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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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Fall leaves = free mulch

Question: We have several maple trees that blanket the lawn with leaves in the fall. Can we rake these off the lawn into the garden beds to use as mulch?

 

fall-leavesFall leaves are a good source of mulch for garden beds. As they decompose, they improve the soil structure and return nutrients to the soil, and as mulch, they help retain moisture in the garden beds and slow the growth of winter annual weeds that may pop up.

You could just rake them or blow them off the lawn directly into the beds, but it’s better to shred them before you pile them on top of the perennials and around trees and shrubs. Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster. A thick layer of unshredded leaves may also become matted and smother plants underneath, and may prevent water from reaching the soil. You can chop the leaves by mowing over them and collecting them in a bagging attachment, or by using a leaf shredder.

Here are guidelines for using leaves as mulch are from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds.

*Mix leaves into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure.

*Be aware that oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds.

Leaves can also be added to compost as one of the carbon-rich “brown” ingredients. If, after you’ve chopped and used as much of your bounty of leaves as possible on the garden beds, save the rest to use later in the compost, or for mulch again next spring. Bag the leaves and keep them dry so they don’t decompose by the time you need them again in a few months.

November garden tips & tasks

Summer’s over, and the winter holidays are approaching. It’s time to begin thinking about spring. Naturalist Deb Beazley, who leads classes in organic gardening at Warner Parks Nature Center in Nashville, says it’s good to begin planning for next year, even while this year’s garden is still on your mind.

fall leaves

Rake fall leaves from the lawn and use them as mulch.

Fall is a good time to begin to prepare the space for next year’s garden, provided the ground isn’t wet. “At least begin to kill off the grass,” she says. You can accomplish that by covering the parts of the ground you want to turn into garden with clear plastic, newspapers or mulch. If you prefer to use raised beds, build them now. “Get the soil in and get it acclimated. Now is a good time to fill it up and let it settle,” Beazley suggests

Seasoned gardeners can think about bedding down the garden for wintertime. But rather than let the soil lie fallow, she recommends putting it to work by sowing a winter cover crop, such as buckwheat, winter rye or clover. Plan to work it back into the ground with shallow tilling early next spring, which puts nitrogen back into the soil.

It’s also leaf-gathering time, and those leaves you rake up can provide a deep layer of mulch on garden beds in the winter. While you’re leaf gathering, set some aside for later, too; the leaves you rake off the lawn this fall will come in handy next summer, when you can again use them for mulch.

“Cover them in bags so they don’t decompose by the time you need them in June,” Beazley suggests.

Other garden tips and tasks to enjoy this month:

∙ If your landscape is blessed with large trees, leaf removal may be your biggest garden task this month. Fall leaves are a great addition to the compost.

∙ If the weather is mild, you can still plant cool-weather ornamentals early this month – colorful kale, ornamental cabbage, or pansies if you enjoy having flowers in the landscape in winter. Place transplants close together for best color impact, and firm the soil around them to keep freezing and thawing soil from pushing them out of the ground (a process called “heaving”). Add mulch for more winter protection.

∙ Plant spring-flowering bulbs. As a general rule, plant bulbs – pointed end up – at a depth about three times the width of the bulb.

∙ Fall is a good time to plant shrubs. Dig a wide hole that is only as deep as the shrub’s root ball, place the shrub in the hole and fill in the soil. Be sure to firm the soil around the shrub’s root ball, water well, and add several inches of mulch.

 

Solomon’s seal glows in a woodland garden

What should I do with Solomon’s seal in the fall. Is it better to cut it back? Or just leave it?

solomon's seal

Solomon’s seal blooms in spring, and its leaves and stems turn golden in the fall.

One nice thing about Solomon’s seal (besides its preference to grow and bloom in shade) is how little maintenance it requires in the garden. It comes up in the spring and opens its white, bell-shaped flowers early in the season, provides soft green foliage all summer, then its leaves and stems turn a glowing yellow in the fall before the plant dies back to the ground. Why not just leave it and enjoy it?

Solomon’s seal’s graceful, arching stems and broad leaves are a nice addition to a woodland garden, growing happily alongside ferns, astilbe, hosta, hellebore and other plants that thrive in semi-shade conditions. It grows best in loose, fertile soil that receives regular watering, and spreads slowly by rhizomes. If you have a thick clump of Solomon’s seal, dig and divide the rhizomes and replant them in other areas or share them with gardening friends.

Japanese anemone can be an attractive nuisance

We planted Japanese anemone a few years ago and it’s beautiful now that it’s blooming again, but it’s also spreading all over the place and taking over the garden bed! We’ve tried digging it up and cutting it back, but it just grows more. What can we do to keep it from spreading?

Japanese anemoneHere is an example of a plant that you can fall in love with once a year. The rest of the year, you may find you want to rip it out of the ground.

