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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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Moving day for monkey grass

QUESTION: Monkey grass from a border is growing up into some of my perennial beds. How can I get rid of it? If I want to transplant some of it, when and how should I do that?

Monkey grass 1Monkey grass (some call it liriope, or lily turf) is a tough plant that can tolerate a lot of conditions – clay soil, dense shade, drought – and still send it roots out to grow more and more thick clumps of foliage. This time of year, it sends up narrow stalks of tiny flowers that provide a lovely late-summer show, followed by dark blue or black berries that stay on the plants into the fall.

If monkey grass is creeping into a bed where it’s not wanted, the best way to get rid of it is to dig it up when you find it sprouting. Keep in mind that the roots spread horizontally, and that pieces left in the ground will sprout new growth, so remove as much of the root as possible.

Because it is so tough, transplanting monkey grass is easy, and you can accomplish the task any time. In the book Tough Plants for Southern Gardens, garden expert Felder Rushing suggests cutting straight down into mature clumps and separating individual crowns. Replant them where you want them. Transplanted pieces take hold quickly, and begin to fill out with new growth in the spring. Rushing says plants can be divided every two or three years and still grow in clumps.

Enjoying your kitchen garden?

Find ideas for all that zucchini, that basket full of okra, all those tomates, plus summer garden tips and tasks in the August Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com.

Garden events in Middle Tennessee

August 15: Lunch and Lecture at Cheekwood: “Beyond Green: Colorful Foliage in the Garden.” Sue Hamilton, director of the UT Gardens, shows how to use plants with colorful foliage to provide year-round impact in your garden. Noon – 1 p.m.; $25 for non-members. www.cheekwood.org/Education  to register.

August 16:  Make a batch of fresh salsa to enjoy at Summer Salsa Creations at WarnerParkNatureCenter, 5:30 – 7 p.m. Naturalist Melissa Donahue leads this all-ages workshop, starting with fresh tomatoes from the NatureCenter garden – or bring your own. Call 352-6299 to register. Registration opens Aug. 2.

August 20: Julie Berbiglia of NPT’s Volunteer Gardener is the speaker at this month’s Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee meeting at Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall. Her topic: “Water Conservation.” Refreshments at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m. The public is invited. www.ppsmt.org.

August 22: Hosta hybridizer Bob Solburg of Green Hill Farm in Franklinton, N.C. is the speaker at this month’s meeting of the Middle Tennessee Hosta Society at Cheekwood. The meet-and-greet begins at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m., and Solburg will have plants for sale. www.mths-hosta.com.

Don’t let English ivy ‘leap’

English ivy has covered a chain link fence along our property line, but it’s also getting into a garden bed a climbing up a tree. How can I control it?

English ivy is good for covering ugly fences; not so great when it climbs up into trees.

English ivy is good for covering ugly fences; not so great when it climbs up into trees.

Gardeners have a saying about English ivy: “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps.” It can be slow to get started, but once it gets going, it quickly leaps out of bounds.

If you are using English ivy to cover an otherwise unsightly feature or to control erosion on a slope, the Southern Living Garden Book suggests trimming the edges back with hedge shears or a rugged mower two or three times a year. Ivy growing up a fence or wall can also be sheared with a hedge trimmer to look neat.

Early winter is a good time to remove ivy that is growing up into trees. Garden expert Judy Lowe (who has penned several garden how-to books for our region) suggests cutting the vine at the base with loppers or a pruning saw. In the spring, the dead vine may fall out of the tree, or you may need to cut and pull down the dead portions.

 

Cut winter-brown monkey grass before spring

QUESTION: The monkey grass that borders some of our beds has turned brown. If we cut it down, will it come back next spring?

monkey grass 2One reason monkey grass is so popular in landscapes is because it’s tough. It begins to turn brown around the tips and edges this time of year and can look pretty bad by the end of winter, but it sprouts new growth in the spring.

You can mow the plants down, or clip them close to the ground. Best to do it in winter before new growth begins. If you wait too late to mow, you may clip off the tips of the new leaves. In a warm climate, you may begin seeing new growth as early as late February or early March.

Monkey grass (Liriope muscari is the botanical name; it’s also known as lily turf) can be divided in early spring. Dig it up and pull the roots apart, or cut through the clumps of roots with a sharp spade.

