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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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Grow food with your flowers

From The Foodscape Revolution by Brie Arthur: ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas makes a good backdrop for a basil edge.

A few weeks ago I talked by phone with Brie Arthur, the author of The Foodscape Revolution, to include her voice in a story for The Tennessean in advance of the

Photo courtesy Brie Arthur

Nashville Lawn and Garden Show, which was the first weekend in March. Her book, and her gardening passion, is about making space in your landscape for food, growing it alongside the trees, shrubs and ornamental plantings that can make up a tidy landscape, even if you live in a neighborhood under the rules of a persnickety homeowners’ association.

The story in the paper turned out to be more about the show than about how to beautifully flout the HOA’s rules, but Brie and I had talked for much longer, as gardeners are inclined to do, about the benefits and the joy of growing food and flowers. Since many of her ideas weren’t included in the story about last weekend’s garden show, I’m happy I can share them here. Continue reading

Spend summer in the shade

We’d like to have a perennial garden, but we’ve moved into a place that has a lot of trees in the yard. We get some sun a couple of times during the day, but there is no place that gets full sun all day. What are some perennials that grow and bloom in part sun or shade?

Hosta shade

Hosta and spiderwort are two shade-loving perennials to add to a shady landscape.

In mid-summer, many gardeners might say you’re lucky to have those shady spots, where you can be outdoors but can stay out of the blazing July sun. Landscape designers know the benefits:

“A shade garden in the summer is a wonderful place to relax,” says landscape designer Mary Higgins, who owns Lavender Blue Garden Design in Middle Tennessee.

“I take care of a lot of gardens in the sun. When I get home, I find I get a lot of pleasure out of my shade garden. The sunny garden takes work. The shade garden is a place I can actually sit and read, relax and slow down, even on a hot day.”

There are plenty of plants that can thrive in areas that don’t get full sun. Continue reading

Plant parsley to grow indoors

The parsley in our garden is beautiful, and we’d like to dig some of it up to plant in pots and grow it indoors this winter. What’s the best way to do that, and when is the best time?

parsleyThere are several herbs that you can transplant into pots successfully to bring in for the winter, but parsley is different. The plant, which is a biennial, grows a long taproot, which makes it difficult to transplant. (Parsley is in the same family as carrots, by the way.)

To grow parsley indoors, it’s best to purchase transplants or grow your own from seeds.

Indoors, parsley needs plenty of light to grow well — about six hours of direct sun, so if you have a window that receives that much, that’s the best place for it. Otherwise, grow it under artificial light, about 14 hours a day. Keep the light about six inches above the plant.

Plant seedlings in a good-quality potting mix, and keep the soil evenly moist. Feed the plants regularly with a balanced fertilizer.

If you grow parsley from seeds, know that it can be a slow process. Parsley seeds germinate slowly; soaking them in warm water for a few hours before planting can speed the process, but they may still take up to three weeks to germinate.

Keep parsley in the garden, as well. In my experience, during mild winters here in Middle Tennessee, parsley stays green well after many other things are frozen, especially if it’s planted in a protected area.

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.

Rose of Sharon is an easy summer favorite

I remember a large Rose of Sharon shrub that grew in my grandmother’s yard that had big, pretty flowers every summer. I’d like to have one for my own garden. Can this shrub be started from cuttings?

Lil Kim Proven Winners

Lil’ Kim Rose of Sharon (H. syriacus) from Proven Winners Plants.

The old-fashioned rose of Sharon, or shrub althaea (Hibiscus syriacus), is easy to grow, and often pops up in unexpected places from dropped seeds. It can also be propagated from stem cuttings. Here are general guidelines for taking cuttings of rose of Sharon and other woody ornamentals:

Cut lengths of softwood (soft, succulent new growth) or semi-hardwood (partially mature wood of the current season’s growth) about six inches long from a healthy host plant. Remove the bottom leaves, and dip the cut ends in rooting hormone powder. Stick the cut ends about one-third their length into a rooting medium that drains well, such as perlite or vermiculite. Cover the cuttings with some sort of plastic covering to maintain a humid environment, and place them in indirect light.

