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  • May garden tips & tasks

    GARDEN EVENTS IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE

    May 20: Master Gardeners of Davidson County Urban Gardening Festival, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Ellington Agricultural Center Demonstration Garden. Free admission. www.mgofdc.org; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mgofdc.

    June 10: Middle Tennessee Daylily Society show and sale, Ellington Agricultural Center’s Ed Jones Auditorium, 440 Hogan Rd. in Nashville. Sale open at 10 a.m.; show opens to the public at 1 p.m. To learn more about the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society, visit www.middletndaylilysociety.org.

    It’s time to plant those tender herbs and vegetable transplants, such as basil, dill, tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, eggplant.

    If tomato transplants are already too tall and leggy, you can plant them on their sides and cover the long stems with soil. The stem tips will turn upward, and the buried stems will sprout roots.

    Sow seeds of bush beans and pole beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, melons, okra, field peas, pumpkin, squash and zucchini. Follow the directions on the seed package for planting depth and spacing. Vegetables grow best in full sun.

    Cut the faded blossoms of peonies. Fertilize the plants lightly in late spring or early summer.

    Remember the basics of watering: morning is best, so plants’ leaves have time to dry before evening. Lawns, perennial borders and annuals like to have 1 – 1½ inches of water per week.

    Many indoor plants enjoy a summer vacation outdoors. Give them a cool, shady spot in the yard, and don’t forget to water them.

    Prune thyme frequently so it will stay full and green in the center.

    Weeding is easiest after a rain. If the ground is too dry and you need to weed, soak the bed first with a hose or sprinkler.

    Whether they’re growing in the ground or in pots on the porch, pinch the tips of geraniums from time to time to encourage them to branch out and to produce more flowers. Geraniums in pots benefit from regular feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer.

    Remember that mulch can be a gardener’s best friend. Pine straw or composted leaves are good alternatives to hardwood mulch.

    Harvest herbs as they reach their peak. Dry small leaves on a screen, hang small bunches of long-stemmed herbs in a warm, dry room out of the sunlight.

    Plants growing outdoors in containers dry out quickly when it’s hot. Check them daily, and water as needed.

    Don’t go near hydrangeas with the pruning shears unless all you’re cutting is dead branches. If the bigleaf hydrangeas look like they’re not going to bloom, it could be that the buds were nipped in a late cold snap, or the plant was pruned too late last year.

    As the flowers of Shasta daisies begin to open and then to fade, keep them clipped off. This prolongs the blooming season of daisies (and most other annuals and perennials), and keeps the plants looking better, as well.

    Watch for aphids on shrubs and perennials. A strong blast of water from a hose will remove many of them, or spray with insecticidal soap.

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Water worries for houseplants

Question: I use tap water to water all my houseplants, but I’ve heard that’s not always a good idea. What difference does it make?

peace-lily-2Most people don’t think about the water they use to water houseplants —  just turn on the tap and fill the watering can. But what’s in your tap water may make a difference in how your plants grow.

Garden author Barbara Pleasant talks about water problems in her book, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. She says most plants prefer “soft” water, which contains low amounts of calcium and magnesium salts, over “hard” water, which contains high amounts of these elements. Water softeners remove the mineral salts through filtration or magnetization, but the water still contains high levels of salt, she says. This could lead to problems when it is used to water plants. Continue reading

For houseplants, go easy on the water

Question: I’m told I’ve been over-watering our houseplants, yet we have sprigs of plants rooting in jars in nothing but water. How can a plant be over-watered when it can also be rooted and flourish in water? And how do you know when you’re watering too much?

Snake plant

Snake plant – Sansevieria trifasciata

Houseplant experts agree that over-watering can have a detrimental effect on houseplants. Soil that stays too wet causes the plant’s roots to rot, and invites fungi that thrive in moist conditions. That’s why it’s important to grow houseplants in pots with adequate drainage, and to allow the soil of most plants to dry between waterings.Different houseplants also have different water requirements, and many need less water in winter when they are growing more slowly. Before you add water, poke a finger into the soil, and only water the plant if it feels dry. Or push a wooden chopstick into the soil, and if it’s not damp when you pull it out, water the plant. It is better for a plant to have too little water than too much, but you also want to make sure it doesn’t wilt.

As for plants rooting in water: many fleshy plants will quickly develop roots in plain water and can later be planted in soil. Ideally, as the roots develop, the water is kept clean by being changed frequently. But if they are kept in water long enough, even those plants that seem to thrive for awhile will eventually lose vigor and may rot, too.

Houseplants’ soft water secrets

Question: Our home has a central water purification/softening system. Is this water good to use on houseplants? Or is it better to use water not connected to the system?

heart leaf philodendronMost people don’t think about the water they use to water houseplants —  just turn on the tap and fill the watering can. But what’s in your tap water can make a difference in how your plants grow.

