Growing Pains with Local Soil & Maintenance

Growing Pains with Local Soil & Maintenance

Let’s get the science lesson about soil structure out of the way first, thanks to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture: The ideal soil for crops, lawns and garden beds consists of a balanced mixture of coarse (like sand) and fine (like clay) particles. This is the best environment for providing required amounts of oxygen and water for proper drainage while still holding an appropriate amount of water within the root zones of plants. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the situation found naturally in most Middle Tennessee landscapes. Heavy clay soil is abundant throughout the region, says Gardens of Babylon founder Mark Kerske. In addition, Tennessee soils may be very high in phosphorous, a mineral that is essential to plant growth but, in overabundance, can lock up other nutrients that plants need for proper growth. 

“The soils in Tennessee are not only compacted due to heavy clay, but also depleted by the constant use of toxic fertilizers that have wiped out all the good, beneficial microbes in the soil,” Kerske says. “Step 1, in my opinion, is doing a soil test to find out the actual composition of the soil.” This test measures the soil’s pH level and points out nutrient deficiencies. It’s the best way to know the next steps to take to improve the growing conditions in your landscape.

Soil Amendments

“We focus on the biology in the soil,” says Kerske. “When we can balance the biology with the good microbes, we make the plants more resistant to diseases and pests, and you can have less of a weed problem.”

Compost tea is one of the best formulas for improving the soil, Kerske believes. Applications of this brew of living micro-organisms improves the health of soil that has been compacted — due to heavy equipment used during construction or renovation, for example – or depleted due to the overuse of chemical fertilizers. 

In the fall, when an established lawn benefits from aerating and overseeding, it’s also a good time to apply a serving of compost tea. “Pulling out plugs of soil allows the tea to go deeper into the ground, so it’s working a lot faster that way.” Spring is also a good time for soil amendments. If soil is compacted, Kerske recommends three applications a year. “It’s taken years to make your soil bad, so it will take a couple years of applications to improve it, he says. “First and foremost, it’s all about the health of the soil.” 

Good compost and worm castings incorporated into the soil can also improve soil by providing good microbial activity. “It’s a good start,” Kerske says.

Landscaping Services

For homeowners who need advice and help with troublesome soil and other lawn and garden issues, Gardens of Babylon offers a range of ways making it easier to enjoy a lush, properly managed landscape. Services range from mowing and landscape bed maintenance to regular turf treatments to keep the lawn looking its best, all using sustainable products and processes.

Homeowners can set up an annual maintenance contract with services that include: 

  • Spring and fall cleanups, typically in February or March ahead of the growing season, and again in the fall to prepare the landscape for winter.
  • Professional pruning of ornamentals or fruit trees, cutting back roses, maintaining boxwoods.
  • Mulching to prevent soil moisture evaporation and germination of weed seeds in garden beds in Spring, and a secondary layer of mulch in Fall.
  • Planting annuals for seasonal color in garden beds and custom containers.
  • Irrigation system management, including seasonal maintenance in Spring and Fall.

Other landscape enhancements can include applications of compost tea to improve soil health, lawn aeration and overseeding, leaf clean-up and bulb-planting in Fall (for Spring flowering), drain clean-out, mosquito control and other services that allow homeowners to enjoy their landscape without much fuss and bother.

Maintenance Plans

Landscape maintenance by Gardens of Babylon begins with a free phone consultation. “We set up a 30-minute window to talk through needs and expectations,” says maintenance specialist Chloe Barrett. “Then we come to your home for an on-site evaluation.” 

The focus is on sustainable practices to maintain a landscape using a three-pronged approach: “Using organic materials, appropriate maintenance and paying attention to what’s successful in the landscape,” Barrett explains. 

Throughout the growing season, regular maintenance includes a visit every couple of weeks.  

Clients can begin a maintenance program at any time. To schedule a consultation for a Landscape Maintenance Program, visit the Gardens of Babylon website here.

Personal Farmer

For clients who have the desire for home-grown produce but not the time or ability to grow it, Gardens of Babylon offers a full-scale vegetable- or fruit-planting service — “Everything from designing raised beds, installing plants and providing ongoing maintenance,” Barret says. 

The Personal Farmer crew makes regular visits to feed and weed and make sure everything is healthy. Harmful insects are eliminated with a spray of food-grade insecticidal soap. “We can come on a regular basis to keep everything in check,” she says. “Most of our personal farmer clients get a twice-a-year install and two or three maintenance visits through the season.”

