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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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Too early for tender hostas

Because it has been so warm already, my hostas have been coming up much too early, and I’m afraid they’ll be damaged or killed if we have another freeze. Some are in pots and some are in the ground. What’s the best way to protect them?

hosta shoots

Hosta shoots are difficult to see when they emerge, but they should be protected from a freeze.

You are correct that hostas making an appearance too soon would be damaged by frost or a freeze, so it pays to watch the forecast and take action when the temperature drops. Cornelia Holland, a hosta collector in Franklin, Tenn., grows hundreds of hostas and other shade-loving perennials in a half-acre garden she calls “Tranquility.” She passed along these tips for keeping hostas healthy when they emerge too soon. Continue reading

Plant perennials now, enjoy them later

I’m still seeing perennials for sale at garden centers. Some of them are being sold at reduced prices. Can they really be planted this time of year?

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Daylilies are among the perennials that can be planted now.

Spring is the typical planting time, but for gardeners who are willing to be patient or take a chance on a plant that may look like it’s past its prime, early fall is a good time to plant. Many of the plants on sale still have plenty of life, even though they don’t look their best right now.

But if you make careful choices and plant now, they will begin to establish good root systems and should spring back beautifully in the garden next year.

While perennials you find now may not be at the peak of perfection, you should still look for healthy plants with no sign of disease. Here are guidelines from the website of Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension and other sources:

  • Look for plants with good color and vigorous appearance. Avoid plants that show any sign of disease.
  • Ease the plant out of the pot and look at the roots look healthy, and not mushy or limp. Avoid anything with roots that have a bad odor.
  • Buy labeled plants (unless you want to be surprised!) and label it in the garden so that you can remember where and what you planted next spring.
  • In the garden, prepare the soil and amend it as needed with compost. Dig a hole a few inches wider that the plant’s pot, remove the plant from the pot and gently loosen the roots, then set the plant in the ground with the base of the plant level with the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil, water thoroughly, and add mulch.
  • Don’t set them out and forget them. October can be a dry month, so remember to provide water on a regular basis.

Slugs feel at home in the hostas

QUESTION: I have hostas in my yard that were beautiful all summer, but they are now riddled with holes. What could have happened to them?

The broad leaves of hostas lure slugs to the shade, where they also find a tasty meal.

When you find holes in your hostas, the problem most likely is snails and slugs say the experts at U.T. Extension. Hostas are shade plants, and slugs and snails are right at home in a shady, moist environment. The large, wide leaves create a shady spot, so they stay in that cozy spot all day and come out at night, climbing up on the leaves to dine.

If you want to see how active they are, try this: place a small board, about six inches wide, beside the hostas where you’ve noticed damage. In the morning, turn the board over and see how many have collected on the underside (and dispose of them as you wish). A gardening friend told me recently that she had set out an old tuna can filled with beer beside the hostas in her garden. The next morning, the can was full of slugs, and she dumped the whole thing into the trash.

The American Hosta Society suggests several solutions for protecting plants from slug dining damage, one of which is to provide something else to eat that might be just as tasty, such as lettuce. A different strategy focuses on placing a barrier around vulnerable plants. Strips of copper on the ground can be effective because slugs don’t like to cross it. Maybe that’s a way to use all those pennies that collect around the house. Table salt sprinkled around the plants also may keep them away, but you probably don’t want to add all that salt to the soil. My friend who lured slugs into a tuna can also said she has tried sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the hostas as a barrier they won’t cross.

The American Hosta Society mentions a couple of poison baits, but also suggests that a 10% solution of vinegar, sprayed on the slugs, stops them in their tracks – but you have to be out there with the spray when they are out, which is usually at night. And finally, a trap: place two boards together with a small stick between them, where the slugs can crawl in and hide in the cool shade. Then, when the slugs are between the boards, remove the stick and stomp. Ewww.