In The Garden in Arkansas

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.     

A list of monthly gardening chores is listed below. 

  • Current Month Gardening To-Dos

    October 2014

    We had a milder summer than most, but that was a bonus after the miserable winter we had. According to the national weather service, we are in the midst of El Nino which means moist but mild summer and a milder winter. But they do add the warning, that this is a prediction, not a fact.  I think we all hope for milder temperatures this winter, but moisture would also be good. We had a dry winter last year, which was added to our winter loss of plants.  If you have trees and shrubs which are still struggling, or you have decided they are a lost cause, fall is a great time to plant hardy trees and shrubs, perennials, spring bulbs and winter annuals.  Prepare the soil well, plant, water and mulch.  Hold off on fertilization until spring.

    October is prime pumpkin month.  Pumpkins and gourds scattered around the landscape give you instant color and if you choose, sound, sturdy fruits they can last for months.  Throw in a few mums and asters, a corn stalk or two and you have a nice vignette that just screams fall.

    Many of our summer flowering perennials are still blooming, but if yours have begun to go dormant, now is a great time to dig and divide spring and summer blooming perennials.  As foliage begins to die back, clean up the garden and add the debris to your compost pile. By doing the work in the fall, we allow the roots to get established while the tops are dormant, and they will be in a stronger position by next growing season. You can also plant hardy perennials now, and many go on sale at the end of the growing season.  October is also the prime time to seed wildflowers including poppies, purple coneflowers, columbine, Black-eyed Susans.  Make sure to add some annuals to the mix to insure color in year one.  Annuals to sow now include larkspur, Shirley poppies, Texas bluebonnets, bachelor’s buttons and cornflowers.

    October is also the month we can begin to plant spring blooming bulbs.  Bulbs can be planted from now through December. If you buy your bulbs early, store them in a cool location—an empty drawer in the refrigerator gives them some pre-chilling until you can get them planted.   While everyone knows daffodil, tulips, crocus and hyacinths, why not try some new bulbs too. The alliums or flowering onions are gaining in popularity with large lollipop like blooms in shades of pink, purple or white, along with scilla, grape hyacinths and snowdrops.  Bulbs are an easy way to add color to the spring landscape and with good selection you can have color from February through April.

     Our landscapes need to have color in every season. Luckily, many summer annuals and perennials are still blooming, but now is the time to start replacing the summer annuals to get the fall and winter ones established to give you color all winter.  Last year we had a bleak winter with absolutely no color, so get some growing now and let’s hope for a stunning winter color season. There are many varieties of pansies and violas to choose from as well as snapdragons, dianthus, diascia, dusty miller, parsley, edible and ornamental forms of kale, cabbage, Swiss chard and beets.  We can even find late season petunias and callibrachoa which normally overwintering well and blooming through several light freezes-(last year was an exception!)  In the shrub arena, Beautyberry (Callicarpa) is loaded with purple or white berries, and the foliage is turning a wonderful yellow.  The burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is turning red, along with Itea and oakleaf hydrangeas.  Roses are rebounding and the Knock-outs look particularly good.   Perennials such as Toadlily (Tricyrtis), turtlehead (Chelone), Japanese anemones, and goldenrod (Solidago) are all blooming. Chrysanthemums and asters are readily available for instant color at nurseries.  While they are perennials, many use mums as a seasonal color filler and toss them at the end of the bloom period.   

     Vegetable gardening continues to gain in popularity.  Many gardeners are using row covers or hoop houses to continue to grow all year round.  In a milder season, greens, cabbage, broccoli and chard overwinter without additional covering.  Last year, protection was needed.  If you haven’t planted, consider planting edible cabbage and kale instead of the ornamental in your flower beds.  You can also find bulls blood beets, giant mustard and Swiss chard that can give you beautiful winter color, and is edible to boot.  If you haven’t planted a fall garden, don’t leave the garden spot bare all winter, or you will end up with a great crop of weeds.  Either plant a green manure crop or cover crop, or put down a thick layer of mulch –shredded leaves, compost, etc.  This can keep the weeds at bay and you can work this organic matter in when you till the garden next spring.

     The cooler weather of fall is a great time to get out and clean up the garden.  Sanitation is important in a garden and how well prepared our plants and gardens go dormant, the better they bounce back next spring.  Leaves are falling in earnest and should be raked, shredded if possible and added to the compost pile.  Cut back perennials as they begin to die back and as you pull up summer annuals, those go into the compost as well.  Cannas continue to be plagued by the leaf roller, and it lives in spent debris in the garden, so be sure to cut back and get rid of the spent foliage after a frost.  Add a fresh layer of mulch in all gardens.  Take inventory of what worked, and what didn’t.  The only plants you should be fertilizing now are winter annuals and vegetable gardens.  Everything else is preparing for winter, and should not be encouraged to keep growing. Monitor for moisture needs.

  • January
     Check back for January 2015 
  • February
     

    2014 - Late February is the start of our pruning season.  All roses, fruit trees, blueberry bushes and ornamental grasses should be pruned every year in late February.  If you are growing climbing roses, wait until after their first flush of flowers and then prune, but all shrub roses need pruning.  If you have summer blooming plants such as crape myrtles, althea, buddleia and summer spireas that need pruning, late February is also the time to prune those.

