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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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Planting tulips in winter, try containers

I have a bag of tulip bulbs from last fall that I never got around to planting. Is it too late? They’ve been in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, and some of them have started to sprout in the bag.

Ideally, of course, tulip bulbs should have been planted last fall, at the very latest by early winter. But even at this late date, those bulbs would probably be happier in soil than in the bag. Placing them in the fridge is a good idea; tulips need time to chill before they start to grow in spring (which is why you should plant them in the fall).

Since you’ve got nothing to lose, why not try experimenting, planting the bulbs in a pot? Gardener Elizabeth Licata, writing for Fine Gardening magazine, suggests this technique: Continue reading

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.

 

 

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.

When will Siberian irises bloom?

Question: I received several clumps of Siberian irises from a friend last spring. I didn’t plant them right away, but when I finally did plant, I watered them well and added some fertilizer. They looked a bit limp for awhile and finally recovered, but they didn’t bloom. Should I expect blooms this year?

siberian irisIrises are among the season’s loveliest flowers. The big, beautiful bearded irises that are putting on such a show right now seem to be unconcerned about when and how often they’re moved and usually bloom without fussing. But according to the American Iris Society, Siberian irises don’t like to be disturbed once they’re established, so they may sulk for awhile when they’re moved. If the roots dried while they were waiting to be planted, that may have dealt them another blow. AIS cautions that the roots should never be allowed to dry out while they are out of the ground, and they should be watered heavily after they are transplanted.

Last year, the newly planted irises may have spent the spring and summer getting a strong root system established. By this year, you may have a few blooms.

In general, here is what Siberian irises need to do well: slightly acidic soil in a sunny location (though AIS says they can tolerate light shade), and regular moisture. While the rhizomes of bearded irises should be planted almost on top of the soil, Siberian and other beardless varieties should be set slightly deeper in the ground. All beardless irises should be fertilized regularly.

Daffodils may be too crowded to bloom

Our bed of daffodils has been growing for many years and has a lot of thick foliage, but just a few blooms. They should probably be divided. Can I dig them up and replant them now? 

Daff crowded Daffodil bulbs divide themselves every year or two, and the clumps begin to compete for food and space. This will affect their blooming – they’ll begin to produce fewer and fewer flowers.
So, indeed, after bulbs have been growing in the same place for many years, they may need to be dug up and divided. When the foliage turns yellow later this spring (but before it disappears completely), dig the bulbs, separate them, and replant them about 6 inches apart, 6 inches deep.
This is prime-time for daffodils in Middle Tennessee, and a little extra care and attention this time of year can improve your daffodil planting over time.


April in the garden: This could be the start of an especially satisfying – or challenging – spring. Check out the April Garden Calendar in The Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.


A wise gardener once said…
In fact, there have been many wise gardeners, and they’ve said plenty of wise things.
“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” (Jane Austen, in her novel Mansfield Park)
gardenwisdomAuthor Barbara Burn has collected many such bits of truth in The Little Green Book of Gardening Wisdom, just out this spring from Skyhorse Publishing. If you keep a garden, it’s a book that’s likely to have you nodding in agreement as you flip through the chapters.
“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. – Ruth Stout, “How to Have a Green Thumb Without An Aching Back” (1955).
Burns says in the introduction that she was surprised to discover that so many people have said so many things about gardening that deserve to be collected. “I concluded that the subject of growing things was of far more universal interest that I had anticipated, and a great deal more uplifting than all the volumes devoted to war and political history,” she writes.
“To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise. Whether the result is a horticultural masterpiece or only a modest vegetable patch, it is based on the expectation of a glorious future. This hope for the future is at the heart of all gardening.” – Marina Schinz, in Visions of Paradise (1985).
There is also practical advice, in quotes from well-known gardeners past and present.
“I feel that one of the secrets of good gardening in always to remove, ruthlessly, any plant one doesn’t like… Scrap what does not satisfy and replace it by something that will.” – Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968).
“To get the best results you must talk to your vegetables.” – Prince Charles, in a television interview in 1986.
This book of wise words is not intended to use as a how-to-garden manual. “But it will, I hope, give every reader a sense of comfort to know that we are not alone when we are down on our hands and knees fighting with weeds or planting a row of seeds that will one day bring us great pleasure.”
The Little Green Book of Gardening Wisdom is available at Skyhorse Publishing in hardcover ($16.95) and as an ebook.