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In The Garden in Arkansas

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There are several topics to cover in this "In the Garden" section of the Cooperative Extension website.  From native plants to butterfly gardening, to the reference library compiled of questions and answers, you will find a wealth of information related to gardening in Arkansas.  Check back often to view new and updated information as it relates to your garden.  We hope when you are finished reading the various topics listed here you will be back in the garden equipped to tackle your next gardening project.

For up-to-date gardening tips and advice, check out our I Dig Extension Blog, by Janet Carson.    

A list of monthly gardening chores is listed below. 

  • Current Month Gardening To-Dos

    Zone Report May 2016

    2016 - The saying April Showers Brings May Flowers, could be true this year; we have had our fair share of rain.  While we did see some really warm days, we also had plenty of cool nights.  May weather typically gives us our first taste of hot weather, and gardens kick into high gear. It has been a glorious spring with minimal winter damage.  Many gardeners are finding that petunias, callibrachoa and verbena have overwintered and have been blooming for a month or more.  That is not something we can reliably expect every year, but enjoy it when it happens.   If you haven’t pulled your cool season annuals, it is time to begin adding summer color. 

    Annual flowers are typically with us for one season.  While they are in the garden we want non-stop color.  To make that happen, you need to fertilize regularly throughout the growing season.  Whether you use a granular or a water soluble fertilizer, the key is to fertilize.  Make sure you fertilize often but lightly.  Too much fertilizer at one time can lead to damage on the plants.  Some good plant choices for sun include Angelonia,  Pentas, lantana, periwinkle, petunias and zinnias.  For shade consider begonias, impatiens, torenia and coleus.  Some coleus can take full sun to deep shade.  Make sure you know the mature size of your annuals, so you can give them the room they need to grow and flourish.

    Harvest of cool season vegetables is in full swing, and those that planted early warm season crops will soon be getting squash, green beans and peppers.  There is still time to plant summer vegetables, from the standard tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash, but now that the soil is warming up, consider planting sweet potatoes, okra, southern peas and winter squashes.  Some of these plants take up a lot of space in the garden, so be sure to give them room to grow.  Just like with annual flowers, regular fertilization will give best production.  Avoid too much fertilizer around the legumes—the beans and peas, but the other vegetables will benefit from regular nutrition and even water.  Mulching can help preserve  moisture and keep weeds at bay.

    By now most of our warm season grasses are totally greened up and weekly mowing is in order.  Now would be a great time to fertilize your lawns.  Most lawn grasses would do fine with one application of fertilizer a year.  While Bermuda grass will respond favorably to more frequent applications, you may find yourself mowing more than you want to. 

    Spring flowering shrubs were in their glory this spring but most have finished blooming now.  Now is the time to fertilize all spring blooming shrubs and if needed, do some pruning.  Try to get all spring blooming shrubs, vines and trees pruned by the middle of June so they have time to recover before they begin to initiate flower buds for next year.  Most trees and shrubs need only one application of fertilizer per year. 

    Perennial plants are plants that come back for more than one year.  Some perennials bloom in the winter, some in the spring, or summer or fall.  Length of bloom time can vary from two weeks to 4 or more months.  Many of our popular perennials are kicking into bloom now, including baptisia, hardy geraniums, coreopsis, hardy orchid, daylilies and I have even seen some early Echinacea or purple coneflower.  If you have long-blooming plants, deadheading them to remove the spent flowers will keep them flowering longer.  Know the needs of the plants you are growing.  We typically don’t fertilize perennials as much as we do annuals, but some plants are heavy feeders, while others thrive on neglect.  Water requirements vary as well.

    Plant of the month:
    Potatoes have a long history and are a favorite food of many people, and are easy to grow in the garden. The potato, Solanum tuberosum, is the world’s fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. The Inca Indians in Peru grew potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C.  Early explorers introduced the potato to Europe and Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 where it became a staple crop. When the potato blight swept through Europe in the 1840’s it wiped out the potato crop leading to widespread famine in Ireland.  Over the course of the famine, almost one million people died from starvation or disease and another one million people left Ireland, mostly for Canada and the United States.

    Potatoes are typically planted from a small potato with eyes called a seed potato.  Most garden centers sell them in February – April.  There are many potato varieties, with reds, yellows, and blue forms.  They can be planted in late winter for an early summer harvest, or planted in late summer for a fall harvest, but seed potatoes can be hard to find for fall plantings.  They can be planted 3-5 inches deep and 18-24 inches apart in a well-drained soil in full sun. Rotate where you plant potatoes each year to cut back on disease issues.   Potatoes require good soil moisture when the foliage is actively growing.  An uneven water supply can cause knobs to form on the potatoes or cracks will appear.   As the vines begin to yellow at the end of the season, let them dry out a bit. If they are too wet, it can lead to rotting of the potatoes.  If you plan to eat the potatoes quickly, you can harvest as the vines die back, but if you have planted a lot and want to store potatoes, wait two weeks after the vines die back to harvest.  Small new potatoes can be harvested when they are large enough to eat, but must be used fairly quickly after harvest. 

    The main insect problem is the Colorado potato beetle. This hard shelled, yellow with black striped beetle can wreak havoc on the plants.  The adults lay eggs on the plants and the pinkish larvae can defoliate a plant quite quickly.  While there are a lot of diseases associated with potatoes, we don’t usually have too many in the home garden.  A scaly appearance on the outer skin of the potato called scab is usually associated with soils with a high pH.  Avoid using lime around potato plants.  While this condition doesn’t look too appetizing, it doesn’t affect the quality of the inside of the potato. 

  • January
     

    2016 - Happy New Year, and let us hope we will have a great growing season in 2016!  Our December was much kinder and gentler than last year, so let us hope that trend continues in January and February.  The warmer than normal December had some plants confused and we had a few spring blooming plants thinking spring was already here.  We saw some unexpected blooms on iris, daylilies and a few tulip magnolias.  Hopefully they have now gone back to sleep and will be ready for bloom next spring. 

    If you still have spring blooming bulbs that you haven’t planted, do so soon.  Remember they need at least 12 weeks of cold weather to break dormancy and perform at their best.  If you already see spring bulb foliage up and growing from earlier plantings, don’t worry, but do leave the foliage alone.  That is the only set of leaves those bulbs contain and you don’t want to damage it. 

    On mild days fertilize your pansies and violas and other winter annuals.  They are blooming nicely and this should help them continue to bloom well. On days below freezing plant tissue will freeze and they will be brittle, but if you leave them alone they will defrost and keep on growing. 

    Winter vegetables are doing nicely –from winter greens, to broccoli, cabbage, bok choy and more.  In mild winters they can grow unprotected with no damage but if temperatures are going to drop below 28 a light covering will help protect them.  An inverted plant pot, cardboard box or a small covering will do the trick.  With just a little extra work, you can be harvesting fresh vegetables all winter long. 

    Winter weeds are really doing well with the mild December we just had. I have already seen many of them blooming, which means they will be setting more seeds.  Try to keep them cut back with a lawnmower or weed eater. If you just have a few, hand pull or use a hoe to eradicate. If your yard is covered, consider using a broadleaf weed killer soon. 

