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    Nov. 17: Perennial Plant Society of Middle Tennessee meets at Cheekwood's Botanic Hall. Speaker is Lee Patrick of Invasive Plant Control Inc. Refreshments at 6:30, meeting at 7 p.m. www.ppsmt.org.

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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.

Tropical hibiscus adjusts to winter indoors

Question: I had two hibiscus trees in pots outdoors last summer and brought them in for the winter. I placed them in front of a sunny window, but now most of the leaves have turned yellow and fallen off. It does appear that new leaves are trying to grow. What should we do to keep these beautiful plants alive?

Hibiscus c Rojypala wikimedia commonsWhen you bring tropical hibiscus plants (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) indoors, they respond to the lower level of light by dropping their leaves, so your plants are doing what is normal. You can see that the plant is healthy, because new leaves are already sprouting.

To keep it healthy while it’s indoors this winter, provide water when the soil dries out to within 1 inch of the surface and feed it lightly every few weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Watch for spider mites, and use insecticidal soap to keep them under control.

A hibiscus growing outdoors can grow to unmanageable size, so now might be a good time to prune it, and if the plant needs repotting, it’s a good time to take care of that chore, as well.

Return the hibiscus to its outdoor home when the weather warms up again in the spring.

Garden events in Middle Tennessee

Now until Christmas: Gardens of Babylon garden center, located at the Nashville Farmer’s Market, is partnering with Metro-funded Stanford Montessori Elementary to raise funds for the Donelson-area school. Students have filled out Christmas tree tags with their names and aspirations to attach to the freshly cut firs at Gardens of Babylon; for each tagged tree purchased, the garden center will donate a portion of the sale to the school to help buy school supplies and various educational items.

Check out the garden center’s Facebook page for other events and activities.

Dec. 21: Winter Solstice. Celebrate the shortest day of the year (and the return to longer days) at WarnerParkNatureCenter, where you can watch the sunset and walk through the woods along a luminary-lit pathway, make a wreath, hear a presentation by an astronomer and enjoy other first-day-of-winter activities. The all-ages program is led by Shannon Moore and Melissa Donahue, is 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. call to register, 615- 352-6299.

Put this on your calendar: The 2014 Nashville Lawn & Garden Show will run from Thursday, February 27, through Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. This year’s theme is “Wine & Roses” and will offer visitors the chance to sample wine from area vineyards.

Leave gladiolus in the ground?

We planted gladiolus in the ground and in containers this summer. I’ve heard they need to be dug up and stored over the winter. Really?

glads orange garden benchGladiolus are tender summer-flowering plants that grow from corms, and where you live will probably determine whether to dig them up or not. Here in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a), the recommendation from the University of Tennessee Extension is to dig up and dry the corms after the foliage dies back and before a heavy frost, but the truth is, most gardeners I talk to here leave the corms in the ground and they usually survive.

In colder areas, they should be dug and stored. The Web site of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service (in Indiana) for example, says that gladiolus corms should be dug after frost. Dig the corms by loosening the soil so that you can pull the plant out of the ground. Shake off the loose soil and allow the corms to dry in the sun for a day or two. Cut the foliage off 1 – 2 inches above the corms and store them in a cool, dry place.

Plant the corms again after the soil has warmed up, in late April or May. By planting in two-week intervals between May and July, you can have a succession of blooms for several weeks beginning about mid-summer.

Protect banana trees from the cold

'Texas Star' banana. Photo by Dave G.

‘Texas Star’ banana. Photo by Dave G.

We planted a new ‘Texas Star’ banana tree this spring. It’s growing and looks great, but how do we protect it this winter? We live in Middle Tennessee, and it is planted in an open area near a pool.

The ‘Texas Star’ banana is said to be a cold-hardy variety, but it still needs coddling over the winter here in Zone 7a, where temperatures regularly fall below freezing. Once they’re exposed to a couple of frosty nights, the leaves will be reduced to a wilted mush. The important thing is to protect the underground rhizomes. The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture grows an impressive Hardy Banana in the UT Gardens in Knoxville, and provides this information for overwintering a banana plant:

Just before frost is expected, use a clean, sharp saw to cut the stems and leaves down to about 8 – 10 inches above the ground, then pile a thick layer of mulch over the crown. They say it’s best to use a heavy mulch (pine bark or hardwood), which won’t blow away easily. Others suggest you cover the stump with the leaves you cut from the plant, or wrap the stump with a blanket, and cover it with an overturned plastic garbage can.

In the spring, remove the mulch after the danger of frost is past, and the rhizome will send up new shoots and grow rapidly when the weather has warmed.

By the way, in this area banana trees are grown for their exotic foliage; it takes a long time to grow bananas, and summer here just isn’t long enough (though if you’ve grown bananas here in Zone 7a, I’d love to hear from you!).

Time to bring houseplants back indoors

We have had some of our houseplants outdoors for summer, but now that it’s time to bring them back in, how do we get rid of the bugs and insects that are on the plants and in the pots? 

philodendron outdoorsIndoor plants that spend the summer outdoors should be brought back inside well before nights begin to get too cool. Start the process early so you won’t be hustling your plants into a warm area on the evening before the first predicted frost, and so you’ll have time to deal with insects that may try to hitchhike into your home.

In the book Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky, garden author Judy Lowe provides this advice on getting houseplants ready to return indoors:

“Remove all yellowed or damaged leaves and faded flowers. Clean all foliage, top and bottom. Clean splattered dirt off the pots. If containers can’t be scrubbed clean, consider new pots or hide the pots in a plastic-lined basket or a decorative container.”

Here’s how Lowe suggests you make sure there are no unwelcome visitors coming in with the returning houseplants:

“Mix up a tub or bucket of 5 parts warm water and 1 part insecticidal soap. Remove plants from their pots, place them in the mixture, and let the plants stand for an hour.” Lowe says that even after doing this, it’s a good idea to keep plants that spent summer outdoors isolated for a few weeks from plants that stayed inside. “Sometimes a stray insect manages to get in anyway, or insect eggs hatch,” she writes. “The problem will be easier to deal with when you can keep the infestation confined to one or two plants.”


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