    Ornamental grasses should be cut back as close to the soil line as possible.  Removing all the dead debris, makes way for healthy new growth.  Before pruning, pull back the old growth to check to see if any new growth has started greening up.  You don’t want cut edges on the new foliage.

    Liriope or monkey grass is actually in the lily family, not a true grass. Even though it is evergreen, it could benefit from an annual haircut as well.

    Pay attention to the weather. It has been a weird year, with huge fluctuations. If that trend continues and our plants begin to break dormancy, we may have some damage.  If it continues to stay this dry, water, especially prior to a cold spell.

    It has not been a good year for many pansies or violas.  Many are non-blooming scrawny green plants, if they are living.  If yours are living and even blooming, fertilize and water to spur them on to better flowering.  We still have a ways to go before we can start planting summer bedding plants.

    February is normally a month we begin planting cool season vegetables, but if our weather continues its weird cycle, we may have to delay—just monitor conditions. 

    It got cold early this winter and has not been too pleasant outdoors, so many may still have some clean-up chores to do in the garden.  From raking leaves to cutting back spent perennials, there are plenty of chores to do in the garden.

    TIP

    Crape myrtles are a staple in southern landscapes. They are drought tolerant and have beautiful summer flowers, great fall foliage and attractive winter bark if they are pruned properly.  And now, we may have a new pest problem.  Crape myrtle bark scale was first seen in Texas in 2004 and then was seen in a few neighboring states.  We thought we were scale free, but unfortunately, the insect has been spotted in Little Rock, so it may be elsewhere as well.  

  • March

    2014 - We finally had our first official taste of spring and it is amazing how fast our gardens responded. We have blooming bulbs and the flowering quince, camellias and winter honeysuckle are all in bloom. Now we may be back to winter! Who knows when this rollercoaster of a winter will end, but it can’t be soon enough for me.

    flowering hellebore
    Shade perennials include hellebores which bloom from winter through spring.

    Pay close attention to the weather and your gardens now. Many perennials are beginning to grow and roses are leafing out. If we don’t get more rain, water your plants, particularly prior to a cold snap. Much of the winter damage in our gardens can be attributed to the unnaturally dry conditions we had this winter in conjunction with low temperatures. Moisture in the ground and in your plants helps them resist damage.

    Many of us have winter damaged plants in our garden and everyone is ready to start pruning out the damage. Wait. Some of the damage may be simply leaf burn, and those leaves can fall off and the plants can still bloom. My rosemary is rebounding and beginning to bloom on stems I thought were dead. Hydrangeas don’t look great, and many gardenias were burned too—if they were damaged, we won’t have many blooms this summer, but let’s keep our fingers crossed and give them a chance to begin to grow, then we will know for sure. Same rule applies to azaleas. Give them a chance to grow and bloom and prune when you know for sure what damage you have, but enjoy what blooms do make it.

    There is still time to prune all those plants we normally prune in February. Our colder than normal winter has given us a later than normal spring, so you can safely prune even into mid month or later. The key to pruning these plants is to get it done before they are in full growth. Late pruning isn’t going to hurt, but in the case of flowering plants, if you prune after they are fully leafed out and growing, it can delay the first blooms.

    All fruit trees, roses, and ornamental grasses need pruning every year. Some summer blooming shrubs should be pruned every year including butterfly bush, summer blooming spirea and caryopteris. If you don’t prune these, they get leggy and don’t bloom as well. Other summer bloomers should be pruned only if needed. These include crape myrtles, althea (Rose of Sharon), abelia, and clethra. Wait to prune spring blooming plants AFTER the bloom.

    Start planting your vegetable garden. Cool season crops can be planted, including all the greens, cabbage, potatoes, onions, lettuce, broccoli and radishes. If you did plant a late fall crop, some of those plants are rebounding now as well.

    If your winter annuals survived the winter, they are beginning to grow and even bloom. Fertilize them now and enjoy what time is left before planting summer bedding plants next month. Many nurseries have a few pansies, dianthus and even early petunias to plant to add a little bit of color to the landscape now.

    As your spring bulbs bloom, a little fertilizer will help them too. Let the foliage grow for at least six weeks after they bloom so they can set energy for next years flowers.

    Winter damage:

    While the jury is still out on many plants, we have seen split stems, dried top growth, dead flower buds and dead limbs on plants. Split stems on shrubs and trees usually occurs during the transition from fall to winter or from winter to spring. When the sap is flowing and we get cold too quickly or too late, the stems can freeze and the outer bark splits. Let plants begin growing, but as you are pruning this spring to early summer, you will need to prune out these areas. Unless you think the damage is superficial, these split limbs usually die with the onset of hot, dry summer weather.

    Big leaf hydrangeas with the colorful pink or blue flowers set their flower buds in late summer to fall for the following summer’s bloom. They usually look like dead sticks in the winter landscape, and this year, some of them really are! The top buds on hydrangeas produce the largest blooms, but even if they are damaged, there can be buds further down the stem which can also bloom. However, if all the new growth on your plants begins at the ground line, you won’t have any flowers this year, unless you are growing the re-blooming forms.

    Give plants time to grow, but if you do find dead plants, there are many new ones to try. New plants are arriving daily at nurseries.

