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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

    2016 - We finally got a taste of cold weather and some moisture, but we were way too dry during October and November. Let us hope that we get some moisture throughout the winter months, only not of the frozen variety.  Pay attention to moisture levels around your plants, especially any in containers or newly planted trees and shrubs as well as winter annuals and vegetables.  If plants are too dry heading into a hard freeze there is no buffer to protect them from winter damage, and they can get damaged. 

    Garden clean-up is in order.  Many parts of the state have had some light freezes, and some of you may have had a hard freeze.  Summer annuals such as coleus, impatiens and sweet potato vines don’t take any cold weather and die back quickly, but others like Dragonwing begonia, petunias, callibrachoa and geraniums will tolerates light freezes and keep on going. If your plants have played out, pull them and clean up the garden. Cut back spent summer perennials and rake up fallen leaves.  Good sanitation can help your garden start next growing season clean. 

    here is still time to plant pansies, flowering kale and cabbage and other winter color if you can find it.  When planting late, you need to choose larger, flowering plants or you won’t see much color before spring.  Get them planted, watered and mulched and you should be good to go.  Fertilize periodically throughout the winter months to keep them blooming. 

    There is also still time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  Layer different varieties together in the soil for a dramatic display next spring. 

    If you planted a late fall or winter garden, the vegetables are doing nicely.  Continue to water when dry and fertilize periodically too.  Most cool season vegetables thrive in cool weather, but may need a bit of extra covering when temperatures fall below 26-28 degrees.  Frost damage is always worse on a cold still night.  Overcast or windy nights tend to help prevent heavy frost accumulations. 

    Holiday plants are everywhere now. If you purchase or receive a poinsettia, remember to keep them evenly moist—not wet, and give them bright sunlight during the day.  The colorful part is actually a modified leaf and will hold its color for months with proper care.  Poinsettias come in a wide range of colors from the traditional red to shades of pink, purple, white, speckled and even a pale orange variety.  In addition to poinsettias, other welcome holiday plants include kalanchoe, anthuriums, Norfolk Island pine and bromeliads.  A flowering plant can be the gift that keeps on giving.

    The warm weather we had in November has many of the holiday amaryllis bulbs getting a jumpstart on the season.  Before you buy one of the boxed varieties, open the box to make sure the bulb has not already bloomed inside the box.  Amaryllis bulbs have a mind of their own and when they are ready to grow, they do whether they are planted or not. If the bulb has already sprouted, that is ok, as long as you pot it quickly and give it light.  If the flower has already tried to open, don’t buy it as it will not bloom again until next year.

    Fresh cut greenery and Christmas trees can dry out quickly so make sure you make a nice fresh cut on the tree when you bring it home and let it sit in a bucket of water to get a good drink before you bring it inside. Then keep the tree stand full of fresh water.

    Vegetable of the month-Greens:

    When you say greens in the south, you may be talking about turnip, mustard or collard greens.  These three inter-related vegetables are loaded with nutrition and easy to grow.  They are also sometimes called potherbs and are all members of the cabbage family.  While turnip plants can be grown for the root as well as the leaves, most “greens” are plants that are grown to be eaten in their leafy stage, sometime accompanied by the stems as well. 

    These three greens are often used interchangeably in recipes, with many folks having their personal favorite.  Collard greens will tolerate the most cold and heat of the greens, while mustard greens probably are the least heat tolerant.  Mustard greens have the best flavor if harvested under cool temperatures. They can be bitter or quite hot if they are exposed to high temperatures.  Collard greens taste somewhat more bitter than turnip greens which tend to be sweeter. Turnip greens are also smaller and more tender than collards.

    They all are widely considered to be very healthy foods.  A one cup cooked serving of these greens contains iron, calcium several B vitamins and more vitamin C than an orange—with less than 20 calories unless you load them up with pork fat or bacon.   They are also a good sources soluble fiber and flavonoid anti-oxidants.

    All of the greens are easy to grow.  They can all be grown in the early cool season garden and again in the fall and winter garden.  They all do best in full sun with even moisture.  Collards will also do well in the summer in Arkansas, while turnips and mustard will typically not be as tasty when the weather gets hot.  They are easily grown from seed.  Once they are up and growing do some harvesting of the older leaves on a regular basis.  This will keep the plant producing new, tender leaves instead of having a lot of older, tough leaves. 

    If we should get an abnormally low cold spot, they can be nipped back, but they usually resprout from the base and come back strong.  You can also cover them with a cardboard box or row cover and give them a little protection and they won’t get nipped.

    Today we also have a few varieties of mustard greens that are being used as edible ornamentals including the giant red mustard with deep dark purple mature foliage and the green and red frilly leafed varieties. They can be as pretty as they are edible. 

    If you aren’t growing greens, it is a bit late to get them started for the winter garden, but get ready in February to start planting. 

  • 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

    2016 - It was a much milder May than we are used to, but I am sure summer will catch up with a vengeance.  Now is the time to start monitoring the water needs, as rainfall typically becomes spotty.  Insects and diseases seem to be at a premium this year, and we have already had plenty of mosquito issues.  Make sure that you dump out any standing water that is in your yard. Remove the saucers from under your flowerpots, and check out bird baths and kids toys that can hold water.  If you have regular water in the yard, you can get the mosquito dunks or granules from your local nursery or hardware store that you can put in the water to keep mosquitoes from breeding.  Walk your gardens often to scout for problems. The earlier you can catch them, the sooner they can be controlled.  We have had reports of aphids, spider mites, potato beetles and scale insects. 

