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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.

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.

 

A great garden starts with the soil

QUESTION: Last year my small tomato garden did pretty good, but some of the tomatoes began to rot on the bottom. Someone told me it was because of the lack of lime in the soil. What do I need to put in the hole in order to have good soil for growing tomatoes?

soilIt sounds like your tomatoes developed the condition called blossom end rot. It’s generally due to a lack of calcium, but other factors could also contribute. Tomatoes need adequate moisture as they grow, but they should also be planted in soil that drains well and that contains the nutrients they need. So you may have to do more than just putting something in the hole.

In fact, any good garden begins with good soil. If the soil in your tomato bed is clay or sandy, you can improve it by working in compost, leaf mold, rotted manure or other organic matter. I’ve heard garden experts describe good soil to be the texture of moist, crumbly chocolate cake.

Before adding lime, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested to see what amendments may really be needed. Your county’s Extension service can provide the necessary instructions on how to have that done. A soil test also shows the soil’s pH – the measure of the acidity or alkalinity in the soil (tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0). The cost of the test is reasonable (a basic soil test at the Soil, Plant & PestCenter in Davidson   County, Tenn. is $7 per sample, and includes the soil pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium in the soil).

Back to that question about what to put in the hole: I’ve heard some gardeners say they crush a couple of eggshells and place them in the bottom of the hole when they plant tomatoes. You could try it; it wouldn’t hurt, especially after you’ve improved the soil with all that other good organic matter.