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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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Move irises to a new home

I have irises that will need to be moved. They have been in a very shaded spot and have never bloomed for 4 years. I am moving to a new house and would like to transplant them. I know now is not the time to transplant, but should I trim the leaves back or leave the leaves?

Irises bloom best in full sun.

Now is not a bad time to move the irises. The experts at the American Iris Society and other sources suggest mid- to late-summer as the best time for digging, dividing and moving irises, but since yours haven’t bloomed in four years, they should be happy whenever you’re able to give them a new, sunnier spot in your new home’s landscape.

Here’s the method suggested by gardening experts: Cut the leaves in a fan shape about 6 inches tall, then lift the clump or rhizomes with a spading fork, wash off the dirt, and inspect the rhizome for soft spots, damage or disease. Continue reading

Disappearing columbine

The columbine that I planted about three years ago usually starts coming up in March, but it hasn’t started growing this year. Could something have killed it?

Although it self-seeds, columbine is a short-lived perennial.

Although it self-seeds , columbine is a short-lived perennial.

Columbine (Aquilegia is the botanical name), with its lacy leaves and bell-shaped flowers, is a nice addition to spring gardens. It’s a relatively short-lived perennial, however, that owes any sense of longevity to a habit of prolific self-seeding. The original plant may last only two or three years. Continue reading

When daffodils don’t bloom

I covered my daffodils in the fall with a heavy layer of pine straw. The leaves have come up but they are not budding or blooming. Is the pine straw too acidic for these plants?

Daffodil copyAfter a long winter, we look forward to the daffodils blooming in spring, and it’s a disappointment when they don’t produce the flowers we expect.

The failure to bloom is not due to pine straw causing acid soil; daffodils – or jonquils, as we sometimes call them — tolerate a range of soil types, as long as it is well-drained and moderately fertile, and some varieties actually prefer slightly acid soil. A lot of garden experts suggest mulching daffodil beds with a light layer of pine straw. Small, early blooming daffodils may not be able to penetrate a thick layer of mulch.

So consider some of the other possible reasons daffodils don’t bloom: Continue reading

Celandine poppies bloom in spring

I have a shade garden and would love to have celandine poppies. What’s the best way to grow them?

Celandine poppyCelandine poppies, or wood poppies, (Stylophorum diphyllum) are among the prettiest flowers in a shady woodland garden in early spring. Tall stems with bright yellow flowers grow from clumps of lobed leaves in late March, April and May, before developing fuzzy seedpods. This native wildflower grows well in moist, slightly acid humus-rich soil.

When conditions are right, Celandine poppies grow and spread easily. Nashville wildflower expert Margie Hunter, in her book Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee, notes that they “readily self-sow” (other sources describe this as becoming “weedy”).  “If germination gets out of hand, just snip off the large seedpods before they open,” Hunter writes.

Consequently, they are also easy to share. Divide them in spring, or start them from seeds in a cold frame in the fall.

In today’s Tennessean: Sage, thyme and lavender are just a few of the herbs that can look as good in the landscape as they taste in the kitchen. See the story on double-duty herbs in today’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

April is also a great time to get out and meet other gardeners. Check out the Events calendar at left, and in my newspaper column at Tennessean.com.

Enjoying spring’s bluebells

One of my favorite early flowering plants is the Virginia bluebell. I have a few that were beautiful this spring, as always, but I would love to have more. How can I get these to multiply?

Virginia bluebells

Virginia bluebells

In shady woodlands and gardens with moist, rich soil, Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) grows as loose clumps of blue-green leaves that give rise to leafy stems bearing clusters of small, bell-shaped blue flowers. They flower early in the spring, go to seed, and die back by midsummer. Given time, they will spread, but you can help them along by digging and dividing the clumps. Garden experts in the Southern Living Garden Book suggest doing this in early autumn. Mark their location now so you can locate them when it’s time to divide.

There’s another early-spring plant that some call bluebells – Hyacinthoides is the botanical name – that grow from bulbs. You may also know them as wood hyacinths or Spanish bluebells. They produce clumps of strappy leaves and blue, bell-shaped flowers along tall, sturdy stems. H. hispanica is described as “prolific and vigorous,” which means that they can quickly naturalize into places where

Spanish bluebells

Spanish bluebells

you may not want them, but they grow and bloom reliably in dappled shade, they are not usually browsed by deer or rabbits, and the cut flowers are a nice addition to early-spring bouquets.

