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    Aug. 6: Sunflower Power! Learn about sunflowers as an eye-catching addition to the garden, and other uses, 2 – 3 p.m. at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center. Registration is required for this all-ages session led by naturalist Christie Wiser. Call 615-862-8539

    Aug. 27: WILDflower Power. Discover the summer wildflowers around Shelby Bottoms Nature Center, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Registration is required for this all-ages session led by Megan St. Clair. Call 615-862-8539.

     

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Continue to care for new shrubs in winter

We planted aucubas and hollies in the spring and kept them watered all summer, and they’re doing well. Do we need to water them in winter, too?

Aucuba japonica

Replenish mulch at the base of spring-planted aucuba and other shrubs.

Spring-planted shrubs that received regular water should be well-established by fall, so you can cut back on the amount of water they receive. But don’t neglect them completely. It’s a good idea to replenish the mulch, adding enough so that it’s about three inches thick. Mulch holds moisture in the soil, and also keeps it from freezing and thawing as temperatures swing from cold to warmer and back again. Remove any dead or diseased leaves from under the shrubs before you add mulch, and remember not to pile mulch up against the trunk.

One other winter grooming tip: If you have deciduous trees in the area that have dropped leaves onto the shrubs, take time to remove the leaves, especially if there are so many that they would block the sun.

As I mentioned in last week’s question-and-answer, a yard-full of leaves is a good source of mulch for those shrubs. Chop them with the mower before you spread them on the ground under the shrubs.

Mulch garden beds with fall leaves

What’s the best way to use leaves as mulch in the garden? Can we just blow them off the lawn and into the garden beds?

leaves 2Most leaves can become a good source of mulch for garden beds. And yes, you could just blow them off the grass and into the beds, but it would be better to shred them before piling them onto your garden areas. Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster; a thick layer of leaves left intact may also smother the plants underneath, and prevent water from reaching the soil.

You can chop the leaves easily by mowing over and collecting them in a bagger attachment, or by using a shredder.

These guidelines for using leaves as mulch are from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds.

*Oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds.

*Leaves can be mixed into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure.

One other piece of advice comes from Deb Beazley, a naturalist at Warner Park Nature Center who leads workshops on organic gardening: When you rake leaves, set some aside for later. Next spring and summer, when you need more mulch, you’ll have a handy source of fall leaves to use.

“Cover them in bags so they don’t decompose by the time you need them next June,” she suggests.

Replace landscape plants in fall and winter

We have lost many of the shrubs around our home. How late can we replant all of the landscaping around our residence? Is November too late?

ball burlap treesIf you are planting shrubs and trees, November is actually a good time to replant. Trees and shrubs planted when they are dormant have an easier time establishing good root systems before they begin actively growing again next spring. They will need to be watered at planting time and throughout the season, but not as often as you would have to provide water in spring or summer.

Here are general guidelines from UT/TSU Extension for planting balled-and-burlapped and container-grown trees and shrubs:

-Choose your location and begin by digging a wide hole, two or three times the width, but no deeper than the height of the root ball.

-Handle the trees carefully before you plant. Never pick up or carry a tree by its trunk, especially a balled-and-burlapped tree, due to the weight of the root ball. If they can’t be planted right away, water the trees well and place them in an area away from direct sun.

-Water a plant in a container before you take it out of the pot. After you remove the plant, cut any roots that circle the ball of soil (if the roots and soil don’t come out easily, cut the plastic away from the root ball. Don’t pull the plant out by its trunk). Use a sharp knife to make two or three vertical cuts, and gently loosen the ball to expose more roots to the soil.

-Place the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is an inch or two above the soil line. Remove any nails or rope lacing and cut away the burlap, leaving the burlap at the bottom of the root ball. If there is a wire basket, cut as much of it away as you can without disturbing the root ball.

– Backfill the hole with the soil that was removed from the hole, watering when the hole is about half full and again after you finish backfilling. Rake over the soil to even it out with the ground, and cover the area with 2 or 3 inches of mulch (keeping the mulch away from the shrub’s trunk.

-Don’t forget to provide water to newly planted shrubs and trees if the weather is dry.

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.

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.

Rosemary: Time to start over

After this winter, my rosemary looks as dead as dead can be. Is there a way to tell now whether I should go ahead and pull it up and replant, or should I wait?

RosemaryRosemary is considered a marginally hardy shrub in this part of Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a). The last few winters here have been kind to us, and most gardeners’ rosemary has survived, especially the more cold-hardy varieties such as ‘Arp’ and ‘Hill’s Hardy.’

But this winter delivered a knockout punch to everyone’s rosemary. To test for life, scratch the bark on a stem and if you see green underneath, there is still life in there. But I’m guessing it’s as dead as it looks. Might as well pull it up and start over.

For better luck keeping rosemary alive during winter, choose one of the more cold-hardy selections. The U.S National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. makes several recommendations at its web site for Rosmarinus officinalis varieties that have made it through winter in the National Herb Garden with little or no dieback — ‘Albus,’ ‘Logee’s Light Blue’ and ‘Salem’ among them (no word at the web site on whether they made it through this winter, though). As a rule, they say, cultivars with thinner leaves and lighter flowers are hardier. Prostrate types of rosemary are least hardy.

To give new rosemary a head start on surviving next and future winters, here’s what the National Arboretum experts suggest: Plant new rosemary in a location that gets full sun throughout the year, in a site sheltered from winter wind, if possible. Plant in the spring so the roots have a good, long time to become established. If your soil is a heavier clay type, mulch with gravel to reflect light and heat back into the plant and help prevent soil-borne diseases from splashing onto the leaves.

New book: Troy Marden says ‘Plant This Instead!’

Plant This InsteadMiddle Tennessee garden guru Troy Marden believes there are better choices than some of the same old plants we reach for at the nursery time after time. His new book, Plant This Instead! is out now (published by Cool Springs Press), and Troy is giving a free lecture and book signing next Saturday (April 12) at Moore & Moore Garden Center, 1826 Highway 100 in Nashville. He’ll be there 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

More on the book later. Meanwhile, I’m flipping through the copy I have here and looking for alternatives to replace some of those shrubs and perennials that bit the dust this winter.

Cheekwood’s a winner!

A few weeks ago I noted that Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art was one of the finalists for BestPublicGarden in USA Today Travel’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards list.

The votes are in, and among the 10 winners (determined by a public vote), Cheekwood placed 6th on the list.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be included in the list of 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Award winners,” said Cheekwood president Jane O. MacLeod in a press release announcing the results. “Being chosen by the public to win this award is a big honor— and it proves that Cheekwood ranks among some of the most celebrated and well-known gardens in the world.”

The results were determined by supporters who voted at the 10Best Readers’ Choice Award web site. “We are so grateful to everyone who voted for Cheekwood, both for their support and for helping us earn even more wonderful exposure,” McCleod said. Congratulations, Cheekwood!

 

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.