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  • March garden tips & tasks

    If your fescue lawn looks a little skimpy, overseed early this month. Fescue grows best when the weather is still cool.

    Clip dead stems from perennial herbs – thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary. Pruning encourages vigorous new growth.

    Prune nandinas, flowering quince and other airy shrubs by reaching in and removing about a third of the branches at ground level.

    Remove mulch or leaves that may be covering perennials in garden beds.

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

    Add fertilizer lightly to perennials as soon as you see new growth. Too much fertilizer may result in lanky growth.

    Herb transplants that don’t mind cool weather -- parsley, cilantro, sage, oregano – can go in the ground now.

    When you cut daffodils 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.

    Save the date - Middle Tennessee garden events

    The Perennial Plant Society's annual Plant Sale will be April 8, opening at 9 a.m. at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The sale offers newly released and hard-to-find perennials from top local nurseries -- more than 450 varieties of perennials, vines, grasses, shrubs and annuals. The event supports local scholarships for Tennessee horticulture students and monthly gardening programs, open to the public, at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. For information visit www.ppsmtn.org.

    The Herb Society of Nashville's annual Herb Sale will be April 29, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. at The Fairgrounds Nashville. The sale will offer heirloom vegetables, rare varieties of perennial and annual herbs, handmade pottery herb markers and more. To learn more, visit herbsocietynashville.org.

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Force blooms for an early touch of spring

Forcing branches of early-flowering shrubs into bloom indoors is a quick way to bring a little spring into your home.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Stems from many late-winter flowering shrubs and trees flower readily indoors under the right conditions, says Judy Lowe, author of Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky: Some of the favorites (and easiest) are forsythia, flowering quince, spicebush and kerria.

Here are Judy’s tips for coaxing branches into bloom:

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Prune to preserve the sweet scent of mock orange

Our two mock orange shrubs are full of blooms right now, but they haven’t been pruned in many years and they are very tall and lanky with a lot of dead wood, and look terrible the rest of the time. When can they be shaped up or pruned?

Philadelphus - mock orange

Mock Orange

The flowers of the mock orange shrub last only a week or two in late spring in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a (where The Garden Bench calls home), but they can provide a stunning show, and the fragrance, which is said to resemble orange blossoms, is delicate and sweet.

Those flowers bloom on the previous year’s growth, so you should prune the shrubs right after they finish blooming this year, which allows time for new growth to mature and bloom next spring.

If the shrub is in really bad shape but still vigorous, you can actually do a rejuvenation pruning, removing the oldest stems at ground level to encourage vigorous new growth. Information from the National Gardening Association suggests cutting out about a third of the stems. Pruning the shrub every year encourages it to grow more densely.

In general, mock orange (Philadelphus is the botanical name) grows best in full sun but can tolerate a little shade. It does well in most types of soil, as long as it has good drainage. Mock orange is good to use as a background shrub or a specimen plant in the landscape. If you’re considering a new shrub, be sure to plant it where you can enjoy that sweet, though fleeting, fragrance.

Book giveaway – winners!

southern gardeners handbookLast week we announced a book giveaway – two copies of Southern Gardener’s Handbook by Middle Tennessee author Troy B. Marden. Commenters Rhonda and Amanda were picked in random drawings, and they’ll receive copies of the book from the publisher, Cool Springs Press. Thanks for your comments!

Transplant azaleas in early fall

I have an azalea I’d like to move to a different location in the yard. Can I dig it up and move it now?

Now is not the best time to transplant azaleas, but start planning to make the move, because you can do it soon. The U.S. National Arboretum Web site and the Azalea Society of America both suggest early fall, after the weather has cooled a bit, as a good time to transplant an azalea.

When the time comes, start by preparing the new planting site (azaleas need good drainage, partial sun, and slightly acid soil). Dig a wide hole, but not a deep one because azaleas have fairly shallow roots. Dig the azalea with as big a root ball as you can manage, then lift the plant by the root ball, not by the trunk, and move it to its new location. If it’s a very large plant, you may want to work a tarp or a big square of burlap under the root ball, then tie it up and lift it using the tarp (probably not a one-person job).

When you place the root ball in its new hole, make sure it’s at the same level as it had been growing. Fill the hole with soil and water thoroughly, and add a couple of inches of pine straw mulch. Water it again the next day, and at least once a week for several weeks, the Azalea Society suggests. Water deeply if the plant begins to look wilted.