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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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Will old seeds sprout?

I have packets of lettuce and spinach seeds left from two, three and more years ago. If I plant them this year, will they grow?

seed-packets-oldSeeds of many vegetables can remain viable for at least a couple of years, but if you want to be sure they’re still good, you can perform a simple test that garden author Judy Lowe describes in her book, Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:

Place ten seeds, evenly spaced, on a wet paper towel. Roll the towel up with the seeds inside and seal it in a plastic bag. Place the bag in a warm spot, such as the top of the refrigerator.

Begin checking the seeds after three days to see whether any seeds have sprouted. After fifteen days, you’ll have the germination percentage (for example, if eight of the ten seeds have sprouted, you have an 80 percent germination rate).

“If the rate is 50 to 70 percent, you’ll know to sow the seeds more thickly than usual,” Lowe suggests. “When the germination rate is less than 50 percent, buy fresh seeds.”

Put your backyard birds on the map

Each year, scientists collect data on wild birds, based on reports from people who enjoy watching them in their own landscapes. The Great Backyard Bird Count, held each February, is a citizen-science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology and the National Audubon Society that provides data that helps investigate a variety of questions about bird populations, migration patterns, diseases and more.

tufted-titmouse-wood-thrust-shop-s-poe

Tufted titmouse on a shelled peanut feeder. Photo courtesy The Wood Thrush Shop/Photo by S. Poe

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count is Feb. 17 – 20. Anyone can participate. Create a free online account at eBird (http://ebird.org), a real-time, online checklist program, and for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see.

How to attract birds to your yard? “We like to say that 80 – 90 percent initially is the type of habitat you’re in – open field, more wooded, if there’s water source nearby – these are all the main contributing factor to what type of birds you’ll see,” says Jamie Bacon at The Wood Thrush Shop in Nashville. Bird feeders – and the seeds you put in them — also help bring in the winged visitors. “As far as feeding birds, sunflower seed is the no. 1 attractant to songbirds. Pretty much all the songbirds with sunflowers,” Bacon says.

My story on the different types of bird feeders to use in your landscape is online now at Tennessean.com. To learn more about the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit the Web site, http://gbbc.birdcount.org.

 

A bountiful harvest: sunflower seeds

We grew sunflowers this year, and I’d like to save the seeds. What is the best way to harvest them?
sunflower 2As summer begins to wind down and the sunflowers begin to droop, you know it’s time to harvest. Sunflower seeds are ready to harvest when the back of the flower heads turn yellow. The seeds themselves will turn dark.

Seed-loving birds may begin to find them before you do, so if you’re planning a seed harvest, you may want to find a way to protect them until they’re fully mature. Extension services and other experts suggest covering the flower heads with brown paper bags. (Don’t use plastic bags, which may cause moisture to form around the flower head and cause the seeds to rot.) When you’re ready to harvest, use scissors or a knife to cut off the flower head with several inches of the stem.
You can harvest sunflower seeds to save for the birds to enjoy later, or for a nutritious snack for yourself and your family. Hold the flower head over a large bowl and rub or pluck out the seeds. Store them in a dry spot in sealed containers until you are ready to set them out for the birds.

Writers at the Mother Earth News website have an easy method for preparing sunflower seeds for snacking. Soak the unshelled seeds overnight in salt water – about 1/8 to ¼ cup salt for each quart of water. Drain off the water and spread the seeds on paper towels or clean towels and allow them to dry for several hours. When they are completely dry, spread the seeds evenly on a cookie sheet and bake them at 300 degrees F for 30 – 40 minutes. After baking, place the seeds in a bowl and toss with one teaspoon of butter for each cup of seeds. Season with salt, if desired.

Sunflower seeds are high in potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.