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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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May garden tips & tasks

May is a busy and beautiful time in the garden. Here are tasks and tips to keep you busy this month.

Early in the month

If you haven’t already gotten those warm-season vegetables in the ground, plant them now! Tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans, eggplant and other favorites will get off to a fast start now that the weather is warm.

zinnias-1

Set out bedding plants of zinnias and other summer annuals.

Set out bedding plants of zinnias, celosia, snapdragon, begonias, petunias, coleus – all the favorite summer annuals.

Plant plenty of basil in a sunny location to use in summer recipes. Clip and use it frequently, which allows the plants to grow sturdier. Snip off flowers as they begin to form. Continue reading

Ants on peonies: Welcome visitors or creepy pests?

I love peonies, their flowers and their fragrance. But when ours are blooming they always seem to be covered with ants! They crawl all over the buds. Sometimes they are small ants, and sometimes large black ants. How can we get rid of them?

Ants crawl on peoniesYou don’t want to get rid of them. The ants are not harming the peonies, and in fact they may have a part to play in helping to open the dense flower buds of some varieties. According to the Heartland Peony Society, it is believed that peonies produce nectar that attracts them for this purpose. It’s normal, and temporary. After the peonies are open, the ants often disappear.

What you may want to know is how to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation: using your cut peonies in an indoor arrangement and having ants crawl out of the flowers and across the dinner table! Continue reading

May garden tips & tasks

May is a busy and beautiful time in the garden. Here are tasks and tips to keep you busy this month.

Week 1

Azalea The Garden Bench

Prune azaleas shortly after they bloom.

Plant your summer kitchen garden with warm-season vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans. Water newly planted garden beds well, and keep them moist as seeds sprout.

Foliage left from spring-flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips and so forth – can be cut down if it has turned brown.

If you need to prune azaleas, do it now; don’t wait any longer, or you risk cutting off next year’s flowers, which will begin to form soon.

Set out bedding plants of favorite summer annuals: petunias, begonias, annual salvia, cleome, cosmos, celosia, snapdragon, zinnia.

Find a comfortable spot for houseplants that will spend summer outdoors, protected from too-harsh sun and strong wind and rain.

Week 2

Hellebores The Garden Bench

Dig and divide hellebores

Use mulch in perennial and annual beds and borders to keep weeds in check, and to retain moisture in the soil.

A cluster of aphids on tender new growth of plants can be washed away with a strong spray of water from the hose.

Container gardens dry out quickly in hot weather, so if your “garden” is a collection of pots on the deck or balcony, they need to be watered frequently.

Divide hellebores. Dig up as much of the root ball as possible and gently separate the roots. Replant right away, or share with friends (reminding them to plant as soon as possible).

When you mow, set the mower to cut high, removing only about a third of the height of the grass to keep it healthy. Don’t shear the lawn.

Week 3

Cut flowers The Garden Bench

Cut spring flowers to enjoy indoors.

There will always be unwanted plants (sometimes known as weeds). Pull or dig them out of garden beds when they are small, but especially before they form seeds. Weeds are easier to root out after watering or after a rain, when the soil is moist. Annual weeds that haven’t gone to seed can be tossed into the compost.

As summer approaches, make sure spring-planted trees and shrubs continue to get enough moisture. Provide about an inch of water a week — by hose or sprinkler if it doesn’t rain.

Enjoy the late spring bounty of flowers indoors. To help them last longer, cut flowers and foliage early in the morning and place them in water right away.

Grass clippings make good mulch, but allow them to decay before you use them on beds and borders.

Watch for spider mites on roses and other shrubs if the weather turns hot and dry. A strong spray of water on the undersides of leaves every few days can keep them under control.

Week 4

Thyme The Garden Bench

Thyme and other herbs are at their peak just before they bloom.

Many herbs are at their peak just before they bloom. Harvest them to use fresh, or preserve them by drying or freezing to use later.

As perennials flower and fade, cut the dying blooms. This will encourage the plant to bloom longer.

Divide irises after they finish blooming. Cut the leaves to about five inches, then lift the tubers with a spading fork. Separate the rhizomes and cut off damaged portions, then replant the rhizomes close to the soil surface.

Hummingbirds are welcome summer guests in the garden, visiting flowers and nectar feeders. If you provide feeders, change the nectar every day or two and clean the feeder thoroughly. Standard nectar recipe: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water; boil for five minutes, and allow it to cool before filling the feeder. No red food coloring needed.