     

    Speaking of scale insects, be sure to check the bark of your crape myrtles. We seem to see more and more of the white felt scales being reported on crape myrtles.  Systemic insecticides will work well.  Here is a link to our fact sheet which can give you more descriptions and options of controls: http://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/fsa-7086.pdf

     

    Gardeners are harvesting cool season vegetables and even some early warm season plantings.  As you harvest the cool season crops, replant with some new vegetables to make sure you are utilizing all the space available.  There is still time to plant sweet potatoes, southern peas, watermelons, winter squash, and okra.  You can keep planting peppers, eggplant, okra and tomatoes.  Be sure to water, mulch and fertilize.  Be on the lookout for blossom end rot on tomatoes.  We typically get our first calls on this in early June, and often right after a heavy downpour.  Blossom end rot starts as a water-soaked spot on the bottom of the tomato, which quickly turns black.  While it looks like an awful disease, it is really a calcium deficiency typically caused by fluctuations in moisture levels.  Mulch your plants, and try to keep the moisture levels even.  Spraying with Stop Rot can help.

     

    Nurseries are still a sea of color. If you need summer color, annuals and perennials are available, but so are tropical flowers.   Tropical plants thrive in heat and humidity which we have in abundance.  From the more common hibiscus and mandevilla, to the more unusual tibouchina and bromeliads, more and more tropical plants are making it into our shops, so try them this summer.

     

    Perennial plants are those that come back for at least two seasons.  Right now, many are in full bloom, including purple coneflower, daylilies, gaillardia, hardy hibiscus and lilies.  Deadheading long season bloomers encourages more flowers and less seed production.  Deadheading simply means to cut off the flowers as they fade so that they don’t set seeds.  When a plant sets seeds, it puts energy into seed production and not into producing more blooms.  Fertilize hosta plants at least two or three times in the growing season, and keep them watered.  They are not drought tolerant.  Watch for slugs.  If slugs are a problem, consider mulching your plants with sweetgum balls.  This spiny mulch works well at deterring slugs and cats from the garden.

     

    Lawns are green and growing well, but so are the weeds. We had a bumper crop this winter, but they should have disappeared with  the heat, and now the summer weeds are growing nicely.  If you want a weed free yard, consider using herbicides.  Make sure you identify the weeds properly as different products work on grassy weeds versus broadleaf weeds.  Make sure you read and follow label directions.  Some lawn grasses are more sensitive to chemicals, so use caution when applying.  Make sure the lawn is well-watered and healthy before you start applying chemicals or fertilizer, or you could burn the grass.  Also avoid spraying any chemicals on windy days.  Regular mowing, watering and proper fertilization will help you have a healthy lawn which should cut down on weed problems.

     

    Vegetable of the Month
    It’s that moment we dream about all winter, as we muddle through with mere substitutes. 

     

    There is nothing like that first bite of a home grown, juicy tomato.  Few vegetables–or is that fruits?!, bring about more opinions than tomatoes.  They are the number one vegetable planted in home gardens, and it seems everyone has their favorite variety.  Whether it is the original Arkansas pink tomato--the Bradley, or the Arkansas Traveler, or the Better Boy or Roma, Sweet 100, Yellow Pear, or the giant Beefsteak, they are truly good eating and can be easily grown in the home garden from transplants. 

     

    There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes on the market from new cultivars with disease resistance to the old-fashioned heirloom varieties.   It is important for disease control that you rotate your tomatoes, not planting in the same spot each year.  There are numerous diseases of tomatoes and they often hit earlier and earlier each year if planted in the same spot.  Newer varieties have letters following their names . VFNT stand for resistance to Verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes and tobacco mosaic virus.  But even resistant varieties can get diseases if you plant in the same soil year after year. 

     

    There are two basic types of tomato plants–determinate, and indeterminate–in laymen terms, often referred to as bush or tall growing plants.  Determinate plants are self-topping, and typically form a stronger main stem and have a bushier growth.  The top buds set fruits, thus stopping the continuation of growth.  They are often sold as patio tomatoes.  Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow all season, unless you top them.  Plants have grown twelve to fifteen feet or more, and require staking for support. As long as they are healthy, they will continue to produce until a freeze in the fall.

     

    Regardless of which type you are growing, they need a minimum of 6-8 hours of sun and even moisture.  They have complete flowers with both male and female parts together, so they don’t need bees to pollinate them.  Regular fertilization will help with production.  Normally we broadcast a complete fertilizer at planting and then side-dress every 3-4 weeks while the plants are producing.  Staking the plants is necessary for indeterminate varieties, but helpful even with the patio varieties giving the plants more stability while they are fruiting. 

     

    So whether you like red, orange, yellow or even black-fruited varieties, there is a tomato plant to satisfy all gardeners. If you have a surplus, you can always make salsa, tomato sauce or share with friends.  If you haven’t planted, there is still plenty of time, and if you planted early, you aren’t that far from your first harvest.

