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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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May garden tips & tasks

May is a busy and beautiful time in the garden. Here are tasks and tips to keep you busy this month.

Week 1

Azalea The Garden Bench

Prune azaleas shortly after they bloom.

Plant your summer kitchen garden with warm-season vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans. Water newly planted garden beds well, and keep them moist as seeds sprout.

Foliage left from spring-flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips and so forth – can be cut down if it has turned brown.

If you need to prune azaleas, do it now; don’t wait any longer, or you risk cutting off next year’s flowers, which will begin to form soon.

Set out bedding plants of favorite summer annuals: petunias, begonias, annual salvia, cleome, cosmos, celosia, snapdragon, zinnia.

Find a comfortable spot for houseplants that will spend summer outdoors, protected from too-harsh sun and strong wind and rain.

Week 2

Hellebores The Garden Bench

Dig and divide hellebores

Use mulch in perennial and annual beds and borders to keep weeds in check, and to retain moisture in the soil.

A cluster of aphids on tender new growth of plants can be washed away with a strong spray of water from the hose.

Container gardens dry out quickly in hot weather, so if your “garden” is a collection of pots on the deck or balcony, they need to be watered frequently.

Divide hellebores. Dig up as much of the root ball as possible and gently separate the roots. Replant right away, or share with friends (reminding them to plant as soon as possible).

When you mow, set the mower to cut high, removing only about a third of the height of the grass to keep it healthy. Don’t shear the lawn.

Week 3

Cut flowers The Garden Bench

Cut spring flowers to enjoy indoors.

There will always be unwanted plants (sometimes known as weeds). Pull or dig them out of garden beds when they are small, but especially before they form seeds. Weeds are easier to root out after watering or after a rain, when the soil is moist. Annual weeds that haven’t gone to seed can be tossed into the compost.

As summer approaches, make sure spring-planted trees and shrubs continue to get enough moisture. Provide about an inch of water a week — by hose or sprinkler if it doesn’t rain.

Enjoy the late spring bounty of flowers indoors. To help them last longer, cut flowers and foliage early in the morning and place them in water right away.

Grass clippings make good mulch, but allow them to decay before you use them on beds and borders.

Watch for spider mites on roses and other shrubs if the weather turns hot and dry. A strong spray of water on the undersides of leaves every few days can keep them under control.

Week 4

Thyme The Garden Bench

Thyme and other herbs are at their peak just before they bloom.

Many herbs are at their peak just before they bloom. Harvest them to use fresh, or preserve them by drying or freezing to use later.

As perennials flower and fade, cut the dying blooms. This will encourage the plant to bloom longer.

Divide irises after they finish blooming. Cut the leaves to about five inches, then lift the tubers with a spading fork. Separate the rhizomes and cut off damaged portions, then replant the rhizomes close to the soil surface.

Hummingbirds are welcome summer guests in the garden, visiting flowers and nectar feeders. If you provide feeders, change the nectar every day or two and clean the feeder thoroughly. Standard nectar recipe: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water; boil for five minutes, and allow it to cool before filling the feeder. No red food coloring needed.

Kale for cool-season gardens – and a seed giveaway!

Kale 'Wild Garden Frills'

Kale ‘Wild Garden Frills’

I’ve never grown kale, but I want to try it in my kitchen garden this year. Is it better to start with seeds or transplants? When is the best time to plant it?

'Darkibor' kale

‘Darkibor’ kale

Kale has become a culinary star for its flavor and its reputation as a nutrient-dense superfood. Fortunately, it’s a vegetable that’s easy to grow. It’s also one of those early-season garden favorites that thrives in cooler weather, so you can plan to begin planting it in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked (in Middle Tennessee — USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home — that could be late February or early March). It’s even better as a fall crop. Plant it again in late summer to grow and harvest into winter.

You can plant transplants, but it’s just as easy to sow seed directly in the prepared garden bed. Like most vegetables, kale grows best in full sun. Plant it in loamy soil that you may amend with high-nitrogen fertilizer. Sow in rows, or broadcast the seed over the area, spacing the seeds an inch or two apart. Cover with about ¼ inch of soil and keep the soil moist as the seed germinates. The seed company Renee’s Garden provides a video about planting kale that you can watch here. You can also grow kale in containers.

Portuguese 'Tronchuda Beira' kale.

Portuguese ‘Tronchuda Beira’ kale.