    Because of the late fall conditions, many trees held onto their leaves a bit longer than normal and we still have some raking chores.  If the layer of leaves is minimal, consider just mowing and mulching them in place. If you haven’t raked yet this season, you probably have too heavy a layer to consider the mulching option and you need to rake.  Leaves can be shredded and used as mulch or added to a compost pile.  Having a few extra leaves on hand to mulch tender plants is always a good idea, but leaving your lawn covered with a heavy layer all winter can smother it out.

    Pay attention to weather conditions.  If a hard freeze is predicted, make sure there is ample moisture in any potted plants. If you have any pots of rosemary or other moderately hardy plants, you can move them temporarily into a garage or move the pots between the house and your foundation plants.  This can give them some shelter and help to protect them from harsh conditions.  If we get heavy snow loads, a gentle raking or sweeping of the branches from below can help to reduce the weight and prevent limb breakage on shrubs.  If we have ice or freezing rain, avoid contact with trees and shrubs.  Frozen limbs can be quite brittle.  If you do experience winter damage, once they have defrosted, handle any broken limbs but leave the damaged foliage intact—it can serve as a buffer for the rest of the winter. 

    Plant of the Month – Swiss Chard-- Beta vulgaris Beta vulgaris var. cicla
    Swiss chard is a kissing cousin of beets, but it is grown for leaf production instead of root production.  Instead of eating the fleshy roots like in a beet plant, we eat the leaves and stems. Swiss chard is easy to grow and will last almost year-round in Arkansas, but it is particularly showy in the fall, winter and early spring garden because of its colorful stalks and large glossy leaves.  Edible landscaping is easily achieved with this plant.  

    The leafstalk (or petiole) can be a variety of colors including red, white, yellow or orange.  Candy cane is a variety with red and white striped petioles.   In the 19th century chefs often separated the mid rib from the leaves and prepared it like asparagus. The leaves were dressed like spinach. Today it is a commonly used vegetable in its own right, but it is also used as a substitute for spinach in most recipes. Both the foliage and the stalks are edible.   

    Swiss chard is in the beet family and are a good source of vitamins A, C and K.

    Although Swiss chard prefers cool weather, it does not bolt (or go to seed) as quickly as many other cool season vegetables.  The plant produces a small bulbous root, and if it is frozen back or cut for harvest, it can produce another set of leaves from the root system, which increases your harvest.

    Swiss chard can be planted from seed or transplant either in the spring or fall.

     

  • February

     Zone Report - February 2016

    2016 - Our first winter weather event came and thankfully went pretty quickly.  Depending on where you live in the state, snowfall amounts were non-existent to 7 inches or more.  For those who had heavy snow, the weight of the snow had some branches bending, but it didn’t last long enough to cause permanent damage, and those leaning branches should be upright again, unless they actually broke. The only time you want to prune out winter weather damage in the midst of winter, is if you have broken limbs, which, if not cleaned up, could lead to more damage.  If you simply have damaged leaves, leave them in place to serve as a buffer should we have more winter weather.   I would hold off on pruning chores until late February to early March, and then know which plants should be pruned and which should not.  Spring blooming shrubs have been so confused already, that many were blooming before the cold snap.  Let’s just hope they have more flower buds to give you a show in the spring, but wait and prune spring bloomers until after they finish blooming this spring.

    February is pruning month for many plants.  Fruit trees, blueberry bushes, grape vines, roses and ornamental grasses all need to be pruned every year.  If you are a commercial grower and have hundreds of plants, you may need to start pruning earlier in the month, but most home gardeners have a handful of plants, and should wait to prune as late in the month as possible.  Pruning early exposes your plants more and could lead to winter damage if extremely cold weather were to occur after pruning.  Last year due to the late, cold spring, many of us didn’t prune until mid-March and our plants were fine.  Know why you are pruning, how you should be pruning and when to do so.  Other plants that benefit from pruning before new growth begins include crape myrtles (don’t murder them), althea or rose of Sharon, butterfly bush, summer spirea, and vitex.  With the exception of big leaf hydrangea, oakleaf hydrangea and gardenia, most plants that bloom in the summer, bloom on the new growth and should be pruned before they begin to grow in earnest.  Spring bloomers are pruned AFTER they bloom. 

    If you have winter annuals in the garden, pick a mild day and give them some fertilizer. Pansies in particular will bloom better with regular feeding.  Many folks who planted flowering kale and cabbage have found their plants are already beginning to stretch a little, which signifies the end of their season.  Blame our mild December on that. We are also beginning to see some bolting—(when a flower stalk emerges on cool season vegetables).  Again, the huge fluctuations in temperature we have had are to blame. You can’t stop it once it starts, but try to use the vegetables you have.

    Avoid applying any weed and feed type of application to your lawn.  While we do have an ample number of winter weeds growing in our lawns. Weed and feed, includes herbicide and fertilizer.  Your lawn is dormant right now so all you would be feeding is winter weeds, and they are doing fine on their own.  Many winter weeds were already blooming in December this year, so they are well-established.  If you want to combat weeds, use a stand-alone herbicide, and avoid spraying on a windy day.  If you just have a few weeds, you might consider hand pulling or keeping them mowed low to prevent blooms and seed set.

    Spring bulb foliage is up in many gardens, and a few folks actually have seen some blooms already.  It has been a weird winter so far.  Blooms should begin to kick in on early season flowers and advance as spring progresses.  Usually we have crocus first, followed by daffodils, then hyacinths and finally tulips.  Remember it is the six week period after bloom where they set their flowers for next spring. 

    February is typically the last month of the dormant season. If you have plants that you need to move from one part of the garden to another, this is a great time to do so.  Make sure you protect the root ball during transit since exposed roots will be more susceptible to damage. Try to replant and water as quickly as you can.

    Plant of the Month:
    Kale – For years grocery stores threw away kale that withered on the shelf.  It was not the hot commodity that it is today. Kale is one of the super foods, ranked among the top 10 of the world's healthiest foods when it comes to providing the most nutritional value for the least number of calories. Kale is loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C – a cup of kale contains more vitamin C than an orange.

    Kale is in the cabbage family and is quite cold hardy.  It is easy to grow from seed, but is also sold as transplants. I have five different varieties growing in my garden since fall and none have been damaged by the cold. If you don’t have any in your garden, this is the month to begin planting.  Kale varieties come with green or purple leaves, smooth or flat leaves.  Some of the more popular varieties include the dinosaur or Lacinato kale—also called Tuscan or black kale.  This smooth-leafed kale has thinner and upright dark bluish gray foliage.  It is considered sweeter than some of the other kales.  Redbor kale is not only nutritious but quite showy in the winter garden. The foliage is purplish red and gets darker as it ages.  Regardless of which variety you are growing, give them full sun and even moisture and you will be rewarded with months of tasty leaves. 

     

  • March

    Zone report - March 2016

    2016 - After the mild winter we have had, plants are way ahead of schedule, and gardeners are anxious to get planting, but use common sense.  While it is time to plant the cool season vegetables, including cabbage, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, carrots and onions, it is NOT time to plant tomatoes.  I am in a tizzy that they are actually selling tomatoes and basil right now, and I also saw summer common impatiens.  It was February when I saw them, but regardless how warm the days are, we are not out of the woods on a frost and you should not plant warm season vegetables or annuals until at the earliest mid-April.  Unless you have a greenhouse, don’t buy them.

