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

    August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • January
     

    2015 - Winter started off with a bang in November, then got mild in December so we know that winter weather is anything but predictable in Arkansas.  Some days will be freezing, while the next day can seem spring-like, yet our plants have to suffer through as best they can.  Many of our plants suffered winter damage last winter, and the jury is still out for this year. One saving grace is we have had more moisture.  Last year’s rollercoaster weather was coupled with extremely dry conditions in central Arkansas which made winter damage worse. If there is no moisture within the system of the plants prior to a cold snap, there is nothing to protect the plant from cold.  While there isn’t a lot you can do to protect plants from winter damage, you still need to pay attention to the weather and do the best you can.  Make sure all of your plants have a layer of mulch.  If it ever gets dry again, water, particularly your container grown plants, prior to a cold snap.    If you see new growth buds on hydrangeas or other sensitive plants, covering with a porous material, or even an inverted cardboard box on days when temperatures are expected below freezing can help.  But do avoid much contact with plants when it is cold out.  Frozen branches are brittle and can be easily damaged.  If heavy snows come again this winter, lighten the load using a broom from the underside.  This can prevent limbs breaking.  If you do have storm damage, prune only broken branches quickly.  Nice clean cuts are important to prevent decay.  If you have burned foliage, or possible winter die-back, let that remain until spring arrives.  The damaged plant parts can buffer the rest of the plant, should we have additional winter weather.  Don’t be too quick to prune.  Let plants have a chance to begin growth before assuming the worst.

    With season extenders, many gardeners are growing vegetables year-round.  Kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens and even broccoli, bok choy and cabbage are doing nicely.  It all depends on how cold it gets whether they need to be covered or not.  A small unheated hoop house or row cover can do the trick.  If you have not overwintered any vegetables mid to late February is the time to start the new vegetable garden.  English peas and sugar snap peas are the earliest vegetables for the garden, followed with cabbage, greens, carrots, broccoli and the other cool season vegetables.  Start small and plant a little more each week.  Make sure you don’t work the garden if it is saturated with winter precipitation.  Mulch your plants and keep some protection on hand, should we get late winter weather.  Early gardens tend to be the easiest to maintain, since most insects and diseases are not active yet.  Keep winter weeds hoed down to keep them from competing with young vegetable plants.

    February is prime pruning month.  While we normally say late February is the ideal time to prune crape myrtles, roses, fruit trees and more, pay attention to weather conditions. Last year we had a late spring and many of these jobs were done in mid-March. Other years we have had an early spring, so prune accordingly.  Before you grab pruning shears, make sure you know why you should be pruning and how.  All roses need annual pruning—even the Knock-outs.  They need to be pruned back to within 18 inches of the ground, but you don’t have to prune to specific buds like you do on hybrid tea roses.  Don’t prune climbing roses until after their first set of flowers, but all rose bushes, should be pruned before new growth begins.

    Prune crape myrtles only if needed and avoid ‘crape murder’!  Other summer flowering shrubs for pruning now include summer spirea, buddleia, althea (Rose of Sharon) and clethra.  Again, have a reason to prune.  Avoid pruning anything that blooms in the spring, since their flower buds are set. Now is also the time to cut back ornamental grasses.  Pull back the old foliage to see if new growth has started, so  you don’t trim the new foliage.  Cleaning out the old growth will let them start the season off fresh.

    Spring flowering bulbs are up and growing.  Some early blooming varieties of crocus and daffodils are in bloom or about to be.  When you see flower buds showing, that is a great time to put a complete fertilizer around your bulb plants.  This way the fertilizer can work itself into the soil, the plants can take it up and be ready to work when the flowers are finished.  Remember all spring bulbs need at least six weeks of foliage growth following bloom.  Bulb plants are quite winter hardy, so don’t be concerned about the foliage being damaged by cold weather.

    What’s in bloom in your garden?  Last winter was probably the ugliest on record for Arkansas, and there wasn’t much we could do.  Winter annuals seemed to have fared well in most gardens this year, but fertilization is important.  If yours have damage, a little cleanup, a shot of fertilizer and they can bounce back. Winter pansies, violas and kale can bloom until hot weather sets in.   But annuals aren’t our only color in the winter landscape.  Camellia sasanqua is still blooming in some gardens, while the Camellia japonica begins to kick in by late February or early March.  Perennial Hellebores are blooming now in shades of white, pink or purple and  winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora ) and wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)  have highly fragrant blooms in the winter landscape.  Mahonia or Oregon Grape Holly is another evergreen with yellow flowers in the winter, followed by robin’s egg blue fruit. 