 

 

 

 

 

June: The month for daylilies in Middle Tennessee. Check out this month’s events, tasks and tips in the Garden Calendar in today’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

Daffodils may be too crowded to bloom

Our bed of daffodils has been growing for many years and has a lot of thick foliage, but just a few blooms. They should probably be divided. Can I dig them up and replant them now? 

Daff crowded Daffodil bulbs divide themselves every year or two, and the clumps begin to compete for food and space. This will affect their blooming – they’ll begin to produce fewer and fewer flowers.
So, indeed, after bulbs have been growing in the same place for many years, they may need to be dug up and divided. When the foliage turns yellow later this spring (but before it disappears completely), dig the bulbs, separate them, and replant them about 6 inches apart, 6 inches deep.
This is prime-time for daffodils in Middle Tennessee, and a little extra care and attention this time of year can improve your daffodil planting over time.


April in the garden: This could be the start of an especially satisfying – or challenging – spring. Check out the April Garden Calendar in The Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.


A wise gardener once said…
In fact, there have been many wise gardeners, and they’ve said plenty of wise things.
“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” (Jane Austen, in her novel Mansfield Park)
gardenwisdomAuthor Barbara Burn has collected many such bits of truth in The Little Green Book of Gardening Wisdom, just out this spring from Skyhorse Publishing. If you keep a garden, it’s a book that’s likely to have you nodding in agreement as you flip through the chapters.
“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. – Ruth Stout, “How to Have a Green Thumb Without An Aching Back” (1955).
Burns says in the introduction that she was surprised to discover that so many people have said so many things about gardening that deserve to be collected. “I concluded that the subject of growing things was of far more universal interest that I had anticipated, and a great deal more uplifting than all the volumes devoted to war and political history,” she writes.
“To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise. Whether the result is a horticultural masterpiece or only a modest vegetable patch, it is based on the expectation of a glorious future. This hope for the future is at the heart of all gardening.” – Marina Schinz, in Visions of Paradise (1985).
There is also practical advice, in quotes from well-known gardeners past and present.
“I feel that one of the secrets of good gardening in always to remove, ruthlessly, any plant one doesn’t like… Scrap what does not satisfy and replace it by something that will.” – Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968).
“To get the best results you must talk to your vegetables.” – Prince Charles, in a television interview in 1986.
This book of wise words is not intended to use as a how-to-garden manual. “But it will, I hope, give every reader a sense of comfort to know that we are not alone when we are down on our hands and knees fighting with weeds or planting a row of seeds that will one day bring us great pleasure.”
The Little Green Book of Gardening Wisdom is available at Skyhorse Publishing in hardcover ($16.95) and as an ebook.

Keep your daffodils happy

After a long winter, the daffodils are finally beginning to bloom! Do they need any special care to make them bloom better?

Daffodils from AnnaDaffodils are generally easy-care spring bulbs, but a little extra care each year can increase and improve blooms over time. The American Daffodil Society offers these tips:

As daffodils bloom, topdress the soil with 0-10-10 or 0-0-50 fertilizer. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizer, which may produce more foliage than flowers.

Daffodils need water while they’re growing, so if there is a dry spell, provide regular water until after blooming has stopped.

After daffodils bloom, leave the foliage until it turns yellow. This is the time the bulbs are gathering strength to bloom again next year.

The weather in late winter and early spring can be capricious, and it’s always possible that a hard frost or freeze can cause the stems to collapse, leaving the flowers drooping to the ground. If that happens, go ahead and cut some of the flowers and enjoy them in a vase indoors.

Vote for Cheekwood!

Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art is one of the finalists for BestPublicGarden in USA Today Travel’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards list. Those who love and enjoy the beautiful gardens are encouraged to vote daily for Cheekwood in an online poll to help win the award.

Our beloved Middle-Tennessee favorite is in good company. The list, compiled by expert, author and lecturer Cindy Brockway, also includes ButchartGardens of Victoria, British Columbia; ChicagoBotanic Garden in Chicago, Illinois; HuntingtonBotanical   Garden in Los Angeles, California; LongwoodGardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and United   StatesBotanical Garden in Washington, D.C., among others.

“Thanks to recent high-profile exhibitions, expanded programming, and recognition like the 10Best list, Cheekwood is seen more and more as a national treasure, right in our back yard,” says Cheekwood President and CEO Jane O. MacLeod. “We invite our community to help build our national reputation by voting for Cheekwood in the 10Best online poll.”

To vote for Cheekwood, visit 10best.com/awards/travel/best-public-garden between now and March 31. Vote early and often – yes, you can vote every day. As of this writing, Cheekwood ranked a very close third among the 20 finalists for total votes.

