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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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Best time to transplant hydrangeas

We have hydrangeas we’d like to move to another location in the yard, where they can get more sun in the morning. When is the best time to move them?
Hydrangea vertHydrangea experts say that the best time to transplant the shrubs is when they are dormant (after most of the leaves have fallen off). Information at the Web site Hydrangeas! Hydrangeas! suggests waiting until November or December, but anytime after the weather cools should be fine.
Prepare the new site before you dig up the shrub. Hydrangeas are generally happy in a site that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, and in soil that drains well. When you begin the move, dig up as much of the root ball as possible and move it to the new site, setting it at the same depth it had been growing. Fill the hole with soil and water deeply. Be extra attentive to the newly transplanted shrub during the first growing season, making sure it gets enough moisture as it adjusts to its new site.

Garden with greens

I don’t care for turnips, but I love turnip greens and I’d like to grow them myself this fall. When is it time to plant them?
GreensThe time to begin planting turnip greens – and many other kitchen crops that thrive in cool weather – is now! Prepare a bed in full sun with well-drained, fertile soil. You can sow the seeds in rows about 1½ feet apart and cover with about ½ inch of fine soil, or you can broadcast the seeds over a prepared bed. August heat in some areas can be brutal on fall plantings, so for all summer-sown fall vegetables, keep the soil moist while seeds germinate. Thin the plants when they grow to about 2 inches tall.

Among the fast-growing, greens-only varieties are All Top, Alamo, Seven Top, Shogoin and Topper.

Don’t stop with turnip greens! Mustard greens, spinach, collards and kale are among the other types of hearty greens you can try. For a longer harvest, sow in successive plantings two weeks apart.

And don’t give up on turnips just yet. My favorite way to enjoy them is drizzled with olive oil and roasted with a variety of other root and winter vegetables. One secret is to harvest turnips while they’re still small, when they seem to have a milder flavor.

Here’s a recipe adapted from a Bon Appétit magazine recipe at Epicurious.com:
Roasted Root Vegetables
Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
Beets, trimmed but not peeled, scrubbed, cut into ½-inch pieces
Medium red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
Garlic cloves, peeled
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat the olive oil. Spread vegetables evenly on a prepared baking dish and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

August in the garden: Find more about this month’s garden tasks in my August Garden Calendar and Garden Events and Tips at Tennessean.com.

A bountiful harvest: sunflower seeds

We grew sunflowers this year, and I’d like to save the seeds. What is the best way to harvest them?
sunflower 2As summer begins to wind down and the sunflowers begin to droop, you know it’s time to harvest. Sunflower seeds are ready to harvest when the back of the flower heads turn yellow. The seeds themselves will turn dark.

Seed-loving birds may begin to find them before you do, so if you’re planning a seed harvest, you may want to find a way to protect them until they’re fully mature. Extension services and other experts suggest covering the flower heads with brown paper bags. (Don’t use plastic bags, which may cause moisture to form around the flower head and cause the seeds to rot.) When you’re ready to harvest, use scissors or a knife to cut off the flower head with several inches of the stem.
You can harvest sunflower seeds to save for the birds to enjoy later, or for a nutritious snack for yourself and your family. Hold the flower head over a large bowl and rub or pluck out the seeds. Store them in a dry spot in sealed containers until you are ready to set them out for the birds.

Writers at the Mother Earth News website have an easy method for preparing sunflower seeds for snacking. Soak the unshelled seeds overnight in salt water – about 1/8 to ¼ cup salt for each quart of water. Drain off the water and spread the seeds on paper towels or clean towels and allow them to dry for several hours. When they are completely dry, spread the seeds evenly on a cookie sheet and bake them at 300 degrees F for 30 – 40 minutes. After baking, place the seeds in a bowl and toss with one teaspoon of butter for each cup of seeds. Season with salt, if desired.

Sunflower seeds are high in potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.

Enjoying a mid-summer surprise

I love the “surprise” of surprise lilies (also called “naked ladies”) when they bloom every summer. When should you plant them? What do you have to do to keep them growing?

Surprise lily, naked ladies

Lycoris squamigera (surprise lily, naked lady) growing up through a bed of creeping Charlie.

These late-summer bloomers really can cause a double-take when you see them in gardens. The lovely flowers are perched atop 2-foot stems, with no foliage in sight.

In fact, the strap-like foliage appeared earlier in the season – in spring — and by summer, those big clumps have turned yellow and finally disappeared. Then about mid-July (in this part of the region, at least) – Surprise! The stems shoot up and fat buds open into large, delicate flowers.

Surprise lilies grow from bulbs, and there are several varieties, but the hardiest is the one you probably see most, Lycoris squamigera. You may also know it by other names – magic lily, resurrection lily, in addition to the ever-popular moniker, naked ladies.

These lilies are also among favorite pass-along plants. Dig and separate the bulbs after they finish flowering, and plant them about 4 inches deep. Because the stems are tall and bare when the plants bloom, some gardeners like to plant them among other summer foliage (I’ve seen them growing up through English ivy and other sturdy groundcovers). You can also plant them in containers.

Surprise lilies grow best in full sun but seem to tolerate light shade.

Book giveaway winner!

A signed copy of Plant This Instead! by Troy B. Marden is on its way to Sue, whose comment was picked by the random number generator as the winner of last week’s book giveaway. Thanks for playing, everyone! Watch for another giveaway coming soon.

August Garden Calendar

What to do in the garden this month? Think about fall! See the August Garden Calendar at Tennessean.com, where you’ll find information about planting cool-season edibles and a list of tips and tasks and garden events in Middle Tennessee.