    Speaking of weeds winter weeds are growing in leaps and bounds in lawns and gardens.  By now, many lawns have large clumps of green from henbit, chickweed, wild onions and garlic and dandelions.  The earlier you can spray and kill them, the more likely you will be to reduce the chance of seed set for potential problems next fall and winter. Products containing 2,4-D will give you the best results.  Many gardeners want to use a glyphosate (Round-up) product on their dormant lawn, but this can cause damage to all lawn grasses except for dormant Bermuda.  Even zoysia, which looks the most straw colored has green grass at the soil line.   If you have only a few clumps weeds, hand weeding is feasible, but even regular mowing to prevent seed set on annual winter weeds can help.

  • February
     

    2015 - So far, so good. Our winter has been a lot better than last year, and we can keep our fingers crossed that February will be as cooperative as January.  February is the beginning of active gardening in Arkansas, with many annual pruning chores, along with planting and maintenance.

    Late February is when we annually prune roses.  All rose bushes (not climbers) should be pruned at the end of the month or by early March. Hopefully the bulk of winter will be over and we can prune away any damaged growth and make way for healthy new growth.  Hybrid tea roses need the most care when pruning, with specific guidelines to make sure they grow out and open.  Prune them back to within 8-18 inches of the ground, and prune to outward facing buds.  Shrub roses, including the common Knock-out rose, should also be pruned back to within 18 inches, but they can simply be sheared back.  Wait and prune your climbing roses after their first set of flowers.

    Buddleia (butterfly bush), summer blooming spirea and dwarf crape myrtles should also be sheared back fairly hard before new growth begins. These plants bloom on the new growth and often do their best blooming when they are compact plants.  Other summer blooming shrubs such as althea (rose-of-Sharon), abelia, clethra, and of course crape myrtle can be pruned, but only if needed. 

    If you grow fruit trees, blueberries or grapes, late February is also when we prune them. If you need pointers on how to prune visit our website at www.uaex.edu

    The winter annuals have fared much better this year. On a mild day, apply an application of fertilizer to help keeping them blooming.  Clean up any spent flowers or damaged leaves.

    Spring bulbs are beginning to put up their foliage and some of the earlier varieties are not far off of blooming.   Fertilize the bulbs when you see the flower heads appearing.  Let the foliage grow for a minimum of six weeks after bloom.

    By mid-February we can begin to plant the cool season vegetables.  English and snap peas are the most cold hardy, followed by greens, then the cole crops- cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.  Transplants should begin appearing in garden centers later this month.  Greens, spinach and carrots can be planted from seeds, and onion sets and transplants will appear at the end of the month.  Cool season gardening can be done from February through mid-April. 

    Winter weeds are growing in lawns. If you want to spray to kill them, this is the month to do so. Broadleaf weed killers usually contain 2, 4-D.  Do not apply on a windy day, and direct the spray only to where the weeds are growing.  If you just have a few weeds, hand pulling can work.  For annual weeds, mowing to prevent flowering and seed set can also help.  If you see weeds growing in your vegetable and flower gardens, a good hoe and a layer of mulch are the best remedies.

  • March

    2015 - March is always a transitional month in Arkansas and we wish we could predict the weather to say if we are heading into spring or still in winter.  Don’t be too quick to plant tender plants, as frosts are often common.  We did have an easier time than last winter, but we still had some unusually low temperatures.  Winter annuals which were non-existent last year have fared much better this year.  Some did get zapped on the low days but most are rebounding now. Since it is too early to plant summer annuals, try encouraging new growth now with a shot of fertilizer and a bit of clean-up.  Pansies, violas and dianthus can all bloom for another month or two before summer planting is safe to do.

    It is cool season vegetable season.  Some gardeners are still harvesting from a fall planting, while others are just beginning. We can still plant lettuce and radishes, along with broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, onions, spinach, greens and more from now through mid-April.  Insects and diseases tend to be at lower populations in the spring, and the cooler weather and usually ample rainfall make for easy gardening. Asparagus season is not far away.  If you do grow your own, harvest frequently.  If you are planting a new bed, look for two year old crowns.  Plants need to be at least three years old before harvesting, and they won’t give you full production until the plants are four years old.  Don’t over-harvest young plants, or you hurt them for years to come.  Consider planting herbs in your vegetable garden or even as ornamentals, interspersed with other flowers and shrubs.  They can make nice additions and give you double duty.  Be sure to avoid pesticides around the edibles.

    Many shrubs and trees are beginning active growth, or at least showing signs of growing.  You can begin to assess any damage you may have had from this past winter, but don’t be too quick to prune, since some damage may be superficial, and flower buds may be intact, or a plant just may be a slow started.  If you did not get pruning done on summer bloomers such as roses, crape myrtles, althea and buddleia, do so early this month.  Even if they have started growing, it is still early enough that you won’t interfere with summer blooms.  Leave your spring blooming plants alone, some are already blooming like winter jasmine, forsythia and flowering quince, but all have flower buds that would be damaged with pruning now.  Pay attention to the weather and if flower color is showing and a hard freeze is predicted, cover the plants with a sheet or porous material.  If plants are growing or in bloom, they are much more susceptible to a heavy freeze than when they are dormant.  If summer insects plague your azaleas, gardenias or other shrubs—especially lacebugs, whiteflies or scale, this is the ideal time to use a systemic insecticide to prevent damage.  Mix according to label directions, pull back the existing mulch, pour the solution around the drip line of your shrubs, and re-mulch.  For most plants, one application now will give you a season of prevention for the above mentioned insects.  Only treat plants that are commonly damaged—not the entire landscape.