    One of the most common things I hear from novice or non-gardeners is that they don’t have a green thumb, and everything they plant dies.  I think a lot of that comes down to the wrong plant for the wrong place or planting in the wrong season.  It is imperative that garden centers and nurseries sell the right plants for the right planting season.  If a new gardener goes to a garden center and sees a tomato plant now, the message is “it is time to plant tomatoes.” And it is NOT.  I think we all need to rally together and make sure that what we sell will grow when we sell it or where it will be planted.  We need to do all we can to make gardeners successful.   That is my soap box for the week!

    There is plenty of work to be done in the garden.  From pruning summer bloomers like roses, crape myrtles, althea, abelia and fruit trees, grape vines and blueberry bushes, to planting  new plants or fertilizing winter annuals and winter vegetables.   If you have pansies and violas, they need some fertilizer to rebound and put on more blooms. 

    Winter weeds started early and have grown like the wind all winter long. Most are blooming and setting seeds for next year.  It is a bit late to start a herbicide program, but you can mow to keep them from setting seeds or hand pull if you just have a few in the lawn. In flower beds, hoe them down and put down a fresh layer of mulch.

    Spring bulbs are in peak bloom.  Fertilize if you haven’t done so, to make sure they have the nutrition they need for their green growing period following bloom.  They replenish their bulbs after flowering, and need a minimum of six weeks of growth before you can cut the foliage off. 

    I am keeping my fingers crossed, but so far it looks like my big leaf hydrangea and figs have survived the winter unharmed.  We are not totally out of the woods, but we can all hope we are.  Pay attention to the weather forecasts.  As plants are beginning to break dormancy and grow, is when they are often the most susceptible to a late frost.  Covering with sheets or boxes can give you a few degrees of protection.  Small plants are easy to cover, but trees you usually have to do a hail Mary and hope for the best.

    Many perennials are up and growing. If you have summer or fall bloomers that need to be dividied, now is the time to do so. Dig up the clump and use a sharp knife or pruning saw to cut through the root system.  Leave at least two to three crowns per division.  Share with your friends if you have too many to work with. 

    Visit your nurseries often.  For gardeners it is almost like Christmas morning for children when we see all the new plants and flowers that we have to choose from.  If you have some plants that have not been performing well, dig them up and plant something else. Life is too short to grow bad plants.    Try something new, you may find a new favorite.

    Plant of the month - Asparagus

    Image of asparagus fronds

    It is asparagus season.  Asparagus is a wonderful perennial vegetable that can easily be grown in the home garden.   Asparagus likes a well-drained soil in full sun, and it prefers a rich, but light soil.   Work in some well-rotted manure or compost.  Plant your 1 year old asparagus crowns in a stand-alone garden or to the north side of your vegetable bed.  You want to have it an area, easily accessible, but not in the middle of your on-going garden, as the fronds in the summer get tall.  Asparagus is a dioecious vegetable, meaning there are separate male plants and separate female plants.  Some gardeners prefer to plant all male plants including the Jersey series—Jersey Giant, Jersey Gem, Jersey Knight and Jersey Supreme, and the UC157, while others do a mix of males and females including the Mary and Martha Washington types.  Females tend to be less productive, but produce larger spears.  Often times we plant what is available at our local outlets. 

    Dig a trench about 9 – 12 inches deep and about 4-6 inches wide or as wide as the spread of the roots on the crowns you buy.  Plant them with the crown up and roots spread out.  Cover with about two inches of soil.  As the plants begin to grow above the soil line, continue to lightly cover with soil until the plants are at the original soil height.  Water as needed throughout the first year, and keep weeds in check.         Asparagus crowns must be three years old before you start harvesting.  If you harvest them when the plants are getting established in the first two years, you will be taking energy away from the roots which can impact the harvest for the life of the plants.  Once the plants are three years old, you can harvest for about 2-3 weeks the first season.   Harvest the spears when they are 4-8 inches long.  Stop harvesting when the spears get smaller than a pencil in diameter.  Fresh asparagus from the garden is a treat and although it can be stored for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator the longer you store it the more the sugar content declines.

  • April
     

    Zone report April 2016

    2016 - And they’re off!! Gardening season is in high gear and plants are jumping off the shelves at nurseries and garden centers across the state.  If some of you jumped the gun and planted your tomatoes and basil too early and did not cover them the past week or two, go buy some new plants.  I would still wait until the middle of April before going with warm season plants, but there are plenty of things you can plant now.  Many of us saw some light frosts, while those in the northern tier got pretty cold last week, but let’s hope it is over. It is turning into a glorious spring season!

    Until mid-month you can still plant all the cool season vegetables including lettuce, broccoli, onions, greens and radishes.  You can begin to start planting green beans and corn, and then add in tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplants by mid to late April.  If you allow the soil to warm up, the warm season plants will take off and produce better, than if you plant in cool soils. Even if we don’t get a late season frost (and we are keeping our fingers crossed that we won’t) we still have cool nights, so be patient.

    Some annual flowers can take some cool temperatures, while others want warm conditions.  Those that can handle a bit of cool weather include petunias, callibrachoa, geraniums, alyssum and begonias.  Heat lovers that would prefer warm soil, include lantana, sweet potato vines, impatiens and coleus.  Gradually start adding to your summer color, but continue to enjoy the winter color for a bit longer if you have it. 

    Even though all of our plants are growing like crazy now, if you did not prune your roses, buddleia (butterfly bush) or summer spireas, do so soon.  It may delay the first blooms, but in the long run the plants will be more productive all summer if they are pruned.  Some of our spring blooming shrubs have finished blooming—forsythia, flowering quince and bridal wreath spirea are finished or will be soon.  As soon as they finish blooming, that is the time to prune them.  All of these plants are cane-producing plants, where they have multiple stalks or canes instead of one main trunk.  The correct way to prune them is to remove up to one third of their older canes at the soil line. This will generate new growth from the soil line which will give you more vigor and better blooms next spring.  As your azaleas and Indian hawthorns finish blooming assess their pruning needs. Not all plants need to be pruned every year, but if you have spring bloomers that need pruning, the time to do so is immediately after bloom in the spring.  Fertilize all your spring bloomers after bloom as well.  Most shrubs only need one application of fertilizer per year.

    As you begin planting, don’t forget about watering. While we often get plenty of spring showers in April, some parts of the state have been quite dry.  Newly planted annuals, vegetables, perennials and shrubs don’t have established roots and will be more susceptible to drying out. Even drought tolerant plants need water during establishment, so mulch and water. 

    By mid to late April we can start moving houseplants outside.  Don’t be too quick to move them out into full sun or the leaves may sunburn.  Consider moving some into your flower or shrub beds.  They add a new dimension in color and texture for the summer months.

    Lawns are greening up, but most are not totally green yet.  Wait for total green-up before fertilizing so that the grass can get the full benefit of the nutrition. It is hard to tell if some people have lawns or wildflower meadows right now, since there are a lot of winter weeds blooming now.  If you want a weed-free lawn, it is too late to spray to kill what is there, but keep it mowed and try to prevent  some seed set and plan better next year.  Summer weeds will be germinating soon, but a thick, dense turf is your best weed prevention. 