Iris time in Tennessee

QUESTION: When is the right time to divide irises?

Bearded irises can be divided after they finish blooming.

Bearded irises, the large, showy flowers that have fuzzy patches on the outer petals, are putting on a pretty nice show across the region right now, and they’ll continue to bloom for several weeks.

After they have finished blooming, the rhizomes can be thinned out and divided if needed. But if you don’t get to it right away, you can wait until later. Irises are resilient and can survive being moved as long as they are re-planted properly.

Garden expert Judy Lowe recommends this method in her book, Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

Cut the leaves into a 6-inch high fan shape, then lift the clump with a spading fork and gently wash the dirt from the tubers. Cut off any soft, mushy or damaged parts, then cut the rhizome into smaller pieces, each with an eye or bud, using a sharp knife.

Lowe recommends dipping each rhizome into a fungicide solution to reduce the chance of fungal problems; one part liquid bleach to nine parts water is one suggestion to use.

Replant the rhizome sections close to the soil surface and water them well. Rhizomes of bearded irises should be planted so that their tops are visible above the soil. Iris beds should not be mulched.

In general, you may need to think iris beds every three to five years.

News & Events

Nashville garden specialist Barbara Wise has a passion for pots – that is, planting and growing container gardens. She now has a new book out: Container Gardening For All Seasons.

“I wrote it for new gardeners and for those who like simple (easy) steps to follow that will help them succeed as gardeners,” she says.

The book features 101 container “recipes” that any novice gardener can follow – she tells what plants to buy, what size container to use, how to place the plants, and substitutions to consider if you can’t find (or don’t like) the suggested “ingredients.” But it’s also nice for experienced gardeners who are looking for new ideas. It’s published by Cool Springs Press; retails for $19.99 and you can order it through Parnassus Books and Amazon.

Definitely not stars in your lawn

QUESTION: Every year, the small white flowers called star-of-Bethlehem pop up in our lawn. The flowers are cute, but they’re everywhere! It makes an ugly lawn. How can I get rid of it?

Star-of-Bethlehem: Get rid of it if you can.

This time of year, star-of-Bethlehem shoots up in lawns, on creek banks, in wild meadows. They are indeed everywhere – even in gardens, where unsuspecting gardeners may plant them because they are a pretty little wildflower. The bad news is that once they get a foothold in your lawn, they are tough to eradicate.

Star-of-Bethlehem is a cool-season perennial that grows from small bulbs. The foliage resembles wild garlic, and the small white flowers each have six petals. The bulbs multiply rapidly, and are spread easily. After it blooms, the plant dies down and remains dormant until next spring.

As you might expect, it’s considered an invasive exotic here. The plant is native to North Africa, parts of Eastern Europe and western Asia. UT’s Institute of Agriculture notes that it has become a weed problem on athletic fields and golf courses. Even more bad news: the flowers and bulbs of star-of-Bethlehem are poisonous.

You could try digging it up, but that would be a monstrous task because you need to get every little bulb. UT Extension has a list of control products (most of which are to be used only by professionals). There may be very little you can do except wait it out, and don’t spread them around. The USDA Forest Service is very clear about this: “Do not plant this species.”

 

Banish the Bradford pear

QUESTION: When should Bradford pear trees be pruned? Is now a good time? How far back should you prune them?

Bradford pear trees are the first to flower in spring, but they are not a good choice for landscape trees.

I’ll answer the last question first, and echo the thoughts of many landscape and forestry experts who believe that these trees should get just one pruning cut – about an inch above the ground.

Seriously, Bradford pears (Pyrus calleryana Bradford’) are not good landscape trees, no matter how lovely they are this time of year. They live fast and die young – a 25-year-old Bradford pear is probably near the end of its life. Because their heavy limbs grow at narrow angles, they tend to split apart. And because they shoot up so quickly and easily, this import from China has been placed on alert as a possible threat by the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council. So, is it time to reconsider?

But back to the question: It’s good to prune trees in late winter, while they’re still dormant. As you are no doubt aware if you’re in Middle Tennessee, “late winter” now seems to mean the same as “spring,” and most things are no longer dormant. So if you need to prune, do it now, before the tree leafs out fully and you can still see the branch structure easily.

Really, though, wouldn’t you rather have something else? Landscape professionals suggest a couple of good native alternatives to the Bradford pear: downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arboria), which has white flowers in spring, dark green foliage in summer and red berries in the fall; and Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), white flowers, green leaves, small blue-black fruit enjoyed by birds in the fall.

Either would be better than a Bradford pear, guaranteed.