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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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Prune boxwood in winter

Our boxwoods are quite large – too large for the space they’re in. I meant to cut them back last summer but never got around to it. Is it too late to prune them now?

boxwoodMost boxwoods don’t require regular pruning unless you’re keeping them sheared in a formal garden space, but if you need to control the size of the shrub, now – or late winter to early spring – is actually the best time to do the job. Continue reading

Gardenia is worth pampering

I received a gardenia plant in a 3-gallon plastic pot and a large, beautiful ceramic pot to plant it in for Mother’s Day. It’s outdoors in an area that receives part sun. Only one bloom has opened, but it’s full of buds and will be covered in white flowers soon, I hope. When should I repot it into the new pot? Are gardenias hardy in Middle Tennessee?

GardeniaIf buds have formed since you received this lovely gift, I’d wait to repot it until after it has finished blooming. Gardenias don’t always settle into a new environment easily, and a typical response to such a move is to stop flowering.

After the flowers fade, get ready to pamper this temperamental beauty. Continue reading

The beauty of beautyberry

A friend gave us a cutting from a beautyberry shrub a couple of years ago, and the new shrub bloomed and produced berries for the first time this year. When can we take cuttings to plant more of them?

beautyberry 2You can increase your plantings of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) by taking softwood stem cuttings in summer or fall, according to the USDA Plants Database. Cut 4” – 6” long stems, dip the cut ends into rooting hormone and stick them into potting mix or other rooting media. Water the cuttings and cover them with plastic to keep the material moist. Roots should develop in a few weeks.

After rooting begins, remove the plastic for longer intervals each day for a week or so, finally removing it permanently. Plant the rooted cuttings and water them well.

The mature fruit — those beautiful berries — can also be planted in the fall to germinate next spring.

Beautyberry, which also goes by the names sourbush, bunchberry and French mulberry, is an easy-to-grow perennial shrub that is native to the U.S. Several special of birds are drawn to the purple berries in late summer and fall, as are squirrels, raccoons, possums and deer.

And interesting note from the USDA Plant Database: farmers in the early 20th century crushed the leaves and rubbed them on themselves to repel mosquitoes and other biting bugs. Native American cultures also used the roots, leaves and branches for medicinal purposes, to treat malarial fevers, rheumatism, stomach aches, dysentery and colic.

October in the garden: Click here for a list of October garden tips & tasks.

Prune roses for better blooms

We have a rose bush that is out of control and really needs pruning. Can it be done now? Or is it better to wait until next spring?

Yellow rose

Rose experts say that roses can be pruned anytime they are actively growing. Start by trimming out the older wood first, along with any dead or dying canes. You may also want to remove canes in the center of the bush to provide better air flow, any canes that cross and rub each other, or any twiggy growth that might be tempting to spider mites.

The Nashville Rose Society provides general pruning guidelines: each pruning cut should be made about ¼-inch above an outward-facing bud eye (where the leaf is attached to the stem). Use sharp bypass pruning shears, which will make a clean cut without crushing the stem.

An added tip: remove the spent blooms of roses regularly to encourage the plant to bloom more.

Serious rose growers may do a more severe type of pruning in the fall to winterize bush roses. Nashville Rose Society also provides general guidelines for this process: Stop fertilizing roses early in August to allow the plant to slow down producing new growth, then in early October, stop cutting off the dead flowers. In late November or early December, cut the canes back to 2 to 3 feet and place a mound of mulch around the bush.

Next spring, once the weather begins to warm up, move the mulch away from the roses and prune to about 12 inches to get new growth.

In Saturday’s Tennessean

land trust signThe Ernest and Berdelle Campbell Land Trust Garden is a quarter-acre oasis in Nashville’s tightly-packed Germantown neighborhood. “This will always be green space,” Berdelle Campbell says. Read about the garden and Berdelle’s agreement with The Land Trust for Tennessee in Saturday’s Tennessean, and find more here about my visit with Berdelle, and more photos from the garden.

Free daylilies!

A Middle Tennessee reader emailed last week to say that she has a back yard full of daylilies that she can no longer take care of, and she is trying to find a home for them. “There is a huge assortment in lots of different colors and types, mostly full size but some miniatures,” she wrote. “My grandmother and mom collected them over the year and I don’t really know any of their names.”

If you are looking for daylilies, are willing to take a chance on sizes and colors, and can dig them up yourself, she is willing to donate. Interested? Email me at gloria@gloriaballard.com and I will put you in touch.

Fortunately, the best time to dig and divide daylilies is coming up. I wrote about how to do that task here.

Rose of Sharon is an easy summer favorite

I remember a large Rose of Sharon shrub that grew in my grandmother’s yard that had big, pretty flowers every summer. I’d like to have one for my own garden. Can this shrub be started from cuttings?

Lil Kim Proven Winners

Lil’ Kim Rose of Sharon (H. syriacus) from Proven Winners Plants.

The old-fashioned rose of Sharon, or shrub althaea (Hibiscus syriacus), is easy to grow, and often pops up in unexpected places from dropped seeds. It can also be propagated from stem cuttings. Here are general guidelines for taking cuttings of rose of Sharon and other woody ornamentals:

Cut lengths of softwood (soft, succulent new growth) or semi-hardwood (partially mature wood of the current season’s growth) about six inches long from a healthy host plant. Remove the bottom leaves, and dip the cut ends in rooting hormone powder. Stick the cut ends about one-third their length into a rooting medium that drains well, such as perlite or vermiculite. Cover the cuttings with some sort of plastic covering to maintain a humid environment, and place them in indirect light.

Keep the rooting medium moist until roots develop. It will likely take several weeks, but you’ll know the cuttings have grown roots when you tug gently on the cuttings and feel resistance. Transplant them into containers to allow them to grow to a larger size before you plant them in the garden.

Rose of Sharon grows and blooms best in full sun, and thrives in almost any well-drained soil. Once established, it tolerates heat and drought. Flowers bloom on new growth, so if it needs pruning, you can do that task in winter.

Bring spring in early by forcing blooms

How do you force forsythia and other flowering shrubs to bloom indoors?

Branches of flowering quince can be coaxed to bloom indoors.

Branches of flowering quince can be coaxed to bloom indoors.

Can’t wait for spring? Branches cut from those early-flowering shrubs can be coaxed to bloom indoors weeks before they start to bloom outside. Here are tips for forcing branches into bloom from garden author Judy Lowe, in Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

On a day when the temperature is above freezing, cut 12- to 18-inches stems with the biggest buds. Scrape the cut ends of the branches about three inches up, or crush the ends of the branches with a hammer, and place the branches in a bucket of warm water for 24 hours.

Pour out the water and fill the bucket with cool water mixed with floral preservative, (which you can find at a florist or craft supply store). Place the container in a cool, dark spot.

When the buds begin to show color, move the container into the light, but not in direct sun. Add water to the vase or replace it as needed, and add more floral preservative. Move the vase into full sun when the flowers begin to open.

Branches from many early-flowering shrubs and trees can be forced into bloom. Some of the favorites (and easiest) are forsythia, flowering quince, spicebush and kerria, Judy Lowe says.

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.