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Winter garden tips & tasks

Gardening doesn’t stop just because winter has set in. We gardeners find plenty of ways to keep busy until spring calls us outdoors again.

January

African violet

Can’t get outdoors to garden? Tend to your houseplants.

Satisfy your urge to garden by tending to your houseplants. Beyond regular watering and feeding, clean the leaves, trim dead foliage and flowers, and re-pot plants as necessary.

Watch for pests that may attack houseplants or outdoor plants that spend the winter indoors. Take quick action if you begin to see aphids, mealybugs, scale or spider mites.  A shower of lukewarm water may take care of light infestations of many insects.

Herbs and summer annuals that you may be growing indoors on a sunny windowsill should be pinched back periodically to keep them from becoming too tall and leggy. If plants are not getting enough sunlight, you may need to move them to a brighter location, or grow them under lights. Provide a dose of houseplant fertilizer every few weeks throughout the winter.

Save that poinsettia from Christmas to grow in your garden next spring. Place the pot in bright, indirect light and continue to water enough to keep the soil moist, but not Poinsettiasoggy. After the danger of frost passes, place the pot outdoors and cut back the stems. It should continue to grow into a bushy, green plant that will die back at the first hint of frost next fall.

Watch the garden beds for signs of “heaving” – uprooting of plants by thawing and freezing soil. Tuck the plants’ roots back into the soil and cover with a layer of mulch.

The blooms of hellebores are beginning to brighten the landscape in some areas. Cut back last year’s dried foliage to allow new buds and foliage to thrive. If you’re planting hellebores for the first time, prepare a bed of well-drained soil. Hellebores will tolerate shade, but bloom better if they receive adequate sunlight, and should thrive for years with little maintenance.

If the soil isn’t frozen, it’s a good time to plant a tree. Dig a hole that is wider than the rootball, but no deeper. Place the rootball in the hole, fill the hole about halfway with soil, make final adjustments, then fill the rest of the hole and add water. Plant the tree only as deep as it grew originally. Add mulch, but do not mound mulch or soil up around the trunk.

Winter is a good time to prune deciduous trees, while they are dormant. Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees now; to do so would cut off the buds that would bloom this spring.

Bring spring in early by forcing paperwhite narcissus bulbs in pots indoors. Grow them in soil or in water. They’ll bloom quickly and fill your home with a lovely (some say overwhelming) sweet fragrance.

Peruse mail-order catalogs or their online equivalent for new ideas and old favorites to add to your garden this spring.

February

Feeling house-bound? Cure cabin fever by getting out on a sunny day to pick up dry leaves, twigs and other garden debris that may have accumulated on lawns and in garden beds.

Welcome the birds by keeping feeders filled. Safflower seed attracts cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees and more. A suet feeder draws woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches. Take part in the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 12 – 15. Learn more at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

chickweed

Some weeds may continue to grow.

In some areas, annual weeds that thrive in winter grow easily in cultivated perennial and vegetable beds. Dig them out or pull them up as soon as they begin to sprout to keep them from spreading.

Liriope (aka monkey grass or lilyturf) in the landscape benefits from a little winter maintenance: trim last year’s foliage before the new growth begins to emerge.

Houseplants that like humidity may suffer in the heat inside your home. Add humidity around the plants by lining a waterproof tray with stones, filling the tray with water and placing the plants on top of the stones.

Summer annuals can grow indoors over the winter, but they tend to get leggy if they’re not getting enough light. Move them to a sunnier spot, if possible, or grow them under lights.

It’s a good time to have your soil tested to find out what amendments might be needed. Contact your county’s extension office to learn how to have a soil test done

Flowering quince

Cut branches of spring-blooming shrubs, such as flowering quince, to bloom indoors.

Bring the promise of spring indoors by cutting branches of spring-flowering shrubs (forsythia, flowering quince and so forth) to force into bloom. Scrape the ends of 12- to 18-inch branches and place them in a container of warm water. Place the container in a dark, cool spot at first, then move it to a sunnier place when the buds begin to open.

