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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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March garden tips & tasks

March can be fickle: some days feel like spring, others bring blasts of winter. It will probably rain, but then again, maybe not. In Middle Tennessee, home of The Garden Bench, tornado warnings are commonplace this time of year and sometimes they strike – as they did yesterday, across three counties with significant damage and loss in each. Thoughts and prayers to all those families and individuals affected by the devastating storm.

Whatever is in store weather-wise, winter is on its way out, spring is about to arrive. If you are yearning to be in the garden, there are plenty of ways to enjoy it.

Remove winter-killed plants, prune dead branches, clear out broken twigs and limbs, replenish mulch.

Most trees and shrubs are still dormant, so it’s a good time to do any necessary pruning, especially for shrubs that flower on new stems. Do not prune shrubs that flower on last year’s growth – azaleas, hydrangeas and other ornamentals the bloom early in the spring.

Sow seeds of lettuce, kale, sugar snap peas, radishes, carrots, beets and spinach as soon as the soil can be worked.

Run the mower over beds of liriope (monkey grass) or mondo, and cut back other ornamental grasses before new shoots emerge.

Prepare new garden beds, and replenish old vegetable beds by adding compost or other soil amendments. If you are planning to build raised beds, gather materials now and begin building to have them ready when planting time arrives.

Set out transplants of cool-season vegetables (lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage).

Add an inch or two of mulch around shrubs. Don’t pile the mulch against the trunk of shrubs or trees.

Enjoy the daffodils in the garden, but cut some to bring inside, too. As soon as the flowers open, use sharp scissors to cut the stems close to the ground and place them in water. Before you arrange them in a vase, snip off a half-inch of the stem and place them in the water-filled vase right away. The freshest daffodils should last indoors four or five days, especially if they are kept in a cool room.

Shape up some of those hardy herbs. Now is a good time to prune rosemary and sage.

Winter annual wildflowers (or “weeds,” as some call them), such as chickweed and henbit, continue to sprout; dig them up – roots and all, if you can — before they bloom and scatter their seeds.

Dig and divide perennials as needed. Share extras with friends. Fluff up the mulch around azaleas and other shrubs in the landscape, and add an inch or two if necessary.

Do any necessary pre-season mower maintenance; clean and sharpen your garden tools.

Early spring is a good time to prune and shape boxwoods.

Apply a light dose of fertilizer to perennials that are beginning to emerge.

After daffodil flowers fade, allow the foliage to remain until it turns brown. This will take several weeks, but it’s necessary for the bulb to renew itself to bloom again next year.

 

FEBRUARY Garden Tips & Tasks

Flowering quince

In Middle Tennessee, where The Garden Bench calls home, February can be unpredictable. One day the temperature may be in the 50s or 60s, with sun and blue skies; the next day there could be snow.

I write from Zone 7A on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Map, where the low temperature could be 0-5 degrees F., but in truth, the temperature rarely gets that low. Still, there’s the chance that it could, so mid-winter, wherever you are in the region, is a good time to take it easy. Don’t rush the season, but spend time planning for it. Spring, the best season for enjoying a garden, is on its way.

  • Got cabin fever? A little time in the garden can be a cure. Get outside on a sunny day and pick up any trash, twigs and other garden debris that may be littering your landscape.
  • Plant a tree. On a day when the soil isn’t frozen, dig a hole that is slightly wider than the tree’s root ball, but no deeper. Place the tree in the hole; replace the soil and water it well. Add mulch, but do not mound it up around the tree’s trunk.
  • Lenten roses (Helleborus) should be blooming now. Enjoy the blooms indoors by floating them in a bowl of water (an idea via Instagram from garden expert Brie Arthur, author of Gardening With Grains and The Foodscape Revolution.)
  • If you insist on pristine, weed-free beds in your kitchen garden, dig up the deadnettle, henbit, chickweed and other winter annuals that are likely beginning to emerge before they take over your garden beds. (Chickweed is edible, you know. Good for salads.)
  • Turn your attention to houseplants, but don’t overdo it. Too much water can be as bad as too little. Before you add water to the plant’s soil, check the soil’s moisture level by sticking your finger in.
  • Welcome birds into your garden by providing nesting boxes. Cavity-dwelling birds may start a family in a simple box with a 1½-inch entry.
  • Pansies in containers may benefit from a little attention. Snip off dead flowers and ragged leaves and provide a dose of liquid fertilizer (follow label directions) to perk them up and get them through the rest of the winter.
  • Wild onions may grow tall in an otherwise winter-clipped lawn. If you don’t like the look, go after them with a trowel to dig out the bulbs and roots. This is easier just after a rain, when the ground is moist.
  • Some vegetables can be direct-sown in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Later in the month, plant spinach, lettuce, radishes and snap peas in the kitchen garden. A gardening friend here in Middle Tennessee likes to follow an old gardening tradition of planting peas on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, she says, the weather doesn’t always cooperate.
  • Coax branches of late-winter or spring-flowering shrubs and trees to bloom indoors. Cut 2- to 3-foot branches after the buds begin to swell, split the bottoms of the stems, then place them in a vase of water in a cool room. When the buds begin to show color, move the vase into a warmer area, and welcome spring into your home.

