• Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Upcoming events in Middle Tennessee

    The Nashville Lawn and Garden Show will return to The Fairgrounds Nashville Expo Center Thursday, March 3 through Sunday, March 6, 2022. More info at www.nashvillelawnandgardenshow.com.

     

     

  • Categories

  • Archives

Get Your Houseplants Through the Cold

It’s winter, finally, and even though the daylight stretches a bit longer each day, our houseplants are still feeling the effects of the long, dark nights. Here’s how to help them through the shorter, darker days of winter.

Water

During the growing seasons, most houseplants require more moisture to help feed those actively growing roots and foliage. But in winter, some of your favorites may need less. Factors that determine their water needs depend on the species, as well as the air temperature and the container they’re in. You’ll want to be careful not to over-water, which could cause roots to rot.

One good way to determine if it’s time to water is by checking the soil moisture with your finger. The potting mix may feel dry on the surface, but poke a finger an inch or so into the soil to test for moisture. If it still feels dry, it’s time to water.

Of course, if the leaves are drooping, the plant is most likely telling you it’s thirsty, but in some plants, that could be a sign of too much water. Before you automatically fill up the watering can, get to know the plants’ individual needs.

Humidity

One thing about heated indoor air in winter: it’s dry. And if your houseplants are not the type that prefer an arid environment, they won’t live up to their potential unless you provide the humidity – the amount of water vapor in the air – they crave.

There are several ways to raise the humidity level around plants: Mist them occasionally with a fine spray of water; place them on watertight, pebble-lined trays filled halfway with water; group them close together so that they form their humid own micro-climates. If you can put them in a bathroom or other space that is naturally more humid but still provide the light they require, your work is done.

Fertilizer

In general, many houseplants are going through a period of slower growth or dormancy, and don’t need as much fertilizer as they might when they are actively growing. An exception may be plants that are growing under lights. If you do find the need to provide nutrients, feed plants when the soil is already moist to avoid possible damage to the plant’s root system.

Plant pests

In spite of best efforts, sometimes unwanted guests appear on your houseplants. Aphids, mealybugs, scale insects and mites are among the most common pests. Left unchecked, they can cause damage and weaken the plant. And since there are no natural predators inside your house — no birds, ladybugs or other beneficial insects — they can multiply rapidly and move from one plant to another. If you spot any of these pests, take action to keep your plants healthy during the winter months.

It’s also important to keep the plants and the area around them clean. Remove wilted leaves and dead, dry foliage from the soil before they rot or grow mold, and sweep up fallen leaves and debris that could harbor bacteria or fungi. 

Find this article + more information about winter care for houseplants at Gardens of Babylon.

Tomatoes are ripe, but not ready

The tomatoes I grow ripen nicely and come off the plant easily, but when I cut them to use, the flesh is white and firm. Can you advise?

It’s certainly disappointing to cut into what appears to be a ripe tomato and find it still white or green inside. Garden experts suggest several possible causes, including nutrient deficiencies in the soil, insect damage, or even adverse weather conditions. Continue reading

Transplanting roses in the ‘wrong’ season

We are moving from one home to another this summer. We have a rose bush in our garden that was a gift for a special occasion that we planted about three years ago, and we’d like to take it with us. Is it possible to transplant a rose bush? It’s not very large, but it has a few blooms on it now.

Rose

The best times to transplant roses are in early spring or in the fall, but if, for whatever reason, mid-summer is when you have to do it, then give it the best care possible. Here is advice from Marty Reich, a consulting rosarian with the Nashville Rose Society and American Rose Society: Continue reading

Bottle trees as art in the landscape: Meet Stephanie Dwyer

bottle-treeMy story in The Tennessean about using art in landscape design (Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016) put me in touch with Stephanie Dwyer, a Paris, Tenn. metal artist who has taken an idea from centuries-old folklore and given it new life: Stephanie makes bottle trees. But hers are not the kitschy metal-pole-with-spikes contraptions that sometimes show up in catalogs and garden centers. Stephanie’s trees are thoughtful renditions of the form, and pay homage to the tradition that is said to have originated in West Africa, crossing the Atlantic with West Africans brought to the Americas as slaves.

landscape-stephanie-dwyer-copyBefore Stephanie moved to Tennessee from the Pacific Northwest, she had worked as a welder and had not considered this Southern custom. “When I moved to the South, I was asked to do a bottle tree because I weld,” she told me. Over time, her “signature” design has become the gracefully rendered Katrina tree, “bent but not broken from the hurricane’s winds,” as she describes it.