Clients can begin a maintenance program at any time. To schedule a consultation for a Landscape Maintenance Program, visit the Gardens of Babylon website here.

Fall Containers for Front Porch Color

Fall Containers for Front Porch Color


For spring, I decided to forgo the usual porch geraniums and go for something a little more interesting: a mixed container planting that would change as it grew, providing a more interesting look for our front steps. The container would be in dappled shade much of the day, and I remembered how much I like the more unusual begonias, so that became the planter’s focus. It worked well.

Now it’s fall, and time for a change. I usually set out pots of mums this time of year, but this time I’ve decided to mix it up. Instead of lots of mums taking the stage solo, I decided to have fewer of those fall cliches, but mix them in with other plants to have more impact. But what other plants?

Dana Stein, Gardens of Babylon’s VP of Operations, offered this advice in the spring: “Walk around a good garden center and think about what you like. Think about colors, and think about how to put them together for the best look, and what excites you.” 

So, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September, I took a stroll through the Garden Center at Gardens of Babylon to see what I could find. 

Potted Plants

Fall-Color Mixers

If you don’t usually see beyond mums for fall, you’d be surprised to find how many different types of plants can be combined to make an interesting container arrangement using annuals and perennials that sport the deep, rich and bright colors of the season. Consider a few that are tender — and therefore temporary, until they succumb to frost — but will brighten up your entry for as long as they can:

  • Coleus: The rich colors of the foliage are sumptuous in summer, but really stand out in an arrangement for fall.
  • Croton: These bright, multicolor tropical beauties are everywhere now, and provide an instant thriller for the pot. They won’t last through a frost outdoors in a container, but you can easily pot them up and bring them indoors to brighten your rooms, then return them outside next spring.
  • Ornamental peppers: The orange or red fruits against their dark foliage are an unexpected touch in a festive fall container.
  • Supertunias: You likely can find pots of these petite petunias in a range of fall-appropriate shades in garden centers now.

Flowers In Ornamental Containers

And of course, the tried-and-true and cold-hardy garden standards are still good for ornamental containers:

  • Ornamental cabbage and kale: Tough enough to stand up to the coldest days.
  • Pansies and violas: Their bright colors are great in the fall, and still great the following spring.
  • Heuchera: This is a standard of spring and summer shade gardens, but it also soldiers on through winter, and does well (with care) in containers. The darker varieties are the most fall-appropriate.
  • English ivy: While I don’t advocate its use in a landscape (too invasive!), it does, indeed, make a good, long-lasting “spiller” in a mixed container.

And while they’re not really planted in a container, remember that pine cones, berry sprigs, mini pumpkins, magnolia branches or leaves and other cut greenery can be used as fill-ins for fall-into-winter containers.

A Container of Fall Colors 

In my Garden Center wandering, I looked for fall-theme plants that would meet the thriller-filler-spiller rule of container planting (a “thriller” plant that’s tall and bold, a mid-size, eye-catching “filler,” and a “spiller” that trails over the sides of the pot). For my tall, narrow container, which is about a foot wide, I came home with several possibilities: a pot of “Palace Purple’ coral bells (heuchera), yellow pansies, blue violas, a small, a sprawling ‘Blue Rug’ juniper, and two pots of purple-leaf mustard with the charming name ‘Miz America.’ I remembered that the pot already had a thriller plant that still might work – a tall and spiraling Juncus ‘Twisted Arrows, a rush that, unfortunately, never was much of a twister but was striking all summer nonetheless. And later I brought home three small pots of yellow mums, ready to burst into bloom.

Container Planting

This little collection offered several combination options, so after I clipped and repotted the begonias and pulled out the remaining roots of the creeping Jenny (which had succumbed to the digging of squirrels, sadly), I tried the new plants, still in their pots, in a variety of ways: the purple mustard and the bright yellow mums as fillers, the juniper spreading over the side; the heuchera instead of the juniper; three mums instead of one, one little pot of mums and one pot of violas, and so on.

I settled on one dark purple mustard, two yellow mums and the juniper to join the Juncus that I left in the pot.

This is a fall-theme container, but it won’t hold over into and through winter. In some climates, the Juncus (or rush) is semi-evergreen; the mustard can stand some cold weather but probably not prolonged freezing temps, and of course the mums will be brown and gone after the first hard frost. That’s when I can take them out and add yellow pansies.

