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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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Cut flowers to bring summer indoors

With summer in full bloom, those daisies and black-eyed Susans, zinnias and sunflowers, coneflowers, dahlias and others make beautiful bouquets to enjoy indoors. To make those bouquets last longer, it’s best to start early.

“I definitely always cut before the heat of the day sets in,” says Tallahassee May, owner of Turnbull Creek Organic Farm in Bon Aqua, Tenn. “This is better than in the evening, when the flowers still seem to hold heat from the day, even after the sun has set.”

The secret to long-lasting bouquets from the garden, May says, is to keep things clean. Continue reading

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Keep zinnias free of powdery mildew

QUESTION: I love zinnias and plant them every year. Sometimes they do well and look great all summer, but many years the leaves are covered in powdery mildew. How do you get rid of this problem?

Powdery mildew is a fungus that appears as gray or white splotches on leaves, stems and flowers of zinnias and other ornamentals and some vegetable plants. It travels by airborne spores, and thrives when nights are moderately cool and foliage stays damp. A mild covering of powdery mildew is merely unattractive, but a severe case can cause distorted shoots and leaves, misshapen flowers, or can prevent flowering altogether. Continue reading

The heat’s on: August garden tips & tasks

Gardeners in Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home) know that August can be brutal, and some days it’s best to stay inside. Here’s a tip: Get out early – before 7 a.m. if you can – and get those necessary tasks done. Then enjoy the rest of the day indoors, and remember that cooler days will be here soon.

Early in the month

RudbeckiaKeep deadheading daisies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and other summer-flowering perennials.

Many things stop blooming when it’s 90 degrees and above. As things cool down slightly, flowers in the beds and vegetables in the kitchen garden should be blooming again. Provide ample water if it doesn’t rain.

Continue to watch for Japanese beetles. Pick off any you find on your roses or other prized plants, and plunk them into a bowl of soapy water.

Save your prized tomatoes from the birds. Pick them before they are fully red and let them ripen indoors.

If petunias are looking scrappy, cut them back and provide a light dose of fertilizer. They should soon re-bloom.

Continue to harvest and use basil frequently to keep the plant from setting seed too early.

Mid-August

vegetable gardenBegin cleaning up vegetable beds. Remove dead or dying foliage and any rotting vegetables. A tidy garden bed means fewer places for destructive insects to overwinter.

Watch for spider mites on roses, which thrive in hot, dry weather and can quickly defoliate a rosebush. A strong spray of water on the undersides of the leaves every two or three days for a week should help keep them under control.

If you saved your potted amaryllis bulb from last winter and it has spent the summer outdoors, move it to a cool, dark place and let it dry out. Amaryllis needs a dormant period before it blooms again next winter.

There’s no need to water your lawn every day. Experts advise deep watering every few days rather than a shallow sprinkling every day.

Try to keep ahead of the weeds. But if you can’t, at least snip or pinch off the tops to keep them from flowering and setting seed.

Later in the month

Parsley curledLate summer is a good time to thin iris beds. Cut back the foliage, dig up the rhizomes and brush off as much dirt as you can. Discard any roots that are rotting or soft, then replant the rhizomes.

Avoid planting new trees and shrubs in the hottest part of summer. Be sure that trees, shrubs and perennials planted this spring are receiving enough water during long hot spells.

Some summer herbs can be frozen to use later. Try freezing fresh sprigs of parsley, oregano, sage, tarragon and dill. Rinse the herbs and pat them dry, then place them in separate freezer bags or containers with tight-fitting lids. Use them within four months.

Begin gathering seeds of annuals or vegetables to plant next year. Dry seeds thoroughly and store them in a place that’s cool and dry. Be sure to label them before you put them away.

Plant a cool season kitchen garden late this month — spinach, greens, kale, lettuces and other favorites. Keep beds or containers watered as seeds sprout, and watch for late-summer insect pests.

July garden tips & tasks

Summer is in full swing. Here’s how to enjoy the garden and it’s July bounty:

Early in the month

Geraniums

Cut geraniums and other summer annuals to encourage them to grow fuller.

In the kitchen garden, pick zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers while they are still small and tender.

Plant a second crop of those summer vegetables that grow quickly: bush beans, squash and cucumbers are easy favorites.

Watch for Japanese beetles. Experts don’t recommend Japanese beetle traps, which may attract more beetles to your landscape than would normally visit. Pluck them off the plants and drop them into a pan of soapy water.

If summer annuals such as coleus or geraniums are getting leggy, cut them back to encourage them to grow bushier. As a bonus, root the cuttings in water to have even more plants.

