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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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March garden tips & tasks

March can be fickle: some days feel like spring, others bring blasts of winter. It will probably rain, but then again, maybe not. In Middle Tennessee, home of The Garden Bench, tornado warnings are commonplace this time of year and sometimes they strike – as they did yesterday, across three counties with significant damage and loss in each. Thoughts and prayers to all those families and individuals affected by the devastating storm.

Whatever is in store weather-wise, winter is on its way out, spring is about to arrive. If you are yearning to be in the garden, there are plenty of ways to enjoy it.

Remove winter-killed plants, prune dead branches, clear out broken twigs and limbs, replenish mulch.

Most trees and shrubs are still dormant, so it’s a good time to do any necessary pruning, especially for shrubs that flower on new stems. Do not prune shrubs that flower on last year’s growth – azaleas, hydrangeas and other ornamentals the bloom early in the spring.

Sow seeds of lettuce, kale, sugar snap peas, radishes, carrots, beets and spinach as soon as the soil can be worked.

Run the mower over beds of liriope (monkey grass) or mondo, and cut back other ornamental grasses before new shoots emerge.

Prepare new garden beds, and replenish old vegetable beds by adding compost or other soil amendments. If you are planning to build raised beds, gather materials now and begin building to have them ready when planting time arrives.

Set out transplants of cool-season vegetables (lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage).

Add an inch or two of mulch around shrubs. Don’t pile the mulch against the trunk of shrubs or trees.

Enjoy the daffodils in the garden, but cut some to bring inside, too. As soon as the flowers open, use sharp scissors to cut the stems close to the ground and place them in water. Before you arrange them in a vase, snip off a half-inch of the stem and place them in the water-filled vase right away. The freshest daffodils should last indoors four or five days, especially if they are kept in a cool room.

Shape up some of those hardy herbs. Now is a good time to prune rosemary and sage.

Winter annual wildflowers (or “weeds,” as some call them), such as chickweed and henbit, continue to sprout; dig them up – roots and all, if you can — before they bloom and scatter their seeds.

Dig and divide perennials as needed. Share extras with friends. Fluff up the mulch around azaleas and other shrubs in the landscape, and add an inch or two if necessary.

Do any necessary pre-season mower maintenance; clean and sharpen your garden tools.

Early spring is a good time to prune and shape boxwoods.

Apply a light dose of fertilizer to perennials that are beginning to emerge.

After daffodil flowers fade, allow the foliage to remain until it turns brown. This will take several weeks, but it’s necessary for the bulb to renew itself to bloom again next year.

 

FEBRUARY Garden Tips & Tasks

Flowering quince

In Middle Tennessee, where The Garden Bench calls home, February can be unpredictable. One day the temperature may be in the 50s or 60s, with sun and blue skies; the next day there could be snow.

I write from Zone 7A on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Map, where the low temperature could be 0-5 degrees F., but in truth, the temperature rarely gets that low. Still, there’s the chance that it could, so mid-winter, wherever you are in the region, is a good time to take it easy. Don’t rush the season, but spend time planning for it. Spring, the best season for enjoying a garden, is on its way.

  • Got cabin fever? A little time in the garden can be a cure. Get outside on a sunny day and pick up any trash, twigs and other garden debris that may be littering your landscape.
  • Plant a tree. On a day when the soil isn’t frozen, dig a hole that is slightly wider than the tree’s root ball, but no deeper. Place the tree in the hole; replace the soil and water it well. Add mulch, but do not mound it up around the tree’s trunk.
  • Lenten roses (Helleborus) should be blooming now. Enjoy the blooms indoors by floating them in a bowl of water (an idea via Instagram from garden expert Brie Arthur, author of Gardening With Grains and The Foodscape Revolution.)
  • If you insist on pristine, weed-free beds in your kitchen garden, dig up the deadnettle, henbit, chickweed and other winter annuals that are likely beginning to emerge before they take over your garden beds. (Chickweed is edible, you know. Good for salads.)
  • Turn your attention to houseplants, but don’t overdo it. Too much water can be as bad as too little. Before you add water to the plant’s soil, check the soil’s moisture level by sticking your finger in.
  • Welcome birds into your garden by providing nesting boxes. Cavity-dwelling birds may start a family in a simple box with a 1½-inch entry.
  • Pansies in containers may benefit from a little attention. Snip off dead flowers and ragged leaves and provide a dose of liquid fertilizer (follow label directions) to perk them up and get them through the rest of the winter.
  • Wild onions may grow tall in an otherwise winter-clipped lawn. If you don’t like the look, go after them with a trowel to dig out the bulbs and roots. This is easier just after a rain, when the ground is moist.
  • Some vegetables can be direct-sown in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Later in the month, plant spinach, lettuce, radishes and snap peas in the kitchen garden. A gardening friend here in Middle Tennessee likes to follow an old gardening tradition of planting peas on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, she says, the weather doesn’t always cooperate.
  • Coax branches of late-winter or spring-flowering shrubs and trees to bloom indoors. Cut 2- to 3-foot branches after the buds begin to swell, split the bottoms of the stems, then place them in a vase of water in a cool room. When the buds begin to show color, move the vase into a warmer area, and welcome spring into your home.