     

  • July

                                                                                                                                                                      Zone Report July- August 2016

    2016 -  Temperatures are heating up and rainfall has become a bit scarce, so watering is the main chore in the garden.  Containers dry out daily, so pay attention.  The more you water, the quicker you leach out the nutrition in the soil.  Fertilization is important for flowering plants to keep blooming and fruiting plants to set fruits and vegetables.  Make sure there is ample moisture in the soil before fertilizing, and use the fertilizer at a lower rate. High doses of fertilizer on a dry plant that is heat stressed, can lead to burned foliage. You can always add more fertilizer, but you can’t take away damaged plant foliage.  Fertilizer is important for annuals and vegetables that are planted in the ground as well as in containers. 

    If you have annuals and perennials that set seeds, deadhead them frequently.  Deadheading is removing the spent flowers to prevent them from setting seeds.  Plants that bloom all season will have more flowers if you remove the spent blooms, since the energy they would expend forming seeds, goes back into the plant to set more flower buds.  Many new varieties are now called self-cleaning, meaning they drop the spent flowers on their own without setting seed heads.  They do not require deadheading.

    Tomatoes have struggled some across the state this year.  If you are not sure what is wrong with your plants, take a sample in to your local county extension office. We have seen a lot of early blight, late blight and septoria leaf spot on plants.   Early in the season we had a lot of rain, and many of the diseases are soil-borne.  Heavy rains cause the soil to get splashed up on the stems, which can help to spread these diseases.  Some of the plants are too far gone to salvage, but continue to harvest as tomatoes ripen. Consider planting some new plants in a different section of the garden, to give you a later harvest.  Rotation of crops—not planting in the same spot for three years can lessen your chances of diseases hitting quite so quickly.  Also be on the lookout for tomato hornworms.  They camouflage themselves quite nicely but can quickly decimate a tomato plant.  Aphids and spider mites are also out in large numbers.  Walk your garden at least a couple of times a week to look for problems, and to harvest.

    Roses are blooming well, but even some of the hardy earth-kind roses have some leaf spots on them.  Just like the tomatoes were hit hard by disease, we have seen fungal diseases on many roses this summer due in part to all the rains this spring and early season.  I do not advocate spray programs for the non-hybrid tea roses, but you can do a little clean-up.  Deadhead spent flowers, give the plants a light shearing if they are in between blooms and water and fertilize.  Even though some of the older leaves have damage, the new growth is looking pretty clean.  The more new growth you get, the better they will flower the rest of the summer.

    If you still need some color in your garden, there is still plenty to choose from at local nurseries and garden centers.  Tropical flowering plants are still arriving and this is their season—they love it hot and humid.  Water and fertilize weekly and they will bloom non-stop.    Many summer blooming perennials are in their prime now, from the dinner plate sized blooms on hardy hibiscus, to non-stop color on coneflowers, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, liatris and rudbeckia.  Many of these flowers need dead-heading after bloom.

    It has been a stellar year for blooming hydrangeas of all types.  For the first time in several years our big leaf hydrangeas were covered in blooms ranging from blue to purple to pink depending on soil pH.   They love water and shade in the afternoon, and will wilt daily if they get afternoon sun or temps are really high.  If yours need to be pruned, the time to do so is as soon as the flowers start to fade.  You can remove up to 1/3 of the older canes at the soil line—but only prune if needed.  The white flowering (and occasionally pink) panicle and smooth hydrangeas are kicking into high gear and will continue to bloom for months. They bloom on the new growth and will tolerate more sunlight, but they still want a bit of water.  There are many new varieties to choose from.

    Okra is a true southern vegetable belonging to the Mallow family which includes cotton and hibiscus.  The Latin name is (Hibiscus esculentus) and if you have ever seen an okra bloom, you will notice the similarity to hibiscus.  Okra likes warm, well drained soils, so is usually not planted until May.  It thrives in the heat of an Arkansas summer and is a plant that can grow six feet or more in height.  This is a plant we typically grow from seed.  Broadcast a complete fertilizer at seeding and again when the plants are about 6- 8 inches tall, then again in 3-4 weeks.  Don’t overdo it with too much nitrogen or you can get huge plants with limited production. 

    Okra plants begin to flower within a month and a half from seeding.  Harvest the immature seed pods when they are between 2-4 inches in length.  People have different preferences to the size of okra, but if left too long, the pods get tough and woody.  If you don’t harvest frequently –every few days during production, you will also limit the amount of new pods produced.  It is best to use scissors or pruning shears to harvest, as the pods are firmly attached and the small spines on the fruits and stems can irritate some people’s skin. Okra plants continue to produce until frost as long as pods are removed or harvested regularly. Most pods are ready for harvesting 4 to 6 days after the bloom opens.

    The immature pods are used in soups and stews and are also served fried, boiled and pickled.  It is a staple in Louisiana cooking, common in gumbo, which is another common name for the vegetable in some southern states. 

    Clemson Spineless is the most common variety, but Lee and Jade were developed by the University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture.  A red podded form called Red Burgundy can be quite showy in the garden, with green pods once cooked. 