The 2016 gardening season may begin late in February in some climates! In the kitchen garden, plant cool-season vegetables such as snap peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, beets, kale, mustard, bunching onions, turnip roots and greens. In colder climates, start those seeds indoors so you have transplants ready to set out in the garden when the time comes.

Begin making plans for spring and summer garden beds. If you grow a kitchen garden, begin to start seeds indoors so they will be ready at the appropriate outdoor planting time.

December garden tips & tasks

You may live in a climate that can grow a garden all year, and if so, good for you. The rest of us may be glad for a little break, and time to gather energy for the next gardening season, which will be here before we know it.

Tulips

Plant tulip bulbs now to bloom next spring.

Even during this down-time, though, some may find it hard to stay out of the garden, and for those of us who can’t stay indoors, there are still reasons to get out there. Consider these garden tips and tasks – out in the yard and around the house — that are perfect for a sunny day in winter:

If you bought spring-flowering bulbs but haven’t put them in the ground, rest assured that it’s still not too late to plant them. Even planted this late, they’ll be better off in the ground than in the bags you brought them home in! But do try to get them in the ground by the end of the month.

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

If it's below 50 degrees out, protect new houseplants when you bring them in from the car.

If it’s below 50 degrees out, protect new houseplants when you bring them in from the car.

∙ If you buy new houseplants, keep them covered on the trip from the store to the car, and the car to the house. Cold air could harm plants that are not accustomed to the chill. Inside, watch for mealybugs, aphids and scale on houseplants and outdoor plants that are wintering indoors. If you find evidence of these or other pests, take action right away.

∙ Water houseplants regularly, but test the soil for moisture before watering. Many houseplants need less water in winter.

∙ Trim dead foliage and flowers of houseplants and outdoor plants that are indoors for the winter. Clean the leaves, and re-pot plants as needed.

∙ If landscape plants are uprooted by freezing and thawing soil, tuck the roots back into the soil and cover with a layer of mulch.

∙ Be sure you have drained and stored hoses and sprinklers before a prolonged cold spell. Those tools last much longer when they’re protected from freezing.

Bright, filtered light and moderate water keep a poinsettia happy for months.

Bright, filtered light and moderate water keep a poinsettia happy for months.

∙ Here’s how to take care of your Christmas poinsettia so that it last through the holidays and into next spring: If the outdoor temperature is below 50 degrees, protect it from cold air when you move it from the car to the house. Place it where it can receive bright, indirect sunlight for about six hours a day. Remove the foil wrapper when you water, to allow water to drain, and keep the soil slightly moist, but not soggy.

∙ Take a walk around your landscape and through your garden, considering what you’d like to add, move or change next season.

 

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.

 

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.

 

The heat’s on: August garden tips & tasks

Gardeners in Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home) know that August can be brutal, and some days it’s best to stay inside. Here’s a tip: Get out early – before 7 a.m. if you can – and get those necessary tasks done. Then enjoy the rest of the day indoors, and remember that cooler days will be here soon.

Early in the month

RudbeckiaKeep deadheading daisies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and other summer-flowering perennials.

Many things stop blooming when it’s 90 degrees and above. As things cool down slightly, flowers in the beds and vegetables in the kitchen garden should be blooming again. Provide ample water if it doesn’t rain.

Continue to watch for Japanese beetles. Pick off any you find on your roses or other prized plants, and plunk them into a bowl of soapy water.

Save your prized tomatoes from the birds. Pick them before they are fully red and let them ripen indoors.

If petunias are looking scrappy, cut them back and provide a light dose of fertilizer. They should soon re-bloom.

Continue to harvest and use basil frequently to keep the plant from setting seed too early.

Mid-August

vegetable gardenBegin cleaning up vegetable beds. Remove dead or dying foliage and any rotting vegetables. A tidy garden bed means fewer places for destructive insects to overwinter.