Meanwhile, I had plants left over, so I created a second combination for another planter that makes use of the coral bells, the second mustard, and the extra little pot of mums.

Also, if you’re not the D.I.Y. type, our botanical design team can help you create beautiful containers. They are plant experts, and know what plants work well together, what kind of lighting that your plants will need, and what plants would be happy on your porch or in your yard! Reach out for a consultation today.

Plants In A Big Pot

Prep Your Garden Beds for Fall

Prep Your Garden Beds for Fall


It’s that time of year when, after summer’s unrelenting heat and humidity, we gardeners enjoy getting out and getting our hands in the soil again. Gardeners, it’s time to prep your landscape and garden beds for fall. Did you know we offer a Personal Farmer service at Gardens of Babylon? You can book a consultation here and we can help you create the garden of your dreams. But if you want to do it yourself, where do you begin?

Woman Gardening



If you grow veggies in a kitchen garden, you’ve likely been harvesting tomatoes, squash, beans, okra, cukes and other summer favorites all along. You’ll keep doing that, of course, but it’s also a good time to pull or dig up any dead or dying plants, trim dead foliage, clean up leftover debris, and add another layer of mulch to any vegetable plants that are still going strong. 

Beds of annuals and perennials also benefit from a cleanup heading into fall. Remove dead or dying foliage, sticks, twigs or other debris. Deadhead perennials and annuals as needed, and gather a bouquet of summer blooms to enjoy indoors while you’re at it.

And of course there’s the never-ending task of removing unwanted plants (aka weeds). If the summer heat drained any energy you had for pulling weeds, now’s the time to catch up on that necessary garden chore. 


Vegetable Bed Prepping

Bed prep

Garden beds that have provided fresh produce for you all spring and summer – whether they’re in the ground or raised beds — can use a little attention about now. Boosting the soil with compost, organic fertilizer, mulch or other amendments will send them into the next season in better shape.  Top off raised beds with special soil mix or a topsoil blend, and work it into the existing soil.

Kitchen garden beds that will not be used outside of the growing season benefit from a cover crop – a fast-growing annual planted in late summer or fall and plowed under before planting time in spring. This “green manure” protects from soil erosion over the winter, provides organic matter to improve soil structure, and nutrients to boost growing conditions, suppresses weeds and provides habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators – a win all around.

Plants to consider for cover crops in established kitchen garden beds include alfalfa, crimson clover, hairy vetch, buckwheat and annual rye, along with mustard greens and daikon radish, two edible crops that benefit the soil, as well.

If you’re thinking of starting a new garden bed to plant next spring, now is the best time to act. You can start by laying cardboard and mulch over the soil in the new bed to suppress weeds that may grow; by next spring, the area should be ready for digging and planting. 


Waterign The Plant

Plant a Fall Garden

As the summer kitchen-garden crops begin to fade, make the transition to edibles that grow in cooler weather. Some suggestions: 

Broccoli: When you buy transplants, make sure they are short and compact and have good, green color. Plant them in full sun about 18 inches apart. Water as needed to keep the plants from wilting, and apply a complete fertilizer when they are about 10 inches tall.

Collards: Sow seeds or set seedlings in full sun and well-drained soil, 12 to 18 inches apart. Provide about an inch of water a week and harvest by cutting the outer leaves as they reach full size.

Cabbages: Set out transplants in full sun and well-drained soil, spaced about 18 inches apart. Fertilize the plants when they’re about half grown, and harvest when the heads reach full size.

Leaf lettuce: Begin now to sow seeds in successive plantings every two or three weeks. Sow in rows 12 inches apart, and thin to 4 – 6 inches apart when seedlings appear. You can also sprinkle seeds over soil in large pots and planters. Harvest when the leaves are large enough to use.

Spinach: Sow seeds in full sun in rows 12 inches apart, and thin seedlings to one plant every 6 inches. Provide regular water, and harvest when the leaves are large enough to use.

Turnips (for greens or roots): Sow seed in full sun and well-drained soil ½ inch deep, 8 – 10 seeds per foot. When the seedlings are 4 inches tall, thin them to about three inches apart. You should have greens to harvest in about five weeks; if you grow turnips for the roots, harvest them when they are about 2 – 3 inches in diameter.