  • April
     

    2014 - I know we are all holding our breath that April is finally here and maybe winter is over?!  But we aren’t out of the woods yet, there is always a potential late frost, especially since Easter is so late this year. A lot of gardeners swear by a Good Friday planting date, others do it in the phases of the moon, but with this year’s horrid weather, spring is definitely later than normal.  Tomatoes and summer bedding plants have been at some outlets now for over a month, but we never recommend planting these plants until mid April at the earliest, and this year it may be May before we have safe planting conditions. But who knows, we may go from winter to summer overnight. Who can predict our weather?

    By now you should be seeing signs of life on most of your plants in the garden.  I think the jury is in about whether or not your big leaf hydrangeas survived the winter unscathed. Mine are all dead to the soil line and re-sprouting from the base, which means no flowers for me this summer.  Others are seeing a mixed bag, with some damage, but new growth emerging along the stems, which should give them flowers this season. Big leaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) set its flower buds in the fall before going dormant.  If the plant is pruned or winter damaged and all new growth is at the soil line, then flower buds are killed.  If you grow the re-blooming hydrangeas like Endless Summer or Blushing Bride, you will still have flowers on the new growth later in the season.  Oakleaf hydrangeas appear undamaged, and PG and smooth hydrangeas like Annabelle bloom on the new growth and will still flower for us this season.

    Gardenias also took a hit this winter, with some having just burned foliage and new growth is emerging so blooms should be intact, while others are dead to the soil line. Prune sparingly until you know for sure.  Rosemary also is damaged in many gardens and a few report a total loss.  Many azaleas have brown leaves and some dead stalks, but there are still viable flower buds, so let them have a chance to bloom before pruning.  Loropetalum have dead tips and can be pruned lightly now and see if you might still have some flower buds that open before heavy pruning.  Start assessing damage and consider what needs to be pruned and what new planting may be needed.  New plants are arriving daily at nurseries and garden centers statewide. Assess which season you need color in and try some new plants.

    Plant cool season vegetables now, including onions, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, radishes and greens.  It is still awfully cool in the mornings and the soil temperature has not warmed up sufficiently for warm season crops yet. Hold off until late this month for tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers.  You can slowly start planting green beans and corn as you watch the weather.  Broadcast a complete fertilizer at planting and then side dress with light applications during the growing season.  Mulch your garden to keep weeds at bay and moderate the soil temperature and keep moisture in.  Water as needed.

    This is also the time to take inventory of your herb garden, do some clean-up and replanting.  Sage seems to have made it through the easiest, but parsley, oregano and thyme are rebounding.  Rosemary and lavender have some dead and some live parts—so prune and replant as needed.  There is still time to get some growth on cilantro before hot weather comes in and turns it into coriander (the seeding version).  Basil is on the market, but I would be wary of late freezes on this summer annual.  If you plant mint, contain it in some way or it can overtake the garden.

    The winter annuals that survived are finally blooming again. Continue to fertilize lightly and enjoy their color until it warms up enough to start planting summer color. This is one season when many of us replanted pansies and violas to get some color back into the landscape.  Petunias and callibrachoa can tolerate the cooler weather of early spring, but lantana, penta, impatiens and zinnias want warm weather and warm soil to get growing, so hold off a bit.

    If you walk your garden daily, you see new signs of perennial life every day. Hosta are emerging, and daylilies have been up now for a few weeks. If these plants are too crowded, now is a great time to divide them.  Early spring perennials are blooming, including the end of the hellebores, and the beginning of bleeding heart, columbine and creeping phlox.  Evergreen perennials including heuchera and liriope should have some cleanup now of their damaged foliage to freshen them up for new growth. Be careful not to prune the new growth that is emerging. If you haven’t cut back your ornamental grasses, do that now as well, again taking care not to cut new foliage.

    If you haven’t pruned your summer blooming shrubs, there is still time to get it done and many of your plants will benefit from a good haircut. Buddleia (Butterfly bush), summer flowering spirea, and abelia, along with roses can all be pruned and need to be pruned each year. Know how and why you are pruning before you start cutting.  Only prune althea and crape myrtles as needed.

  • May

    2014 - Perennials are an easy way to add color to the garden.  There are plants for sun and shade, wet or dry conditions.  By definition, a perennial is a plant that comes back for more than one year. In a perfect world, they come back forever, but weather can make that a challenge some years.  Some perennials bloom for a few weeks, while others can bloom for months. The key to picking perennials is to choose plants that like the conditions you have in your yard, and make sure that you choose plants that can give you color in various seasons.  Whether you are a new gardener, or an experienced gardener, here are some great perennials for Arkansas gardens which give interest for a long period.

    Shade Perennials:  The reigning king of shade perennials is the hosta and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from.  Hosta are grown primarily for their foliage, but some do have showy, fragrant white flowers.  The size of the mature plant varies tremendously, from miniatures or teacup hosta which fit into the popular fairy gardens and stay quite small up to the ‘Sum and Substance’ type which can easily be 5 feet across at maturity.  Foliage color can range from solid green to yellows, blues and variegated forms.  If you live in a heavily populated deer area, you may want to avoid planting, since deer love hosta.  Slugs can also be an issue, but if you mulch with sweetgum balls, they stay away.  Hosta plants love a rich site with ample moisture and regular fertilization.  They do die back in the winter time.

