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  • Upcoming events in Middle Tennessee

     

    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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Shade gardens, ‘Outwitting Squirrels,’ and a book giveaway!

Question: Our garden has a shady, moist area that gets sun late in the afternoon. Can you suggest some things that will grow there?

HostaThere are so many choices of plants that grow in moist shade that it would be hard to name everything, but I’ve asked gardeners what’s growing well in their shady gardens here in Middle Tennessee (USDA Hardiness Zone 7A), and compiled a list:

Ferns, hostas and oak leaf hydrangeas, false Solomon’s seal, penstemon, astilbe and creeping Jenny are all well-known favorites. Some of the spring wildflowers (bought from a reputable source, not dug out of the woods) such as Virginia bluebells, trillium and Mayapple bloom for a short while and disappear, but are very pretty nonetheless. Other spring bloomers – celandine poppies, Solomon’s seal, Jack in the pulpit, woodland phlox, wild ginger — keep their foliage a bit longer.

Summer bloomers include goat’s beard, Spigelia (also called Indian pink), cardinal flower, hardy begonia, spiderwort and sweet flag.

May Garden Calendar: It’s almost May, and planting time! The May Garden Calendar and Garden tips and tasks suggest many ways to get out and enjoy spring in the garden, in Saturday’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

Can you really outwit squirrels?

Outwitting scanTwenty-five years ago, Bill Adler, Jr. wrote the Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. If you are a bird-lover who likes to attract feathered visitors by putting out feeders, you probably know that the squirrels are still winning.

So Adler has reviewed and updated the stratagems, and Chicago Review Press has published the 3rd edition of the book (“Revised & Even Craftier”) that notes that to outwit squirrels, “we have to observe, think, and look at the world from the squirrel’s point of view.”

It’s a laugh-out-loud book about the many ways a person might try to keep squirrels from breaking into a bird feeder, while at the same time acknowledging that a squirrel has all day to figure out how to break into a bird feeder, and never stops trying. But it’s also a book that provides solid information on how to attract birds, the best types of feeders to use, what seed to use and how to maintain the feeders and keep them clean.

The chapter I was glad to find is “The Unbearable Persistence of Squirrel Appetites,” which is about squirrels and gardens. Our small yard is rich in trees, including a pecan and three black walnuts that produce loads of nuts, which are vital to a squirrels’ diet, every year. No wonder we have so many squirrels!

“The squirrel is the nemesis of the gardener,” Adler writes. “A hungry squirrel – is there any other kind? – will devour any flowerlike growth in sight… Having squirrels in your yard when the first flowers come up is like having a lawnmower run amok.” (And all this time, I’ve been blaming the rabbits.)

There’s also information about attracting squirrels because, yes, some people like squirrels, and find them cute and entertaining. So there’s information about building nesting boxes for squirrels, and how to get along with them without letting them take over your house.

“We are smarter than squirrels. We can win against squirrels. We will win against squirrels,” Adler insists. “And along the way, we’re going to have plenty of fun.”

Book giveaway: Outwitting Squirrels!

Do squirrels enjoy your bird feeders? Leave a comment at the end of this post by 6 p.m. Friday, May 2 to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Bill Adler, Jr.’s Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. Don’t forget to provide an email address so I can contact the winner. (The book can only be sent to addresses in the United States and Canada.)

For great new garden beds, start with the soil

Question: We are building a new house and would like to have flower gardens around it. How and when should we start a new garden?

soilTo start new flower beds, begin with the basics. The first step is to decide where, what shape and how large you want the beds to be, considering design elements, how you plan to use the garden and how the beds fit into your overall landscape plans. That may sound overwhelming, but if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can start small and build and expand over time.
Start with the most basic element, the soil. Investing a little effort into it at the beginning ensures that the beds will get off to a good start and get better over the years.