  • August

     

    2016 - We were skating through this summer feeling pretty good about the weather when late July hit and things took a nosedive! It has gotten hot, hotter and hottest in a short period of time. Some folks are getting downpours, while others are bone dry. Everyone needs a rain gauge but better yet, they need to know the needs of the plant in their own yards. In my shady gardens, my sprinkler system is handling things with no help from me, but in full sun, in containers or rockier parts of the yard, supplemental watering is needed. So pay attention. You don’t want to go to all that effort and expense of planting a garden and letting a few weeks of hot, dry weather kill it. Water is THE most important factor of gardening success this time of the year. Mulch will definitely help make your job easier, but nothing beats a slow, steady drink of water.

    Gardening may not be a top priority when it is this hot, but now is a great time to start planting a fall vegetable garden. If you are watering, you are still harvesting, and some plants like okra, eggplant, southern peas and sweet potatoes are thriving in the heat. Tomatoes are slowing down in production when daytime temps exceed 95 degrees or nights stay warm and humid too. But, water and wait, and they will begin to bear again. It won’t be long before tomato plants are available to plant again for a fall garden. We can start planting cool season things like greens, broccoli and cabbage, but we can also replant almost all of the warm season crops for a fall harvest. Water and mulch will be vitally important.


    If you have insects or diseases and you plan to spray, or even if you are simply fertilizing, make sure there is ample water in the plants you are feeding or spraying. Even the most innocuous thing can lead to damage if the plants are too stressed. Make sure you work smart, and get things done early in the day or after the sun sets. If you are watering late in the day, just try to get the job done early enough to allow the foliage to dry before it gets dark. Too much moisture on the foliage in the evening can lead to more disease issues.


    Figs are in season and most folks have a lot of them on their trees or bushes. Birds, squirrels and raccoons like them just as much as you do, so consider bird netting, at least at the base of the tree. Don’t let your figs get too dry or you will start see figs dropping before they get ripe.


    We also still have peaches in season and early apples are here as well. I let farmers grow those, as they are difficult to manage in a home landscape, but they should be readily available at farmers markets statewide.


    Continue to deadhead perennials and even some shrubs. Butterfly bush (Buddleia), summer spirea, and even crape myrtles will continue to bloom if they have the spent flowers removed, preventing seed set. Basil needs to be clipped to keep foliage
    growing, and black eyed Susan’s (rudbeckia), purple coneflower (Echinacea) and gaillardia will all set seeds if you don’t deadhead. Most of us would rather have flowers now than seeds, so continue to deadhead for another month or two and allow seed set in the fall.


    Depending on what summer annuals you are growing and how you have cared for them can determine how well they are doing. If yours look great, continue to water and fertilize. If they are looking a little peaked, give them a light haircut and a light dose of fertilizer and they too can rebound. Keep in mind that we have several more weeks of warm if not hot weather, and most annuals can give you color up through October or November. If you have the energy to replant, there are still plants available at local nurseries, and often at bargain prices. A few well-placed plants, given ample water can give you instant color. Take note of what plants are faring well and which are (or were) water needy. I have been quite impressed with Angelonia, periwinkle, lantana and penta this season, and the sunpatiens are pretty spectacular too. Tropical flowers are in their element and doing great. To keep them thriving don’t forget to fertilize, but do so lightly and make sure there is ample water.


    Eggplants

    Eggplant


    Eggplants were not as common in our gardens or our kitchens until the past decade or so and now for many of us, they are a staple. Eggplants belong to the nightshade family which includes tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. Unlike tomatoes, eggplants thrive in the hottest parts of summer, continuing to set fruits even on hot, humid days. They grow on a short, stalky bush similar to peppers, and rarely need staking, although if your plants get taller and are loaded with fruit, added support would be welcome. Most people are familiar with the larger fruited varieties such as Black Beauty, but the oriental varieties with the long, tapered fruits such as Ichiban is gaining ground. In addition there are small egg shaped varieties in mature shades of white, yellow and orange, along with striped and spotted ones.


    All eggplants need warm conditions to grow, so don’t plant too early in the spring, allowing the soil temperatures to warm up. Eggplants will continue to grow, bloom, and set fruit until the really cool days of fall. The main pest problem is the flea beetle which can cause small holes in the leaves and a stippling effect on the fruit.


    While eggplants can be harvested from small sized fruits up to larger one, under-ripe or over-ripe fruits can be a bit bitter. For the larger fruited forms, the outer rind will be deep, dark purple and have shiny skin. If the skin begins to turn dull or the color begins to fade, they are getting too ripe. The smaller fruited forms will usually stop growing larger and the outer skin will get glossy. Although we have all done it, try not to pull the mature fruits off by hand, since they are firmly attached and you can damage the plant. Use pruning shears to harvest and leave a short stem attached. Eggplants will last for about a week in the refrigerator and can be grilled, fried, sautéed or roasted. If you start having too many to eat at once, roast them along with peppers, garlic, and tomatoes in the oven, then puree in the blender for an outstanding dip. 

