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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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Dig daffodils, save the bulbs

The daffodil bed needed thinning, so I dug them out after the leaves started turning yellow and replanted many of them in the same place. Now I have dozens of extra bulbs I can share with friends. Do they need to be planted right away?

spring-flowering bulbsWhen a daffodil bed begins to look crowded and you begin to see fewer flowers, it’s a sure sign that the bulbs need to be thinned out. One bulb becomes a clump of bulbs after a few years. The American Daffodil Society suggests digging and dividing daffodils about every 4 – 5 years.

The ADS notes that the time to do this job in many regions is now – after blooming ends and the foliage turns yellow. To save bulbs for later planting, wash them thoroughly and let them dry completely, at least a week, and put them in mesh bags, onion sacks or pantyhose and hang them in the coolest place you can find, a place with good air circulation to minimize storage rot.
Store them until the time is right to plant them in the fall.

To learn more about daffodils, visit the American Daffodil Society website, where you can also find links to regional daffodil societies in different parts of the country. In Nashville and Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home), the Middle Tennessee Daffodil Society is the group for daffodil enthusiasts. MTDS will host the 2018 American Daffodil Convention and Show, April 5 – 8 in Franklin, TN. Visit the MTDS website here.

Urban Gardening Festival 

Master Gardeners of Davidson County’s annual Urban Gardening Festival is Saturday (May 20, 2017), at The Demonstration Garden at Ellington Center. Gardens, workshops, local artists, growers and suppliers, gardening information, children’s activities and more are all on the schedule. 9 a.m. – p.m., rain or shine, and it’s free!

 

 

When daffodils don’t bloom

I covered my daffodils in the fall with a heavy layer of pine straw. The leaves have come up but they are not budding or blooming. Is the pine straw too acidic for these plants?

Daffodil copyAfter a long winter, we look forward to the daffodils blooming in spring, and it’s a disappointment when they don’t produce the flowers we expect.

The failure to bloom is not due to pine straw causing acid soil; daffodils – or jonquils, as we sometimes call them — tolerate a range of soil types, as long as it is well-drained and moderately fertile, and some varieties actually prefer slightly acid soil. A lot of garden experts suggest mulching daffodil beds with a light layer of pine straw. Small, early blooming daffodils may not be able to penetrate a thick layer of mulch.

So consider some of the other possible reasons daffodils don’t bloom: Continue reading

Blackberry lilies are lovely, low low-maintenance plants

 

I’d like to grow blackberry lilies in my new garden. When is the best time to plant them?

Black berry lily

Seeds in late summer resemble blackberries.

Blackberry lilies (Iris domestica) are easy-to-grow plants that add an interesting touch to garden beds and borders. When the leaves emerge, they resemble bearded irises, growing in a fan shape. The six-petaled red-spotted yellow flowers bloom about mid-summer atop tall, slender stems. In late summer, the flowers give way to seed capsules that split open to reveal shiny black seed clusters that look like blackberries.

Blackberry lilies grow from tubers. Plant them in average, well-drained soil, about an inch deep, any time the ground is not frozen.

blackberry lily 2Horticulturists at the Missouri Botanical Garden web site suggest planting them in full sun, but gardeners report that they tolerate partial shade and still bloom well. Clumps of blackberry lilies expand by creeping rhizomes, and the plants may also self-seed if growing conditions are right. Provide regular water as the plants grow and bloom.

 

Daffodils can be early risers

It’s mid-January, and the daffodils in our yard are already starting to come up. The shoots are about 3 – 5 inches above the ground. Won’t they freeze when the temperature drops?

DaffodilsIt’s not unusual for the shoots of early-blooming daffodils to begin pushing up through the ground, even as early as January – the same time as the crocuses. Cold weather may slow their growth, but it won’t kill them. This time of year, the worst that could happen is that the weather turns warm and stays warm enough long enough that the daffodils bloom. The flowers might then succumb to a snap of extreme cold, but if buds have not begun to show color, they should be fine.

There are several daffodil cultivars that bloom in late winter, and planting those types can extend the blooming season from late winter into mid-spring. Among the early-blooming favorites are cultivars called ‘Sweetness,’ ‘Jetfire,’ ‘Barrett Browning,’ ‘February Gold,’ and others.

When shoots do begin to pop up, daffodil experts say they benefit from a light dose of bulb fertilizer, scattered lightly around each clump or spread over the surface of naturalized areas. Fertilizer can burn new leaves, so if it gets on the foliage, wash it off right away.