Time to bring houseplants back indoors

We have had some of our houseplants outdoors for summer, but now that it’s time to bring them back in, how do we get rid of the bugs and insects that are on the plants and in the pots? 

philodendron outdoorsIndoor plants that spend the summer outdoors should be brought back inside well before nights begin to get too cool. Start the process early so you won’t be hustling your plants into a warm area on the evening before the first predicted frost, and so you’ll have time to deal with insects that may try to hitchhike into your home.

In the book Month-By-Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky, garden author Judy Lowe provides this advice on getting houseplants ready to return indoors:

“Remove all yellowed or damaged leaves and faded flowers. Clean all foliage, top and bottom. Clean splattered dirt off the pots. If containers can’t be scrubbed clean, consider new pots or hide the pots in a plastic-lined basket or a decorative container.”

Here’s how Lowe suggests you make sure there are no unwelcome visitors coming in with the returning houseplants:

“Mix up a tub or bucket of 5 parts warm water and 1 part insecticidal soap. Remove plants from their pots, place them in the mixture, and let the plants stand for an hour.” Lowe says that even after doing this, it’s a good idea to keep plants that spent summer outdoors isolated for a few weeks from plants that stayed inside. “Sometimes a stray insect manages to get in anyway, or insect eggs hatch,” she writes. “The problem will be easier to deal with when you can keep the infestation confined to one or two plants.”

A sticky hackberry situation

QUESTION: We have a question regarding one of our large hackberry trees. It’s covered with little white flying bugs and the leaves have a sticky residue. What causes this and is there something that we can do about it?

Asian wooly hackberry aphids are a nuisance, but won't harm the trees.

Asian wooly hackberry aphids are a nuisance, but won’t harm the trees.

The bugs you are seeing are called Asian wooly hackberry aphids, and they seem to make an appearance about this time every year. They feed exclusively on hackberry trees, and like all aphids, they feed by piercing the leaves and extracting the juice. The sticky residue is what they excrete after feeding on the leaves, a substance called honeydew. Another byproduct you may notice is a black mold that grows on the honeydew, which is called sooty mold.The aphids apparently do not do enough damage to harm the tree, they are just a nuisance, mostly in late summer and early fall when their population grows due to the many generations that have been produced. If it’s a nuisance you can’t tolerate for some reason, there is a systemic insecticide product that is said to be effective in controlling aphids, but it would not do anything to solve this year’s population. There are several brands available, but the main ingredient is a chemical called imidacloprid, and it should be applied to the ground around the tree in early spring, where it will be taken up via the tree’s vascular system into the leaves.

Not much, then, can be done about this year’s population of hackberry aphids. Hose off the cars, the deck, the lawn furniture and anything under the trees that are sticky from the honeydew, and take comfort in the knowledge that they are a temporary annoyance, and will be gone in a few weeks.

What’s bugging the squash?

QUESTION: The leaves on some of my squash plants are beginning to wilt. Some of the small squash are rotting. What’s the reason?

squash gbWhen summer squash plants begin to go bad, you can probably blame it on insect pests. Two likely culprits: the squash bug and the squash vine borer.

“When squash leaves wilt and collapse, the squash bug is usually the pest to blame,” says extension agent David Cook. Squash bugs lay small, bronze-colored eggs on the undersides and upper surfaces of the leaves. Nymphs are gray with black legs, and are usually found in groups; adult squash bugs are broad and flat. They pierce the leaves and remove the sap, leaving the leaves wilted. You may also find them on cucumbers, melons and pumpkins.

The best control method is to be on the lookout for the eggs early in the season, and remove any that you find on the plants. (Organic Gardening magazine’s online pest control center suggests gently squishing them before they have a chance to hatch, and squishing any nymphs you may find, as
squash bug eggswell.) If you feel you must spray something, Cook says insecticides labeled for squash bug include bifenthrin, or permethrin. Always read and follow label directions.

If a long branch of the plant — or the entire plant — wilts suddenly, it’s the work of the squash vine borer, the larva of a moth that lays her eggs on the leaf stalks and vines. The eggs hatch in about a week, and the larva bores into the stem of the plant and begins to feed. If you look closely, you may find sawdust-like material near the base of the plant. To try to save the vine, split the stem open and remove the caterpillar. Mound soil up around the wound to encourage roots to grow.

After the larva enters the stem, insecticides are ineffective, so if you choose to use a chemical treatment, you have to start early. Cook says insecticides labeled for squash vine borer include bifenthrin, permethrin, carbaryl and esfenvalerate, and spinosad, which is considered a natural insecticide. Again, be sure to follow label instructions.