  • September

                                                                                                                                                Zone report September 2016

     We had more than our fair share of insects and diseases this gardening season, and the disease problem was exacerbated by the excess rainfall we had in the spring.  If you have perennials that don’t look good, don’t wait to begin cleanup.  Plants that traditionally grew until a killing frost, may have started dying back a bit earlier, and may be cut back now.  Once they begin to die back, begin garden clean-up.  Anything that blooms in the spring or summer can also be divided if needed when cutting back or at the end of the month through mid-November.  If your summer annual color is still growing strong, continue to enjoy it.  If some of your plants have gotten a little leggy, give them a light haircut and a quick shot of fertilizer as a little pick-me-up.  You can begin to plant winter annuals in late September—let the weather get a bit cooler, or the cool season plants will get leggy. If color is lagging in your garden, consider some ornamental peppers, callibrachoa, petunias.  Last year our callibrachoa and petunias actually overwintered with our mild conditions. Fall flowering chrysanthemums and asters are also arriving at garden centers which can give you instant color.  While mums are considered perennials, many people use them as annuals.  When choosing plants, look for plenty of flower buds and some showing color.  If you buy one in full blown bloom-out, your flower display will not be as long lasting. 

    If your vegetable garden is still producing quality produce, then you are paying attention and doing a good job of managing the garden. More and more gardeners are trying to garden year-round in Arkansas, planting cool season vegetables into the fall.  They need to get established before really cold weather hits, but with some season extenders and coverings, they can last all winter long.  Fall gardens are by far the hardest to manage, since insects and diseases have had all season to thrive and multiply—and this was a buggy year, so monitoring for problems is important.  You can still plant some fall crops including lettuce, radishes and fall greens, but you can also plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, and beets now.  Water is a vital component for success, and mulch is always a plus.  As you transition from one season to the next, remember that good sanitation is important.  Don’t just leave spent plants in the garden. Diseased plant parts should not be tilled into the soil, nor should they be left there.  Good sanitation at the end of the gardening season can pay big bonuses at the start of next year’s garden.  

    Tropical flowering plants are becoming a staple in Arkansas gardens and are at their peak now. They thrive in the hot, humid days of summer, and as long as you have been watering and fertilizing all summer, these plants should continue to thrive and bloom up until a killing frost.  If you want to keep them for next season, they need to be moved inside by early to mid-October.  Continue your fertilizer and watering programs throughout this month, and as with all plants, be on the lookout for insect or disease problems—especially if you plan to keep these plants indoors all winter. 

    September is often hot and dry, so water is really the only thing you should be adding to your shrubs and trees from this point onward.  Fertilization late into the season can lead to potential problems.  If you encourage too much vegetative growth in the fall, you can have plants that are more susceptible to winter damage.  If you have plants that bloom in the spring, don’t prune them or even try to shape them this late.  These plants should be in the process of setting flower buds, and pruning can interfere with next years flower display.  If you have evergreens—hollies, boxwoods, aucuba, etc that you grow for foliage only, a light pruning can still be done.  Severe pruning—taking off more than a third, should not be done this late in the season.  If the plants don’t produce foliage to cover up the pruning job, they will be more open and susceptible to winter damage.  If they do produce a lot of new vegetative growth, that may not have a chance to harden off before frost, so go sparingly on any pruning of evergreens this late.  If you have just noticed a bad case of insect damage—particularly spider mite, lacebugs or whiteflies, the bulk of the damage has been done, and spraying will not help a great deal.   You can treat with an oil spray as the weather turns cool, but have a goal of monitoring for problems better next year. Scale insects continue to plague landscape materials, and we saw more and more cases of crape myrtle bark scale this summer.  Systemic approaches are best, but we are getting a bit late in the season for them to be as effective.  As leaves drop this fall, do a good job of clean-up.  If you can use a small soft brush with soapy water to clean the trunks, then use horticultural oil as they go dormant.  Thorough coverage is necessary for control.  Hollies and camellias have had their share of scales this year as well.  If you ignore the problem, they will build up larger numbers, and it can result in severe damage.  Use a systemic insecticide in late winter to early summer next year.  

    In central Arkansas we grow primarily warm season grasses—Zoysia is probably number one, with Bermuda a second followed by St. Augustine and centipede with some cool season tall fescue in the shady spots.  This is the month to stop fertilizing warm season grasses, and begin repair on the cool season ones.  If your lawn has not had much fertilization, you can apply one last application by September 15.  Gradually raise the height of your lawn at this time to prepare for the winter.

    Breaking Ground - September 2016 

    2016I think August 2016 is one for the weather record-book!  I thought we were living in the rain forest for a while, and then we had mild temperatures and low humidity—too bad that isn’t a normal August in Arkansas.  For some of our plants, the huge amounts or rain had them growing like crazy, but some of the heat lovers may look a bit worse for wear.  Take inventory of your garden and if the annuals aren’t looking good, gradually begin to replace them.  We are seeing new arrivals of petunias and callibrachoa—these plants can overwinter in a mild season, but still will perform well until a killing frost.  We also have fall and winter bedding plants making their appearance. Dianthus, Swiss chard, flowering and edible kale and cabbage can be planted now and should survive all winter.  I would hold off until late September or early October before planting pansies. If pansies get exposed to hot temperatures (which can occur in September) they get leggy and don’t perform well.  Violas are more forgiving.  You can also start adding some chrysanthemums for fall color and it won’t be long before we see pumpkins and gourds.  Fall is on the horizon!  If your summer color is still thriving, fertilize now to keep them blooming.  