    Spring bulbs are still blooming.  The early crocus and early daffodils are gone but we still see some late daffodils, tulips and the flowering onions are about to kick in.  Make sure the bulb foliage gets at least six weeks of growth before you cut it off so they bloom well for you next year again.

    Vegetable Plant of the Month – Onions
    Onions are an easy vegetable to grow in the garden because they can be eaten at a variety of stages.  They can be planted from February through mid-April.  Onions are classified as short day onions or long day onions.  Typically we do better in the south with short day onions which can begin producing a bulb before the days get longer and the temperatures hotter. 

    Onions are most commonly grown from sets or transplants.  Sets are the bags of small onion bulbs you see in nurseries and garden centers.  They usually are sold as red, white or yellow.  Sets or bulbs that are larger than a dime in diameter usually will not produce large dried onions, but can be used for green onions or small onions. Those that are smaller than a dime usually won’t bolt as easily (sending up a flower stalk), and will usually produce larger bulbs which can be stored longer.   Transplants are those bundles of plants that have green tops.

    All onions like good nutrition.  Broadcast fertilizer into the bed at planting and side-dress every two to three weeks until close to harvest.  Keep the plants watered and mulched. 

    The size of the onion bulb is related to the number and size of the green leaves at the time the bulb matures.  If your bulbs can complete their life cycle without producing a flower stalk—known as bolting, the onions can be stored for months.  Bolting is the term given to flowering.  An onion is a biennial, which means the first season it produces foliage and the second season it blooms, sets seeds and dies.  Fluctuating temperatures cause plants to bolt or flower prematurely.  Once you see a flower stalk appearing on your onions, it is time to harvest.   Some people think they can cut the flower off and the bulb will continue to grow, but that won’t happen—the flower stalk is coming up through the center of the bulb and that can’t be reversed.  The resulting onion won’t store as a dried onion, so harvest and plan to use them fairly soon.  If your onion plants don’t bolt, when the foliage begins to die back or flop over, it is time to harvest.  These onions can be stored in a cool, dry place and should last for months.

    Any of the onion varieties or types can be used as green onions when the foliage is at least six inches high.  If you like mild onion flavor then use your green onions when they are small. The larger they get the stronger the flavor becomes.  

     

  • May

    Zone Report May 2016

    2016 - The saying April Showers Brings May Flowers, could be true this year; we have had our fair share of rain.  While we did see some really warm days, we also had plenty of cool nights.  May weather typically gives us our first taste of hot weather, and gardens kick into high gear. It has been a glorious spring with minimal winter damage.  Many gardeners are finding that petunias, callibrachoa and verbena have overwintered and have been blooming for a month or more.  That is not something we can reliably expect every year, but enjoy it when it happens.   If you haven’t pulled your cool season annuals, it is time to begin adding summer color. 

    Annual flowers are typically with us for one season.  While they are in the garden we want non-stop color.  To make that happen, you need to fertilize regularly throughout the growing season.  Whether you use a granular or a water soluble fertilizer, the key is to fertilize.  Make sure you fertilize often but lightly.  Too much fertilizer at one time can lead to damage on the plants.  Some good plant choices for sun include Angelonia,  Pentas, lantana, periwinkle, petunias and zinnias.  For shade consider begonias, impatiens, torenia and coleus.  Some coleus can take full sun to deep shade.  Make sure you know the mature size of your annuals, so you can give them the room they need to grow and flourish.

    Harvest of cool season vegetables is in full swing, and those that planted early warm season crops will soon be getting squash, green beans and peppers.  There is still time to plant summer vegetables, from the standard tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash, but now that the soil is warming up, consider planting sweet potatoes, okra, southern peas and winter squashes.  Some of these plants take up a lot of space in the garden, so be sure to give them room to grow.  Just like with annual flowers, regular fertilization will give best production.  Avoid too much fertilizer around the legumes—the beans and peas, but the other vegetables will benefit from regular nutrition and even water.  Mulching can help preserve  moisture and keep weeds at bay.

    By now most of our warm season grasses are totally greened up and weekly mowing is in order.  Now would be a great time to fertilize your lawns.  Most lawn grasses would do fine with one application of fertilizer a year.  While Bermuda grass will respond favorably to more frequent applications, you may find yourself mowing more than you want to. 

    Spring flowering shrubs were in their glory this spring but most have finished blooming now.  Now is the time to fertilize all spring blooming shrubs and if needed, do some pruning.  Try to get all spring blooming shrubs, vines and trees pruned by the middle of June so they have time to recover before they begin to initiate flower buds for next year.  Most trees and shrubs need only one application of fertilizer per year. 

    Perennial plants are plants that come back for more than one year.  Some perennials bloom in the winter, some in the spring, or summer or fall.  Length of bloom time can vary from two weeks to 4 or more months.  Many of our popular perennials are kicking into bloom now, including baptisia, hardy geraniums, coreopsis, hardy orchid, daylilies and I have even seen some early Echinacea or purple coneflower.  If you have long-blooming plants, deadheading them to remove the spent flowers will keep them flowering longer.  Know the needs of the plants you are growing.  We typically don’t fertilize perennials as much as we do annuals, but some plants are heavy feeders, while others thrive on neglect.  Water requirements vary as well.

    Plant of the month:
    Potatoes have a long history and are a favorite food of many people, and are easy to grow in the garden. The potato, Solanum tuberosum, is the world’s fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. The Inca Indians in Peru grew potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C.  Early explorers introduced the potato to Europe and Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 where it became a staple crop. When the potato blight swept through Europe in the 1840’s it wiped out the potato crop leading to widespread famine in Ireland.  Over the course of the famine, almost one million people died from starvation or disease and another one million people left Ireland, mostly for Canada and the United States.

    Potatoes are typically planted from a small potato with eyes called a seed potato.  Most garden centers sell them in February – April.  There are many potato varieties, with reds, yellows, and blue forms.  They can be planted in late winter for an early summer harvest, or planted in late summer for a fall harvest, but seed potatoes can be hard to find for fall plantings.  They can be planted 3-5 inches deep and 18-24 inches apart in a well-drained soil in full sun. Rotate where you plant potatoes each year to cut back on disease issues.   Potatoes require good soil moisture when the foliage is actively growing.  An uneven water supply can cause knobs to form on the potatoes or cracks will appear.   As the vines begin to yellow at the end of the season, let them dry out a bit. If they are too wet, it can lead to rotting of the potatoes.  If you plan to eat the potatoes quickly, you can harvest as the vines die back, but if you have planted a lot and want to store potatoes, wait two weeks after the vines die back to harvest.  Small new potatoes can be harvested when they are large enough to eat, but must be used fairly quickly after harvest. 

    The main insect problem is the Colorado potato beetle. This hard shelled, yellow with black striped beetle can wreak havoc on the plants.  The adults lay eggs on the plants and the pinkish larvae can defoliate a plant quite quickly.  While there are a lot of diseases associated with potatoes, we don’t usually have too many in the home garden.  A scaly appearance on the outer skin of the potato called scab is usually associated with soils with a high pH.  Avoid using lime around potato plants.  While this condition doesn’t look too appetizing, it doesn’t affect the quality of the inside of the potato. 

