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  • March garden tips & tasks

    If your fescue lawn looks a little skimpy, overseed early this month. Fescue grows best when the weather is still cool.

    Clip dead stems from perennial herbs – thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary. Pruning encourages vigorous new growth.

    Prune nandinas, flowering quince and other airy shrubs by reaching in and removing about a third of the branches at ground level.

    Remove mulch or leaves that may be covering perennials in garden beds.

    Prepare a new garden bed: Have the soil tested (check with your county’s Extension service). Remove grass and dig or till soil 8 to 10 inches deep and mix with soil amendments and organic matter to improve drainage.

    Add fertilizer lightly to perennials as soon as you see new growth. Too much fertilizer may result in lanky growth.

    Herb transplants that don’t mind cool weather -- parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano – can go in the ground now.

    When you cut daffodils to bring inside, cut the stems at an angle and place them in water right away. Change the water in the vase daily to keep them fresh longer.

    Save the date - Middle Tennessee garden events

    The Perennial Plant Society's annual Plant Sale will be April 8, opening at 9 a.m. at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The sale offers newly released and hard-to-find perennials from top local nurseries -- more than 450 varieties of perennials, vines, grasses, shrubs and annuals. The event supports local scholarships for Tennessee horticulture students and monthly gardening programs, open to the public, at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. For information visit www.ppsmtn.org.

    The Herb Society of Nashville's annual Herb Sale will be April 29, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The sale will offer heirloom vegetables, rare varieties of perennial and annual herbs, handmade pottery herb markers and more. To learn more, visit herbsocietynashville.org.

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Too early for tender hostas

Because it has been so warm already, my hostas have been coming up much too early, and I’m afraid they’ll be damaged or killed if we have another freeze. Some are in pots and some are in the ground. What’s the best way to protect them?

hosta shoots

Hosta shoots are difficult to see when they emerge, but they should be protected from a freeze.

You are correct that hostas making an appearance too soon would be damaged by frost or a freeze, so it pays to watch the forecast and take action when the temperature drops. Cornelia Holland, a hosta collector in Franklin, Tenn., grows hundreds of hostas and other shade-loving perennials in a half-acre garden she calls “Tranquility.” She passed along these tips for keeping hostas healthy when they emerge too soon. Continue reading

Moving calla lilies

Question: We live near Crossville, Tenn. and will be moving soon. What is the earliest I can dig up my callas? They have survived well the past three winters without being dug up but they probably need to be separated anyway.

calla-lilyAssuming that your callas are the type that die to the ground each winter and reappear the following spring, the rhizomes can be dug up anytime in the fall and stored for winter.

Callas are native to South Africa, so there is always the chance that the tubers may not survive extremely cold winter in the ground. But most gardeners I talk to in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a, home of The Garden Bench) say they never dig up the rhizomes, and they come back each year. In Zone 6b (The USDA Hardiness Zone for Crossville), their survival seems a little less certain, but if yours have continued to grow and spread, then they must be in a friendly environment.

Here’s the recommendation for winter storage from the Gardening Know How website: To dig the rhizomes for storage, lift the clump out of the soil and allow them dry for two or three days, brush off the remaining soil and store them in peat moss in a paper bag in a cool, dry location.

Replant them in their new home next spring, after the danger of frost. Callas appreciate slightly acid soil that drains well, and should be watered regularly while they are growing and in bloom. They grow in full sun or partial shade.

The graceful flower bracts of calla lilies, which open about mid-spring or early summer, are lovely and delicate, but don’t be fooled by this. Callas are sturdy plants, and I have seen them escape their bed and push up through the packed gravel of nearby garden paths.

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

Keep hellebores healthy

I inherited a fairly large garden of hellebores when I moved into my current house. There is a problem with black spots on the leaves that I researched on the internet. I have cleaned out the dead leaves from the winter to improve their appearance and air circulation. What is the best way to deal with this problem?

Hellebore-webIf you’ve cut off the dead leaves of the hellebores and gotten any infected foliage around the plants cleaned up and destroyed, you’ve already gotten a good start on controlling the problem by non-chemical means. Leaf spot disease seems to be a fairly common affliction of Helleborus, caused by a fungus, and the first line of defense is to avoid spreading it around, and keep the area inhospitable to fungal growth.

Continue reading

Jay Turman on daylilies: ‘They are very forgiving’

Jay and Peggy Turman's garden contains 400 different species of daylilies.

Jay and Peggy Turman’s garden contains 400 different species of daylilies.

June is the big month for daylilies in Middle Tennessee, and Jay and Peggy Turman are in a good place to enjoy it. They are daylily collectors, and in the relatively small space of their Nashville front yard they grow 400 different cultivars of daylilies, which begin opening in late May each year and continue into July.

Today, they’re enjoying the view of a garden full of daylilies blooming in a range of colors and sizes, and looking forward to the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society’s annual show and sale, which takes place next Saturday (June 18, 2016) at Crievewood United Methodist Church.

The Turmans started MTDS in their living room 27 years ago: “In November, we had 11 for Continue reading

Ants on peonies: Welcome visitors or creepy pests?

I love peonies, their flowers and their fragrance. But when ours are blooming they always seem to be covered with ants! They crawl all over the buds. Sometimes they are small ants, and sometimes large black ants. How can we get rid of them?

Ants crawl on peoniesYou don’t want to get rid of them. The ants are not harming the peonies, and in fact they may have a part to play in helping to open the dense flower buds of some varieties. According to the Heartland Peony Society, it is believed that peonies produce nectar that attracts them for this purpose. It’s normal, and temporary. After the peonies are open, the ants often disappear.

What you may want to know is how to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation: using your cut peonies in an indoor arrangement and having ants crawl out of the flowers and across the dinner table! Continue reading

A daisy dilemma

I planted a perennial garden several years back. In the past two years, the Shasta daisies have spread and are taking over the whole garden. I have dug several up but the roots are numerous. Should I just spray them to kill them?

DaisiesWhen you read comments about Shasta daisies on garden websites, it’s clear that gardeners either love them or hate them. Love them because these daisies (Leucanthemum, in botanical nomenclature) are easy to grow and bloom reliably year after year; hate them because they can be aggressive and can, indeed, muscle out plants that are more well-behaved.

Continue reading