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March into the garden with these tips and tasks

Gardeners in Middle Tennessee (home of The Garden Bench) know that, in spite of what the calendar says, early spring has arrived. It’s almost March, and buds are swelling, bulbs are up and many are blooming, tips of favorite perennials are poking up through the mulch. And while we know that winter can – probably will – visit us again in a few days, we can get outdoors and enjoy the emergence of the new season with these early-spring tips and tasks.

Spanish bluebells emerging

Prepare new garden beds: Have the soil tested (check with your county’s Extension service to learn how). Remove grass and dig or till soil 8 to 10 inches deep and mix with soil amendments and organic matter to improve drainage.

Add a dose of fertilizer to perennials as soon as you see new growth. Keep it light; too much fertilizer may result in lanky growth.

Cut back liriope and other ornamental grasses. It’s easier now that it will be once new growth emerges.

If your fescue lawn looks a little skimpy, overseed early this month. Fescue grows best when the weather is still cool. It’s best to wait until early fall for a complete lawn renovation.

Plant lettuce and other cool-weather crops

Herb transplants that don’t mind cool weather — parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano – can go in the ground now. And of course you can also plant seeds and transplants of radishes, lettuce, spinach and other cool-season vegetables.

Clip dead stems from perennial herbs – thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary (if your rosemary survived; many Middle Tennessee gardeners’ rosemary plants succumbed to the cold this winter). Pruning those perennial herbs encourages vigorous new growth. Remove mulch or leaves that may be covering perennials in garden beds.

If you need to prune nandinas, flowering quince and other airy shrubs, don’t shear the shrubs. Reach in and remove about a third of the branches at ground level.

Give pansies a light dose of fertilizer as they continue to bloom through early spring.

When you cut daffodils and other early-spring flowers 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.

Coming up: Nashville Lawn and Garden Show

The annual Nashville Lawn and Garden Show is what signals the arrival of spring for many Middle Tennessee gardeners. This year’s show will be March 1 – 4 at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The all-indoors event includes live gardens from top landscape designers, displays, vendors, a floral gallery and an extensive lecture series. This year’s featured speaker is Brie Arthur, author of “The Foodscape Revolution,” who will present lectures on March 3 and 4. For my interview with Brie and more details on the show, see the story here at Tennessean.com, and in Friday’s Tennessean.

 

Plant pansies for fall and winter color

I would like to have pansies in my garden this fall and winter. Is it better to plant them in pots or in the ground?

Pansies 2Pansies can be a pretty addition to the landscape in the fall, either in garden beds or in containers. They’re easy to care for and won’t wither and die when the temperature drops – in fact, they thrive in cool weather.

You can grow pansies from seed, but it’s easier to start with transplants, which are available in nurseries and garden centers everywhere around the region right now. Start with plants that are compact and healthy (if they are already leggy and shaggy, they may never look as nice as you’d wish).

To plant in containers, use a good potting mix and make sure there is adequate drainage (experts at Organic Gardening suggest using a newspaper or paper towel layer over the drainage holes, rather than pot shards or gravel, to keep soil from washing out). Plant densely, and water the plants thoroughly.

In garden beds, proceed with the planting of pansies as you would any other annual: Prepare the garden bed, adding compost or other organic material so that the soil drains well. Space the transplants closely (garden expert Judy Lowe suggests placing them 4 inches apart) and firm the soil around the plants so they won’t be lifted out of the ground as the soil freezes and thaws. Water thoroughly, and add a layer of mulch. Fertilize weekly until frost with a product made for flowering plants.

Pansies grow best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Pansies may begin to look scrappy during the coldest part of winter, but they likely will spring back to life when the weather begins to warm up again. Enjoy them for a while longer in spring, and be prepared to replace them as things heat up. Pansies do not grow well in the summer heat.