The ground around new construction is often packed down and littered with nails, chunks of cement, wood chips and other building detritus, so start by cleaning up as much as possible. Then take the time to have a soil test done. This will let you know what nutrients the soil contains and what amendments may need to be added for what you are planning to plant. Your county’s extension office can provide the necessary materials and instructions and will test the soil for a small fee.
You may also need to improve the soil’s texture. The best soil for growing most plants is loamy, and holds together somewhat when you squeeze a handful of it, but crumbles easily. You can improve tight-clumped clay soil or loose, sandy soil by working in organic matter, such as compost or peat moss.

The soil improvement phase can be done soon, after the ground is no longer frozen. Later, when it’s time to select plants for the beds, consider the growing conditions (how much sun or shade, whether it’s a wet or dry area, etc.) along with what you like and what fits with your overall plan, your budget, and the time commitment you want to make in terms of watering, deadheading and grooming the beds.

Become familiar with the growth requirements, expected growing height and habits of the plants you plan to use. Consider that some perennials and flowers grown from bulbs may offer shorter bloom times but grow and develop over a period of time, while annuals can offer more quick-growing color, but are gone after one season. With a little planning, you can have flowers in bloom in your beds throughout spring, summer and fall.

Melons: Ripe and ready

QUESTION: I am growing melons — watermelon and cantaloupe – for the first time. How can you tell when the fruit is ready to pick?

Nothing could be more frustrating than cutting into a freshly picked watermelon and finding that it is not completely ripe. Before you cut the melon from the vine, look for these clues:

Turn the watermelon over. The ground spot (where the watermelon rests on the ground) should be creamy yellow. If the spot is white, the melon is not ready.

On a watermelon, there is a tendril growing at the end of the fruit. If it is still green, give the melon a few more days to ripen. If it is half-dead, it’s likely the melon is ripe or nearly so.

Give it a thump. A ripe watermelon sounds hollow (though some say it’s difficult to really hear this).

Cantaloupes and other small melons don’t have the tendril or a significant soil spot, like watermelons, but there are other clues. Cantaloupes, which have netted rinds, develop a golden color under the netting when the melon is ripe. They also soften at the end opposite the stem when they ripen, which you can feel if you press gently. Ripe cantaloupes also have a sweet fragrance. It will also separate easily from the vine

 

The bamboo dilemma

QUESTION: We have a big patch of bamboo growing in our yard that is taking over the lawn. How can we get rid of it?

Bamboo can shoot up several inches overnight in spring. Mowing can keep it under control

Some gardeners may plant bamboo because they’re intrigued by the exotic touch this giant grass can lend to a landscape. When it’s settled in, it grows quickly and provides a good screen for privacy. But a few years later, they may begin to wish it would go away. Bamboo has thick, tough roots and stout underground runners, and is so aggressive it can quickly get out of hand.

University of Tennessee  Extension agents note that controlling bamboo can be a years-long process. If you want to get rid of it, cutting down the canes is only the first step – and if your bamboo stand is thick and unruly, that can be a daunting task. Make the cut as close to the ground as possible, then digging up as many of the roots as you can. Some Extension agents suggest treating any new-growth with non-selective herbicide (such as Roundup).

You may never get rid of all the roots – especially if it has migrated to the neighboring yard and the neighbor does not follow the same control methods. So if you replace the bamboo with lawn, be prepared to mow frequently as the bamboo begins to grow again in spring. The shoots seem to shoot up several inches overnight, but mowing them down before they get too tall (or breaking them off with a swift kick) will keep them under control.

 

Iris time in Tennessee

QUESTION: When is the right time to divide irises?

Bearded irises can be divided after they finish blooming.

Bearded irises, the large, showy flowers that have fuzzy patches on the outer petals, are putting on a pretty nice show across the region right now, and they’ll continue to bloom for several weeks.

After they have finished blooming, the rhizomes can be thinned out and divided if needed. But if you don’t get to it right away, you can wait until later. Irises are resilient and can survive being moved as long as they are re-planted properly.

Garden expert Judy Lowe recommends this method in her book, Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

Cut the leaves into a 6-inch high fan shape, then lift the clump with a spading fork and gently wash the dirt from the tubers. Cut off any soft, mushy or damaged parts, then cut the rhizome into smaller pieces, each with an eye or bud, using a sharp knife.