According to archivists at The Smithsonian, the original meaning of the tradition has several interpretations, but a common one is that they protect the home by trapping evil spirits; once inside, the spirits are destroyed by the sunlight. Stephanie considers it a high honor that she was chosen to design and build the 14 ½-foot tall, 12-foot wide bottle tree for the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Visitors see the tree as they enter the culture galleries on the top floor of the museum.

While she’s known for her bottle trees, Stephanie also designs and builds gates, arches and other design elements for the garden and home. You can see more of her work at http://stephaniedwyer.com.

And for more on how to use art and garden ornaments in the landscape, see my story Garden ornaments set tone for outdoor spaces, which is online now at Tennessean.com.

September garden tips & tasks


Cooler weather entices the gardener back outdoors for another gardening season. Here are tasks to consider in September.

Early in the month

Plant a fall garden of vegetables that thrive in cooler weather: spinach and lettuce, cabbage, greens, turnips and radishes. Heat, weeds and insects are garden challenges (it’s still summer, after all), so plan carefully.

Seed packetsSave seeds for next year’s garden. Allow beans to dry on the vine; remove pepper seeds and spread them on a paper towel until they are dry; allow okra pods to turn brown on the plant, but harvest the pods before they split and drop the seeds on the ground. They key to successful seed-saving is to make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing them.

It’s time to work on that cool-season (fescue) lawn. Reseed or refurbish an established lawn, or plant a new lawn between now and the end of the month. Remove thatch (the buildup of organic material at soil level) before sowing to improve seed contact with the soil. Keep the soil moist as seed germinates.

Plant a bed of garlic. Plant individual cloves (pointed end up) two inches deep and about 4 inches apart in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Harvest the bulbs next summer.

You may not have to water container gardens as often, but it’s still smart to keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out completely.

Mid-September

Continue to deadhead perennials that are still blooming to keep them flowering as long as possible.

Coleus and mintRoot cuttings of coleus, geraniums, begonias and other summer annuals to grow indoors in a sunny window over the winter. Plan to plant them outdoors again next spring.

Continue to harvest basil to use with late-summer meals and to make pesto to freeze and use later.

Cut dead leaves and dried stalks of daylilies. Continue to water the plants so they go into winter with a strong root system.

Begin clearing out dead foliage, twigs and other garden debris from perennial and vegetable beds. This helps keep insects and disease from wintering-over in the garden.

If you have houseplants outdoors, begin preparing them to come back inside. Transfer them to a shady area and clean the pots, remove dead or damaged foliage, and treat for insects that might hitch a ride into the house.

 

Late September

Use potted mums to bring fall colors to porches, patios and garden beds. Mums growing in containers should last for weeks if they are watered regularly. Clip off dead flowers as needed.

MumsMulch is still a gardener’s best friend, even in fall. It helps keep soil moist and weeds at bay. Add mulch to perennial beds and around roses to help protect plant roots this winter.

Before things disappear from the garden, place plant markers where they’re needed to mark the location of perennials that die back to the ground during winter.

Keep that new or refurbished cool-season lawn watered so that it establishes a good root system. Provide about an inch to an inch and a half of water a week, using a sprinkler if it doesn’t rain.

Go ahead and buy those spring-flowering bulbs, but wait until the soil cools a bit to put them in the ground. You can begin preparing the beds now so they will be ready when the time is right.

Take a tour of your own garden. Begin to make notes of this year’s successes, challenges, chores for the to-do list and ideas for next year.

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.

Week 1

Azalea The Garden Bench

Prune azaleas shortly after they bloom.

Plant your summer kitchen garden with warm-season vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans. Water newly planted garden beds well, and keep them moist as seeds sprout.

