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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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FEBRUARY Garden Tips & Tasks

Flowering quince

In Middle Tennessee, where The Garden Bench calls home, February can be unpredictable. One day the temperature may be in the 50s or 60s, with sun and blue skies; the next day there could be snow.

I write from Zone 7A on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Map, where the low temperature could be 0-5 degrees F., but in truth, the temperature rarely gets that low. Still, there’s the chance that it could, so mid-winter, wherever you are in the region, is a good time to take it easy. Don’t rush the season, but spend time planning for it. Spring, the best season for enjoying a garden, is on its way.

  • Got cabin fever? A little time in the garden can be a cure. Get outside on a sunny day and pick up any trash, twigs and other garden debris that may be littering your landscape.
  • Plant a tree. On a day when the soil isn’t frozen, dig a hole that is slightly wider than the tree’s root ball, but no deeper. Place the tree in the hole; replace the soil and water it well. Add mulch, but do not mound it up around the tree’s trunk.
  • Lenten roses (Helleborus) should be blooming now. Enjoy the blooms indoors by floating them in a bowl of water (an idea via Instagram from garden expert Brie Arthur, author of Gardening With Grains and The Foodscape Revolution.)
  • If you insist on pristine, weed-free beds in your kitchen garden, dig up the deadnettle, henbit, chickweed and other winter annuals that are likely beginning to emerge before they take over your garden beds. (Chickweed is edible, you know. Good for salads.)
  • Turn your attention to houseplants, but don’t overdo it. Too much water can be as bad as too little. Before you add water to the plant’s soil, check the soil’s moisture level by sticking your finger in.
  • Welcome birds into your garden by providing nesting boxes. Cavity-dwelling birds may start a family in a simple box with a 1½-inch entry.
  • Pansies in containers may benefit from a little attention. Snip off dead flowers and ragged leaves and provide a dose of liquid fertilizer (follow label directions) to perk them up and get them through the rest of the winter.
  • Wild onions may grow tall in an otherwise winter-clipped lawn. If you don’t like the look, go after them with a trowel to dig out the bulbs and roots. This is easier just after a rain, when the ground is moist.
  • Some vegetables can be direct-sown in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Later in the month, plant spinach, lettuce, radishes and snap peas in the kitchen garden. A gardening friend here in Middle Tennessee likes to follow an old gardening tradition of planting peas on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, she says, the weather doesn’t always cooperate.
  • Coax branches of late-winter or spring-flowering shrubs and trees to bloom indoors. Cut 2- to 3-foot branches after the buds begin to swell, split the bottoms of the stems, then place them in a vase of water in a cool room. When the buds begin to show color, move the vase into a warmer area, and welcome spring into your home.

Spend summer in the shade

We’d like to have a perennial garden, but we’ve moved into a place that has a lot of trees in the yard. We get some sun a couple of times during the day, but there is no place that gets full sun all day. What are some perennials that grow and bloom in part sun or shade?

Hosta shade

Hosta and spiderwort are two shade-loving perennials to add to a shady landscape.

In mid-summer, many gardeners might say you’re lucky to have those shady spots, where you can be outdoors but can stay out of the blazing July sun. Landscape designers know the benefits:

“A shade garden in the summer is a wonderful place to relax,” says landscape designer Mary Higgins, who owns Lavender Blue Garden Design in Middle Tennessee.

“I take care of a lot of gardens in the sun. When I get home, I find I get a lot of pleasure out of my shade garden. The sunny garden takes work. The shade garden is a place I can actually sit and read, relax and slow down, even on a hot day.”

There are plenty of plants that can thrive in areas that don’t get full sun. Continue reading

Keep hellebores healthy

I inherited a fairly large garden of hellebores when I moved into my current house. There is a problem with black spots on the leaves that I researched on the internet. I have cleaned out the dead leaves from the winter to improve their appearance and air circulation. What is the best way to deal with this problem?

Hellebore-webIf you’ve cut off the dead leaves of the hellebores and gotten any infected foliage around the plants cleaned up and destroyed, you’ve already gotten a good start on controlling the problem by non-chemical means. Leaf spot disease seems to be a fairly common affliction of Helleborus, caused by a fungus, and the first line of defense is to avoid spreading it around, and keep the area inhospitable to fungal growth.

Continue reading