Lowe recommends dipping each rhizome into a fungicide solution to reduce the chance of fungal problems; one part liquid bleach to nine parts water is one suggestion to use.

Replant the rhizome sections close to the soil surface and water them well. Rhizomes of bearded irises should be planted so that their tops are visible above the soil. Iris beds should not be mulched.

In general, you may need to think iris beds every three to five years.

News & Events

Nashville garden specialist Barbara Wise has a passion for pots – that is, planting and growing container gardens. She now has a new book out: Container Gardening For All Seasons.

“I wrote it for new gardeners and for those who like simple (easy) steps to follow that will help them succeed as gardeners,” she says.

The book features 101 container “recipes” that any novice gardener can follow – she tells what plants to buy, what size container to use, how to place the plants, and substitutions to consider if you can’t find (or don’t like) the suggested “ingredients.” But it’s also nice for experienced gardeners who are looking for new ideas. It’s published by Cool Springs Press; retails for $19.99 and you can order it through Parnassus Books and Amazon.

Cover the ground, not the daffodils

QUESTION: What groundcovers can be used that will allow daffodils to come up in the spring?

Spring bulbs will grow through English ivy, but there are better groundcover choices to use.

Several plants used as groundcover permit spring-flower bulbs to grow through. Nashville-area garden specialists offer a few recommendations:

Ajuga, or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans). To some people this is a nice groundcover, to others it’s a weedy nuisance. It can be aggressive, but in the right spot it might be just what you need.

Periwinkle (Vinca minor), grows in shade, is green all year, and has pretty blue or white flowers in spring. Please note: Vinca minor is listed among the invasive exotic plants in Tennessee. Please use responsibly.

Daffodils will also push up through English ivy (Hedera helix), but because it, too, is an invasive exotic that can climb trees and displace more desired species, I would never suggest planting it in the landscape.

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Making plans for a great year in the garden

QUESTION: What are YOUR garden goals for 2012? Here are mine:

-Grow more flowers. In my yard, that means finding more flowers that thrive in the semi-shade that’s provided by the graceful maples and the giant, beautiful elm tree in our back yard.

-Keep trying for better success with tomatoes. That means figuring out how to outsmart squirrels. (Maybe I should give up on tomatoes in the kitchen garden out back and move tomato production to my garden plot at Farm in the City, the community garden I belong to downtown.)

-Double the produce by doubling the space for growing. I’d like to take on another raised bed at Farm in the City if there’s one available.

-Grow better peppers. I know that the secret is lots of sun and consistent water. There’s a lot of sun at Farm in the City; I need to work on the water part.

-Okra: plant less, pick more often.

-Grow more pole beans. Grow more cucumbers. Try squash again.

-Plant more shade-tolerant herbs. This is a project I started last spring – finding herbs that can grow happily in the shadiest of the eight raised beds in the kitchen garden out back. Success so far with curly parsley and red-veined sorrel. Hope to plant sweet woodruff and more borage, maybe nasturtium. Still trying to find lovage.

-Make peace with the wildlife in the backyard, while at the same time finding a way to keep the rabbits from eating the hostas.

-Plant more big, blooming perennials and annuals in the three little garden beds at Mom’s house.

-Visit as many public gardens as I can manage (especially interested in visiting Eudora Welty’s home and garden in Jackson, Miss. this spring).

-Enjoy every minute I can spend gardening, and writing, talking and teaching about gardening.

What plans do you have for your garden this year?

Transplant a peony

When can peonies be separated and transplanted?
Peonies can be kind of fussy about where they’ll grow and what they’ll do if you try to move them. In fact, most garden experts will tell you that peonies seldom need dividing, and recover poorly from any attempt to do so.
That said, there’s a good time to do if, if you must, and that time is late summer or early fall. Make divisions or root cuttings with at least three growing points, then replant the divisions 18 to 24 inches apart. Plant them in a new bed that has been dug 12 inches deep, into which you have worked good compost or other organic matter. Pick a spot in full sun or a place that gets a little afternoon shade. Set plants in the ground at the same level or slightly higher than they were growing before you dug them up.
The cuttings should begin to grow next spring, so make sure they have sufficient moisture when they do. Judy Lowe, the author of Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky, suggests placing a half-inch of compost on top of the soil in spring and summer, and applying a slow-release fertilizer in mid-spring.
Then sit back and be patient. Even with this good care, it may take a couple of years for a transplanted peony to recover and bloom well again.

