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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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Care for peonies after they bloom

Now that the peonies have finished blooming, what’s the best thing to do with them – leave them or cut them back? Ours often get an ugly coating of powdery mildew on the leaves in the summer. Is there a way to prevent this?

After they bloom, peonies spend the rest of the summer gathering strength to bloom next year before they die back to the roots in winter. A good first task for the gardener is to cut off the faded flowers. Garden expert P. Allen Smith suggests removing the seed pods and lightly fertilizing in late spring or early summer. But be sure to leave the foliage. After the blooms are gone, the rich green leaves of peony shrubs remain an attractive feature in the garden – except when it develops a case of powdery mildew. Continue reading

June garden tips & tasks

June is the garden’s high season, “the time of perfect young summer,” said gardener designer Gertrude Jekyll. Here are some garden tasks to enjoy during this “perfect” time.

Early in June

Tomatoes do best with consistent moisture as they begin to ripen.

Tomatoes do best with consistent moisture as they begin to ripen.

Summer tomatoes will begin ripening soon. Make sure they receive consistent moisture. Use mulch around the plants to keep them from drying out quickly. Replenish mulch around in all garden beds to help keep plants’ roots moist as the weather heats up. Continue reading

The heat’s on: August garden tips & tasks

Gardeners in Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home) know that August can be brutal, and some days it’s best to stay inside. Here’s a tip: Get out early – before 7 a.m. if you can – and get those necessary tasks done. Then enjoy the rest of the day indoors, and remember that cooler days will be here soon.

Early in the month

RudbeckiaKeep deadheading daisies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and other summer-flowering perennials.

Many things stop blooming when it’s 90 degrees and above. As things cool down slightly, flowers in the beds and vegetables in the kitchen garden should be blooming again. Provide ample water if it doesn’t rain.

Continue to watch for Japanese beetles. Pick off any you find on your roses or other prized plants, and plunk them into a bowl of soapy water.

Save your prized tomatoes from the birds. Pick them before they are fully red and let them ripen indoors.

If petunias are looking scrappy, cut them back and provide a light dose of fertilizer. They should soon re-bloom.

Continue to harvest and use basil frequently to keep the plant from setting seed too early.

Mid-August

vegetable gardenBegin cleaning up vegetable beds. Remove dead or dying foliage and any rotting vegetables. A tidy garden bed means fewer places for destructive insects to overwinter.

Watch for spider mites on roses, which thrive in hot, dry weather and can quickly defoliate a rosebush. A strong spray of water on the undersides of the leaves every two or three days for a week should help keep them under control.

If you saved your potted amaryllis bulb from last winter and it has spent the summer outdoors, move it to a cool, dark place and let it dry out. Amaryllis needs a dormant period before it blooms again next winter.

There’s no need to water your lawn every day. Experts advise deep watering every few days rather than a shallow sprinkling every day.

Try to keep ahead of the weeds. But if you can’t, at least snip or pinch off the tops to keep them from flowering and setting seed.

Later in the month

Parsley curledLate summer is a good time to thin iris beds. Cut back the foliage, dig up the rhizomes and brush off as much dirt as you can. Discard any roots that are rotting or soft, then replant the rhizomes.

Avoid planting new trees and shrubs in the hottest part of summer. Be sure that trees, shrubs and perennials planted this spring are receiving enough water during long hot spells.

Some summer herbs can be frozen to use later. Try freezing fresh sprigs of parsley, oregano, sage, tarragon and dill. Rinse the herbs and pat them dry, then place them in separate freezer bags or containers with tight-fitting lids. Use them within four months.

Begin gathering seeds of annuals or vegetables to plant next year. Dry seeds thoroughly and store them in a place that’s cool and dry. Be sure to label them before you put them away.

Plant a cool season kitchen garden late this month — spinach, greens, kale, lettuces and other favorites. Keep beds or containers watered as seeds sprout, and watch for late-summer insect pests.