Keep the rooting medium moist until roots develop. It will likely take several weeks, but you’ll know the cuttings have grown roots when you tug gently on the cuttings and feel resistance. Transplant them into containers to allow them to grow to a larger size before you plant them in the garden.

Rose of Sharon grows and blooms best in full sun, and thrives in almost any well-drained soil. Once established, it tolerates heat and drought. Flowers bloom on new growth, so if it needs pruning, you can do that task in winter.

May garden tips & tasks

May is a busy and beautiful time in the garden. Here are tasks and tips to keep you busy this month.

Week 1

Azalea The Garden Bench

Prune azaleas shortly after they bloom.

Plant your summer kitchen garden with warm-season vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans. Water newly planted garden beds well, and keep them moist as seeds sprout.

Foliage left from spring-flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips and so forth – can be cut down if it has turned brown.

If you need to prune azaleas, do it now; don’t wait any longer, or you risk cutting off next year’s flowers, which will begin to form soon.

Set out bedding plants of favorite summer annuals: petunias, begonias, annual salvia, cleome, cosmos, celosia, snapdragon, zinnia.

Find a comfortable spot for houseplants that will spend summer outdoors, protected from too-harsh sun and strong wind and rain.

Week 2

Hellebores The Garden Bench

Dig and divide hellebores

Use mulch in perennial and annual beds and borders to keep weeds in check, and to retain moisture in the soil.

A cluster of aphids on tender new growth of plants can be washed away with a strong spray of water from the hose.

Container gardens dry out quickly in hot weather, so if your “garden” is a collection of pots on the deck or balcony, they need to be watered frequently.

Divide hellebores. Dig up as much of the root ball as possible and gently separate the roots. Replant right away, or share with friends (reminding them to plant as soon as possible).

When you mow, set the mower to cut high, removing only about a third of the height of the grass to keep it healthy. Don’t shear the lawn.

Week 3

Cut flowers The Garden Bench

Cut spring flowers to enjoy indoors.

There will always be unwanted plants (sometimes known as weeds). Pull or dig them out of garden beds when they are small, but especially before they form seeds. Weeds are easier to root out after watering or after a rain, when the soil is moist. Annual weeds that haven’t gone to seed can be tossed into the compost.

As summer approaches, make sure spring-planted trees and shrubs continue to get enough moisture. Provide about an inch of water a week — by hose or sprinkler if it doesn’t rain.

Enjoy the late spring bounty of flowers indoors. To help them last longer, cut flowers and foliage early in the morning and place them in water right away.

Grass clippings make good mulch, but allow them to decay before you use them on beds and borders.

Watch for spider mites on roses and other shrubs if the weather turns hot and dry. A strong spray of water on the undersides of leaves every few days can keep them under control.

Week 4

Thyme The Garden Bench

Thyme and other herbs are at their peak just before they bloom.

Many herbs are at their peak just before they bloom. Harvest them to use fresh, or preserve them by drying or freezing to use later.

As perennials flower and fade, cut the dying blooms. This will encourage the plant to bloom longer.

Divide irises after they finish blooming. Cut the leaves to about five inches, then lift the tubers with a spading fork. Separate the rhizomes and cut off damaged portions, then replant the rhizomes close to the soil surface.

Hummingbirds are welcome summer guests in the garden, visiting flowers and nectar feeders. If you provide feeders, change the nectar every day or two and clean the feeder thoroughly. Standard nectar recipe: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water; boil for five minutes, and allow it to cool before filling the feeder. No red food coloring needed.

Daffodil dreams? Time to plant bulbs

I love daffodils! We are planning our first garden in our new house and want to plant bulbs to come up next spring. When is the right time to plant?