Japanese anemone has a lot to recommend it. It’s a perennial that grows in sun but is also happy in partly shady conditions. It doesn’t mind acid soil. The foliage grows tall (2 – 4 feet) in attractive mounds. Deer and rabbits don’t seem to care for it, and it blooms reliably in fall, opening masses of pretty white or pink flowers that sway in the breeze after summer-blooming perennials have given up for the year.

It’s a little finicky about soil; it requires good drainage and may languish during periods of drought, but the main complaint gardeners have is that it’s aggressive. It can take a couple of years for it to get established, but once it’s settled in and conditions are right, the plant spreads rapidly and forms dense clumps that take over whatever else might be in its way in the garden bed. Some have called it, generously, a “nuisance” plant.

Here in Zone 7a, Japanese anemone dies back after frost but it’s one of the first things to peek out of the soil in later winter, and once the weather warms, it takes off again. In my garden, it comes up through gravel paths, between rocks in a stacked stone wall, and is making its way into nearby raised beds in the kitchen garden.

It takes diligence and a sharp tool to keep it within bounds. Where you don’t want it to grow, dig it up. Try to get as much of the root as possible (which can be difficult, because the roots break easily). If you want to divide it to share with friends, spring is a good time for that task. Be sure to warn anyone who receives your gift of Japanese anemone that it can become an attractive nuisance.

Betty brown tree trailThe Betty Brown Tree Trail & Arboretum, Nashville’s first downtown arboretum, honors Elizabeth Moorhead Brown’s work to advocate for the city’s urban forests. Read the story in Saturday’s Tennessean.

October garden tips & tasks

Winding down from summer, gearing up for fall. These garden tips and tasks will get you outdoors to enjoy crisp fall weather.

Early in the month

maple leaves in fall

Rake leaves as they begin to fall and add them to the compost.

Leaf-raking is about to begin (or in some cases, has probably already begun). Shred leaves with the mower and place them in the compost, or shovel them directly onto garden beds as mulch.

Continue to provide water if the weather is dry. Herb beds, especially herbs that last through winter, benefit from regular moisture as the weather cools down.

Plant garlic. Prepare the soil so that it drains well and mix in a good balanced fertilizer. Separate the garlic bulb into individual cloves, and plant them about 2 inches deep and about five inches apart, pointed ends up. Add mulch to suppress weeds. Garlic will grow over the winter and will be ready to harvest next spring.

Cheery pots of mums brighten porches and garden, but remember to provide water to keep them fresh as long as possible.

Bring your houseplants back inside before nights begin to turn crisp. Clean the pots before you bring them in, and check the containers and the soil for hitchhiking insects.

Mid-October

Plant summer herbs in a pot to grow in a sunny window – or under lights – over the winter.

Harvest that second planting of bush and pole beans, cucumbers and summer squash, along with any tender herbs, before frost threatens.

daylilies

Many perennials can be divided in fall.

Perennials that need to be divided can be dug and replanted now. Prepare the new planting bed by removing weeds and amending the soil. Do this before you dig the plants to be divided so that perennials can be replanted immediately. Keep newly transplanted roots and foliage watered.

Bring any tender perennials – potted citrus trees, tropical hibiscus, bougainvillea, etc. – indoors and set them in a sunny spot to spend the winter. Provide regular water throughout fall and winter.

Clean up spent flowers, rotting foliage and other debris from perennial and annual beds to prevent harmful insects and diseases from overwintering.

Later this month

As leaves continue to fall, rake or blow them from newly seeded lawns to keep falling laves from shading the new grass.

Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Be sure to provide enough water now and throughout the plants’ first year. A layer of mulch helps keep the soil moist.

spring-flowering bulbs

Now is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs.

Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Some garden wildlife consider bulbs a tasty treat, so you may need to protect your plantings by laying poultry fencing across the planting bed and covering it with soil. The foliage will grow through it next spring. Garden critters won’t bother daffodils, which are poisonous to chipmunks and other rodents, but tulips are often in danger of becoming a rodent’s dinner.

Say goodbye to summer gardening by cleaning mowers, trimmers and other power tools, emptying hoses and storing them indoors, and cleaning dirt and mud from garden tools before putting them away for winter.

 

Continue to care for new shrubs in winter

We planted aucubas and hollies in the spring and kept them watered all summer, and they’re doing well. Do we need to water them in winter, too?

Aucuba japonica

Replenish mulch at the base of spring-planted aucuba and other shrubs.

Spring-planted shrubs that received regular water should be well-established by fall, so you can cut back on the amount of water they receive. But don’t neglect them completely. It’s a good idea to replenish the mulch, adding enough so that it’s about three inches thick. Mulch holds moisture in the soil, and also keeps it from freezing and thawing as temperatures swing from cold to warmer and back again. Remove any dead or diseased leaves from under the shrubs before you add mulch, and remember not to pile mulch up against the trunk.