  • June

     Zone Report - June 2015

    2015 - Although this past winter was not as bad as last year, we still have some problems in our landscapes. From winter damage to insects there are things to look for. 

    Crape myrtles have been extremely slow to leaf out, and many gardeners feared they had died, and began pruning. The slow green up can be attributed to several factors, but primarily the first hard freeze in November caught them unaware. The abscission layer did not form and many leaves persisted all winter. Then low temperatures may have added to the damage.  In addition, plants damaged by the crape myrtle bark scale have also been impacted.  Be patient. Many will leaf out in time, but do the scratch test. Take a knife and lightly scape the outer wood. If there is green underneath, wait and they should leaf out. They will be delayed in their blooms, since they do bloom on the current growth. 

    Figs have also suffered some dieback, but not as severe as expected. They are leafing out, but while they are beginning to grow, there are some dead tips. The good news is that they bear fruit on the new growth, so while your crop may be reduced, you will still have fruit.

    Big leaf hydrangeas also suffered some winter damage again this year. Damage has varied from minor to severe. If all the growth is from the base, you will have no flowers again this year, unless you are growing the re-blooming varieties.  

    In addition to winter damage, we are also having a resurgence of the ambrosia beetle http://www.uaex.edu/environment-nature/forestry/health/FSA-7064.pdf   This small beetle attacks small thin barked trees and goes after both weakened and healthy trees. We don't really know why some years are worse than others, but this is a bad year. Trees leaf out, and then seemingly overnight collapse. If conditions are dry, small toothpick-like protrusions of sawdust stick out of the trunk. Once the damage is done, there is not much recourse. If the tree is healthy, it might survive the attack, but many are permanently damaged.  Japanese maples, dogwoods, redbuds and other small or young trees can be damaged. If you have questions, take samples and/or pictures to your local county extension office.

    Scale insects are also fairly common this spring on crape myrtle with crape myrtle felt scale,
    http://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/fsa-7086.pdf  and tea scale is widespread on camellias and hollies. Check the backside of the leaves. If you have small white specks on the underside and some mottled yellow leaves on the top, treating with a systemic insecticide will be needed for control.
    We definitely had a late spring and many plants have been delayed, but it was a pretty spring in spite of it all. Check your garden for issues and control if needed.

  • July

    2015 - One of the most common old-fashioned shrubs in our gardens is the hydrangeas.  The large mop-head or lace cap blooms of the big leaf hydrangea in shades from pink to blue have graced our gardens for years, but Mother Nature has not been kind to them in the northern tier for many years, and now central Arkansas gardeners are feeling the bite as well.  But they aren’t the only hydrangeas we can choose from.

    Big leaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) bloom in the summer, but set flower buds in the fall.  They look like dead sticks all winter, but those dead sticks contain the flowers for the following growing season.  If cold weather nips them back, flowers are smaller, or non-existent.  Plant breeders have tried to remedy the problem by creating re-blooming hydrangeas like Endless Summer, Lady in Red and Blushing Bride which bloom on the old wood and the new. But even those can get nipped resulting in later, smaller blooming plants.       

    While there are many new varieties of the big leaf types on the market, the up-and-coming plants are Hydrangea arborescens and Hydrangea paniculata.  H. arborescens are also called smooth hydrangeas.  Annabelle was the first of these we grew, but today we have Invincibell and Incrediball®  with large white or pink flowers that are produced on the current growth—so it doesn’t matter what type of winter  we have.

    Hydrangea paniculata is even more exciting.  The panicle or PeeGee hydrangea can produce large cone shaped blooms which open white, but can age to a rich array of pinks and reds.  These hydrangeas also bloom on the new growth and can be pruned as much or as little as you like in late February, before growth begins, without interfering with summer flowering.  Many of these hydrangeas can also tolerate much more sunlight than other hydrangeas, and won’t wilt horribly when high temperatures occur. Limelight was one of the first of the panicle types to change our opinion about these hydrangeas.  Limelight will grow in full sun to partial shade and can grow up to 10 feet tall.  It is covered in large white blooms that fade to lime green and then pink. It can be in bloom for months, and the fall foliage can be pretty as well.  Little Lime is the dwarf form, but there are many new varieties to trial including the dwarf Bobo, Vanilla Strawberry (which is more vanilla or white in Arkansas than the dramatic pink and white we see in catalogs), Firelight with white blooms that age to red and Zinfin Doll with pink and white blooms.   Panicle hydrangeas will not bloom well in heavy shade, needing a little sunlight at least to have flowers.

    Another great hydrangea for the garden is the oakleaf hydrangea- Hydrangea quercifolia.  This summer bloomer is truly a plant for all seasons. It starts off with coarse oak shaped foliage, and then large clusters of white flowers begin in early summer, which age to shades of pink and eventually tan.  Then the fall foliage kicks in with wonderful shades of red and burgundy.  There are standard varieties which can grow to ten feet or more in height or dwarf forms.  The new Gatsby series also has some pink flowering forms.  All oakleaf hydrangeas bloom in the summer yet set flower buds in the fall before going dormant, so if pruning is needed, you have a short window of opportunity to do so. If you choose the right plant for the right spot, you may not need to prune.  They also rarely have winter damage, so summer flowering is more common than on the big leaf forms in central and northern Arkansas.

    Hydrangeas as a family are not the most drought tolerant plant, but if you choose them wisely, plant them in decent soil and get them established, they can be tougher than we give them credit for—except for the Hydrangea macrophylla (the big leafed form).  It wilts daily in hot weather, even if planted in the right location. It loves water but needs a well drained site, and can suffer from cold weather.

    Hydrangeas have gained in popularity over the past ten years, and with the advent of new varieties of all types arriving yearly, we have many great choices to choose from. If your garden needs some summer color, consider planting a hydrangea.

  • August

    2015 - The use of herbs dates back to ancient times, but the form in which we use them has varied.  It wasn’t that long ago that our only familiarity of herbs was dried and packaged in little glass jars and hanging on a wooden rack in the kitchen.  Today you may buy small bags or bundles of fresh herbs at the grocery store and at farmers market.  However, fresh cut herbs don’t last long once you get them home.  To make using fresh herbs even easier, why not grow your own?

    Herbs may be annual or perennial plants, or grown as houseplants.  Annual herbs are those that you must replant every season, as they complete their life cycle in one year.  Some are cool season plants, while others are grown in the warm season.  Perennial herbs will come back for more than one year, and some can last a lifetime.  Some die back to the ground, while others stay green year-round.

    When choosing herbs for your garden, whether annual or perennial, it would be best to consider the herbs you use the most in your cooking.  Start with those, and gradually expand. 

    The most common annual herb grown and used today is basil.  Basil is a heat lover and thrives outdoors all summer long.  There are many different species of basils, from the common sweet basil, to a dark purpled foliaged ‘Purple Ruffles’.  There are also flavored basils including lemon, lime and cinnamon.   Give basil a spot in the sun, water as needed during the summer, pinch back to prevent seed heads from forming, and you will be rewarded with loads of fresh basil all summer. 

    Another common annual often planted in the vegetable garden is dill.  This tall, wispy leaved plant can be used both as foliage and seeds.  Again, full sun is best.