    A great combination plant with hosta in the shade are the heucheras or coral bells.  These perennials are evergreen and again, grown more for their foliage than their small flowers.  In recent years, there have been an amazing amount of new varieties hitting the market.  From green foliaged forms, to variegated, yellows, purples, silver, and orange and all colors in between, there is a heuchera that will fit in any shade garden.  Not all heucheras love the heat and humidity of the south, so make sure H. villosa is in the parentage.  Read the plant tag.  These are long lived plants which did remarkably well during last winter.   In addition to heucheras there are tiarella plants commonly called foam flowers which are very similar.  Plant breeders have crossed these two plants and we have a wide range of heucherellas to choose from as well.  All are great choices for the shade garden.

    Many people still consider the Boston fern the ideal summer plant, but they are not winter hardy and require care during the winter. Why not choose hardy ferns which thrive year-round outside and if planted in the right spot, take care of themselves.  Some ferns are evergreen—Christmas, Holly and Autumn fern all keep their foliage year-round.  Chinese painted fern is a nice variegated form, and the Cinnamon fern is large with showy foliage.  Ferns like a well amended rich site with average moisture and will continue to get better with age, and you don’t have to vacuum up falling leaves all winter indoors.

    Solomon's seal (Polygonatum) are delightful and tough perennial plants for the shade garden. Solomon's seal will slowly form dense colonies of graceful, arching stems in light or deep shade. It produces small bell-shaped flowers that dangle beneath the stems. The variegated form really brightens up a shady location and is beautiful all growing season.  It is slow to get established, but is very drought tolerant once it is.  It has nice yellow fall foliage as the leaves die down.  A new dwarf form ‘Tom Thumb’ can work as a groundcover in shady areas as well. 

    Hellebores are great evergreen perennials for the shade and have flowers in the winter to early spring.  They have flowers in shades of pink, purple, red or white.  The plants are poisonous so deter deer.  They are readily available at nurseries in late fall through early spring.  New varieties like Cinnamon Snow and Pink have showy upright blooms, instead of the drooping blooms of the older varieties.  Once established they are quite drought tolerant.

    Sun Perennials:  Amsonia is a tough native perennial with pretty blue flowers in the spring and nice yellow fall foliage in the fall.  There are several varieties but the two most commonly sold are the Arkansas Amsonia or bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii ) and the willow leaf Amsonia (Amsonia tabernaemontana).  The willow leaf form tends to have showier flowers but the Arkansas form has prettier fall color.  A new variety of willow leaf called ‘Blue Ice’ has stunning dark blue flowers.  Both types are long lived and low maintenance once established.

    Echinacea or purple coneflower is a tough native plant.  With a little deadheading (cutting off the spent flowers) these plants can bloom for months in full sun to partial shade.  Our native echinacea is a pinkish purple flower and I believe this is still the best plant for Arkansas gardens, but there are many new echinacea’s on the market in a wide array of colors—yellows, orange, white, red, and some double flowering forms. 

    Salvia is another huge family of perennials.  Most thrive in sunlight, but can range is flower color from purples and blues, to pinks, reds and whites.  Mature height can start at 12 inches (‘Victoria Blue’) and be as tall as 5 feet or more—Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha).  Mexican bush sage is stunning in late summer with long spikes of velvety purple blooms, adored by bees and butterflies.   They like a well drained site in full sun.

    Succulents have become all the rage in recent years. These thick, fleshy stemmed plants are drought tolerant and thrive in poor sites.  One family with many choices are the sedums.  There are a variety of ground hugging forms  including goldmoss sedum,  ‘Angelina’ with yellow green foliage, ‘John Creech’ with small rosettes of green leaves, and babytears.  These plants are ideal groundcovers in poor sites and will blanket the ground with foliage. 

    Hardy hibiscus is a great plant for sunny, moist locations.  These perennials like warm weather and can form woody stalks which die back to the soil line after a hard freeze.  They normally bloom June through August in Arkansas and produce dinner plate sized flowers in shades of pink, red or white.  Mature plant height varies with species but can grow between 36 inches and 6 feet or more.  The flowers can blanket a plant in the right location and can stop traffic.  New varieties include Cherry Cheesecake with pink and white flowers on a green foliaged plant and Summer Storm with purple foliage and pink flowers.  

  • June
     

    2014 - It is the last day of May, and it is beginning to feel like summer.  There is still time to plant a vegetable garden or summer color.  We had a colder than normal May—which was in keeping with the rest of 2014, so many gardeners got behind.  Cool season vegetables started to bolt earlier than normal with all the fluctuating temperatures, but they are also coming into harvest later than normal, due to a slow start.  If you see flower stalks forming, it is time to harvest, regardless of the size. As you harvest cool season vegetables, replant that space with summer vegetables.  From tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to southern peas, okra, melons and more, there are many choices. 

     Nurseries and garden centers receive new shipments of plants weekly and there are a lot of color choices.  Heat loving annuals include lantana, penta, zinnias, periwinkle and Angelonia.  Colorful foliage with elephant ears, coleus, alternanthera (Joseph’s coat), iresine, and caladiums abound.  Caladium bulbs can be planted and up and growing in less than a week in warm soil.  And to add to the annual color, don’t overlook flowering tropicals.  They thrive in heat and humidity and are just now coming into their own.  From tropical hibiscus, to many new varieties of mandevilla in shades of red, pink or white, to orange ixora and colorful bananas there are many choices.  No garden should be lacking in color now, with all the choices out there. 