Silky dogwood shows its colors

Each month, UT Gardens at the University of Tennessee suggests a Plant of the Month to garden writers and gardeners in the state. The January, 2020 featured plant is Silky Dogwood (Cornus amonum), a deciduous shrub native to the eastern U.S. that has small white flowers in late spring and clusters of blue berries in late summer and fall.

The silky dogwood that’s featured this month, though – a variety called ‘Cayenne’ — shows its best feature in winter, when the stems can stand out in bright, beautiful red against an otherwise brown landscape, or (if we’re lucky) with a background of fresh snow.

“Red twig dogwoods are hard to beat for their dramatic colorful show of stems in the winter,” says Jason Reeves, a research horticulturist at UT Gardens in Jackson, TN. Common cultivars include ‘Baileyi,’ ‘Cardinal,’ ‘Isanti,’ ‘Winter Flame’ and others. Continue reading

March into the garden with these tips and tasks

Gardeners in Middle Tennessee (home of The Garden Bench) know that, in spite of what the calendar says, early spring has arrived. It’s almost March, and buds are swelling, bulbs are up and many are blooming, tips of favorite perennials are poking up through the mulch. And while we know that winter can – probably will – visit us again in a few days, we can get outdoors and enjoy the emergence of the new season with these early-spring tips and tasks.

Spanish bluebells emerging

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

Add a dose of fertilizer to perennials as soon as you see new growth. Keep it light; too much fertilizer may result in lanky growth.

Cut back liriope and other ornamental grasses. It’s easier now that it will be once new growth emerges.

If your fescue lawn looks a little skimpy, overseed early this month. Fescue grows best when the weather is still cool. It’s best to wait until early fall for a complete lawn renovation.

Plant lettuce and other cool-weather crops

Herb transplants that don’t mind cool weather — parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano – can go in the ground now. And of course you can also plant seeds and transplants of radishes, lettuce, spinach and other cool-season vegetables.

Clip dead stems from perennial herbs – thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary (if your rosemary survived; many Middle Tennessee gardeners’ rosemary plants succumbed to the cold this winter). Pruning those perennial herbs encourages vigorous new growth. Remove mulch or leaves that may be covering perennials in garden beds.

If you need to prune nandinas, flowering quince and other airy shrubs, don’t shear the shrubs. Reach in and remove about a third of the branches at ground level.

Give pansies a light dose of fertilizer as they continue to bloom through early spring.

When you cut daffodils and other early-spring flowers 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.

 

Planting tulips in winter, try containers

I have a bag of tulip bulbs from last fall that I never got around to planting. Is it too late? They’ve been in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, and some of them have started to sprout in the bag.

Ideally, of course, tulip bulbs should have been planted last fall, at the very latest by early winter. But even at this late date, those bulbs would probably be happier in soil than in the bag. Placing them in the fridge is a good idea; tulips need time to chill before they start to grow in spring (which is why you should plant them in the fall).

Since you’ve got nothing to lose, why not try experimenting, planting the bulbs in a pot? Gardener Elizabeth Licata, writing for Fine Gardening magazine, suggests this technique: Continue reading

Force blooms for an early touch of spring

Forcing branches of early-flowering shrubs into bloom indoors is a quick way to bring a little spring into your home.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Stems from many late-winter flowering shrubs and trees flower readily indoors under the right conditions, says Judy Lowe, author of Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky: Some of the favorites (and easiest) are forsythia, flowering quince, spicebush and kerria.

Here are Judy’s tips for coaxing branches into bloom:

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

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.

Early in the month

If you haven’t already gotten those warm-season vegetables in the ground, plant them now! Tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans, eggplant and other favorites will get off to a fast start now that the weather is warm.

zinnias-1

Set out bedding plants of zinnias and other summer annuals.

Set out bedding plants of zinnias, celosia, snapdragon, begonias, petunias, coleus – all the favorite summer annuals.

Plant plenty of basil in a sunny location to use in summer recipes. Clip and use it frequently, which allows the plants to grow sturdier. Snip off flowers as they begin to form. Continue reading

April garden tips & tasks

Dogwood blossomsSpring — however capricious it may be — has arrived, and it’s time to head back outdoors, keeping an eye on the weather. Gardeners in Middle Tennessee, Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home, are anxious to get the season started. Warmer areas are already in full swing; if it’s cooler where you are, it’s getting close!

Here’s what’s on your garden to-do list for April. 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