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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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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

Shop the landscape for holiday decor

Gardeners know how easy it is to come up with creative ideas to decorate for the holidays. A stroll around the yard with a pair of pruning shears can provide an armload of evergreens, branches, leaves, berries, pine cones, seed pods, clippings and other natural materials to assemble festive, one-of-a-kind decorations in your home.

Christmas mantel

Greenery from the garden — boxwood, holly leaves, berries and magnolia leaves — help brighten a mantel for the holidays.

Here are guidelines and a few ideas for using your garden’s gifts to deck the halls, hearth, dining table and more:

  • When you cut branches from evergreens, prune responsibly; you don’t want to run the shape of your shrubs!
  • Fresh greenery dries out quickly and is flammable. Harvest the materials as close to the time you’ll use it so it will be as fresh as possible. Keep greenery away from vents, fireplaces, candles and other heat sources; check it every couple of days and replace anything that has dried out or is turning brown.
  • As you cut material to bring indoors, pound the ends of branches with a mallet, then soak them in water overnight so they will absorb as much water as possible. Consider treating greenery with an anti-dessicant spray (available at nurseries or florists), which adds a waxy coat to slow the process of water loss.
  • Place arrangements in water whenever possible, or use florists foam. Mist evergreen and natural arrangements every couple of days to slow the drying process.
  • Many berries are poisonous, so to be safe, don’t use greenery with berries in a household with small children or pets.

Trees and shrubs that are a good source for nature-made decorations include boxwood, magnolia, nandina, holly, aucuba, rosemary, camellia, ivy, pine (needles and cones), cedar (though it dries out more quickly than other evergreens), yew, spruce and other evergreen shrubs.

And here are a few fast and easy ideas for bring festive touches of greenery into your home for the holidays:

  • Place sprigs of greenery around a serving platter or punch bowl.
  • Use branches of evergreens above mirrors, pictures or doors. A suggestion is to arrange two bundles of greenery with stem ends together and secured with wire hidden with more greenery or ribbons.
  • Make an easy centerpiece using leaves and sprigs of greenery arranged with ribbons, ornaments, pine cones or berries.
  • Twine fresh ivy around or through a napkin ring for a touch of greenery at each place setting.
  • Place sprigs of fresh greenery in a hurricane globe or clear vase with pine cones or other small Christmas-y items.

 

Shrubs for a good foundation

Question: I plan to replant the bed at the front foundation of the house with new shrubs. I will need about 5 shrubs, evergreen and low maintenance. The front of our house gets morning sun and afternoon shade. What type of shrubs can you suggest?

boxwood shrubs

Boxwoods are a favorite choice of shrubs for foundation plantings.

I talked with Mark Kerske at Gardens of Babylon garden center in Nashville, and he has several good recommendations:

Boxwood is a tried-and-true choice. “It’s one of my favorite plants,” Kerske says. Boxwoods can grow quite large over time, but there are smaller varieties available that grow to more suitable size for foundation plantings. They take full sun but also do well with some shade.

Cryptomeria is a fast-growing conifer with dark green needles that can grow very tall and wide, but there are dwarf varieties (‘Lobii Nana’ and ‘Pygmaea’ are two that are mentioned in the Southern Living Garden Book) that grow only to about 3 – 4 feet tall.

The cherry laurel ‘Otto Luyken’ is also a favorite. It’s a compact shrub with deep green, glossy leaves that grows to about 4 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide.

Whichever shrubs you choose, good soil preparation will ensure that they get off to a good start. Work good compost into the soil to improve the drainage, and use mulch in the planting bed after you plant the shrubs to keep the soil moisture consistent. “You don’t want to keep the soil wet, but just moist,” Kerske says. “That’s the key, maintaining constant moisture.”