One other winter grooming tip: If you have deciduous trees in the area that have dropped leaves onto the shrubs, take time to remove the leaves, especially if there are so many that they would block the sun.

As I mentioned in last week’s question-and-answer, a yard-full of leaves is a good source of mulch for those shrubs. Chop them with the mower before you spread them on the ground under the shrubs.

Replace landscape plants in fall and winter

We have lost many of the shrubs around our home. How late can we replant all of the landscaping around our residence? Is November too late?

ball burlap treesIf you are planting shrubs and trees, November is actually a good time to replant. Trees and shrubs planted when they are dormant have an easier time establishing good root systems before they begin actively growing again next spring. They will need to be watered at planting time and throughout the season, but not as often as you would have to provide water in spring or summer.

Here are general guidelines from UT/TSU Extension for planting balled-and-burlapped and container-grown trees and shrubs:

-Choose your location and begin by digging a wide hole, two or three times the width, but no deeper than the height of the root ball.

-Handle the trees carefully before you plant. Never pick up or carry a tree by its trunk, especially a balled-and-burlapped tree, due to the weight of the root ball. If they can’t be planted right away, water the trees well and place them in an area away from direct sun.

-Water a plant in a container before you take it out of the pot. After you remove the plant, cut any roots that circle the ball of soil (if the roots and soil don’t come out easily, cut the plastic away from the root ball. Don’t pull the plant out by its trunk). Use a sharp knife to make two or three vertical cuts, and gently loosen the ball to expose more roots to the soil.

-Place the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is an inch or two above the soil line. Remove any nails or rope lacing and cut away the burlap, leaving the burlap at the bottom of the root ball. If there is a wire basket, cut as much of it away as you can without disturbing the root ball.

– Backfill the hole with the soil that was removed from the hole, watering when the hole is about half full and again after you finish backfilling. Rake over the soil to even it out with the ground, and cover the area with 2 or 3 inches of mulch (keeping the mulch away from the shrub’s trunk.

-Don’t forget to provide water to newly planted shrubs and trees if the weather is dry.

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.

Plant pansies for fall and winter color

I would like to have pansies in my garden this fall and winter. Is it better to plant them in pots or in the ground?

Pansies 2Pansies can be a pretty addition to the landscape in the fall, either in garden beds or in containers. They’re easy to care for and won’t wither and die when the temperature drops – in fact, they thrive in cool weather.

You can grow pansies from seed, but it’s easier to start with transplants, which are available in nurseries and garden centers everywhere around the region right now. Start with plants that are compact and healthy (if they are already leggy and shaggy, they may never look as nice as you’d wish).

To plant in containers, use a good potting mix and make sure there is adequate drainage (experts at Organic Gardening suggest using a newspaper or paper towel layer over the drainage holes, rather than pot shards or gravel, to keep soil from washing out). Plant densely, and water the plants thoroughly.

In garden beds, proceed with the planting of pansies as you would any other annual: Prepare the garden bed, adding compost or other organic material so that the soil drains well. Space the transplants closely (garden expert Judy Lowe suggests placing them 4 inches apart) and firm the soil around the plants so they won’t be lifted out of the ground as the soil freezes and thaws. Water thoroughly, and add a layer of mulch. Fertilize weekly until frost with a product made for flowering plants.

Pansies grow best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Pansies may begin to look scrappy during the coldest part of winter, but they likely will spring back to life when the weather begins to warm up again. Enjoy them for a while longer in spring, and be prepared to replace them as things heat up. Pansies do not grow well in the summer heat.

Pamper those strawberry plants

I have strawberries that did well in the spring but seems to have suffered a bit over the summer. What’s the best way to prepare the bed for winter? It is okay to use mulch on strawberry plants?
Strawberry plantsStrawberry plants have shallow roots, so it’s possible that they suffered from drought if you didn’t water regularly. They also need to be mulched, which can help suppress the growth of weeds. Pine straw is a good mulch to use in a strawberry bed, because it can cover the soil without smothering the crowns of the plants.

Here’s advice on strawberries from garden expert Barbara Pleasant, from her book The Southern Garden Advisor:

Pull weeds from the strawberry bed in September, then feed the strawberries with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. This should be the heaviest fertilization because strawberries produce latent buds, which become next year’s fruit, Pleasant explains. Water the bed well.

Mulch the bed in November. Pinch off leaves that are discolored and pull up any weeds that may have popped up.

Fertilize again in February, with a lighter dose this time, and prepare to enjoy the berries in April and May.

By the way, Pleasant says she prefers the spring-bearing varieties over those that are everbearing, which don’t produce as well. She recommends four varieties: ‘Earliglow,’ ‘Apollo,’ ‘Cardinal’ and ‘Surecrop.’

October in the garden is anything but dull. Metro Parks offers ways to keep your garden mind entertained. Head Outdoors for Fall  (plus Garden Tips, Tasks & Events) in the October Garden Calendar in Saturday’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.