    Cilantro is an herb you either love or hate.  Cilantro grows best in cool weather.  Except for the far northern part of the state, it should actually over-winter outdoors quite nicely.  Plant it in the fall to grow with your winter annuals of pansies and violas.  Another planting in early spring can extend your harvest season, but don’t plant too late.    Once the temperatures heat up in late spring, the plants will quickly bolt and go to seed.  Then it turns from cilantro to coriander, the name given to this herb in seed form. 

    Parsley is actually a biennial. The first season you get foliage and the second season, it blooms, sets seeds and dies.   Growing parsley from seed can be challenging, but it is readily available as plants at most garden centers, and usually sold both spring and fall.  Some cooks prefer the flat leaf parsley over the curly leaf, but they both grow well in the garden.  Fall planting is great, since they tend to be evergreen and give you an excellent accent to the flowers around them.

    An easy perennial herb to grow is chives. There are two main types, the more well behaved onion chives with purple flowers and the wild garlic chives with copious white flowers which freely reseed themselves.  Plant these two easy care plants in a sunny garden or in a container.

    Rosemary is another easy herb to grow in the garden.  An added benefit is that this plant is evergreen and has fairly showy blooms.  There are numerous varieties of this popular herb, from prostrate forms to uprights.  Hardiness can vary by variety.  The past two cold winters have done some damage, but most plants have rebounded.  Foliage and flowers are both used in cooking.  Make sure the site is well drained—rosemary will not tolerate heavy, poorly drained soils. 

    Thyme is one of the most heat and drought tolerant plants around. Like many of the other herbs mentioned, there are many thymes to choose from.  All have small, dainty leaves and grow close to the ground, but you can get both green and variegated forms.  Thymes prefer a dry site in the sun.  If grown with regular overhead watering from a sprinkler system it won’t be happy.  Thyme thrives on neglect and is a great addition around stepping stones, a border to a garden or even in containers, and is an evergreen.

    Sage is another evergreen, easy care herb for the garden. There are over 900 species of salvias—some are considered more ornamental than culinary, but there are numerous common culinary salvias or sages as well. Whether used as an ornamental or as a culinary herb, salvias have interesting aromas, textures, and colors—both in flower and foliage, depending on variety.  The main culinary salvia is Salvia officinalis.  This is the sage you commonly add to the turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving.  There are green leafed varieties and variegated ones as well.

    The list can go on and on.  Herbs can be put into a stand alone herb garden or mixed in with vegetables or ornamentals. They are also great in containers. If mixing with other plants, use caution when using pesticides nearby.  Make sure you are grouping plants with like needs together—sun, shade, wet or dry. 

    Some herbs are easy to grow, getting sometimes too vigorous like some of the mints.  Containerizing them can help.  So whether you are a new gardener or an experienced one, herbs are an easy addition to the garden and you can enjoy their beauty and use them in the kitchen!

     

  • September

    2015 - It was another summer of extremes--wet, then dry, cool then hot and all parts in between.  We actually have had a fairly decent growing season with our flowering plants doing well and vegetable gardens producing.  We are in the home stretch for hot weather gardening, but don’t throw in the towel just yet.  September is notorious to tease us with a day or two of mild weather, and then bounce back with extreme heat.  Continue to pay attention to water needs and continue to plant for late season color and harvest.

    We finally got a break in the heat and dry conditions, with much needed rain almost statewide.  Some areas got more rain than others, but it helped green things up.  The northern half of the state was not as dry as the central and southern regions, but we hope that rain will continue periodically through fall.  But it is important to monitor the rainfall (or lack thereof) in your yard and water as needed.  Lawns tend to be more forgiving when going without water than shrubs, perennials and annuals

    Vegetable gardening continues to gain in popularity and how we garden has changed.  We can now grow edible plants year-round with just a little extra protection in the winter months.  Cool season gardening has great advantages since there are much fewer insects and diseases, and weeds are not as challenging—especially if you mulch.  So if you thought it was time to harvest and put the garden to bed, think again. Start planting lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and greens. 

    We are beginning to see signs of fall at many garden centers. Pumpkins and gourds are popping up and fall bulbs are beginning to make an appearance.  You can buy your bulbs now, but let it cool off a bit before planting.  Large, firm bulbs will give you the best display next spring. If you have room in your refrigerator you can pre-chill the bulbs before planting, but that isn’t a requirement.

    Although you may start seeing pansies showing up at garden centers, let the weather cool off a bit before planting.  If pansies are exposed to warm temperatures they can quickly get leggy.  If your summer color has played out, then consider adding petunias, callibrachoa or sweet alyssum.  While they won’t last all winter in bloom, they will take the warmer conditions now, and stand up to light freeze this fall.  In milder winters they have been known to overwinter, but that hasn’t been the case the past two winters.  Let’s hope we are in for a mild one this year!

    Summer tropical plants including hibiscus, mandevilla, bananas and more should continue to be fertilized and watered through this month. They have at least another two months of flowers for your garden.  If you move them inside for the winter months, they should be in by mid-October, but if you just store them in the garage prior to a killing frost, you have even longer to enjoy them.   Fall need not be boring—color choices abound.

    In addition to vegetables in the garden, herbs are a great addition.  Whether you grow them in containers, intersperse them with your ornamentals, plant them in the vegetable garden, or you plant a stand-alone herb garden they are easy to grow and use in cooking.  Know if they are annuals or perennials.  Annual herbs such as basil need to be used frequently to keep them bushy and bloom-free.  We are nearing the end of their growing season, so keep using them.  If you harvest more than you can use at one sitting, dry them and use later, or mix some in with water and freeze in ice cube trays.  You can add these to soups and stews all winter.  In the case of basil, make up some pesto for use this winter.  If you are growing perennials, including rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano, don’t overharvest when it is hot and dry, and don’t over-prune late in the season.  We don’t want to encourage a lot of new tender growth too late in the year, nor head into cold weather too exposed.

    Speaking of annuals, if you still have healthy and blooming summer annuals continue to fertilize and water.  If yours have seen better days, start adding to your early fall color with dianthus, ornamental peppers, petunias, callibrachoa and sweet alyssum.  Dianthus should overwinter, while the others will linger through the first killing frost. In a mild winter, petunias and callibrachoa may overwinter, but don’t count on it.  In a few weeks you can begin to add violas and pansies into the mix. Violas tend to be more adaptable to fluctuating temperatures.  Pansies will stretch and get leggy if they are exposed to too much heat, so let it cool off before planting those.  Mums are also at garden centers.  Unless you need instant color for a party or event, choose a mum that is just showing color and loaded with buds.  Don’t let it get too dry or it won’t last very long.

    Now is the time to plant your fall garden.  Fall vegetable seed is readily available, but folks have been scrambling trying to find transplants.  They are beginning to hit the market, so check with your local nursery or garden center.  Continue to harvest your summer crops, but plan for a fall and winter garden, and start planting.  If you don’t have a stand-alone garden, consider planting edible kale and cabbage with your pansies instead of the ornamental varieties.  Parsley and cilantro are a great addition to the fall garden as well as Swiss chard, Bull’s blood beets and purple mustard.  All of these are as showy as they are good to eat!