    As the temperatures heat up and rainfall becomes scarcer, water is critical.  Containers dry out quicker than plants in the ground, but learn the needs of your plants and the conditions in your yard.  With more frequent watering, fertilizer gets leached out more quickly, so to keep annuals and tropical’s at their peak, regular fertilizer is needed.

    If you didn’t get around to pruning your spring blooming shrubs, you need to move quickly.  Even though they don’t set flower buds until late summer, you need to give them time to regrow after pruning.  Mid June is the absolute latest you can prune and still expect blooms next year.  If you haven’t fertilized yet, do so after pruning.  One application of fertilizer should suffice for most spring blooming shrubs.

    Lawns are fully green now and we are mowing.  Some lawns did take a hit from the winter weather. St. Augustine in particular is patchy with dead spots.  Even a few zoysia lawns are more thin than normal.  Use a slow release high nitrogen fertilizer and try to thicken them back up.  Thin lawns are a haven for weeds and you may be seeing more weeds than normal.  If you have large dead patches, you may want to buy a few pieces of sod and cut them into plugs to help the lawn fill back in. Water well this summer and they should begin to fill back in. St. Augustine is sensitive to herbicides, so be careful if you choose to use them; it can set recovery time back.

    Monitor your plants regularly. We are seeing flea beetle damage, aphids, spider mites and scale.  Rose rosette virus is showing it’s ugly head and we also have leaf spots on some plants.  The sooner you can spot a problem and identify it, the sooner you can control it.

    Tip:  Many plants today are coming in plantable peat pots, especially vegetables and herbs, but even some flowers.  This can reduce transplant shock, but you should remove or cut part of the peat pot.  Always remove the plastic ring that binds the pot and cut off the top inch or so of the peat pot. If the pot extends above the soil surface, the pot can dry out and cause the plant to dry out. I also crumble the container a bit to aid in the roots escaping and getting established in the ground.  If you are planting transplants in plastic containers, they must be removed.  If the plant is extremely root bound, be sure to cut the confined roots to aid in their establishment.  A sharp knife or shovel can do the trick.  Plant the crown of the plant at the soil line and mulch after planting.  Water is the most critical factor for success after planting. 

  • July

    2014 - The start of our summer season showed promise with frequent rains and mild temperatures, but we have had a taste of intense heat and high humidity, so it is anybody’s guess as to what the rest of the summer will bring.  As gardeners, water is THE most critical factor for gardening success or failure.  Our early rains were waterlogging a few of our plants and now dry conditions are leading to wilting.  Mulching your garden does help to moderate soil moisture levels, but there are many factors to water needs—from how much sunlight you have, to the type of soil—or lack thereof, to slope, and then what you are growing.  Know the water needs of your garden.  If possible, water early in the day for best efficiency, but if the only time you can water is late afternoon, do so.  The key is slow and steady—let the water penetrate deeply, not just wet the soil surface.

     Annuals thrive with regular fertilization and water.  So do tropical flowering plants.  Fertilize weekly but do so with light applications—don’t be heavy handed or you can burn up your plants.  If you use a granular type, water it in.  Water soluble fertilizers should be applied right after you water so that the plant can take it up without just looking for moisture.   If you grow annuals or perennials that set seeds, pinch off the spent flower—a practice known as deadheading.  This directs energy back into flower production, not seed production.

     Weeds are at a premium this season.  In lawns, much of that is to do with thinner lawns this season. St. Augustine and centipede had the most winter damage in central and southern Arkansas, but even Bermuda and zoysia had some thinning in some areas of the state due to winter damage.  The key is to thicken up the turf to get if lush and full.  That is your best defense against weeds.  If you haven’t fertilized yet this season, do so now, but be sure to water well.  Herbicides are specific to grass and broadleaf weeds, but use caution when applying them when temperatures are hot and dry. 

     In addition to winter damage, we once again are seeing disease issues, primarily with large patch. Large patch disease is caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani which affects lawns during the cooler days in the spring and fall, but physical symptoms often don’t show up until the lawn gets stressed by hot weather. Large circular areas of dead grass occur with some greening in the center.  The best time to apply fungicides for control would be in the fall as the lawn begins to go into dormancy—research has shown that it is best to apply half an application 1 month before the lawn goes dormant and the other half two weeks later.  Then a second application as the lawn is greening up in the spring.  Don’t over-fertilze now, and make sure the lawn is dry well before sunset. 

     Many vegetable gardeners got a late start, due to a late spring, so some are just now harvesting cool season vegetables.  Harvest season is in full swing. If you are going on vacation, don’t just abandon your vegetable garden. Find a friend to come check on the garden, pick vegetables when they are ripe, water and scout for problems.  Letting your vegetables go too long on the plants can slow down production, but can also lead to rotted fruits which will attract insects and animals to the garden.  Harvest vegetables and herbs early in the day to get the best flavor.  f you are finished harvesting, practice good sanitation and remove the spent plants.  You can replant with southern peas, okra and even pepper and tomato plants.  Check your local garden center and you will be amazed what is still available.  In a month we start planting the fall garden. Don’t waste space in the garden. Replant in those areas.  There are still tomatoes, peppers and eggplant transplants, but you could also seed with okra and southern peas.  If you can keep them watered, pumpkins, gourds and even watermelons could get a late start.    The key now is water and mulch.  When temperatures exceed 95 during the day or don’t drop below 75 at night, some vegetables slow down in production—tomatoes often don’t set fruit in extreme heat, but if kept healthy will continue to bear up until frost. Check for insects and diseases as you are working the garden.  Keep weeds hoed or pulled--MULCH.