January garden tips & tasks

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is one of the easy-to-grow houseplants that can bring a touch of the outdoors to your home in winter.

Garden enthusiasts can always find a way to enjoy their favorite pastime, even in winter. If you’re missing the outdoors because of snow or rain or blustery winds, consider these tasks to keep you in touch with your garden:

  • Begin a garden journal. Use it to jot down ideas and lists of plants you want to grow this year.
  • Keep bird feeders filled to attract a wide variety of winged visitors to your garden in winter.
  • If you bring home new houseplants, protect them from the cold air on the trip home. Once you bring them in, keep them separate from other plants for a few days to watch for pests.
  • When the ground freezes and thaws, plants can be pushed out of the ground – a process known as “heaving.” If this happens, tuck the roots back into the soil and cover the area with a layer of mulch.
  • You can grow herbs on a sunny windowsill indoors, but pinch them back regularly to keep them from getting tall and “leggy.”
  • Birds also need water in winter, so provide water in a birdbath or shallow pan and change it frequently.
  • Winter is a good time to have the soil in your lawn or garden beds tested. The Extension Service in your county can provide materials and instructions for testing.
  • Watch for pests on houseplants and tender outdoor plants that spend the winter indoors. If you see evidence of aphids or scale infestations, take action immediately to keep them from spreading to other plants.

March into the garden with these tips and tasks

Gardeners in Middle Tennessee (home of The Garden Bench) know that, in spite of what the calendar says, early spring has arrived. It’s almost March, and buds are swelling, bulbs are up and many are blooming, tips of favorite perennials are poking up through the mulch. And while we know that winter can – probably will – visit us again in a few days, we can get outdoors and enjoy the emergence of the new season with these early-spring tips and tasks.

Spanish bluebells emerging

Prepare new garden beds: Have the soil tested (check with your county’s Extension service to learn how). Remove grass and dig or till soil 8 to 10 inches deep and mix with soil amendments and organic matter to improve drainage.

Add a dose of fertilizer to perennials as soon as you see new growth. Keep it light; too much fertilizer may result in lanky growth.

Cut back liriope and other ornamental grasses. It’s easier now that it will be once new growth emerges.

If your fescue lawn looks a little skimpy, overseed early this month. Fescue grows best when the weather is still cool. It’s best to wait until early fall for a complete lawn renovation.

Plant lettuce and other cool-weather crops

Herb transplants that don’t mind cool weather — parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano – can go in the ground now. And of course you can also plant seeds and transplants of radishes, lettuce, spinach and other cool-season vegetables.

Clip dead stems from perennial herbs – thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary (if your rosemary survived; many Middle Tennessee gardeners’ rosemary plants succumbed to the cold this winter). Pruning those perennial herbs encourages vigorous new growth. Remove mulch or leaves that may be covering perennials in garden beds.

If you need to prune nandinas, flowering quince and other airy shrubs, don’t shear the shrubs. Reach in and remove about a third of the branches at ground level.

Give pansies a light dose of fertilizer as they continue to bloom through early spring.

When you cut daffodils and other early-spring flowers to bring inside, cut the stems at an angle and place them in water right away. Change the water in the vase daily to keep them fresh longer.

 

August garden tips & tasks

It’s hot, so get out early in the day for these mid-summer garden tips and tasks:

Early in the month

summer flowersContinue deadheading summer-flowering perennials and annuals, cutting off the spent flowers to encourage the plants to keep blooming. Be sure to cut fresh flowers, too, to enjoy in bouquets indoors.

Nothing’s more frustrating that finding that birds have poked holes in your prized tomatoes. To discourage pecking, pick tomatoes before they are fully red and let them ripen indoors.

Continue reading

July garden tips & tasks

Things are heating up! Here’s a to-do list to keep the garden at its best this month.

Early in the month

It’s time for summer tomatoes! The fruits tend crack when watering is inconsistent, so keep the soil around tomatoes evenly moist.

 

ColeusColeus’ beauty is in the foliage, so when it begins to bloom, pinch off the flower spikes to encourage the plant to grow fuller and bushier. Wax begonias also benefit from periodic pinching to keep them from becoming leggy.

For the best flavor, pick squash and cucumbers while they are still small and tender. You can plant a second crop of bush beans, zucchini and cucumber, summer veggies that grow quickly.

Continue reading

June garden tips & tasks

June is the garden’s high season, “the time of perfect young summer,” said gardener designer Gertrude Jekyll. Here are some garden tasks to enjoy during this “perfect” time.

Early in June

Tomatoes do best with consistent moisture as they begin to ripen.

Tomatoes do best with consistent moisture as they begin to ripen.

Summer tomatoes will begin ripening soon. Make sure they receive consistent moisture. Use mulch around the plants to keep them from drying out quickly. Replenish mulch around in all garden beds to help keep plants’ roots moist as the weather heats up. Continue reading