    By now your camellias, azaleas, dogwoods and other spring bloomers are loaded with flower buds for next spring.  Don’t do any pruning on these plants now.  Fertilization should not be done either.  All they need is water when they get dry.   Fall is not a great time to do much pruning.  Light shaping or shearing of evergreens grown just for foliage is ok, but heavy pruning is not recommended for several reasons.  If these plants don’t get the energy to grow back this late in the season, they look less attractive and they are more exposed heading into winter.  If they do put on a flush of new growth, that new growth will be tender heading into winter, and could be more susceptible to cold, so hold off on heavy pruning until winter is over.

    Fall blooming perennials are a great way to add some zest into the fall landscape.  Plants that are blooming now include turtle head (Chelone), goldenrod, Japanese anemones, toad lilies, pineapple sage, and autumn sedums.  Grasses are setting their plumage and most of the salvias are in full bloom.  Salvias include a huge range of sizes and flower colors from 10 inch tall plants up to 6 foot tall or more.  Flower color can range from shades of purple and pink to sky blue, red and white.   Sawtooth sunflowers are large plants and can get a bit weedy, but give you a huge display of yellow blooms.  Fall asters, sneezeweed and other natives are also adding to the show.  Spring is not the only season we have for flowers.   Long season bloomers like echinacea, rudbeckia and gaillardia are all blooming still.  Begin to collect seeds to plant in October.

    Leaves are beginning to fall, more so in yards that got overly dry, but some leaf shed is normal.  As long as you are mowing on a regular basis, this should handle the leaves for now.  If you have not fertilized all season, you can put down one last application of fertilizer, but get it done within the next two weeks.  Just like we don’t want to encourage our shrubs to put on a lot of tender new growth, the same applies to lawns past September. 

    Continue to monitor for insects and diseases.  Aphids and spider mites are beginning to build up and if you park under shade trees, you have probably noticed the sticky droppings on your windshield.  If it gets really bad, just take your hose and spray the lower branches of your trees with a strong spray of water.  Weeds have not slowed down with the dry weather and many summer weeds are setting seeds now for next season.  Get out the hoe or mow to prevent seed set.

    Plant of the month
    Goldenrod is a wonderful late summer/fall perennial.  Solidago is the genus of this member of the aster family. There are numerous species and many new varieties on the market.  This perennial plant is loaded with bright yellow blooms for months in late summer through fall.  It often gets blamed for the hay fever that many suffer from in the fall, but it isn’t the culprit.  While goldenrod is out there showing off its beautiful yellow blooms, the true culprit is ragweed with greenish white blooms. The pollen on goldenrod is too large to fly so it won’t cause allergic reactions.  The main species we see blooming along the highways and byways of Arkansas is the tall Solidago canadensis or Canada goldenrod.  It is probably a bit too large and aggressive for most home gardens, but try some of the newer ones like ‘Fireworks’, ‘Golden Cascade’, ‘Golden Fleece’ and ‘Goldrush’ or some of the more compact species like S. caesia- the wreath goldenrod, or Solidago argute, the Cutleaf goldenrod. 

    Not only will these plants provide you weeks of yellow blooms, they are good for bees and butterflies while in bloom, and the seeds are a food source for birds in the winter.  Most species prefer full sun, but the wreath goldenrod is actually a good woodland plant as well.  They are drought tolerant and fairly pest free.  So if your garden needs a splash of fall color, consider planting some goldenrod.

     

  • October

    2015 - Although we got a taste of fall, we have been really dry once again.  Trees started shutting down much earlier than normal this year and falling leaves have been common for over a month.  Spring blooming plants have set their flower buds for next year, but you still want to make sure your plants are happy and healthy before they head into winter.  Just because it is cooler, doesn’t mean water is any less important.  Continue to water at least an inch of water per week, unless we get some rainfall. 

    Fall vegetable transplants are available and can be planted in the garden. From the more common broccoli and cabbage to bok choy and purple mustard, there are many choices.  Consider using some of these edible transplants for edible landscaping instead of planting ornamental kale and cabbage.  Now is also time to seed lettuce, radishes and plant garlic.  If you plan to extend your garden into winter with row covers, you can plant even more.  Monitor for pests, since insects are still going strong, and weed often. Water will be critical to get plants established.

    Signs of fall are everywhere.  From pumpkins and gourds to mums and pansies you have many options to add color to the fall garden.  Pumpkins and gourds are a quick way to add color and can last for months.  Choose blemish free fruits with a strong stem.  Pansies come in a wide range of colors, some with faces (the dark blotches) and some without (clears).  Cool wave pansies are more spreading, while panolas are a cross between pansies and violas and violas are smaller in size, but perform beautifully in our gardens.

    Many perennials are beginning to die back or set seeds.  If your spring or summer blooming perennials need to be divided, now is a great time to do so.  By doing the work in the fall, we allow the roots to get established while the tops are dormant.  They will be well-established and ready to take off next growing season.   Now is also a great time to plant wildflower seeds and many perennials including poppies, purple coneflowers, columbine, foxglove and the annual larkspur, Texas bluebonnets, bachelor’s buttons and cornflowers.

    Now is the beginning of spring bulb planting season.  From now through the end of the year, bulbs can be planted.  From early crocus to daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, these spring bloomers need a minimum of 12 weeks of cool weather before they can stretch and elongate and bloom their best.  Choose large, blemish free bulbs. If you buy them and don’t have time to plant, store them in a cool location.  If you have an empty hydrator drawer in your refrigerator you can pre-chill them before planting, but that isn’t necessary. 

    Start moving houseplants inside.  They have a much easier move if the inside and outside weather conditions are similar.  Don’t wait for really cool weather or the shock of transplant will be too great and they will drop a lot of leaves.  Check the plants for any insects before moving them in, and cut back on watering and they should be happy.  Give them bright light and don’t be alarmed if you see some leaf shed.

    Practice good sanitation in the garden. As plants begin to play out, pull them up and get them out of the garden.  If they were diseased, discard them, if not, add them to the compost pile.  Weeds are continuing to grow and if you allow them to bloom and set seeds, you will have more next season.  Summer weeds are nearing the end of their season, while winter weeds are beginning to grow.  That is one thing we are almost never without in a garden—weeds!  Use a good hoe, or hand pull, mow and mulch.

    Plant of the month
    Japanese anemone Anemone x hybrid  is a lovely fall blooming perennial.  The plants grow best in full morning sun with afternoon shade, but it will also take dappled sunlight all day.  In full sun, the leaves tend to scorch a bit.  The plant is not tolerant of drought since they like even moisture, but it won’t tolerate wet feet—especially in the winter months.  This member of the ranunculus family comes in white or pink, with single or double flowered varieties.  It can be a bit slow to get started in the garden, but if the conditions are right, once established, it can occasionally get too happy and begin to spread.   It is a welcome addition of color in the late season garden and a reliable, long-lasting bloomer.   It dies back to the ground in the fall after a killing frost.  Divide as needed in the spring when the plants reappear.  The plant is deer resistant, since it is poisonous.  Few pests bother this plant.

  • November

     Zone Report - November/December 2015

    2015 - Thank goodness we finally got some rain!  It was unbelievably dry and the lack of humidity coupled with bright sunlight and warmer temperatures really stressed our plants for October.  Hopefully the last of the hot, dry weather is behind us and we can move into fall.