     Fresh herbs get more popular in the garden each season.  If you are growing basil, the key is to use if often or at least pinch it back frequently.  If you allow it to grow and bloom, you will end up with scrawny plants.  Pinching it (or harvesting) encourages the plants to grow bushier and more productive. 

     As more people plant fruit trees and small fruits, more problems seem to appear.  Fruit trees are not the easiest option for home gardeners.  This year we had an abundance of fireblight issues.  When choosing apples and pears, look for resistant varieties.  This also helps with cedar apple rust.  Here is a link to our recommendations for tree fruit varieties in Arkansas and their disease resistance: http://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/FSA-6129.pdf

     As temperatures heat up, problems increase. It is important that you walk your garden on a regular basis.  Look for signs of stress from heat or dry conditions, signs of insect activity or disease issues.  We also have problems with animals and birds.  The sooner you can find a problem, the sooner you can begin to control it.  As always, if you have problems you can’t diagnose, take a good picture and/or sample to your local county extension office.  

    Correct watering is important to plant health. Try not to water too long before the sun is up and finish well before the sun sets.  Keeping water on the foliage, flowers and fruits too long can lead to disease problems.    While it is more efficient to water early in the day, if you have to hand water or drag hoses, and you aren’t home in the mornings, watering when you have the time is important.  Mid-day watering is not as efficient because we tend to lose more water to evaporation, but the key is getting water to the plants. 

    Timing is also important.  How long should you water?  The goal is to give our plants an inch or two of water a week.  But there are many variables to consider: type of soil, type of plants and spacing, amount of sunlight and slope of your yard.  You want the water to be able to penetrate down in the soil, not run off down the street.  Deep, infrequent watering is better than daily showers.  Container plants in full sun will need daily water when it is this hot. 

    Weakened plants are also more susceptible to diseases and insects.  As the season progresses, so do our problems.  Aphids and spider mites thrive when it gets hot, and we have already seen powdery mildew on crape myrtles, and the crape myrtle scale has made an appearance in Arkansas.  Walk your garden daily if possible to scout for problems.  Monitor your plants and if you have problems and you aren’t sure what they are, take a good sample in to your local county extension office.  If they can’t diagnose it, they can send it on to our disease diagnostic lab for diagnosis.  Taking samples in on a Monday or Tuesday is a good idea, when temperatures are so hot. We want the samples arriving in good shape, not sitting all weekend.

    Many hydrangeas were winter damaged this year, but a few have made it with some smaller flowers.  Those that were frozen to the ground are not going to bloom, but should grow in leaps and bounds. If they get too large for their site, prune no later than mid month to allow time for flower buds to set.  Gardenias were also damaged, but many are blooming now.  Other summer flowering shrubs include clethra (summer sweet), buddleia (butterfly bush), abelia and althea.  The paniculata and smooth hydrangeas are blooming nicely as are the oakleaf hydrangeas

    Tropical flowering shrubs are in their prime this month.  Tropical hibiscus, mandevilla, tibouchina, ixora, bananas and plumerias are not winter hardy but thrive in the heat and humidity of a southern summer.  If you need a boost of color, they are available at most nurseries and garden centers.  They can be planted in the ground or in large containers outside for non-stop color.  If you want, you can also move them indoors for the winter, or just buy new plants each season. 

    Most of our gardens lacked color all winter long, so we were ready with summer annuals.  This is a group of plants that is just in the garden for one season so we want as much bang for our buck as possible.  These summer annuals need regular fertilizer to keep blooming all summer.  If you are growing them in containers they need even more fertilizer than if planted in the ground, because you water more. You can use either a water soluble or granular fertilizer, but make sure that the plants aren’t overly dry before applying.  If you are using any fertilizer or pesticide on any of your plants when it is this hot and dry, make sure they are healthy and not wilted before applying.  Otherwise, the plants can be burned taking up too much fertilizer or chemicals.  If you have annuals or perennials that set seeds, try to deadhead or clip off the spent flowers weekly.  This will direct more energy back into the plant and give you move flowers instead of wasting energy setting seeds.  Many of the newer varieties are self-cleaning, meaning they don’t set seeds so tend to be freer flowering.  If you have annuals that have played out, replace them with more plants.  Today, most nurseries and garden centers carry annuals year-round. 

  • August

    2014 - We had a very late spring and more rain than normal for an Arkansas summer so far, but we have seen some heat and who knows what the rest of the summer will bring.  If you grow flowering trees and shrubs, knowing when they flower and set flower buds, can determine how you care for them and how well they will bloom next season. 

    All plants that bloom in the spring, including azaleas, dogwoods, forsythia along with camellias, tulip magnolias, pieris, loropetalum and kerria, set their flower buds at the end of the growing season.  Fruit trees, blueberry bushes and strawberries all have their flower and fruit buds set when they go dormant in the fall.  Because we had a particularly late spring this year, many of these plants had a slow start, but seem to have caught up with milder summer weather, so they are beginning to set their flower buds for next spring.  

    A few summer flowering plants also set flowers for the following season in August and September.  They include the big leaf hydrangeas, oak leaf hydrangeas and gardenias.  Many gardeners had few if any blooms on big leaf hydrangeas and gardenias, due to winter damage.  If they did not bloom this season, they grew quite rapidly and should be forming flower buds now for next year. 