Garlic: Plant individual cloves (pointed ends up) two inches deep and about four inches apart in a sunny bed with well-drained soil. Harvest the bulbs next spring.


Visit Gardens of Babylon Garden Center for plants, seeds, tools, equipment, raised beds, soil, mulch and all you might need to prep your established or new garden beds for fall.

Sustainable Landscaping Maintenance

Sustainable Landscaping Maintenance

If you’re concerned about the environment, you want to make sure your landscape practices are not harming the planet with unnecessary chemicals, unsafe practices or excessive use of resources. Gardens of Babylon shares your concern, and can take eco-friendly care of your landscape with regular maintenance of your yard and gardens. 

“It’s really a three-pronged approach: using organic materials, appropriate maintenance, and paying attention to what’s successful in the landscape,” says landscape designer Chloe Barrett, a maintenance specialist on Gardens of Babylon’s design team. 

Fertilizers are sourced from organic materials (never glyphosate or other harmful chemicals); when a pesticide is called for, the choice is natural Neem oil or other non-chemical measures. Maintenance procedures include proper pruning practices, and timely trimming and care of perennial and annual garden beds.

“One of the biggest issues is site analysis,” Barrett says, explaining that designers consider the light, water and soil needs of plant placement in a design plan. If you continue to plant something that fails, you’re not just throwing away the plant, she says, you’re also wasting the resources that went into growing it and bringing it to your landscape. “Making proper recommendations for the site is critical to landscaping,” she says. 

Considering the lawn

“Turf is, by nature, a bit of a sign of luxury,” Barrett says. “One of the big things I see is that clients are becoming more educated about the use of chemicals. People realize that violets and clover are appealing.”


For clients who still don’t share the appeal, Barrett admits that weed management without chemicals is a challenge. In that case, eco-maintenance includes regular aeration and overseeding to allow turfgrass to thrive, and manual control – digging and pulling weeds as they appear. It’s also important to make sure irrigation systems are in order and there are no drainage issues in the lawn that would affect the growth of turfgrass.


Gardens of Babylon’s natural turf care is a six-step program of weed control, fungal treatment, dethatching, fertilization and insect control.


“Those are the overarching issues that can be addressed for a more sustainable landscape.”

Maintenance on schedule

A typical regular maintenance plan includes two large cleanups each year, in February or March ahead of the growing season, and again in the fall to prepare the landscape for winter. Spring tasks may include pruning ornamental or fruit trees, cutting back roses, maintaining boxwoods, removing the first flush of cool-weather weeds, and a spring mulching to prevent soil moisture evaporation and germination of weed seeds in garden beds. 

Throughout the growing season, regular maintenance includes a visit every couple of weeks so weeds don’t grow out of control “Many gardeners enjoy doing the work and just want us to come out and do the heavy lifting,” Barrett says. “We make sure our clients don’t miss the flowers for the weeds.”

Fall tasks would include cutting back perennials and putting beds to rest for the season, adding a secondary layer of mulch if requested.

Mosquito control is also among the available services, using organic methods. “It’s not a blanket pesticide, but it does prevent the formulation of larva over time,” Barrett says. Eco-friendly leaf services can be arranged in the fall. “We like to mulch the leaves on-site to return organic material to the soil.”

Personal Farmer

For clients who have the desire for home-grown produce but not the time or ability to grow it, Gardens of Babylon offers a full-scale vegetable- or fruit-planting service — “Everything from designing raised beds, installing plants and providing ongoing maintenance,” Barret says. 

The Personal Farmer makes regular visits to feed and weed and make sure everything is healthy. Harmful insects are eliminated with a spray of food-grade insecticidal soap. “We can come on a monthly basis to keep everything in check,” she says. “Most of our personal farmer clients get a twice-a-year install and two or three maintenance visits through the season.”  


Commitment to sustainability

Sustainable practices don’t stop once the landscaping crews are finished. 

“We are working on a company-wide waste diversion policy of recycling and composting,” says Leah Mattix, marketing director at Gardens of Babylon. “Our garden center waste diversion from composting since 2019 is at 81,300 pounds. The landscaping roll-off dumpsters have diverted 234,000 pounds of landscape waste.

Landscaping initiatives for recycling, composting and reducing landscape waste include mowing and mulching to build organic matter on-site; mulching leaves to use in local garden projects; repurposing soil by sifting out debris and reusing it in local grading projects.