    Leaves are falling in earnest and trees are beginning to put on their fall show. This last rain hopefully will have saved the day for fall color.  We get the best array of fall colors when we have warm days and cool nights coupled with ample moisture.  Some trees have shed without turning color, but we are seeing a good display on others, and there is still time to have more.  As leaves fall, rake them up and if you can shred them and add to a compost pile or use as mulch. Shredded leaves will break down much more easily than if you leave them whole.

    Even though many summer annuals are still blooming well, it is time to make way for fall and winter annuals.  Pansies, violas, dianthus, flowering kale and cabbage, all need to get planted soon.  You can intersperse edibles with your annuals, adding edible kale and cabbage, Swiss chard, purple and cut-leaf mustards and parsley and cilantro.  If you are doing edible landscaping, just be a tad judicious when harvesting for the kitchen.  If you cut around the plant taking a few leaves here and there, you can eat your garden and still leave enough behind for winter color.

    If you kept your tomatoes and peppers alive during the dry months, they are still producing.  We are getting closer and closer to a killing frost.  When you hear the prediction, harvest all tomatoes from the vines, green and red.  Put them in a single layer in a cardboard box or breathable container, and they will gradually ripen indoors.  Peppers have been producing off the charts, so consider chopping and freezing some for use this winter.  If you have loads of basil, it is not long for this world either—a frost will take it, so harvest it all and either dry some, or chop it and mix in a little water and freeze ice cube trays for use in soups and stews this winter, or make pesto and do the same.  Don’t be too severe in pruning perennial evergreen herbs this late in the season, but you can still use them.

    Now is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs.  You have from now through mid January to get them planted, but as you buy them, start the chilling process. I store mine in the garage closest to the open door.  As long as they are exposed to temperatures between 34 - 55 they will be accumulating chilling hours—don’t allow them to freeze.  The longer the chilling hours, the taller and showier the blooms.  Plant the bulbs roughly 2 – 2 ½ times as deep as they are large, then sit back and wait for spring.

    Fall clean up of the garden is in order.  As perennials play out, cut them back. Harvest seed heads and share with friends or give as gifts.  Annuals that have seen better days should also be replaced.  Rake up leaves under your hydrangeas as they fall, since many have disease spots following our weird growing season.  Add a fresh layer of mulch around your plants if is wearing thin.  Mulch is important year-round.  If you have tender perennials that you worry about winter hardiness, wait for a killing frost to make sure they are dormant, and then add an extra layer of mulch for winter protection.

    Houseplants that have over-summered outside should be inside now along with any of your summer tropical flowering plants that you overwinter indoors.  The longer you leave them outside, the harder the transition will be once they move indoors.  Remember, once inside, they need way less water than they did outdoors.  Check them for insects and diseases as they can multiply quickly inside.

    Plant of the Month
    Elaeagnus pungens commonly called thorny elaeagnus or silverleaf is a great evergreen shrub that can be used as a hedge or a specimen plant.  It will grow easily in full sun to partial shade, but tends to have better flowering if you give it some sunlight.  The plant is in full bloom now, but you rarely notice the actual blooms, since they tend to be somewhat hidden inside the plant.  But you do notice their fragrance.  They are as sweet smelling as a gardenia.  There are green and variegated varieties, with the green being more vigorous. The plant will grow up to 12 feet in height with a spread slightly more than that.  Once or twice a year it has a bad hair day—sending up tall sprouts which need a light haircut.  Once established, it is fairly drought tolerant.  The stems and leaves are covered in tiny brown scales which many confuse for an insect, but are a natural part of the plant.  The upper surface of the leaf is a grayish green with the underside a beautiful silvery white with brown specks.  After flowering, the plant produces a small edible fruit, but most people leave them for the bird’s enjoyment.  

  • December

    2015 - We can hope the monsoons are over for a while.  We have had a killing frost in most parts of the state, and then we got deluged by rain.  Yard work took a bit of a hiatus, but once you can get back in the yard, there are leaves to rake, spent summer annual flowers and vegetables to pull and there is still time to plant.

    Spring blooming bulbs can be planted this month along with more winter annuals.  Pansies, violas, parsley, flowering kale and cabbage are all still available and can add to your winter landscape.  As late as you are planting, choose large flowering pansies, or they may not bloom until spring.  If you already planted your winter color, now is a great time to fertilize.  All the rains have leached out much of the nutrition, so add another application to keep the plants happy and healthy.

    Clean up the vegetable garden and your perennial beds.  If you have cannas in your garden, try to get the spent foliage cut and removed.  The canna leaf roller can overwinter in the spent debris.  If you plan to grow your cool season vegetables all winter, have row covers or covering on hand if we get really cold temperatures.  So far they have taken the first frosts with flying colors.  Peppers, tomatoes and other summer vegetables are gone, so get their spent foliage out of the garden as well. Mulch the garden and continue to enjoy the harvest of cool season crops as long as you can. 

    Poinsettias are everywhere in a wide range of sizes and colors. If you want to have yours looking good for more than a week or two, make sure you give them plenty of bright sunlight and don’t overwater.  With proper care, they can add holiday color for long after the holiday season is over.

    Fresh cut Christmas trees can dry out quickly indoors.  Redirect heating vents away from your tree to prevent drying out of the needles. When you bring the tree home, give it a fresh cut at the bottom and let it soak up warm water before you bring it inside.  There are many home remedies of mixes to add to the water to keep the tree fresh, but your best bet is to choose a fresh tree and hydrate it well before you bring it inside and then fill the tree stand with warm water. 

    If you are using greenery from your yard for decoration, make sure you take your cuttings from your plants where it won’t be too noticeable.  Fresh greenery lasts longest outside in the cool weather, but will add fragrance and color indoors.  Just realize that it dries out quickly.

    Amaryllis bulbs are a great way to add color inside or give as a gift.  With just a little care, they can last for years.  Amaryllis bulbs have a mind of their own. When they are ready to grow, they will.   When you get your bulbs home, put them in a sunny location and water.  Turn the container once or twice a week to keep them growing straight.  These bulbs can grow quite tall and when in bloom can become quite top-heavy. You may want to support the stalks or add some weight to the pot to help stabilize them.  After they bloom, continue to grow the foliage as a houseplant until spring. Then either plant the bulbs outside in the ground or move the containers outside until next fall, when you allow them to go dormant, and start the cycle over again.

    Plant of the Month:
    Deciduous holly.  The small trees or large shrubs that you see dotting the roadsides in the winter that are covered in bright red berries are the deciduous hollies. There are two different species of deciduous holly—Ilex decidua and Ilex verticillata.  Mature height can vary by variety from 5 feet to 15 feet, with Ilex decidua varieties typically larger than the verticillatas.   These deciduous hollies are nice green shrubs or small trees during the growing season, but it is after the foliage falls off in late fall to expose their showy berries when these plants truly shine.  Both male and female plants are needed for berry production, but one male can pollinate a number of females.  The most common berry color is red, but there are yellow and orange berried varieties available.   These plants are quite tolerant of wet soils, but will do well in a wide range of soil types.  Best berry production is in full sun, but they will tolerate light shade.   They can be a bit slow growing while they are young, but eventually kick in and produce some lovely specimens.  In moist conditions they will grow much more rapidly.

 











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