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  • Upcoming Garden Events

    Sept. 30: The Nashville Herb Society presents Through the Garden Gate: A Glimpse of Edwardian England, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Cheekwood Botanic Hall. Celebrate the gardens, foods and flowers that delighted Downton Abby family and friends at the turn of the 20th century. The event begins with a hearty Edwardian breakfast, followed by three speakers: Marta McDowell on Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life; Geraldine A. Laufer on Tussie Mussie – Victorian art of expressing yourself in the language of flowers; and Terry White, The English Garden event florist . Registration includes breakfast, box lunch in the garden with music, English tea and cookies. To learn more or to register, visit www.herbsocietynashvlle.org.

    Tips & tasks – September

    Cut the dead tops of coneflowers, but leave enough for goldfinches to enjoy the seeds.

    Plant cool-weather vegetables for a fall crop: spinach, mustard and turnip greens, radishes, leaf lettuce.

    Start a new lawn of cool-season grass, such as fescue, or refurbish or repair establish lawns.

    Don’t let the soil of newly planted grass dry out. New grass needs about an inch of water per week.

    It’s still warm, so continue to water and weed garden beds as needed.

    Remove dead foliage, spent flowers and other garden debris; replenish mulch as needed.

    Continue to harvest produce, which may be getting a boost now from slightly cooler weather. Keep watering sage, rosemary and other perennial herbs so they’ll be in good shape to get through winter.

    Prepare to bring houseplants back indoors: remove dead leaves, scrub soil from the sides of the pots, treat for insects. Bring tropical plants in before nighttime temperatures dip to 55 degrees.

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Care for peonies after they bloom

Now that the peonies have finished blooming, what’s the best thing to do with them – leave them or cut them back? Ours often get an ugly coating of powdery mildew on the leaves in the summer. Is there a way to prevent this?

After they bloom, peonies spend the rest of the summer gathering strength to bloom next year before they die back to the roots in winter. A good first task for the gardener is to cut off the faded flowers. Garden expert P. Allen Smith suggests removing the seed pods and lightly fertilizing in late spring or early summer. But be sure to leave the foliage. After the blooms are gone, the rich green leaves of peony shrubs remain an attractive feature in the garden – except when it develops a case of powdery mildew. Continue reading

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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

Plant peonies in spring or fall

Question: I have a flower bed in a spot that gets morning sun, and I want peonies in my garden. Can I plant them now?
peonies gbYes, early spring is a good time to plant peony rhizomes. They can also be planted in the fall. Once they’re established, peonies are finicky about being moved, so it’s a good idea to make sure the new flower bed is in good shape before you put them in the ground.
Peonies prefer a spot in full sun or with light afternoon shade, with good drainage, and away from the roots of trees and shrubs that would compete for water and nutrients. They can be susceptible to powdery mildew, so make sure they are not crowded and there is good air circulation in the bed.
Work plenty of organic matter and a high-phosphate fertilizer into the soil, and set the roots 1 inch deep.
Peonies may not bloom the first year they are planted, but they should bloom every year after that.

In the garden this week

It’s spring in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map, where The Garden Bench calls home). Here are a few late-March tasks on our gardening to-do list:

  • Replenish mulch around roses, azaleas and other shrubs.
  • Dig and divide, hardy mums, daylilies that have gotten too crowded.
  • Set out transplants of herbs that can stand up to a few more chilly days: parsley, cilantro, sage, chives, oregano are among the garden and kitchen favorites.
  • Trim buddleia or cut it back before new leaves emerge.
  • Last chance to mow over winter-browned liriope; new shoots are beginning to come up from the roots.

Powdery problems

I have three peonies. Two are fine, but the third, in a different location, is completely covered with powdery mildew. How does that happen? Should I do something about the one that’s covered? Or just leave it and hope for the best?

Powdery mildew (which affects all kinds of plants in the landscape) can be a problem when weather conditions are right and cultural conditions are less than perfect. It’s a fungus that thrives in warm weather when the humidity is high. It becomes more of a problem for plants that are growing in damp, shady places and overcrowded conditions.

It’s a common disease and you’ll know when it hits: look for patches of gray-white, powder-like growth. It usually appears on the tops of leaves but can also be seen on the bottoms of leaves, and on young stems, buds and flowers. It likes the young, succulent parts of plants.

At the UT Extension Soil, Plant and Pest Center, expert Alan Windham (who frequently provides answers to questions here) says the peony should survive with no problem. It’s a good idea to remove any dead or dying foliage and destroy it (don’t put it in the compost; that probably won’t kill the fungus spores), and clean up around the area.

Windham is more worried about downy mildew in beds of impatiens, which we mentioned in this column several weeks ago. “There are lots of cases coming in from all over the state; it’s been found in nearly every state east of the Mississippi,” he says.

Watch for plants that are losing leaves, that don’t flower, and that have white growth on the undersides of the leaves, he advises. The disease can be extremely damaging, so pull up, bag and dispose of infected plants to keep it from spreading.

Bad news this year, but even bigger implications for next year regarding availability, use by commercial landscapers and their general viability as a bedding plant, he said. Does that mean the ubiquitous impatiens won’t be among the gardener’s favorite go-to shade annual next year?

“Begonias, SunPatiens and New Guinea impatiens are going to be in high demand,” he says.

If you haven’t seen the Soil, Pest and Plant Center’s Facebook page, check it out here. “We’re putting lots of good stuff up,” Windham says.