Foliage left from spring-flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips and so forth – can be cut down if it has turned brown.

If you need to prune azaleas, do it now; don’t wait any longer, or you risk cutting off next year’s flowers, which will begin to form soon.

Set out bedding plants of favorite summer annuals: petunias, begonias, annual salvia, cleome, cosmos, celosia, snapdragon, zinnia.

Find a comfortable spot for houseplants that will spend summer outdoors, protected from too-harsh sun and strong wind and rain.

Week 2

Hellebores The Garden Bench

Dig and divide hellebores

Use mulch in perennial and annual beds and borders to keep weeds in check, and to retain moisture in the soil.

A cluster of aphids on tender new growth of plants can be washed away with a strong spray of water from the hose.

Container gardens dry out quickly in hot weather, so if your “garden” is a collection of pots on the deck or balcony, they need to be watered frequently.

Divide hellebores. Dig up as much of the root ball as possible and gently separate the roots. Replant right away, or share with friends (reminding them to plant as soon as possible).

When you mow, set the mower to cut high, removing only about a third of the height of the grass to keep it healthy. Don’t shear the lawn.

Week 3

Cut flowers The Garden Bench

Cut spring flowers to enjoy indoors.

There will always be unwanted plants (sometimes known as weeds). Pull or dig them out of garden beds when they are small, but especially before they form seeds. Weeds are easier to root out after watering or after a rain, when the soil is moist. Annual weeds that haven’t gone to seed can be tossed into the compost.

As summer approaches, make sure spring-planted trees and shrubs continue to get enough moisture. Provide about an inch of water a week — by hose or sprinkler if it doesn’t rain.

Enjoy the late spring bounty of flowers indoors. To help them last longer, cut flowers and foliage early in the morning and place them in water right away.

Grass clippings make good mulch, but allow them to decay before you use them on beds and borders.

Watch for spider mites on roses and other shrubs if the weather turns hot and dry. A strong spray of water on the undersides of leaves every few days can keep them under control.

Week 4

Thyme The Garden Bench

Thyme and other herbs are at their peak just before they bloom.

Many herbs are at their peak just before they bloom. Harvest them to use fresh, or preserve them by drying or freezing to use later.

As perennials flower and fade, cut the dying blooms. This will encourage the plant to bloom longer.

Divide irises after they finish blooming. Cut the leaves to about five inches, then lift the tubers with a spading fork. Separate the rhizomes and cut off damaged portions, then replant the rhizomes close to the soil surface.

Hummingbirds are welcome summer guests in the garden, visiting flowers and nectar feeders. If you provide feeders, change the nectar every day or two and clean the feeder thoroughly. Standard nectar recipe: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water; boil for five minutes, and allow it to cool before filling the feeder. No red food coloring needed.

What’s blooming indoors? Meyer lemon

I have a Meyer lemon tree that I keep indoors. It’s often full of blooms and the flowers smell wonderful. I’m always looking for lemons to start growing, but the flowers dry up and fall off and I never get any fruit.

meyer lemon flower closeup 3As long as the tree is indoors where the air is still and there aren’t any insects flying around, your Meyer lemon will most likely continue to be a delightfully fragrant but non-fruit-bearing plant. What the flowers need to produce fruit is the process of pollination.

You’ve heard of the birds and the bees, right? Outdoors, flying insects (bees and other pollinators) go from flower to flower, dipping into the pollen on the stamens – the cluster of thin filaments — and spreading it to the stigma at the center of the flower.

Indoors, if you want fruit, you’ll have to take care of that little detail yourself. Lemon trees are self-pollinating, meaning that the flowers shed pollen directly onto the stigma, but they still may rely on wind or insects — or human intervention, if necessary — to shake things up.

Here’s how you can help: As the flowers open, use a cotton swab or a small artist’s paintbrush to collect pollen from the anthers (the tips of the stamens), then rub the stigma with the swab to transfer the pollen. It’s a slow process, but the tree should begin to produce lemons (which grow fairly slowly, by the way).