Thin seedlings as they begin to sprout; you can use the small, tender leaves in salads. Harvest by cutting the outside leaves of a plant as they get large enough to use; the crown of the plant will continue to grow.

Kale is a member of the same family as cabbage, broccoli and other Brassicas, and as such may need protection from cabbage worms and cabbage loopers. Row covers can keep adult insects from laying eggs on the plants as they grow.

There are several varieties of kale – smooth and curly leaf types, large, sturdy leaves and smaller, tender leaves, dark green, light green and purple-green varieties. (Ornamental kale, usually sold in fall to enhance landscapes with its frilly, brightly colored leaves, is edible but not as tasty as the leaves grown for culinary use.) There are dwarf varieties suitable for small plots and containers.

Seed giveaway – grow kale!

'Tuscan Baby Leaf' kale.

‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ kale.

Growers at the seed company Renee’s Garden are introducing Tuscan Baby Leaf kale for 2015, a milder, more tender kale that is good to use for salads and stirfry. Owner Renee Shepherd has offered two packets of the seeds for readers of The Garden Bench.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite ways to use kale (in stirfry? Salads? Soup? Smoothies?), or just say “I want to grow kale!”). Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a packet of Tuscan Baby Leaf kale seeds, just in time for spring planting.

 

Flowers now, tomatoes later

I remember reading somewhere about removing the early blooms on the tomato plants. Is this recommended?

tomato blossomThe general consensus is no, you don’t need to remove the early flowers of tomatoes, but there are two or three sides to the question. Some say to remove any blooms that may be on tomato transplants before you put them in the ground; some say to remove the first flowers after transplanting. The reason for pinching off any flowers at all would be to allow a very young transplant to focus on developing into a stronger plant before it puts energy into fruit production. But most resources (and all homegrown-tomato gardeners I’ve talked to) say it’s not necessary to remove the flowers at all.

There is also discussion about whether the tomato is a determinate variety (in which the tomatoes set fruit, ripen and are harvested all at once) or indeterminate (they ripen throughout the summer, until frost). If the tomato is a determinate variety, there’s a chance that you reduce the ultimate size of the crop if you pinch off the flowers. In general, there is no need to remove the flowers of either type if they are sturdy plants.

It is usually recommended to remove the suckers that grow as the plant grows. These are the shoots that grow from an axil, that point where a branch grows out of the stem. Removing them helps keep the plant more compact.

Making their debut: New shrub varieties

Last year I was invited to sample some new varieties of shrubs from Proven Winners® ColorChoice® that are making their debut in garden centers this year. They’ve been growing for a year in my garden now. Click over to the garden journal, Turning Toward the Sun, to see how they’re doing.

June Garden calendar

It’s the month for daylilies in Middle Tennessee, and the Middle Tennessee Daylily Society is holding its annual show and sale later this month. Find the June Garden Calendar listing this month’s garden events, tips and tasks at Tennessean.com.

 

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.

Spring lawn repair: mow and sow

Question: There are several bare spots in our lawn. Is it too early to sow fescue grass seed?

Lawn repair wheat straw

Sprinkle wheat straw over areas of newly patched lawn.

If the bare spots are just that – bare, ragged patches in an established lawn of cool-season grass such as fescue, and not an entire lawn — then March is a good time to fill in and overseed by sowing new grass seed. Here are the steps to take, provided by Judy Lowe, author of Month by Month Gardening in Tennessee & Kentucky:To overseed, mow the grass at the lowest mower setting and rake the clippings, then mow and rake again to expose as much of the soil as possible. Use a hard metal rake to rough up the soil. Even with much of the soil exposed, the seed won’t all come into contact with the soil, so sow one-and-a- half or two times the amount of seed recommended for a new lawn. Rake lightly over the area, and if possible, sprinkle a ¼-inch layer of topsoil or compost on top. Water the overseeded lawn every day to keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.

To patch a bare or ragged patch of lawn, first remove grass and weeds from the area and square off the edges. Dig the soil six inches deep and remove any rocks, roots and debris. Mix organic matter into the soil, rake the area, and then water. Sow grass seed at the rate recommended on the bag, then smooth the soil with the back of a rake to make sure the seed comes into contact with the soil. Cover the area with a light layer of wheat straw and water it often to keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate.

These steps can get your lawn through the summer in fairly good shape if it receives adequate moisture throughout the season. For complete renovation of a fescue lawn, which is easier to establish in cool weather, wait until fall.

If your lawn is a warm-season grass such as zoysia or Bermuda, wait until the soil warms up to do any planting.