Something new for the library

One of the books I’ve consistently used as a reference for more than ten years is the Tennessee & Kentucky Gardener’s Guide by garden writer Judy Lowe. This fall, Cool tn ky garden guideSprings Press published a new version of the book with updated photos and more features. The subtitle is “The Best Plants for a Tennessee or KentuckyGarden,” and recommendations are based on the 2012 version of the USDA Hardiness Zone map (she says she could not have imagined recommending gardenias outdoors in our zones a few years ago, for example, but now, here they are!)

The plant-by-plant format covers annuals, bulbs, groundcovers and vines, lawngrass perennials, shrubs, trees and water gardens and still gives the when-where-how to plant information, growing tips and care, and how to use plants in the landscape. There’s also information on pruning, planting, pests and diseases, weeds, making compost, starting seeds and other gardening basics.

Keep it in mind if you’re still shopping for the gardeners on your list.

Periwinkle: Bigleaf can be a big problem

QUESTION: This vine (in the photo) is growing behind the boxwoods in front of our house. I’ve never seen it before. Is this something I should keep or get rid of?

Variegated Vinca major (bigleaf periwinkle) is a major pest plant.

Get rid of it, if you can. It looks like variegated bigleaf periwinkle (Vinca major), and left to grow on its on, will scramble and snake its way across everything in its path. This plant, considered an ornamental groundcover by some, was brought here from Europe more than three centuries ago.

It has pretty little blue or lavender pinwheel flowers in spring, but that’s not enough reason to keep it around. According to the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council, the vine has crept in to open and dense canopied forest, forming mats and “extensive infestations” by vines that root at the nodes. They consider it a “significant threat” in the state, and note that it’s also considered invasive in several other southern states, and in California and the Pacific Northwest.

If your “infestation” is still fairly small, I suggest pulling it up, roots and all, if you can. You’ll probably have to pull it several times before it’s all gone. I never recommend chemical controls, but you can read what TNEPPC suggests here.

One of the nice features about the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council’s web site is that they suggest alternatives for the invasive plants you might be considering for your landscape. So, instead of periwinkle, TNEPPC recommends using these natives:

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) and Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera). Both attract bees and butterflies. Creeping phlox does best in the more acidic mountains of East Tennessee.

Several grass-like sedges make good groundcovers for shady places: Seersucker sedge (Carex plantaginea) has puckered light green leaves. Silver sedge (Carex platyphylla) has slightly puckered, light blue-green foliage. Blue wood sedge (Carex flaccosperma) has silvery blue foliage and can do well in wetter sites.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a small creeping vine with tiny, glossy, deep green leaves, pairs of white fuzzy flowers in early June, and bright red berries. It grows in shade, and needs acid soil. Birds like it.

Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea [ Senecio aureus ]) has dark, evergreen foliage that colonizes as a groundcover and yellow flowers in early spring. Attracts bees and butterflies.

Marginal Woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis) is an evergreen fern that likes shade and moist soil.

 

The trouble with winter creeper

QUESTION: A vine with dark green, oval leaves and thick woody stems is growing up through the middle of my shrubs. It seems to grow all year. What a nuisance! How can I get rid of it?

Winter creeper euonymus grows in sun or shade, can cover slopes, fences, trees, and is hard to get rid of once it's established.

It sounds like you are describing winter creeper euonymus, an evergreen that can sprawl along the ground (or on slopes, where it can help control erosion) or it can climb and attach itself to trees, walls and other surfaces with aerial roots.

You may see it described as “tough” or “aggressive,” and come to understand that to mean you’ll have a hard time getting rid of it. Indeed, it’s a non-native invasive plant, brought here from  the other side of the world in the early part of the last century. The Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council lists it as a “lesser threat,” but a threat nonetheless.

Cutting it down, pulling it out and digging it up are the best ways to begin the attack on winter creeper. Where digging doesn’t work, try cutting it back and applying glyphosate herbicide (such as Roundup) as a 2-percent solution (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix) in water to the stump that’s left. You’ll have to keep doing this, and you’ll have to be careful not to get the herbicide on the surrounding plants.

After the vine has been removed, the best way to keep it from returning is to keep an eye on the area and pull up individual seedlings as soon as you see them.

Small space, big harvests

Is that really possible? Maybe, and there’s a new book in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series that’s here to help. The book is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Small-Space Gardening, and the author, Chris McLaughlin, provides quite a bit of good information on how to make the most of whatever plots or pots you have available. It’s published by Alpha Books; the price printed on the book is $19.95; at the Web site idiotsguides.com it’s listed as now $12.97.

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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