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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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January garden tips & tasks

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is one of the easy-to-grow houseplants that can bring a touch of the outdoors to your home in winter.

Garden enthusiasts can always find a way to enjoy their favorite pastime, even in winter. If you’re missing the outdoors because of snow or rain or blustery winds, consider these tasks to keep you in touch with your garden:

  • Begin a garden journal. Use it to jot down ideas and lists of plants you want to grow this year.
  • Keep bird feeders filled to attract a wide variety of winged visitors to your garden in winter.
  • If you bring home new houseplants, protect them from the cold air on the trip home. Once you bring them in, keep them separate from other plants for a few days to watch for pests.
  • When the ground freezes and thaws, plants can be pushed out of the ground – a process known as “heaving.” If this happens, tuck the roots back into the soil and cover the area with a layer of mulch.
  • You can grow herbs on a sunny windowsill indoors, but pinch them back regularly to keep them from getting tall and “leggy.”
  • Birds also need water in winter, so provide water in a birdbath or shallow pan and change it frequently.
  • Winter is a good time to have the soil in your lawn or garden beds tested. The Extension Service in your county can provide materials and instructions for testing.
  • Watch for pests on houseplants and tender outdoor plants that spend the winter indoors. If you see evidence of aphids or scale infestations, take action immediately to keep them from spreading to other plants.

Norfolk Island pine for Christmas

QUESTION: I live in a small apartment and don’t have room for a big Christmas tree, so I’m thinking of hanging ornaments and small lights on a Norfolk Island pine in a pot that is sold as a houseplant. How should I care for the plant when Christmas is over?

norfolk-island-pineIf you treat it carefully, a Norfolk Island pine is a fine small alternative to a big tree – you may even see them sold in some garden centers already bedecked with a few baubles. If you’re decorating your own, use lightweight ornaments – heavier ornaments could break the limbs – and use lights sparingly. A small string of LED bulbs should lend a festive glow. Remove everything shortly after Christmas is over.

As a houseplant, place the tree it in a cool room in a spot that gets bright, indirect light – a south- or west-facing window is good – and give it a quarter-turn once a week to encourage it to grow straight up.

The biggest threats to Norfolk Island pine are dry soil and dry air. Keep the soil consistently moist, but don’t let the pot sit in water. Increase humidity in its environment as much as possible. A daily misting could go a long way toward keeping the plant healthy. If the air remains too dry, the Norfolk Island pine responds by dropping its needles, and once they’re gone, they don’t grow back.

Houseplant specialists suggest using a balanced fertilizer once a month in summer. And be on the lookout for pests, because spider mites and mealybugs are drawn to this plant. A cautionary note about placing it outdoors when the weather warms up: it’s a very tender plant, and will be damaged if the temperature falls below 40 degrees.

With care, a Norfolk Island pine can last for many years. They are native to the South Pacific (Norfolk Island is a small speck of land between Australia and New Zealand), and in their home environment they grow very large. Indoors as a houseplant, the tree usually grows, over time, to about 6 feet.

Dreaming of warmer weather: a to-do list

Here’s a ray of sunshine to warm up a winter day…

Sunflower Teddy Bear for Garden Bench

It’s hard to think about a garden when the ground is frozen solid. But for gardeners, January is not a total loss. I looked around the world of garden calendars to find to-do lists to back up that claim, and came across these nice little bits from The Garden Girls — Dr. Sue Hamilton and Beth Babbitt – at the University of Tennessee Plant Sciences Department. Here’s some of what they suggest for January, when it’s too cold to get out and dig:

  • Use the time to design and plan. Now that the garden in bare, take a look at  the “bones” and determine where you may need to move plants, add new plants, add hardscape, or make new beds.  If it looks a little dull out there right now, consider adding plants that can provide winter color and interest. Take notes so you can remember these ideas when the time comes for action.
  • Gather your seed-starting supplies if you want to get a head start on spring by starting seeds indoors. The early-season plants should be started indoors by the end of the month. Go ahead and place your orders from mail-order services to get the best selection of plants and seeds.
  • Give your houseplants a little love. Trim, groom, clean, divide and re-pot as      African violetneeded. Still hanging on to that Christmas poinsettia? Take the pot out of the foil wrap and place them in another container to catch overflow water. Keep it in bright sunlight and the soil evenly moist. When the color starts to fade, cut it back to about half and continue to treat it like a houseplant. After the danger of frost, move it outdoors where its lovely green foliage will grow all summer.

