Take Advantage of Warm Weather But Watch the Forecast
By C Rae Hozer, Cumberland County Master Gardener
Wow! The number of locations with record highs over the past two weeks from the mid-west to the Atlantic coast has been amazing. Who would have thought Minnesota would be boasting 80 degree days in March?
Tennessee gardeners should enjoy this extended warm spell. Just be aware more freezes may be in our futurecast. Try to focus on all the yard and garden tasks that need to be done and will be so much more enjoyable while air temps remain balmy.
If you can’t resist a shopping trip to your local garden center or nursery select annuals, biennials and perennials known to tolerate frost or supplies for lawn maintenance or buy a hummingbird feeder. Hummers return to our state around April 1. Avoid purchasing cold-sensitive plants that may die if that jet stream does drop back to latitudes where it typically hovers in March. (Tomato plants are one example.) Transplants for warm season herbaceous plants that are not winter hardy are an unwise purchase right now. Fourteen days is about as long as young, vigorously growing plants can be held in a sheltered, unheated location such as a garage or crawl space or indoors in heated surroundings to wait out a cold snap. Be prepared to cover existing outdoor plants that break dormancy really early. Have frost protection at the ready should temperatures take a plunge below 36 degrees. Use cloth covers and/or large paper bags rather than plastic bags or plastic sheeting to protect frost-sensitive plants. Anywhere
plastic remains in contact with leaves, stems or flowers the cold can be transmitted through the covering to soft tissues. The plant may be damaged. If you only have plastic, be sure it does not lie directly on the plant. Don’t leave plastic covers on plants during daytime or they may cook in the hot sun!
Get your springtime pruning done before new leaves come out. Wearing short sleeves and short pants makes yard work (garden cleanup, weeding, mowing, pruning, digging, planting, etc.) so much more pleasurable. However, the long sleeved jacket I normally wear outdoors at this time of year would have been a wiser choice when pruning two clumps of tall ornamental grass. I got so many leaf-edge cuts my scratched arms looked like I was on the losing end of a cat fight. In summer these tall perennial grass clumps (one porcupine grass, Miscanthus sinensis `Strictus’ and a zebra grass specimen, Miscanthus sinensis `Zebrinus’) have green foliage with yellow horizontal bands on the leaves. In autumn the leaves change to a golden color. They are left to overwinter in the garden until late February or March.
Houseplants should be given a spring overhaul which includes pruning if needed, spraying with soapy water to rid them of insect pests and either replacing tired potting mix or adding time-release fertilizer to replenish available nutrients prior to their springtime flush of growth. I moved my houseplants (most of which are natives of the tropics) out to a shaded area on my north-facing deck after the weatherman said the thermometer would be in the seventies or warmer during the day and no lower than fifty at night. (That fifty degree temperature is important. Tropicals suffer if the mercury dips much below that mark.) Indoor plants benefit from the broader spectrum of light at a greater intensity available in open air. Take care, though. Direct exposure to sun can burn leaves accustomed to dim light. With too much damage, leaf drop occurs. Of course, if you bring houseplants out in warm weather, be prepared to carry them back inside when a predicted low is 54 or less.
Plateau Gardeningis written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) answers horticulture questions, has free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard & garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, email@example.com.