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  • Upcoming Garden Events

    Sept. 30: The Nashville Herb Society presents Through the Garden Gate: A Glimpse of Edwardian England, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Cheekwood Botanic Hall. Celebrate the gardens, foods and flowers that delighted Downton Abby family and friends at the turn of the 20th century. The event begins with a hearty Edwardian breakfast, followed by three speakers: Marta McDowell on Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life; Geraldine A. Laufer on Tussie Mussie – Victorian art of expressing yourself in the language of flowers; and Terry White, The English Garden event florist . Registration includes breakfast, box lunch in the garden with music, English tea and cookies. To learn more or to register, visit www.herbsocietynashvlle.org.

    Tips & tasks – August

    Water lawns and garden beds early in the morning to allow foliage plenty of time to dry before nightfall.

    Container gardens will benefit from a light application of all-purpose fertilizer.

    If petunias have grown long and shaggy, cut them back and give them a dose of fertilizer. They should bloom again quickly.

    If squirrels and birds go after your ripe tomatoes, pick them while they are still green and allow them to turn red indoors. For best quality, don’t store fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator.

    Make sure spring-planted trees and shrubs get plenty of water during hot weather.

    Keep cutting the spent flowers of annuals so they will continue to bloom into the fall.

    To conserve soil moisture during hot weather, replenish mulch in annual and perennial beds as necessary.

    Begin planning a fall garden. Spinach, lettuces, radishes and other fall crops will mature when the weather turns cool.

    Begin clean-up of summer vegetable beds. Remove any decayed or dying foliage to prevent diseases from taking hold.

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Keep zinnias free of powdery mildew

QUESTION: I love zinnias and plant them every year. Sometimes they do well and look great all summer, but many years the leaves are covered in powdery mildew. How do you get rid of this problem?

Powdery mildew is a fungus that appears as gray or white splotches on leaves, stems and flowers of zinnias and other ornamentals and some vegetable plants. It travels by airborne spores, and thrives when nights are moderately cool and foliage stays damp. A mild covering of powdery mildew is merely unattractive, but a severe case can cause distorted shoots and leaves, misshapen flowers, or can prevent flowering altogether. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Holes in your hostas? Suspect slugs

The hostas in my shade garden are ragged and full of holes every year at the end of summer. Is this normal?

HostaIt’s not unusual to find holes in big, leafy hostas. Those large, wide leaves create a cool, moist shelter for slugs and snails, who may rest under them during the heat of the day and come out at night to dine. You can verify their presence by placing a small board beside the hostas where you’ve noticed damaged leaves. In the morning, turn the board over to see how many have gathered on the underside of the board. Dispose of them as you wish. Another option may be to set out a small dish or a shallow aluminum can (such as a tuna or cat food can) filled with beer beside the hostas. Slugs in the area may be lured by the beer to crawl into the can, and you can dump them all in the trash.

The American Hosta Society suggests several solutions for protecting plants from slug damage, one of which is to provide something else for them to eat, such as lettuce. A different strategy focuses on placing a barrier around vulnerable plants. Strips of copper on the ground can be effective because slugs don’t like to cross it; diatomaceous earth or table salt sprinkled around the plants also may keep them away, but be careful about adding too much salt to the soil.

The American Hosta Society mentions a couple of poison baits, but also suggests that a 10% solution of vinegar, sprayed on the slugs, stops them in their tracks – but you have to be out there with the spray when they are out, which is usually at night.

A final suggestion is to set a trap. Place two boards together with a small stick between them, where the slugs can crawl into the cool shade. Then, when the slugs are between the boards, remove the stick to trap and dispose of them.

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The Nashville Tree Foundation announces the opening of the Betty Brown Tree Trail and Arboretum, a leafy respite next to the newly developed Riverfront Park and Ascend Amphitheater in downtown Nashville. The meandering trail, Named after

Betty Brown

Betty Moorhead Brown

NTF’s founding board member and first president, the late Betty Moorhead Brown, includes 236 trees representing 36 different species. A dedication ceremony is planned for later this month, but Nashville Public Television’s Volunteer Gardener program has already taped a segment at the Trail. The segment will air on Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sept. 20 at 9:30 a.m.