The Garden Girls also have advice on how to protect landscape plants during a deep freeze:

  • When the temperatures are below freezing, avoid contact with trees and shrubs because frozen plants can break easily. Ice-laden plants are especially prone to breakage. Lightly cover plants that are subject to winter damage, but avoid using plastic, which can heat up too much when the sun is out. Don’t walk on frozen grass.
  • If you do find winter damage, don’t be in a rush to prune. Remove broken limbs, but if it’s simply burned foliage you see, wait to see if the damage is superficial; it may bounce back.

Think of January as a time of anticipation. Spring will be here before you know it. Here are the dates of a few favorite Middle Tennessee events that you can put on your calendar now:

  • The 2014 Nashville Lawn & Garden Show will run from February 27 – March 2 Nash Lawn Garden Showat the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. This year’s theme is “Wine & Roses” and will offer visitors the chance to sample wine from area vineyards.
  • The Perennial Plant Society’s annual plant sale is scheduled for April 5 at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville. Doors open at 9 a.m. There will be more than 450 varieties of plants for gardens big and small, plus expert advice on choosing and growing the perfect plant from PPS gardeners. Free admission; parking fee at the Fairgrounds is $5. For more details and a full plant list visit www.ppsmt.org.
  • The sixth annual Herb & Craft Fair sponsored by First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville is planned for April 26. Shop for herb seedlings, heirloom tomatoes and other plants, and a wide selection of handcrafted items: pressed-flower cards, calendars, gift and jewelry items; natural handmade soaps with essential oils and fragrant herbs; Sewn and hand-knit items, sweet breads, herb breads, spice mixes and rubs, herbal vinegars, jams, jellies, chutney and more.

Tropical hibiscus adjusts to winter indoors

Question: I had two hibiscus trees in pots outdoors last summer and brought them in for the winter. I placed them in front of a sunny window, but now most of the leaves have turned yellow and fallen off. It does appear that new leaves are trying to grow. What should we do to keep these beautiful plants alive?

Hibiscus c Rojypala wikimedia commonsWhen you bring tropical hibiscus plants (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) indoors, they respond to the lower level of light by dropping their leaves, so your plants are doing what is normal. You can see that the plant is healthy, because new leaves are already sprouting.

To keep it healthy while it’s indoors this winter, provide water when the soil dries out to within 1 inch of the surface and feed it lightly every few weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Watch for spider mites, and use insecticidal soap to keep them under control.

A hibiscus growing outdoors can grow to unmanageable size, so now might be a good time to prune it, and if the plant needs repotting, it’s a good time to take care of that chore, as well.

Return the hibiscus to its outdoor home when the weather warms up again in the spring.

 

Learn to love a lemon

My friends gave me a small Meyer lemon tree in a pot for my birthday. It already has a few tiny lemons growing! How should I take care of it?
Meyer lemon
As you probably already know, Meyer lemon (or any citrus) must be grown in a container anywhere the temperature gets to the freezing point in winter, because it will have to come indoors. With that in mind, plan to treat it as you would any high-maintenance houseplant – give it the right soil, lots of light, enough (but not too much) water, a little fertilizer, and plenty of TLC.

Use a container with adequate drainage, and a good potting mix. Some sources recommend placing a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot for additional drainage. Choose a soilless potting mix that contains vermiculite or perlite; never use garden soil for your Meyer lemon in a container.

The tree can spend the summer outdoors where it can get plenty of sunlight (the recommended amount is at least 8 hours a day). In fact, if you want lemons, place the plant outdoors before it blooms, so the bees and other pollinators can do their job when the flowers emerge; otherwise, you’ll need to fertilize the flowers by hand in order for lemons to form.

Be sure to water the plant regularly. A layer of mulch on top of the soil will help retain moisture, but don’t smother the trunk of the tree with mulch, and allow the soil to dry between waterings.

Meyer lemon (and other citrus plants) benefits from regular applications of plant food. I use Espoma Organic Citrus-tone, but there are other choices available. Follow the instructions on the package. Citrus-tone’s recommended fertilizing schedule suggests feeding in late winter (before the plant blooms), late spring (after it blooms) and in fall.

As the weather begins to cool down, prepare the tree to come indoors. Begin to bring it into the shade well before the first frost date, so that it can begin to acclimate to lower light conditions. When you bring the plant indoors, place it in a south- or southwest-facing window – or as sunny a spot as you can find – and provide supplemental light if necessary. Regular, light misting with water from a spray bottle helps provide the humidity citrus plants need.

Watch for aphids, spider mites, mealybugs and scale, all of which may be attracted to your Meyer lemon. If you find signs of insect infestation (webs, speckled leaves, sticky residue) treat the plant with insecticidal soap.
Lemons generally ripen in six to nine months. It takes a bit of care and attention to produce fruit, but the flavor of Meyer lemons, which is somewhat sweeter than other lemons, is worth the extra work.