Daffodils 2Fall is typical bulb-planting time, and the cooler it is, the better, according to daffodil experts. Anne Owen of the Middle Tennessee Daffodil Society in Nashville (Zone 7a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map) says the best time is when the soil is 52 – 54 degrees (usually November in Middle Tennessee). But you can buy bulbs and begin to dream about spring daffodils, and prepare the planting areas as soon as you like.

Daffodils enjoy well-drained soil, so if your soil needs to be amended with compost, do that before you plant. “Lighten heavy clay with perlite or sand, or use a raised bed soil mix,” Owen suggests. You can work soil conditioner into the soil – anything that will create a loose growing environment for the bulbs.

Daffodils grow best in full sun. Keep in mind, though, that they grow and bloom early, while there are fewer leaves on trees that will cast shade, so even a tree-canopied space may have more sun in late winter and early spring than you realize.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble to prepare beds for the bulbs, you can simply dig holes and drop the bulbs in the ground. Choose an area where you won’t need to mow until early summer, Owen says. Daffodil foliage should be left standing for many weeks after the bloom time is over, because this is when they’re gathering strength for the bulb to bloom again next spring.

Plant large bulbs (pointed end up!) about six inches apart. Bulbs can benefit from a dose of low-nitrogen fertilizer at planting time, Owen says. Water the bed well after planting.

Pamper those strawberry plants

I have strawberries that did well in the spring but seems to have suffered a bit over the summer. What’s the best way to prepare the bed for winter? It is okay to use mulch on strawberry plants?
Strawberry plantsStrawberry plants have shallow roots, so it’s possible that they suffered from drought if you didn’t water regularly. They also need to be mulched, which can help suppress the growth of weeds. Pine straw is a good mulch to use in a strawberry bed, because it can cover the soil without smothering the crowns of the plants.

Here’s advice on strawberries from garden expert Barbara Pleasant, from her book The Southern Garden Advisor:

Pull weeds from the strawberry bed in September, then feed the strawberries with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. This should be the heaviest fertilization because strawberries produce latent buds, which become next year’s fruit, Pleasant explains. Water the bed well.

Mulch the bed in November. Pinch off leaves that are discolored and pull up any weeds that may have popped up.

Fertilize again in February, with a lighter dose this time, and prepare to enjoy the berries in April and May.

By the way, Pleasant says she prefers the spring-bearing varieties over those that are everbearing, which don’t produce as well. She recommends four varieties: ‘Earliglow,’ ‘Apollo,’ ‘Cardinal’ and ‘Surecrop.’

October in the garden is anything but dull. Metro Parks offers ways to keep your garden mind entertained. Head Outdoors for Fall  (plus Garden Tips, Tasks & Events) in the October Garden Calendar in Saturday’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

Plant perennials now, enjoy them later

I’m still seeing perennials for sale at garden centers. Some of them are being sold at reduced prices. Can they really be planted this time of year?

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Spring is the typical planting time, but for gardeners who are willing to be patient or take a chance on a plant that may look like it’s past its prime, early fall is a good time to plant. Many of the plants on sale still have plenty of life, even though they don’t look their best right now.

But if you make careful choices and plant now, they will begin to establish good root systems and should spring back beautifully in the garden next year.

While perennials you find now may not be at the peak of perfection, you should still look for healthy plants with no sign of disease. Here are guidelines from the website of Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension and other sources:

  • Look for plants with good color and vigorous appearance. Avoid plants that show any sign of disease.
  • Ease the plant out of the pot and look at the roots look healthy, and not mushy or limp. Avoid anything with roots that have a bad odor.
  • Buy labeled plants (unless you want to be surprised!) and label it in the garden so that you can remember where and what you planted next spring.
  • In the garden, prepare the soil and amend it as needed with compost. Dig a hole a few inches wider that the plant’s pot, remove the plant from the pot and gently loosen the roots, then set the plant in the ground with the base of the plant level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil, water thoroughly, and add mulch.
  • Don’t set them out and forget them. October can be a dry month, so remember to provide water on a regular basis.