Daffodil dreams? Time to plant bulbs

I love daffodils! We are planning our first garden in our new house and want to plant bulbs to come up next spring. When is the right time to plant?

Daffodils 2Fall is typical bulb-planting time, and the cooler it is, the better, according to daffodil experts. Anne Owen of the Middle Tennessee Daffodil Society in Nashville (Zone 7a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map) says the best time is when the soil is 52 – 54 degrees (usually November in Middle Tennessee). But you can buy bulbs and begin to dream about spring daffodils, and prepare the planting areas as soon as you like.

Daffodils enjoy well-drained soil, so if your soil needs to be amended with compost, do that before you plant. “Lighten heavy clay with perlite or sand, or use a raised bed soil mix,” Owen suggests. You can work soil conditioner into the soil – anything that will create a loose growing environment for the bulbs.

Daffodils grow best in full sun. Keep in mind, though, that they grow and bloom early, while there are fewer leaves on trees that will cast shade, so even a tree-canopied space may have more sun in late winter and early spring than you realize.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble to prepare beds for the bulbs, you can simply dig holes and drop the bulbs in the ground. Choose an area where you won’t need to mow until early summer, Owen says. Daffodil foliage should be left standing for many weeks after the bloom time is over, because this is when they’re gathering strength for the bulb to bloom again next spring.

Plant large bulbs (pointed end up!) about six inches apart. Bulbs can benefit from a dose of low-nitrogen fertilizer at planting time, Owen says. Water the bed well after planting.

Enjoying a mid-summer surprise

I love the “surprise” of surprise lilies (also called “naked ladies”) when they bloom every summer. When should you plant them? What do you have to do to keep them growing?

Surprise lily, naked ladies

Lycoris squamigera (surprise lily, naked lady) growing up through a bed of creeping Charlie.

These late-summer bloomers really can cause a double-take when you see them in gardens. The lovely flowers are perched atop 2-foot stems, with no foliage in sight.

In fact, the strap-like foliage appeared earlier in the season – in spring — and by summer, those big clumps have turned yellow and finally disappeared. Then about mid-July (in this part of the region, at least) – Surprise! The stems shoot up and fat buds open into large, delicate flowers.

Surprise lilies grow from bulbs, and there are several varieties, but the hardiest is the one you probably see most, Lycoris squamigera. You may also know it by other names – magic lily, resurrection lily, in addition to the ever-popular moniker, naked ladies.

These lilies are also among favorite pass-along plants. Dig and separate the bulbs after they finish flowering, and plant them about 4 inches deep. Because the stems are tall and bare when the plants bloom, some gardeners like to plant them among other summer foliage (I’ve seen them growing up through English ivy and other sturdy groundcovers). You can also plant them in containers.

Surprise lilies grow best in full sun but seem to tolerate light shade.

Book giveaway winner!

A signed copy of Plant This Instead! by Troy B. Marden is on its way to Sue, whose comment was picked by the random number generator as the winner of last week’s book giveaway. Thanks for playing, everyone! Watch for another giveaway coming soon.

August Garden Calendar

What to do in the garden this month? Think about fall! See the August Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com, where you’ll find information about planting cool-season edibles and a list of tips and tasks and garden events in Middle Tennessee.

Enjoying spring’s bluebells

One of my favorite early flowering plants is the Virginia bluebell. I have a few that were beautiful this spring, as always, but I would love to have more. How can I get these to multiply?

Virginia bluebells

Virginia bluebells

In shady woodlands and gardens with moist, rich soil, Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) grows as loose clumps of blue-green leaves that give rise to leafy stems bearing clusters of small, bell-shaped blue flowers. They flower early in the spring, go to seed, and die back by midsummer. Given time, they will spread, but you can help them along by digging and dividing the clumps. Garden experts in the Southern Living Garden Book suggest doing this in early autumn. Mark their location now so you can locate them when it’s time to divide.

There’s another early-spring plant that some call bluebells – Hyacinthoides is the botanical name – that grow from bulbs. You may also know them as wood hyacinths or Spanish bluebells. They produce clumps of strappy leaves and blue, bell-shaped flowers along tall, sturdy stems. H. hispanica is described as “prolific and vigorous,” which means that they can quickly naturalize into places where

Spanish bluebells

Spanish bluebells

you may not want them, but they grow and bloom reliably in dappled shade, they are not usually browsed by deer or rabbits, and the cut flowers are a nice addition to early-spring bouquets.

 

 

 

 

 

June: The month for daylilies in Middle Tennessee. Check out this month’s events, tasks and tips in the Garden Calendar in today’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.