For visitors to the Trail, Nashville Tree Foundation has developed a guide pamphlet that lists the tree species and what to look for along the way. When you visit, pick up a pamphlet at the visitor’s kiosk, or download it here at NTF’s website.

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In The Tennessean — Easy design with herbs: Floral designer Ralph Null has a simple rule for arranging flowers: “My whole approach is what I call easy design.” He will be among the speakers at the Herb Society of Nashville’s annual Herb Day on Sept. 19, and offers tips for using herbs in floral designs in a story in Saturday’s Tennessean.

Keep snails from snacking on the garden

I grow herbs and flowers in brick raised beds around my patio. In the evenings, I often see dozens of snails around the bricks and in the beds around the plants. How do you keep snails from eating everything in the garden?

snail 4The best way to keep snails (and their slimy mollusk cousins, slugs) from dining in your garden is to keep them out of the beds in the first place. Garden experts and home gardeners have a variety of tips and techniques for this, mostly involving barriers to separate the mollusks from your plants, but also ways to trap them and remedies to reduce snail and slug habitat. The tips here are from two sources, The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food and Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver:

  • Soft-bodied snails and slugs a reluctant to cross scratchy materials, such as pine needles or crushed eggshells. A continuous barrier of that powdery, sharp-edge irritant, diatomaceous earth, should keep snails at a distance. Others have suggested spreading coffee grounds or sharp sand around vulnerable plants.
  • Copper gives slugs and snails a mild electric shock when they come into contact with it, so a strip of copper flashing tacked around the outside of raised beds can be an effective deterrent.
  • Strips of hardware cloth around the bed can also keep snails from crossing. Make sure it extends a couple of inches above the bed, and for extra protection, cut the wire so that it leaves sharp points along the top edge.
  • Set out traps. A shallow pan of beer, or of yeast, sugar and water, lures them in, and they drown. A suggested recipe: 3 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of granulated yeast, and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Snails and slugs stay in the shade during the day and come out to dine at night when it’s cool and moist. You can prop a wide board about an inch off the ground to create an alluring daytime shelter, and collect and dispose of them after they’ve gathered there.
  • Reduce snail habitat by cleaning up around the beds. Loose bricks, boards, moist piles of leaves and other garden debris provide dark, cool places for slugs and snails to hang out during the day while they’re waiting for nightfall to come out and dine at your garden buffet.
  • If you normally water the garden in the evening, change your routine to morning watering so the soil surface dries quickly.

If one technique doesn’t work, try another, or try a combination of techniques to reduce the snail population in your garden.

Troy Marden’s garden wisdom — and a book giveaway!

Annabelle

‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is among the plants that garden expert Troy Marden recommends.

A friend invited me to a gathering whose guest was the popular Middle Tennessee-based author and garden designer Troy Marden not long ago. He was there to share his considerable knowledge and to talk about his new book, Plant This Instead!, which came out earlier this year. The subtitle is “Better Plant Choices: Prettier, Hardier, Blooms Longer, New Color, Less Work, Drought-Tolerant, Native.”
That’s a lot to cover, but let Troy explain: “It’s a book about making better, more informed choices.”
A book about native plants? “It’s a book about good plants. It’s not all about natives,” he said. “There are tips about how to be successful with new varieties. We don’t like plants that misbehave. This considers what their replacements in our landscape might be.”

What are some of those misbehavin’ garden choices?

“Take beebalm, for example,” Troy says. “You have to manage it.” Specifically, Monarda didyma – that hardy and resilient beebalm that you find everywhere — can be fabulous in bloom. “However, the same characteristics that make it tough and resilient also make it aggressive when it comes to planting it in the garden,” he writes in Plant This Instead!. “Beebalm, like its cousins peppermint and spearmint, has the ability to take over an enormous area of valuable garden real estate in a very short period of time.” It’s one of the plants he calls a “garden thug.”

