and into the fall. Plant corms 4 to 6 inches deep. Taller varieties may need to be staked as they grow to prevent the top-heavy flowers from toppling.

In the garden this month

In August, your kitchen garden can provide an abundance of fresh veggies. Find ideas for all that zucchini, that basket full of okra, all those tomates, plus summer garden tips and tasks in the August Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com.

Garden events in Middle Tennessee

August 10: The undisputed star of the summer garden has its own celebration. The annual Tomato Art Fest, hosted by Art and Invention Gallery, is a day-long party (10 a.m. – 10 p.m.) full of art, entertainment, and family-friendly events in the Five-Points area in East Nashville. http://tomatoartfest.com.

August 15: Lunch and Lecture at Cheekwood: “Beyond Green: Colorful Foliage in the Garden.” Sue Hamilton, director of the UT Gardens, shows how to use plants with colorful foliage to provide year-round impact in your garden. Noon – 1 p.m.; $25 for non-members. www.cheekwood.org/Education  to register.

August 16:  Make a batch of fresh salsa to enjoy at Summer Salsa Creations at WarnerParkNatureCenter, 5:30 – 7 p.m. Naturalist Melissa Donahue leads this all-ages workshop, starting with fresh tomatoes from the NatureCenter garden – or bring your own. Call 352-6299 to register. Registration opens Aug. 2.

August 20: Julie Berbiglia of NPT’s Volunteer Gardener is the speaker at this month’s Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee meeting at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall. Her topic: “Water Conservation.” Refreshments at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m. The public is invited. www.ppsmt.org.

August 22: Hosta hybridizer Bob Solburg of Green Hill Farm in Franklinton, N.C. is the speaker at this month’s meeting of the Middle Tennessee Hosta Society at Cheekwood. The meet-and-greet begins at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m., and Solburg will have plants for sale. www.mths-hosta.com.