    Plants that are setting flower buds don’t need to get too stressed now or they may not set as many flower buds, meaning less blooms next season.  Most of these plants should only need one application of fertilizer in the spring right after bloom, so for now, all they really need is water and mulch.  If you prune these plants now, you won’t have flowers next year.    For ornamental spring flowering shrubs and trees, we prune as soon after flowering as possible, but no later than mid June.  For big leaf hydrangeas and gardenias, there is a short window of opportunity to prune immediately after flowering, if they need it next summer.  For fruit trees and blueberry bushes, we prune in late February.   While we know we are losing flowers from these fruiting crops by pruning in the winter, if left unpruned, a fruit tree would have too much fruit and too many branches, resulting in smaller and lower quality fruit.  You also run the risk of breaking branches from the weight load. 

    Our summer flowering plants including roses, crape myrtles, althea, butterfly bush and summer hydrangeas such as Hydrangea paniculata (PeeGee) and the H. arborescens- Annabelle types are still blooming nicely, since they set flower buds on the growth they put on this season.  If you have varieties that set seeds, deadheading, or cutting off the spent blooms will help them bloom more freely, as will regular watering and one last application of fertilizer now. Many of these plants can continue to bloom through fall.  This group of summer flowering plants should be pruned in late February if they need it, after the bulk of winter is over.

    If you simply grow shrubs for their foliage and are not concerned about flowers, evergreen foliage plants such as hollies, boxwood, cleyera, aucuba and junipers can be lightly pruned at any time if they need it.  Severe pruning (where more than 1/3 of the plant is pruned off) should be done in late winter through early spring to allow plant recovery time.  Doing so in mid to late summer would hurt the plants since you are reducing their food manufacturing capabilities and they are slower to rebound with the hot temperatures.  If pruned in the fall, they may begin to produce too much tender new foliage too late in the season which could be winter sensitive.   Their main care now is water only. Normally with this group of plants, one application of fertilizer in the spring is all they need.

    With a little know-how, and proper timing of pruning and fertilization, you can reap the most blooms from your landscape plants.  Continue to monitor for insects and diseases and control as needed.  If you need help in identifying plant problems, contact your local county extension office. 

  • September

    2014 - Many gardeners and gardens are worn out as we enter September.  But this is a critical month to get plants prepared for the winter ahead.  Water is still a primary concern, so monitor local rainfall amounts.   Spring blooming plants are setting or have set flower buds for next spring’s display, so no more fertilization is needed.  If you fertilize now, you may encourage new growth too late in the season. 

     If early season perennials like peonies and lilies are looking ragged, don’t wait for a killing frost to begin clean-up.  Cut off spent debris as they die back.  If they look bad, they are ending their season and heading into dormancy.  Make your gardens look good with regular monitoring.  If the plants have had a good season, add the spent foliage to your compost pile. If the foliage has disease or insect problems, add it to the garbage pile.  Home compost piles typically don’t get uniformly hot enough to kill out diseases and insects.

    If your garden needs color in late summer to fall, consider planting late summer bloomers.  Perennials include goldenrod, Japanese anemones, turtle head (Chelone), toad lilies (Tricyrtis), and Joe Pye Weed – Eupatorium purpureum or Eutrochium purpureum.  Mums and asters are beginning to come into the market place and also give great fall color.  Ornamental grasses are beginning to set their plumage and will continue to grace our fall and winter landscapes.  Many summer blooming perennials keep up their show almost until frost, including echinacea (purple cone flower), gaillardia (Blanket flower) and rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan).  Deadhead the spent flowers to keep them blooming better.

    Depending on summer care, summer annuals should still be performing.  Sometimes our gardens get away from us and weeds overtake, or we forget to fertilize and the plants get thin and leggy or we just didn’t water and the plants died.  It is too early to plant cool season annuals until later in the month,  but you can still find some summer plants, or even some that can take cooler temperatures like callibrachoa and petunias.  While few of these overwintered in our miserable winter last year, in a more normal winter, they do winter over.  If your plants just need a boost, consider doing a bit of pruning and fertilizing and the plants can bounce back.

    Your lawns can have one last application of fertilizer until mid-month, then no more until next spring.  If you want to use a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent winter weeds, now would be a good time to apply.  Continue to mow and water as needed. 

    If your vegetable garden is still producing quality produce, then you are paying attention.  Vegetable gardens quickly turn to ruin if left untended.  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 and disease year.  You can still plant some fall crops including lettuce, radishes and fall greens.  If you have season extenders for cold weather, you can also plant broccoli, cabbage, carrots, bok choy and more. In a mild winter, these vegetables often overwinter with little help, but row covers or high tunnels can let you garden year-round even in a cold winter. Water is a vital component for success, and mulch is always a plus. 

    If you decide to throw in the trowel and give it up for the season, do some clean-up—don’t just leave it in the field.  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 years’ garden. 

    If you don’t have a stand-alone vegetable garden but you would like some edibles, consider getting double duty with edible landscaping, plant the fall vegetables are showy as well as tasty.  These include Swiss chard—‘Bright lights’ or ‘Ruby Red’; Bulls Blood beets, Red Giant Mustard, and edible kale and cabbage instead of flowering forms. 