Before you leave for vacation, arrange for someone to water annual, vegetable and perennial beds and container gardens while you’re away. Make it easy for them: set up sprinklers in strategic places and hire a neighborhood youngster to turn on the faucet if it doesn’t rain.

Mid-July

Zinnias

Cut zinnias often. The more you cut, the more they bloom.

Bearded irises can be divided every three to five to years; mid-July is a good time to do it.

Lawn growth may slow down in the heat, but you may still have to mow. When you do, only cut about a third of the lawn’s height.

Cut chrysanthemums back in order to delay flowering until fall.

Herbs, annuals and perennials growing in containers need water every day when it’s hot. Don’t let them droop.

Keep cutting summer flowers such as zinnias and cosmos often; the more you cut, the better they bloom.

Later in the month

Tomatoes

Keep the soil evenly moist for tomatoes.

It’s hot, so get out early in the day to work in the garden. Drink plenty of water, wear a hat and use sunscreen.

Keep the soil around tomato plants evenly moist. Inconsistent watering can cause tomatoes to develop cracks.

Some summer flowers that grow tall may need staking to keep them from toppling in a heavy rainfall.

Continue to deadhead plants – cut off the spent flowers – to extend the blooming period.

Don’t forget about shrubs and trees planted this spring; they need an extra dose of attention in this heat. Give them a slow drink from a dripping water hose once or twice a week. A layer of mulch around newly planted threes and shrubs helps keep the soil moist longer.

Check the mulch in perennial and annual beds. Add more if it’s beginning to look thin. A good layer of mulch will help keep soil moist longer in the summer heat.

Enjoying a bit of Tranquility: Franklin’s Cornelia Holland nurtures the shade garden

Cornelia Holland, Photo courtesy University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

Cornelia Holland, Photo courtesy University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

she calls Tranquility at her home. She has donated plants to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville to establish Tranquility – The Cornelia B. Holland Hosta Grden at the University of Tennessee Gardens. Read the story in Saturday’s Tennessean.

 

Sowing seeds indoors: get a jump on the season

Question: When is the time to start vegetables and annual flowers indoors to plant outside in spring?

Start seeds indoors soon to plant in the garden this spring.

Start seeds indoors soon to plant in the garden this spring.

The time to start seedlings indoors depends on plants’ individual growth rates and the recommended dates in your area for putting plants in the ground. To figure the seed-starting date, start with the recommended planting time, calculate the plant’s germination and growing time (often noted on the seed package), and count back the required number of weeks to reach the date for starting the seeds.For example, to grow seedlings of a warm-season flower like zinnias in Middle Tennessee (where The Garden Bench calls home), we can plan on putting transplants in the ground after mid-April, the area’s last average frost date. The approximate growing time for zinnia seedlings is about 4-6 weeks, so you can sow zinnia seeds indoors early- to mid-March. Tomato seeds, another warm-weather favorite, can be sown in flats indoors 5 – 7 weeks before it’s time to transplant, so we can plan on starting them early in March.

To start cool-weather vegetables indoors, begin much earlier. For example, some leaf lettuces can be started indoors 4 weeks before the soil outdoors can be worked; bigger, tougher cool-season favorites like broccoli and cauliflower need 5 to 7 weeks to reach transplanting size. Sowing indoors now until the end of January can provide transplants ready to go in the ground at the end of February.

Give the seedlings plenty of light and the recommended moisture as they grow, and harden them off – expose them gradually to outdoor weather – before planting them in the ground.

 

Prevent powdery mildew

QUESTION: How do I keep my beautiful zinnias from getting powdery mildew? It may be too late for this year, but what should I do different next year?

Powdery mildew is a fungus that thrives when nights are moderately cool and foliage stays damp. It travels by airborne spores, and appears as gray or white splotches on leaves, stems and flowers of susceptible plants, such as zinnias. A mild case is merely unattractive; a severe case of powdery mildew can cause distorted shoots and leaves, misshapen flowers or can prevent flowering altogether.

The best defense is to give zinnias room to grow without crowding, which allows air to circulate better around the plants, and water only in the morning, so the foliage has time to dry before nightfall. Cut back on the use of high-nitrogen fertilizer, which produces succulent new growth that is a major powdery mildew magnet. Grow them in full sun; hot temperatures (above 90 degrees) inhibit the growth of mildew.

There are fungicides available that should be applied as soon as you begin to spot the mildew (so yes, probably too late for this year), but I always suggest trying the good-cultural-practices method first. The University of Tennessee Extension has a short list in a publication about powdery mildew here. If you decide to go that route, be sure to read and follow directions on the product label.

Zinnias are not the only things plagued by powdery mildew. Lilacs, roses, crepe myrtles and other woody ornamentals, and many herbaceous ornamentals and bedding plants are also targets when weather conditions favor the fungus.