Meyer lemons growing indoors where winters are cold need a lot of sunlight, and they also benefit from time spent outside when the weather warms up. Place a lemon tree in a protected spot outdoors, moving it gradually into full sun, when nighttime temperatures stay above about 50 degrees. Outdoors, the bees will do the job of pollinating the flowers, of course.

In general, Meyer lemon trees thrive in good potting mix in a container that drains well. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely, but don’t overwater it, either. Fertilize regularly with an organic fertilizer designed for citrus, following directions on the label. (I’ve used Espoma’s Organic Citrus-tone citrus and avocado food, with good results).

What’s blooming indoors? African violets

My African violets have flowers for just a few weeks, then go for months without blooming at all. How can I get them to bloom longer?

African violetYou might think African violets are finicky houseplants, but they’re quite easy to grow. And when they bloom in winter, their flowers can bring cheer to an otherwise gloomy day.

African violet expert Julie Mavity-Hudson of the Nashville African Violet Club passes along these tips: African violets thrive in bright, indirect light and average room temperatures. The soil should be slightly moist, but not soggy (“The thing that kills more African violets than anything is overwatering,” she says).

A plant that otherwise looks robust may not bloom because it’s not getting enough light. Move it to a south- or west-facing window in winter, where the light is brighter. Watch for too much sun, though; direct sun will burn the leaves of African violets. They also do well under plant lights.

These plants also bloom better when they are slightly root-bound, so don’t rush to re-pot. They may also benefit from a light feeding of a bloom-boosting plant food every few weeks. With the right conditions, they may bloom nearly non-stop.

 

 

Bring on the seed catalogs!

Sow True Seed catalog for 2015

Sow True Seed catalog for 2015

January, when last summer’s garden is a pleasant memory and this year’s garden is a hopeful dream, is a good time to sit down with a stack of seed catalogs (or a list of seed company URLs) and plan this year’s kitchen garden . Here are some of my favorites (where I indulge in a little wishful thinking):

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Offering many Southern heirlooms to gardeners throughout the U.S. and Canada)

Sow True Seed (Open-pollinated, heirloom and organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds, with the corporate philosophy of honoring people and the planet)

Seed Savers’ Exchange (Unusual varieties not found at the big box store seed kiosks)

Seeds of Change (Seeds, supplies, and live plants, too)

Territorial Seed Company (Try out the online garden planner)

Renee’s Garden (Pretty as a cottage garden)

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Recipes included!)

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (Straightforward, with tidy line drawings; more tips and entertaining reading at the website)

Burpee (for sheer volume, and all those luscious pictures!)

 

Tulip bulbs: It’s not too late to plant

I bought tulip bulbs in the fall but didn’t have time to plant them. Is it too late to put them in the ground now?

Tulips

Tulip bulbs planted now will bloom next spring.

Good news: Unless the ground is frozen and you can’t dig, it’s not too late. Tulip bulbs apparently prefer cooler planting conditions. But don’t wait much longer; otherwise, blooming will be delayed. Try to get the bulbs in the ground before the end of December.

Here are general planting guidelines from the National Gardening Association:

Prepare a well-drained bed in full sun. Plant tulip bulbs – pointed end up – about six inches deep – or a couple of inches deeper if voles are a problem in your garden. Space bulbs about 5 inches apart, and apply a granular bulb fertilizer. Firm the soil and water thoroughly.

National Gardening Association suggests planting five bulbs per square foot for a nice display. When you plant a grouping, be care to plant all the bulbs at the same depth to ensure they will all bloom at the same time.

You can also plant tulip bulbs in pots. Fine Gardening magazine suggests this technique: For the best visual impact, select a container with an outside diameter of at least 18 inches that is at least 15 inches tall. Fill the container about two-thirds with lightweight potting mix, and place the bulbs (pointed end up) close together in a tight circular pattern. Cover them with soil, leaving about an inch of space at the top.

In my yard, squirrels try to find hidden treasure by digging in unprotected containers, so I cover the soil with poultry wire cut to fit the pot. Fine Gardening magazine suggests a wire grid such as peony support. Cover the wire with a thin layer of soil; when the bulbs begin to sprout, they will grow through the open grid.