    Some gardeners had a great growing season while others had an abysmal one.  If your vegetables are still producing, keep harvesting and gradually begin to fill in the blanks with fall vegetables.  We should see vegetable transplants arriving at local outlets soon.  You can seed carrots, lettuce, spinach, kale and other greens now.  If you can find some new tomato plants, they can also continue to bear until a killing frost.  If your plants have been destroyed by the rain/diseases/insects, start clean-up.  We are gradually changing how we garden in Arkansas.  Instead of stopping for the winter, with even moderate protection, we can now have fresh vegetables all winter long, so start planting.

    One thing the rain really helped, were the weeds and grass!  In the lawn, it is too late to worry about herbicide usage, but mowing can help prevent seed set.  In flower beds and vegetable gardens, attack with a good sharp hoe.  If allowed to grow unchecked, the seeds they leave behind will cause problems for years to come. 

    Armyworm damage has been intense in many Bermuda grass lawns in central Arkansas.  If your lawn totally turned brown from this insects feeding, once you control the insects you can lightly apply one more application of fertilizer by mid-month to help the lawn re-green.  Rarely will armyworms kill an established lawn, but they can come back. A second generation is not out of the question, so pay attention.  Moths prefer to lay their eggs in a lush green lawn, and the caterpillars can do a lot of damage in a short period of time, so monitor and treat if needed.

    Tropical plants may need a bit of fertilizer now to keep blooming until frost.  All the rains we had, cut down on our watering duties, but they still leached out the nutrition in the containers.  Fertilization can help with blooms. 

    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 hold off until October before you begin to plant. 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.

     

    Vegetable of the month – Luffa gourd  

     

    Luffa gourds                                        Luffa gourd                                         Luffa gourd 3

     Luffa gourds are also referred to as the dishcloth or sponge gourd, since they are typically grown to produce your own “sponges”.   As with most gourds, the plants are quite vigorous and the vines can spread 20 feet or more.  While they can be grown on the ground, to conserve space and to get straight fruits, it is best to grow them on a sturdy trellis or fence. 

    Most gardeners grow luffa gourds for the fibrous insides they use as a sponge; however the young fruits which are six inches or less in size can be cooked and eaten as squash or substituted for cucumber in salads. They are sometimes sold as Chinese okra in their edible form. 

    Once you harvest the ripe gourds you need to dry them before peeling off the outer skin to get to the sponge.  There are several method used. Once dry, cut open the larger end of the gourd and shake out the seeds.  You can save the seeds to replant next summer, but let them air dry for a few days before storing.  Mature dry fruit will peel somewhat easily, while green fruit can be a bit more of a challenge. Some gardeners peel the skin off while they are dry, while others soak the gourds in warm water for a few hours or overnight and then peel.  Once you get the sponges loose, let them air dry in the sun to help them turn white.  Then use them as you would a sponge in your bath or kitchen.  They can also make great gifts—along with a few seeds so folks could plant their own next year.    

  • October

     2016                                                                                                                                                               Zone report October 2016

    Fall is finally on the horizon.  We are transitioning from one growing season to the next, so there is plenty of work to do in the garden.  From raking to planting, harvesting to clean-up there is a range of chores that can be done.  We usually get more moisture in October, but monitor water needs. 

    Not all plants wait for a killing frost to end their gardening season.  Some annuals and perennials are dying back, so clean-up is in order.  If you have spring or summer blooming perennials, now is a great time to dig and divide them.  Try to have at least two to three crowns per division.  Replant, water and mulch and they should be happy and thriving plants next spring.  As your summer annuals play out, start replacing with winter color.  From pansies and violas, to snapdragons, Swiss chard, beets, kale and cabbage—both edible and ornamental, are available now.  If your summer annuals are still growing, intersperse some cool season plants with them to allow them time to get established. 

    Vegetable gardens are still producing nicely and new plants are still available to plant.  In mild winters, many of these cool season vegetables will grow undaunted without protection.  If temperatures below 29 are predicted, you will need to add a little covering to get them through, but we can now grow vegetables year-round.  Winter vegetables also have very few insect or disease problems.  So if you have not thought about growing a winter garden, think again. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, beets, carrots and turnips all do well.  Don’t forget about watering needs, and mulching will help manage moisture, temperature and weeds.  

    Houseplants and tropical plants that you plan to overwinter indoors need to be moving indoors soon.  Moving them when inside and outside conditions are similar will be less stressful on the plants. As a general rule, the first time your heat is on, your plants should be inside. Prepare houseplants for the move indoors by checking them for insects before making the move. Lower light, less humidity and static temperatures can be hard on tropical plants indoors, so help them by grouping them together to increase humidity and let them dry out between watering. Give them bright light and less water and they should be ok, but don’t be alarmed if you see some leaf shed. 

    If you need some instant color in the garden, you have a wealth of pumpkins and gourds to choose from.  There are all sizes and colors now.  Choose a blemish free fruit with a stem attached and they can last for months.  To add to the mix, throw in some corn stalks, mums and asters, and you have quite a show. 

    Ornamental grasses are at their peak now.  Plants come in a variety of sizes with various colored seed heads.  Even though the grasses die back with a killing frost, you want to enjoy their plumage all winter long. Cut them back in late February before new growth begins. 