Watch for spider mites on roses, which thrive in hot, dry weather and can quickly defoliate a rosebush. A strong spray of water on the undersides of the leaves every two or three days for a week should help keep them under control.

If you saved your potted amaryllis bulb from last winter and it has spent the summer outdoors, move it to a cool, dark place and let it dry out. Amaryllis needs a dormant period before it blooms again next winter.

There’s no need to water your lawn every day. Experts advise deep watering every few days rather than a shallow sprinkling every day.

Try to keep ahead of the weeds. But if you can’t, at least snip or pinch off the tops to keep them from flowering and setting seed.

Later in the month

Parsley curledLate summer is a good time to thin iris beds. Cut back the foliage, dig up the rhizomes and brush off as much dirt as you can. Discard any roots that are rotting or soft, then replant the rhizomes.

Avoid planting new trees and shrubs in the hottest part of summer. Be sure that trees, shrubs and perennials planted this spring are receiving enough water during long hot spells.

Some summer herbs can be frozen to use later. Try freezing fresh sprigs of parsley, oregano, sage, tarragon and dill. Rinse the herbs and pat them dry, then place them in separate freezer bags or containers with tight-fitting lids. Use them within four months.

Begin gathering seeds of annuals or vegetables to plant next year. Dry seeds thoroughly and store them in a place that’s cool and dry. Be sure to label them before you put them away.

Plant a cool season kitchen garden late this month — spinach, greens, kale, lettuces and other favorites. Keep beds or containers watered as seeds sprout, and watch for late-summer insect pests.

Plan to divide crowded daylilies this fall

The daylilies in our garden beds are beginning to crowd out other plants. Can they be separated and thinned out?

DayliliesExperts at the National Arboretum and the American Hemerocallis Society Society suggest thinning clumps of daylilies every five years or so. Repeat blooming varieties (such as ‘Stella de Oro,’ ‘Happy Returns’ and others) tend to form larger clumps, and may need to be divided more often. Early spring and fall are good times to take care of this task.

When the time comes to divide the clumps, use a garden fork to loosen the soil and pry the clump of roots out of the ground. Divide it by pushing two garden forks back to back down into the center of the clump, then push the handles apart to separate the roots.

To replant the divisions, dig a wide, shallow hole and place the rootball into the hole. Backfill with soil and tamp it into place, then cover the soil with an inch of mulch. Water thoroughly. You can cut the foliage back to about 12 inches.

(Stella de Oro? Stella d’Oro? You may see it spelled either way. I use the same spelling as the American Hemerocallis Society, which provides loads of information about daylilies at its website.

July garden tips & tasks

Summer is in full swing. Here’s how to enjoy the garden and it’s July bounty:

Early in the month

Geraniums

Cut geraniums and other summer annuals to encourage them to grow fuller.

In the kitchen garden, pick zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers while they are still small and tender.

Plant a second crop of those summer vegetables that grow quickly: bush beans, squash and cucumbers are easy favorites.

Watch for Japanese beetles. Experts don’t recommend Japanese beetle traps, which may attract more beetles to your landscape than would normally visit. Pluck them off the plants and drop them into a pan of soapy water.

If summer annuals such as coleus or geraniums are getting leggy, cut them back to encourage them to grow bushier. As a bonus, root the cuttings in water to have even more plants.

Before you leave for vacation, arrange for someone to water annual, vegetable and perennial beds and container gardens while you’re away. Make it easy for them: set up sprinklers in strategic places and hire a neighborhood youngster to turn on the faucet if it doesn’t rain.

Mid-July

Zinnias

Cut zinnias often. The more you cut, the more they bloom.

Bearded irises can be divided every three to five to years; mid-July is a good time to do it.

Lawn growth may slow down in the heat, but you may still have to mow. When you do, only cut about a third of the lawn’s height.

Cut chrysanthemums back in order to delay flowering until fall.