Rock and concrete pulled from jobs are recycled into aggregate for hardscape construction projects; pallets are given to vendors to be reused if they are pressure-treated; recycled or composted if they are not.

“We focus on water-wise irrigation. Our landscape designers will do sustainable designs like xeriscapes, edible landscapes, raised garden beds,” Mattix says. “We focus on local products; the stone, cedar beds, compost, and compost tea (“Develops healthy, living soil, key for healthy plants,” says Barrett) are all local.”


Even the Garden Center’s break-room supplies are either reusable or compostable. And for the convenience of customers who would rather recycle their plastic nursery pots instead of throw them in the trash, there’s a recycling bin at the Garden Center, near the loading zone.


Getting on board

Clients can begin a maintenance program at any time. “We set up a 30-minute window to talk by phone through needs and expectations, then come to your home for an on-site evaluation,” Chloe Barrett says.

To schedule a consultation for a Landscape Maintenance Program, visit the Gardens of Babylon website here.

Houseplants for Bright Light

Houseplants for Bright Light


While many common houseplants originate in the filtered shade of tropical regions, there are others that crave the sun. If the summer sun is lighting up your rooms through south- and southwest-facing windows, you are among the lucky houseplant-lovers who can enjoy houseplants for bright light!

Here are five houseplants to grow near those bright windows:

Jade plant (Crassula ovata)

This succulent, with its tree-shape stems and fleshy leaves, is easy to grow and love. Place it in a spot that gets about four hours of bright, filtered light all year. (Jade plants can live with less, but they grow tall and leggy over time.) They grow well in regular potting soil, and you can allow the soil to dry out between waterings; if the leaves begin to fall off, though, the plant is too dry. Jade plant is long-lived; with care, it can last ten years or more; and it’s easy to propagate from tip cuttings and last indefinitely.

Jade Plant

Jade plant

Croton (Codiaeum variegatum pictum)

Joseph’s Coat is a common name for this plant because of its bright, colorful foliage – large yellow, yellow-orange, green, yellow-green leaves all growing from the same stem! Find a spot in your home with bright light for the most intense colors. Croton grows easily in good potting soil with regular watering. It also benefits from spending summer outdoors in dappled shade. One thing to watch for: small, cottony clumps on the leaf veins or stems – an infestation of mealybugs. Brush them away with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

Joseph’s Coat Plant

Joseph’s Coat plant

Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)

You may think of papyrus as a marsh or pond plant, but indoors, in front of a sunny window, it makes a unique houseplant that’s easy to love. The tall stems end in sprays of grassy, thread-like leaves. Best, though, is that the roots can stand in water (as long as the water is changed regularly). Houseplant experts suggest giving half-diluted plant food every couple of weeks, and papyrus benefits from misting in winter, when the air in your home is drier. 

Papyrus Plant

Papyrus plant

Tropical Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

To feel like you’re on a tropical island inside your home, place a tropical hibiscus in front of that bright-light window and wait for the blooms! The large flowers are unusual for an indoor plant, which can grow to the size of a small tree. Give enough water to keep the soil slightly moist. You can keep the size manageable by pruning in the fall. In summer, the plant benefits from being outdoors in partial sun, but be sure to bring it in before nights get too cool. Houseplant guides say the plants bloom from late spring to late fall, but I’ve had a hibiscus tree opening its red blooms indoors on Christmas day.

Red Hibiscus Flower

Red Hibiscus flower

Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)

Areca can be a large, statement-making palm in front of your bright window, with its feathery fronds that grow from the roots to possibly 6 – 7 feet tall. The palms also prefer warmth, so keep it in a room that doesn’t get below 65 degrees F. Keep the soil evenly moist, and watch for spider mites that can become a problem if the air is too dry. 

Houseplants For Bright Light

houseplants for bright light

Snake plant (Sanseveria trifasciata)

And here’s a bonus! Snake plant is known for being a houseplant that tolerates low-light conditions and benign neglect, but it does well in bright light, too, growing tall and robust. Grow snake plant in regular potting soil, and allow the soil to dry out between waterings, especially in winter. When repotting (in spring is best) and as plants grow, pebbles added to the bottom of the pot can keep it from toppling over. 

Potted Snake Plant

Potted Snake plant

Visit the Gardens of Babylon Garden Center to check out the selections of houseplants that grow in bright light, or in whatever light conditions you have in your home.