Garden author Barbara Pleasant talks about water problems in her book, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. She says most plants prefer “soft” water, which contains low amounts of calcium and magnesium salts, instead of “hard” water, which contains high amounts of these elements. Water softeners remove the mineral salts through filtration or magnetization, but the water still contains high levels of salt, she says. This could lead to problems when it is used to water plants.

Pleasant suggests using rainwater or bottled distilled water, which are naturally soft, on your indoor plants.

The mineral salts in tap water are only one thing to consider. Plants may also be sensitive to too much chlorine, which is added to tap water to prevent bacteria, and some plants, including palms and dracaenas, are sensitive to fluoride.

To solve the problem of too much chlorine, allow the water to sit out overnight, so that chlorine and other chemicals escape into the air. If you suspect fluoride may be causing a problem (browing leaf tips on plants may be a clue), it may help to add a pinch of lime on the surface of the pot every few months, Pleasant advises. “This helps raise the pH of the soil, which makes the fluoride more soluble in water.

One other watering tip: whatever the source of the water, make sure it’s at room temperature when you water your plants. Drenching a houseplant in icy water chills the roots, which can cause them to rot, Pleasant says.

The drought takes a toll on trees

QUESTION:  I have a concern about two hackberry trees in my yard. They are quite old and beautiful, but the leaves are turning yellow and are falling off rapidly.  Is this due to the high heat or another problem? I would sincerely hate to see these lovely trees die.  

During drought, a hackberry’s leaves may turn yellow and fall. Mature, healthy trees should recover.

Let’s just say that while the high heat is a major culprit in the early-summer yellowing of a lot of things, it’s not acting alone. “It’s drought primarily,” says Alan Windham, the ornamental and turfgrass pathology expert at U.T. Extension.

“I actually witnessed this, this morning on hackberry behind my home while walking my dogs,” he said when I sent him this question earlier this week. “It was breezy, and yellow leaves were falling from the hackberry like a fall day.”

Most likely, this leaf-fall is not a fatal condition. “Most mature trees have survived many droughts, and should be able to survive this one,”Windham said. “Regardless, I’m hoping for rain this week.”

Young trees that haven’t had a chance to develop an extensive root system are more vulnerable. An email alert from the Nashville Tree Foundation, which plants trees in public places and private yards on its ReLeafing day each November, has sent an alert with watering guidelines and new tips that you can read here to help young trees survive. Most important: water thoroughly, and water slowly to prevent run-off.

The long-range weather forecast may show some relief. Next week, it looks like temperatures will be in the more reasonable mid-to-upper 80s, with a chance of rain.

 

Keep African violets blooming

QUESTION: My African violets were blooming beautifully when I got them a few months ago, but no longer. How can I get them to bloom again?

It’s easy to love those dainty clusters of blossoms rising from rosettes of downy leaves. African violets look like they’d be fussy plants, but quite the opposite: “They’re easy to grow if you know a few secrets,” says Julie Mavity-Hudson of the Nashville African Violet Club.

One of those secrets may surprise you: African violets tend to bloom better when they’re slightly root-bound, so don’t rush to move them to larger pots. They thrive in bright, indirect light and average room temperatures, in soil that is kept slightly moist. “The thing that kills more African violets than anything is overwatering,” Mavity-Hudson says.

Failure to bloom might be because the plant is not getting enough light. In winter, when the light is low, try moving it to a south or west window where the light is brighter, but move it away from the window when the light is more intense. Direct sun will burn the leaves of African violets.

A light feeding of high-phosphorous plant food every few weeks may also help. Houseplant expert Barbara Pleasant (The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual) suggests adding a light pinch of Epsom salts to water to push balky plants into bloom.

To get together with other African violet aficionados, check out the Nashville African Violet Club, which meets the first Sunday of most months,1:45, at the Green Hill Women’s Center,10905 Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet. The meetings are open to the public.

 

Just water, please

Last summer, when it was very hot, I ran my dehumidifer upstairs when it was impossible to cool and used the water to water my indoor plants. Within a week or so they perked up like they were new plants, so I’m wondering how to duplicate that water, or what do you suggest? I have tried plant food, tea water, etc. and nothing works like the water from my dehumidfier. -S.W.

Houseplants may benefit from water that is free of added chemicals.

A likely explanation might be that since the water in a dehumidifier is “collected” from the air, nothing has been added — no chlorine or fluoride, such as we have in tap water. A lot of houseplants are sensitive to the additives in tap water, especially fluoride, according to my favorite source on caring for houseplants, author Barbara Pleasant’s Compete Houseplant Survival Manual.

You may be able to duplicate that unadulterated water by letting tap water sit out overnight before watering plants with it; supposedly that allows the chlorine and other chemicals in the water to escape. Or you could try using distilled water, or collect rainwater to use on your plants.

The author goes on to suggest using water that is at room temperature when you give it to the plants. “Giving cold water to tropical plants chills their roots, which can cause them to rot,” she writes.”