Herbs, annuals and perennials growing in containers need water every day when it’s hot. Don’t let them droop.

Keep cutting summer flowers such as zinnias and cosmos often; the more you cut, the better they bloom.

Later in the month

Tomatoes

Keep the soil evenly moist for tomatoes.

It’s hot, so get out early in the day to work in the garden. Drink plenty of water, wear a hat and use sunscreen.

Keep the soil around tomato plants evenly moist. Inconsistent watering can cause tomatoes to develop cracks.

Some summer flowers that grow tall may need staking to keep them from toppling in a heavy rainfall.

Continue to deadhead plants – cut off the spent flowers – to extend the blooming period.

Don’t forget about shrubs and trees planted this spring; they need an extra dose of attention in this heat. Give them a slow drink from a dripping water hose once or twice a week. A layer of mulch around newly planted threes and shrubs helps keep the soil moist longer.

Check the mulch in perennial and annual beds. Add more if it’s beginning to look thin. A good layer of mulch will help keep soil moist longer in the summer heat.

Enjoying a bit of Tranquility: Franklin’s Cornelia Holland nurtures the shade garden

Cornelia Holland, Photo courtesy University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

Cornelia Holland, Photo courtesy University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

she calls Tranquility at her home. She has donated plants to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville to establish Tranquility – The Cornelia B. Holland Hosta Grden at the University of Tennessee Gardens. Read the story in Saturday’s Tennessean.

 

June garden tips & tasks

Lots of bright sunshine, and just enough rain — that’s perfect June weather, and what we always hope for. Here are this months tips and tasks to help you enjoy your time in the garden.

Early June

tomato red

Tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

Have you put off planting seeds in the kitchen garden? You can still plant bush and pole beans, squash, zucchini, cucumber, okra and eggplant, sunflowers, zinnias and other summer favorites.

Remove any leftover foliage of daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs, which most certainly has turned yellow or brown by now.

Morning is the best time to water lawns, perennial, annual and vegetable beds. About an inch of water per week is enough to keep most plants and lawns thriving.

Summer tomatoes will begin to ripen. 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.

Snip the growing tips of chrysanthemums. This encourages new, fuller growth, and delays flowering. Plan to pinch them back again next month, which will encourage them to flower better in the fall.

Middle of the month

Japanese beetle

Watch for Japanese beetles on plants and flowers.

Blueberries continue to ripen. If you want to get them before the birds do, cover the plants with bird netting.

Gladiolus and other tall, top-heavy perennials may need stakes to help keep them standing.

Cut basil frequently to use in the kitchen. Pinch out the flowering spikes of the plants to encourage bushier growth.

If you discover Japanese beetles munching away at your favorite plants, flick them off into a bucket of soapy water. Many garden experts discourage using Japanese beetle traps, which may lure more to your yard than they catch.

Vacation plans? Ask a friend or neighbor (or a young gardener looking for a little extra income) to water garden beds and containers if it doesn’t rain.

End of June

hosta 1

If you find holes in your hostas, you can probably blame slugs.

Shrubs and trees planted this spring should be watered regularly to help them continue to adjust to their first summer in the landscape.

Holes in your hostas are probably the work of slugs. Place a saucer of beer or yeast mixed in water near the plants to trap them.

Remove the faded flowers (a task called “deadheading”) to encourage more blooms of daisies, coreopsis and other summer favorites.

If ferns and other hanging arrangements are under shelter and out of the rain, they dry out quickly in the summer heat. Be sure to provide water frequently. You may need to water every day.

Spider mites strike when the weather is hot and dry. On roses, look for them if you begin to see yellow, speckled leaves. If you spot them on roses or other shrubs, blast them with a strong spray of water directed at the undersides of the leaves every two or three days.

In Saturday’s Tennessean: The gardens at The Craighead House, the historic property owned by Nashville landscape designer Steve Sirls, has been placed in the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Gardens. Read it now at Tennessean.com.