Flowers now, tomatoes later

I remember reading somewhere about removing the early blooms on the tomato plants. Is this recommended?

tomato blossomThe general consensus is no, you don’t need to remove the early flowers of tomatoes, but there are two or three sides to the question. Some say to remove any blooms that may be on tomato transplants before you put them in the ground; some say to remove the first flowers after transplanting. The reason for pinching off any flowers at all would be to allow a very young transplant to focus on developing into a stronger plant before it puts energy into fruit production. But most resources (and all homegrown-tomato gardeners I’ve talked to) say it’s not necessary to remove the flowers at all.

There is also discussion about whether the tomato is a determinate variety (in which the tomatoes set fruit, ripen and are harvested all at once) or indeterminate (they ripen throughout the summer, until frost). If the tomato is a determinate variety, there’s a chance that you reduce the ultimate size of the crop if you pinch off the flowers. In general, there is no need to remove the flowers of either type if they are sturdy plants.

It is usually recommended to remove the suckers that grow as the plant grows. These are the shoots that grow from an axil, that point where a branch grows out of the stem. Removing them helps keep the plant more compact.

Making their debut: New shrub varieties

Last year I was invited to sample some new varieties of shrubs from Proven Winners® ColorChoice® that are making their debut in garden centers this year. They’ve been growing for a year in my garden now. Click over to the garden journal, Turning Toward the Sun, to see how they’re doing.

June Garden calendar

It’s the month for daylilies in Middle Tennessee, and the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society is holding its annual show and sale later this month. Find the June Garden Calendar listing this month’s garden events, tips and tasks at Tennessean.com.

 

Divide Solomon’s seal

I have a patch of variegated Solomon’s seal in a shady garden bed that needs to be divided. When is the best time to do that?

Solomons sealFall is the best time to divide Solomon’s seal. Dig up a clump and divide the rhizomes with a knife, then replant in moist, fertile soil amended with plenty of organic matter – that’s what it enjoys in a woodland setting, where it thrives.

This is a plant that stands out in a shady setting. In spring, it produces graceful stems and large leaves that last until frost; the variegated variety (Polygonatum odoratum var. thunbergii) has white margins on the leaves. In spring, small white flowers dangle from the stems, and if you stand close, you may catch a whiff of the delicate fragrance. Dark berries form after the flowers fade. Make note, though, that all parts of the plant are poisonous

To grow well, Solomon’s seal needs a little sun but grows best in partial shade. It also needs consistent moisture. It is said to be resistant to deer.

Book giveaway winner!

Outwitting scanThe Garden Bench held a book giveaway a couple of weeks ago for the new edition of a book by Bill Adler, Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. The book is a laugh-out-loud funny look at what many bird-lovers consider a serious problem. There’s good information for gardeners whose efforts are frustrated by squirrels, too. Check out the details of the book here.

And the winner is: Heather S. of Port Townsend, WA. Congrats!

Watch for another book giveaway at The Garden Bench in a few weeks.

May Garden Calendar: The May Garden Calendar and Garden tips and tasks suggest many ways to get out and enjoy spring in the garden. Check it out at Tennessean.com.

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.)

Plant peonies in spring or fall

Question: I have a flower bed in a spot that gets morning sun, and I want peonies in my garden. Can I plant them now?
peonies gbYes, early spring is a good time to plant peony rhizomes. They can also be planted in the fall. Once they’re established, peonies are finicky about being moved, so it’s a good idea to make sure the new flower bed is in good shape before you put them in the ground.
Peonies prefer a spot in full sun or with light afternoon shade, with good drainage, and away from the roots of trees and shrubs that would compete for water and nutrients. They can be susceptible to powdery mildew, so make sure they are not crowded and there is good air circulation in the bed.
Work plenty of organic matter and a high-phosphate fertilizer into the soil, and set the roots 1 inch deep.
Peonies may not bloom the first year they are planted, but they should bloom every year after that.

In the garden this week

It’s spring in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map, where The Garden Bench calls home). Here are a few late-March tasks on our gardening to-do list:

  • Replenish mulch around roses, azaleas and other shrubs.
  • Dig and divide, hardy mums, daylilies that have gotten too crowded.
  • Set out transplants of herbs that can stand up to a few more chilly days: parsley, cilantro, sage, chives, oregano are among the garden and kitchen favorites.
  • Trim buddleia or cut it back before new leaves emerge.
  • Last chance to mow over winter-browned liriope; new shoots are beginning to come up from the roots.

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.

Sowing seeds indoors: get a jump on the season

Question: When is the time to start vegetables and annual flowers indoors to plant outside in spring?

Start seeds indoors soon to plant in the garden this spring.

Start seeds indoors soon to plant in the garden this spring.

The time to start seedlings indoors depends on plants’ individual growth rates and the recommended dates in your area for putting plants in the ground. To figure the seed-starting date, start with the recommended planting time, calculate the plant’s germination and growing time (often noted on the seed package), and count back the required number of weeks to reach the date for starting the seeds.For example, to grow seedlings of a warm-season flower like zinnias in Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home), we can plan on putting transplants in the ground after mid-April, the area’s last average frost date. The approximate growing time for zinnia seedlings is about 4-6 weeks, so you can sow zinnia seeds indoors early- to mid-March. Tomato seeds, another warm-weather favorite, can be sown in flats indoors 5 – 7 weeks before it’s time to transplant, so we can plan on starting them early in March.

To start cool-weather vegetables indoors, begin much earlier. For example, some leaf lettuces can be started indoors 4 weeks before the soil outdoors can be worked; bigger, tougher cool-season favorites like broccoli and cauliflower need 5 to 7 weeks to reach transplanting size. Sowing indoors now until the end of January can provide transplants ready to go in the ground at the end of February.

Give the seedlings plenty of light and the recommended moisture as they grow, and harden them off – expose them gradually to outdoor weather – before planting them in the ground.