    Vegetable of the month:

    Few things symbolize fall better than the pumpkin.   Pumpkins in all sizes and shapes, from the traditional orange, to white, red, green and striped; smooth rinds to warty, gives the gardener many options to choose from.  While pumpkins aren’t difficult to grow, they do require a long time to mature and a large area to grow in, so many choose to simply let someone else grow them and buy them each fall. Pumpkins are members of the cucurbit family, which means they are kissing cousins of cucumbers, squash, watermelons and gourds.  They are normally planted in the garden once the soil warms up in June or early July which will have them ready for a fall harvest.  Sizes range from the tiny “Jack-b-little” which produce a softball size fruit up to the giant award winners like “Big Max” and “Prize Winner” which can produce fruits weighing more than 100 pounds.   Supposedly the world record is over 1800 pounds for a pumpkin.  These giant fruits aren’t that attractive, but they do break records.  Pie pumpkins are traditionally smaller fruited forms—usually between three to six pounds.  Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron. You can even cook a stew or soup inside a hollowed out pumpkin and roast it in the oven. The flowers are also edible and roasted pumpkin.

    Pumpkins                        Pumpkins

    If you are choosing your pumpkin for the season choose one with a stem attached.  Look for one with a smooth rind and free of soft spots or blemishes.  If there is no stem, the fruit tends to deteriorate rather quickly.  If you choose well, they can last for months both inside and out.  Some folks even paint them silver or gold to extend their usefulness.  Another way to extend their life is to clean them and spray them with a clear paint. 

  • November   

     

    2016 - I think we are all grateful that we are finally seeing rain back in our forecasts.  We went through an extended dry period in September and October which was not ideal for our gardens.  Spring blooming shrubs and trees have their flower buds set, and if they got too dry, they may have started to shut down early.  Don’t be surprised after some rain and cooler temperatures if you see a few blooms on them.  There isn’t anything you can do to stop it anyway, so you may as well enjoy them.  Tulip magnolias, azaleas, flowering fruit trees and even forsythia sometimes will put on some blooms, but it isn’t full bloom and we should still have a display next spring.

    Do continue to monitor water needs as we head into late fall and winter.  Newly planted trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and vegetables, will need added moisture if we don’t get regular rainfall, it just isn’t as urgent as it is when temperatures are in the 90’s and 100’s.  Mulch your plants to conserve moisture and moderate soil temperatures.  Our first frost usually occurs in mid-November, so pay attention to the weather. If you have moderately hardy perennials in the garden, wait for a killing frost and then add an extra layer of mulch for winter protection. If you add it before the plants go dormant, they may rot.

    Many home gardeners are growing vegetables year-round now outdoors. With the availability of season extenders, or just some ingenuity of creating protection for the plants, they can take even the coldest of temperatures.  Most cool season vegetables will be able to tolerate temperatures to about 28 degrees without protection, but will need to be covered if temperatures are lower, or if it is a clear, still night.  Overturned boxes, flower pots or small high tunnels can add the protection you need.  Many of these cool season vegetables actually taste sweeter when grown in the cooler months.  Some vegetable transplants are still available, so plant soon and keep them watered and fertilized and you can be harvesting vegetables all winter. 

    November is an ideal time to plant spring bulbs.  It was so hot and dry in October, that many of the chores we normally do then we put off.  Now that temperatures are cooling off and we are getting some moisture, it is a great time to plant.  Remember the larger the bulb, the showier the blooms next spring. Plant your bulbs 2-2 ½ times as deep as they are large.

    November is the ideal month to plant a tree, but this can continue all winter long.  Planting larger plants while they are dormant, allows them time to put down roots before they have to contend with supplying nutrients and water for foliage.   Fall color was slow due to the dry conditions, but should start to catch up.  Some trees started shedding leaves early.  This is the season to rake and clean up the garden.  If you don’t have a compost pile, consider starting one.  Don’t add diseased plants to the pile, since home compost piles will not generate enough heat throughout the pile to sufficiently kill disease organisms.  Other items you should not add to a compost pile include meat products, oil, and animal refuse.  Using compost to amend your soil is an excellent way to add organic matter, and build up the moisture and nutrient holding capacity of your soil.

    Vegetable of the month:

    Sweet potatoes
    The sweet potato is native to South America. It is high in calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C.  It is rich in dietary fiber and has small amounts of iron. Sweet potatoes are a healthier alternative to white potatoes.   Since they are a tropical plant and will not survive cold weather, we don’t plant sweet potatoes until the soil has had a chance to warm up.  May to early June is the best time to plant. Sweet potatoes are grown from “slips”.  Slips are shoots that sprout from the sweet potato when they are placed in a moist bed of sand.  What you are eating when you eat a sweet potato is an enlarged root, called a storage root.    Sweet potatoes are a long season, vining plant, which we harvest in September or October, before a killing frost. Sweet potato roots are easily bruised by rough handling. Once the sweet potatoes are harvested, they need to be cured.  Curing will heal any cuts and will also trigger the development of the sugar-creating enzymes. Dig your potatoes and allow the soil on the surface of the potatoes to dry. Shake off any excess soil but don’t wash the roots. Cure the sweet potatoes in a room with high humidity and warm temperatures for seven to ten days. A temperature of 80 degrees to 85 degrees and a relative humidity of 80 percent to 90 percent are ideal, but may be hard to achieve in a home setting.  Try to get as close to this as possible.  Once cured, sweet potatoes will last for 6 months in a cool, well-ventilated room. 

