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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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Mulch garden beds with fall leaves

What’s the best way to use leaves as mulch in the garden? Can we just blow them off the lawn and into the garden beds?

leaves 2Most leaves can become a good source of mulch for garden beds. And yes, you could just blow them off the grass and into the beds, but it would be better to shred them before piling them onto your garden areas. Leaves that have been chopped up will decompose faster; a thick layer of leaves left intact may also smother the plants underneath, and prevent water from reaching the soil.

You can chop the leaves easily by mowing over and collecting them in a bagger attachment, or by using a shredder.

These guidelines for using leaves as mulch are from the UT/TSU Extension office:

*Use a 3- to 4-inch layer of shredded leaves around trees and shrubs in annual and perennial flower beds.

*Oak leaves may change the pH of the soil over time, making it more acidic, so you may have to apply lime to maintain a favorable number. If your beds are mulched primarily with oak leaves, you should have the soil tested about every three years. Oak leaves are also tougher and decompose more slowly, so it’s especially important to chop them before you use them to cover your perennial beds.

*Leaves can be mixed into kitchen garden beds and in beds where you plant annual flowers. Most of the leaves will decompose before planting time next spring. A bonus: if you have heavy clay soil, a thick layer of leaves tilled into the soil will improve the soil structure.

One other piece of advice comes from Deb Beazley, a naturalist at Warner Park Nature Center who leads workshops on organic gardening: When you rake leaves, set some aside for later. Next spring and summer, when you need more mulch, you’ll have a handy source of fall leaves to use.

“Cover them in bags so they don’t decompose by the time you need them next June,” she suggests.

Sowing seeds indoors: get a jump on the season

Question: When is the time to start vegetables and annual flowers indoors to plant outside in spring?

Start seeds indoors soon to plant in the garden this spring.

Start seeds indoors soon to plant in the garden this spring.

The time to start seedlings indoors depends on plants’ individual growth rates and the recommended dates in your area for putting plants in the ground. To figure the seed-starting date, start with the recommended planting time, calculate the plant’s germination and growing time (often noted on the seed package), and count back the required number of weeks to reach the date for starting the seeds.For example, to grow seedlings of a warm-season flower like zinnias in Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home), we can plan on putting transplants in the ground after mid-April, the area’s last average frost date. The approximate growing time for zinnia seedlings is about 4-6 weeks, so you can sow zinnia seeds indoors early- to mid-March. Tomato seeds, another warm-weather favorite, can be sown in flats indoors 5 – 7 weeks before it’s time to transplant, so we can plan on starting them early in March.

To start cool-weather vegetables indoors, begin much earlier. For example, some leaf lettuces can be started indoors 4 weeks before the soil outdoors can be worked; bigger, tougher cool-season favorites like broccoli and cauliflower need 5 to 7 weeks to reach transplanting size. Sowing indoors now until the end of January can provide transplants ready to go in the ground at the end of February.

Give the seedlings plenty of light and the recommended moisture as they grow, and harden them off – expose them gradually to outdoor weather – before planting them in the ground.