Dividing daylilies

When is the best time to separate Stella De Oro daylilies?

‘Rosy Returns’ is a good choice for a repeat blooming daylily.

Early spring and fall are good times to separate and replant all types of daylilies, including Stella De Oro and other repeat-blooming varieties.

Daylilies (the botanical name is Hemerocallis) are blooming beautifully in gardens in Middle Tennessee. The ‘Stella De Oro’ variety, which is what you usually see growing in sweeping yellow masses around office buildings and in grocery store parking lots, seems to be the most common, but there are other wonderful repeat bloomers to consider. (By the way, you may see this variety spelled ‘Stella d’Oro’ elsewhere. I’m using the same spelling as the American Hemerocallis Society.) ‘Happy Returns’ is also yellow, but a softer, creamier shade than the brassy ‘Stella de Oro.’ ‘Rosy Returns’ has dramatic rose-pink flowers. There are several more.

The repeat bloomers are great because, unlike most other daylilies that bloom for a few weeks and are gone, repeaters will come back throughout the summer — though never as lovely as this first flush of blooms.

Experts at the National Arboretum say that most varieties can go for four or five years before they need to be divided. Others also note that repeat bloomers may tend to form bigger clumps, and may need to be divided more often.

When the time comes to divide them, use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the clump, 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 and push the handles apart to separate the roots.

To replant 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.

 

Azaleas: What happened to the flowers?

Healthy azaleas, but few flowers.

Question: Last year I planted two azaleas that I found on sale. Both were covered in blooms when I bought them, and both seemed to do well over the summer. But this year, only one of them is blooming, and it has just a few flowers. The other one, nothing. Here’s a picture. What’s going on?

One more thing to ask: Did the new azaleas get enough water during the summer last year? Information I found at the Web site of the Azalea Society of America suggests that one reason an azalea doesn’t bloom is because it didn’t get enough moisture to grow flowers (what they say, specifically, is “lack of moisture during the late spring and summer reduces bud formation.”).

Remember that azaleas bloom on last year’s growth, so the effects of what happened last summer would show up this spring. Also remember that after the floodwater dried up last year, we had a pretty dry summer here in Middle Tennessee.

In general, here’s what azaleas need to grow well: Light shade (but some varieties do well in full sun), slightly acid soil (pH 5.5 to 6 is best), good drainage, adequate water – especially the first few years they’re in the ground. An infrequent deep soaking is more effective than superficial sprinkling, say the experts at Azaleas.org.

Established azaleas don’t need fertilizer. And of course, if you find you have to prune them, do the job shortly after they bloom, because they start forming next year’s flower buds this summer; later pruning will likely cut those flowers off.

A thought for today

I’ve been flipping through a new little book called Garden Rules, by Jayme Jenkins (of Eugene,Ore.) and Nashville’s own Billie Brownell. Its subtitle is “The Snappy Synopsis for the Modern Gardener” and it’s meant to appeal primarily to people who are new to gardening.

But here’s something we all – new and old gardeners – could do well to keep in mind: A Watched Garden Never Grows. We live in an always-on world, and we expect instant gratification in everything. But if you look for big, booming, instant results in a garden, you’ll be a frustrated gardener.

“The key to enjoying your time in the garden is to keep your expectations realistic,” the authors say. “Seedlings take days to sprout. Flower buds take time to develop. Perennials like hostas, peonies, bleeding hearts, and Siberian iris take a couple seasons to reach maturity. Trees will take years to provide shade.”

I gave a copy of the book to my daughter, a new gardener who is growing things in pots on the two second-floor decks of her apartment. I’ve mentioned that she should remember this:

“Nature does not operate at twenty-first-century speed, and Nature always wins.”

Garden Rules is published by Cool Springs Press in Brentwood, Tenn.