    Image of sweet potatoes         Picture of sweet potatoes

  • December

    2016 - We finally got a taste of cold weather and some moisture, but we were way too dry during October and November. Let us hope that we get some moisture throughout the winter months, only not of the frozen variety.  Pay attention to moisture levels around your plants, especially any in containers or newly planted trees and shrubs as well as winter annuals and vegetables.  If plants are too dry heading into a hard freeze there is no buffer to protect them from winter damage, and they can get damaged. 

    Garden clean-up is in order.  Many parts of the state have had some light freezes, and some of you may have had a hard freeze.  Summer annuals such as coleus, impatiens and sweet potato vines don’t take any cold weather and die back quickly, but others like Dragonwing begonia, petunias, callibrachoa and geraniums will tolerates light freezes and keep on going. If your plants have played out, pull them and clean up the garden. Cut back spent summer perennials and rake up fallen leaves.  Good sanitation can help your garden start next growing season clean. 

    here is still time to plant pansies, flowering kale and cabbage and other winter color if you can find it.  When planting late, you need to choose larger, flowering plants or you won’t see much color before spring.  Get them planted, watered and mulched and you should be good to go.  Fertilize periodically throughout the winter months to keep them blooming. 

    There is also still time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  Layer different varieties together in the soil for a dramatic display next spring. 

    If you planted a late fall or winter garden, the vegetables are doing nicely.  Continue to water when dry and fertilize periodically too.  Most cool season vegetables thrive in cool weather, but may need a bit of extra covering when temperatures fall below 26-28 degrees.  Frost damage is always worse on a cold still night.  Overcast or windy nights tend to help prevent heavy frost accumulations. 

    Holiday plants are everywhere now. If you purchase or receive a poinsettia, remember to keep them evenly moist—not wet, and give them bright sunlight during the day.  The colorful part is actually a modified leaf and will hold its color for months with proper care.  Poinsettias come in a wide range of colors from the traditional red to shades of pink, purple, white, speckled and even a pale orange variety.  In addition to poinsettias, other welcome holiday plants include kalanchoe, anthuriums, Norfolk Island pine and bromeliads.  A flowering plant can be the gift that keeps on giving.

    The warm weather we had in November has many of the holiday amaryllis bulbs getting a jumpstart on the season.  Before you buy one of the boxed varieties, open the box to make sure the bulb has not already bloomed inside the box.  Amaryllis bulbs have a mind of their own and when they are ready to grow, they do whether they are planted or not. If the bulb has already sprouted, that is ok, as long as you pot it quickly and give it light.  If the flower has already tried to open, don’t buy it as it will not bloom again until next year.

    Fresh cut greenery and Christmas trees can dry out quickly so make sure you make a nice fresh cut on the tree when you bring it home and let it sit in a bucket of water to get a good drink before you bring it inside. Then keep the tree stand full of fresh water.

    Vegetable of the month-Greens:

    When you say greens in the south, you may be talking about turnip, mustard or collard greens.  These three inter-related vegetables are loaded with nutrition and easy to grow.  They are also sometimes called potherbs and are all members of the cabbage family.  While turnip plants can be grown for the root as well as the leaves, most “greens” are plants that are grown to be eaten in their leafy stage, sometime accompanied by the stems as well. 

    These three greens are often used interchangeably in recipes, with many folks having their personal favorite.  Collard greens will tolerate the most cold and heat of the greens, while mustard greens probably are the least heat tolerant.  Mustard greens have the best flavor if harvested under cool temperatures. They can be bitter or quite hot if they are exposed to high temperatures.  Collard greens taste somewhat more bitter than turnip greens which tend to be sweeter. Turnip greens are also smaller and more tender than collards.

    They all are widely considered to be very healthy foods.  A one cup cooked serving of these greens contains iron, calcium several B vitamins and more vitamin C than an orange—with less than 20 calories unless you load them up with pork fat or bacon.   They are also a good sources soluble fiber and flavonoid anti-oxidants.

    All of the greens are easy to grow.  They can all be grown in the early cool season garden and again in the fall and winter garden.  They all do best in full sun with even moisture.  Collards will also do well in the summer in Arkansas, while turnips and mustard will typically not be as tasty when the weather gets hot.  They are easily grown from seed.  Once they are up and growing do some harvesting of the older leaves on a regular basis.  This will keep the plant producing new, tender leaves instead of having a lot of older, tough leaves. 

    If we should get an abnormally low cold spot, they can be nipped back, but they usually resprout from the base and come back strong.  You can also cover them with a cardboard box or row cover and give them a little protection and they won’t get nipped.

    Today we also have a few varieties of mustard greens that are being used as edible ornamentals including the giant red mustard with deep dark purple mature foliage and the green and red frilly leafed varieties. They can be as pretty as they are edible. 

    If you aren’t growing greens, it is a bit late to get them started for the winter garden, but get ready in February to start planting.