    Shrubs that are blooming now include buddleia (butterfly bush), crape myrtles—if deadheaded,  althea, and caryopteris –with lovely purple flowers.  Summer spireas may set more flowers, if they continue to put on new growth, as can the repeating hydrangeas like Endless Summer and Blushing Bride.  Knock out roses are continuing to bloom, and Beautyberry (Callicarpa species) are beginning to have showy purple or white berries. If you have evergreens in your landscape that need a haircut--hollies, boxwoods, aucuba, etc that you grow only for foliage, 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 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 this late in the year.  Do pay attention next spring to catch the problems early. 

  • October

    2014 - We had a milder summer than most, but that was a bonus after the miserable winter we had. According to the national weather service, we are in the midst of El Nino which means moist but mild summer and a milder winter. But they do add the warning, that this is a prediction, not a fact.  I think we all hope for milder temperatures this winter, but moisture would also be good. We had a dry winter last year, which was added to our winter loss of plants.  If you have trees and shrubs which are still struggling, or you have decided they are a lost cause, fall is a great time to plant hardy trees and shrubs, perennials, spring bulbs and winter annuals.  Prepare the soil well, plant, water and mulch.  Hold off on fertilization until spring.

    October is prime pumpkin month.  Pumpkins and gourds scattered around the landscape give you instant color and if you choose, sound, sturdy fruits they can last for months.  Throw in a few mums and asters, a corn stalk or two and you have a nice vignette that just screams fall.

    Many of our summer flowering perennials are still blooming, but if yours have begun to go dormant, now is a great time to dig and divide spring and summer blooming perennials.  As foliage begins to die back, clean up the garden and add the debris to your compost pile. By doing the work in the fall, we allow the roots to get established while the tops are dormant, and they will be in a stronger position by next growing season. You can also plant hardy perennials now, and many go on sale at the end of the growing season.  October is also the prime time to seed wildflowers including poppies, purple coneflowers, columbine, Black-eyed Susans.  Make sure to add some annuals to the mix to insure color in year one.  Annuals to sow now include larkspur, Shirley poppies, Texas bluebonnets, bachelor’s buttons and cornflowers.

    October is also the month we can begin to plant spring blooming bulbs.  Bulbs can be planted from now through December. If you buy your bulbs early, store them in a cool location—an empty drawer in the refrigerator gives them some pre-chilling until you can get them planted.   While everyone knows daffodil, tulips, crocus and hyacinths, why not try some new bulbs too. The alliums or flowering onions are gaining in popularity with large lollipop like blooms in shades of pink, purple or white, along with scilla, grape hyacinths and snowdrops.  Bulbs are an easy way to add color to the spring landscape and with good selection you can have color from February through April.

    Our landscapes need to have color in every season. Luckily, many summer annuals and perennials are still blooming, but now is the time to start replacing the summer annuals to get the fall and winter ones established to give you color all winter.  Last year we had a bleak winter with absolutely no color, so get some growing now and let’s hope for a stunning winter color season.  There are many varieties of pansies and violas to choose from as well as snapdragons, dianthus, diascia, dusty miller, parsley, edible and ornamental forms of kale, cabbage, Swiss chard and beets.  We can even find late season petunias and callibrachoa which normally overwintering well and blooming through several light freezes-(last year was an exception!)  In the shrub arena, Beautyberry (Callicarpa) is loaded with purple or white berries, and the foliage is turning a wonderful yellow.  The burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is turning red, along with Itea and oakleaf hydrangeas.  Roses are rebounding and the Knock-outs look particularly good.   Perennials such as Toadlily (Tricyrtis), turtlehead (Chelone), Japanese anemones, and goldenrod (Solidago) are all blooming. Chrysanthemums and asters are readily available for instant color at nurseries.  While they are perennials, many use mums as a seasonal color filler and toss them at the end of the bloom period.   

    Vegetable gardening continues to gain in popularity.  Many gardeners are using row covers or hoop houses to continue to grow all year round.  In a milder season, greens, cabbage, broccoli and chard overwinter without additional covering.  Last year, protection was needed.  If you haven’t planted, consider planting edible cabbage and kale instead of the ornamental in your flower beds.  You can also find bulls blood beets, giant mustard and Swiss chard that can give you beautiful winter color, and is edible to boot.  If you haven’t planted a fall garden, don’t leave the garden spot bare all winter, or you will end up with a great crop of weeds.  Either plant a green manure crop or cover crop, or put down a thick layer of mulch –shredded leaves, compost, etc.  This can keep the weeds at bay and you can work this organic matter in when you till the garden next spring.

    The cooler weather of fall is a great time to get out and clean up the garden.  Sanitation is important in a garden and how well prepared our plants and gardens go dormant, the better they bounce back next spring.  Leaves are falling in earnest and should be raked, shredded if possible and added to the compost pile.  Cut back perennials as they begin to die back and as you pull up summer annuals, those go into the compost as well.  Cannas continue to be plagued by the leaf roller, and it lives in spent debris in the garden, so be sure to cut back and get rid of the spent foliage after a frost.  Add a fresh layer of mulch in all gardens.  Take inventory of what worked, and what didn’t.  The only plants you should be fertilizing now are winter annuals and vegetable gardens.  Everything else is preparing for winter, and should not be encouraged to keep growing. Monitor for moisture needs.

  • November
    Check back for November 2014
  • December

    Check back for December 2014