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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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Will old seeds sprout?

I have packets of lettuce and spinach seeds left from two, three and more years ago. If I plant them this year, will they grow?

seed-packets-oldSeeds of many vegetables can remain viable for at least a couple of years, but if you want to be sure they’re still good, you can perform a simple test that garden author Judy Lowe describes in her book, Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

Place ten seeds, evenly spaced, on a wet paper towel. Roll the towel up with the seeds inside and seal it in a plastic bag. Place the bag in a warm spot, such as the top of the refrigerator.

Begin checking the seeds after three days to see whether any seeds have sprouted. After fifteen days, you’ll have the germination percentage (for example, if eight of the ten seeds have sprouted, you have an 80 percent germination rate).

“If the rate is 50 to 70 percent, you’ll know to sow the seeds more thickly than usual,” Lowe suggests. “When the germination rate is less than 50 percent, buy fresh seeds.”

Put your backyard birds on the map

Each year, scientists collect data on wild birds, based on reports from people who enjoy watching them in their own landscapes. The Great Backyard Bird Count, held each February, is a citizen-science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology and the National Audubon Society that provides data that helps investigate a variety of questions about bird populations, migration patterns, diseases and more.

tufted-titmouse-wood-thrust-shop-s-poe

Tufted titmouse on a shelled peanut feeder. Photo courtesy The Wood Thrush Shop/Photo by S. Poe

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count is Feb. 17 – 20. Anyone can participate. Create a free online account at eBird (http://ebird.org), a real-time, online checklist program, and for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see.

How to attract birds to your yard? “We like to say that 80 – 90 percent initially is the type of habitat you’re in – open field, more wooded, if there’s water source nearby – these are all the main contributing factor to what type of birds you’ll see,” says Jamie Bacon at The Wood Thrush Shop in Nashville. Bird feeders – and the seeds you put in them — also help bring in the winged visitors. “As far as feeding birds, sunflower seed is the no. 1 attractant to songbirds. Pretty much all the songbirds with sunflowers,” Bacon says.

My story on the different types of bird feeders to use in your landscape is online now at Tennessean.com. To learn more about the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit the Web site, http://gbbc.birdcount.org.

 

Coffee grounds as mulch? Don’t do it!

I get coffee grounds from my local coffee shop. Can I use them directly on the soil as mulch (without mixing anything into it except to rake it into the soil)? The grounds are wet when I get them from the coffee shop. Should I let them dry out a little before putting it on the soil?

coffee groundsIn just about every listing of “ingredients” for a successful compost pile, you’ll find coffee grounds among the nitrogen-rich kitchen waste “green” ingredients that make up the mix. But it’s a mistake to use coffee grounds alone. They are very acidic, and over time will change the pH of the soil – the measure of its acidity or alkalinity – to the point that plants that prefer alkaline soil will suffer. Continue reading

Plant potatoes in early spring

This year I’d like to grow potatoes in our raised bed garden. Can the seed potatoes be planted this early in the spring?

Potatoes in bloom.

Potatoes in bloom.

Growing your own potatoes is a good way to try varieties that you won’t find in the grocery store, but make sure you get the timing right. Potatoes that are planted in soil that is too wet and cold won’t grow, but if the likelihood of a hard freeze is no longer a danger in your area, then now is a good time to plant them. Continue reading

March gardening tips & tasks

March can be fickle. Will it be warm? Or will we feel bone-chilling blasts of cold wind? Are there sunny days? Or does the rain fall nonstop for days on end? Will there be tornadoes? Whatever is in store weather-wise, we can be sure that winter is on its way out, spring is about to arrive. Get back out in the garden with these late-winter/early spring garden tasks. Continue reading

Blackberry lilies are lovely, low low-maintenance plants

 

I’d like to grow blackberry lilies in my new garden. When is the best time to plant them?

Black berry lily

Seeds in late summer resemble blackberries.

Blackberry lilies (Iris domestica) are easy-to-grow plants that add an interesting touch to garden beds and borders. When the leaves emerge, they resemble bearded irises, growing in a fan shape. The six-petaled red-spotted yellow flowers bloom about mid-summer atop tall, slender stems. In late summer, the flowers give way to seed capsules that split open to reveal shiny black seed clusters that look like blackberries.

Blackberry lilies grow from tubers. Plant them in average, well-drained soil, about an inch deep, any time the ground is not frozen.

blackberry lily 2Horticulturists at the Missouri Botanical Garden web site suggest planting them in full sun, but gardeners report that they tolerate partial shade and still bloom well. Clumps of blackberry lilies expand by creeping rhizomes, and the plants may also self-seed if growing conditions are right. Provide regular water as the plants grow and bloom.

 

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.

Dig and divide Daisies, Susans

When is the best time to divide and replant black-eyed Susans and Shasta daisies, in the fall or spring?
black eyed susans

If Shasta daisies and black-eyed Susans are crowding out other plants in a perennial bed, you can dig and divide them in the fall to rejuvenate them.

Both have a tendency to grow thin at the center of a clump of plants, and especially for black-eyed Susans, garden author Troy Marden, in his Southern Gardener’s Handbook, suggests digging vigorous plants from the edges of the clump and transplanting them back to the middle, so that the clump remains full.

Editors of the Southern Living Garden Book suggest this method for digging and dividing perennials: use a shovel or spading fork to cut into the soil 6 – 12 inches beyond the plant’s perimeter, then dig under the roots and lift the clump out of the ground. Tease some of the soil from the root ball, then pull the clump apart, or cut it into sections using clippers or a sharp-bladed shovel. Trim damaged roots, stems or leaves, then replant the divisions.

If you’re moving divisions to a new bed, it’s best to have the bed prepared before you dig them up. Both plants thrive in full sun in well-drained soil that is kept evenly moist. Black-eyed Susans are especially durable once they are established.