©Troy B. Marden

©Troy B. Marden

Instead, consider the better-mannered wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, or take a look at Eastern beebalm, Monarda bradburiana, which has greater tolerance for drought and resistance to powdery mildew, and which grows in noninvasive clumps.

From garden thugs, the conversation shifted to what is meant – really – by the term “low maintenance” when you’re talking about a garden. In Troy’s world, gardening is not a low-maintenance endeavor.

“What you have to decide is, what does ‘low-maintenance’ mean to you?” he told us. “You have to think about how much you want to have and how much time you want to spend tending to it.”

Plant This book jacketAnd if your idea of a perfect landscape seems overwhelming, here is probably the best bit of wisdom Troy could pass along about growing and enjoying a garden: “Rather than having a huge garden that demands all your time and energy, do what you can in the way that you can do it to the best of your ability.”

Learn more about Troy at his website; catch Troy in person or on TV (he’s a popular and respected plantsman and speaker and one of the hosts on the Nashville Public Television show Volunteer Gardener), or read Plant This Instead!

And here’s a chance to win a free copy of the book!
Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite flowers. Respond by Friday Aug. 1 at 6 p.m., and your name will go into a drawing to win a signed copy of Plant This Instead! by Troy B. Marden.
August Garden Calendar
In August, do we really need to think about fall? Yes! It’s time to consider the cool-weather plants in your kitchen garden. See the August Garden Calendar and Garden Events, Tips & Tasks in The Tennessean.

Japanese beetles fly in to dine on your garden

I’m having a problem with Japanese beetles. I have beetle traps hanging around my garden and they catch a lot of them, but beetles are still chewing on my wisteria and rose bushes. I don’t want to spray, so every day I hand-pick them off. What else can I do?

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Japanese beetle feeds on canna flowers.

Those Japanese beetle traps work by using a chemical that mimics a pheromone produced by the female Japanese beetle to lure the male beetles. You now see how well this works, as you are drawing more and more Japanese beetles into your yard where, on the way to the trap, they stop to dine on your plants.

Extension agents say that if you use these traps, it’s best to place them a good distance from any plants you want to save, so they will be lured away from the plants.

Generally, most experts advise against using them at all.
Good for you for choosing not to spray chemical killers – the honeybees and other pollinators are safe in your landscape. Handpicking the beetles or knocking them off into soapy water is an effective short-term method for reducing the population in your garden. The best time of day may be early morning, when they apparently are more sluggish.

Biological control of Japanese beetles begins with understanding their life cycle. Young grubs hatch in the soil in late summer and feed on roots, then spend winter in the soil. They become active in spring and continue to feed. Adult beetles begin to emerge in June.

You can treat the lawn with milky spore, a bacterium that kills the grubs in the soil. Milky spore builds up in the soil over several years and suppresses the grub population over time — no grubs, no Japanese beetles to hatch and harass your plants.

The University of Tennessee Extension has a publication about controlling Japanese beetles. You can read it here.

Hanging plants look like home to wrens

Birds have built nests in our hanging ferns. I have tried putting plastic snakes in the pots, but they only build on top of them! Any suggestions for keeping them from building in the hanging pots?

Carolina wrens sometimes nest in ferns and other hanging plants.

Carolina wrens sometimes nest in ferns and other hanging plants.

The birds making a home in your ferns are most likely Carolina wrens, cute little brown birds that eat insects – and lots of them – and feed them to their babies, say bird experts at Wild Birds Unlimited. And there is really not much you can do, since as far as they can tell, you’ve put out the welcome mat and invited them in. The birds are taking advantage of the foliage to provide cover for their nests, and they’re too smart to be scared away by fake snakes.

Continue to water the plants as usual (trying to avoid the nest if you can) and the plants should continue to do well.