    Many perennials are up and growing.  Hellebores are in full bloom, along with columbine, and others won’t be far behind. If you need to divide any summer or fall blooming plants, now is a great time to do so. Divide your spring bloomers in the fall.  If your peonies typically lay on the ground after a rain, put perennial stakes around the plants now as they are beginning to grow.  The plants will grow up into the rings, and the extra support should hold your plants upright during wind and rain.  Start visiting your local nursery or garden center. 

    Spring bulbs are blooming and more will follow.  Many crocus and early daffodils have finished, but later season ones, plus hyacinths and tulips are coming on strong.  Cool temperatures keep flowers blooming longer than warm days, but enjoy them while they last.  Remember, the bulbs need at least six weeks of green growth after bloom to set flowers for next year.

    Many lawns look more like wildflower meadows than a lawn right now.  If your lawn is blooming with winter weeds, it is usually getting a bit late in the day to start worrying about spraying.  Blooms mean some seeds are set or are setting and you will still have problems again next year.  If you have a lot of weeds, try to keep them mowed at a low level to prevent excess seed set.  Instead of spraying to kill the existing weeds, you can try to prevent summer weeds.  Pre-emergent herbicides can be used now to prevent crabgrass and other annual warm season weeds from invading this summer.  Be sure you know what you are trying to do with weed control—kill or prevent weeds.  Avoid weed and feed combinations, since at this time of the year, all you will be fertilizing are weeds.  Start your fertilization program when the lawn is officially green with grass—usually late April to early May.

    Many gardeners get anxious to get the houseplants back outside as we get a taste of spring, but it is too early for tropical’s to be outside—we may have some warm days, but we still have cool nights and chances of frost. Mid-April is usually the earliest we want to move houseplants outside.  If you are seeing growth on the tropical flowering plants such as hibiscus, mandevilla and bougainvillea, you can repot and cut back by half now to get them ready, or wait until you move them outdoors to do this task. 

  • April
     

    2015 - Spring is here! We had a much easier winter this year than we did last year, but we still had some really low temperatures.  The huge fluctuations in weather this past winter, coupled with the dry conditions may have caused some die-back.   By now, all plants should be growing or showing signs of life. If you think you have winter damage, start correcting it, but don’t be too quick to prune.  If the plants affected are spring bloomers, you may want to allow them time to bloom to see what happens before doing severe pruning.   If your hydrangeas are growing only from the base, not from the dormant old growth, then damage was done and you will not have any blooms again this summer.  Hopefully this winter did not cause severe problems, but correct those you have. 

    April is a great month in the vegetable garden, allowing you to plant both spectrums of vegetables—the cool season ones until mid month, and the warm season ones starting mid month.  Begin to monitor for problems, and if you see signs of insects or diseases, control them before they take over.  Mulch the garden to keep weeds at bay, to conserve soil moisture and moderate soil temperature.  When purchasing tomato plants, choose varieties you like, and healthy plants, but remove any blooms or small fruits if the seedlings have any.  If your tomato plants begin setting fruit at a young age, all of the energy will go into fruiting and less into a healthy, vigorous plant.  While you may claim the title of first tomato in the neighborhood, overall your production will be lower.  Harvest time is here for many of the early planted crops.  Many gardeners are growing year round with season extenders like high tunnels and we are seeing some early returns on broccoli, cabbage and onions. Most farmers markets are opening this month, so if you don’t grow it, fresh, locally grown produce is available.

    Winter annuals had a pretty good growing season this winter.  They still look great now and should continue until really warm weather.  Continue to enjoy them, and begin to interplant with summer color.  Summer annuals are arriving daily at local garden centers and  there are so many choices, that it is hard to pick.  Angelonia- or summer snapdragon is a great performer and the Sunpatiens did outstanding in full sun last year.  Coleus is available for sun or shade and another great shade plant is the Grape-o-licious torenia.  It never stopped last season.  There are many choices of begonias for sun and shade, and the Zahara zinnias are a winner for the sun.  Try some of your old favorites, but try some new plants too.   

    Lawns are greening up now and even if weeds are present, this is not a good time to spray weed killers.  Wait for the grass to totally green up before applying the first application of a slow release nitrogen fertilizer.  You can mow winter weeds that are blooming now to prevent more blooms and seed set, but don’t use herbicides or you may damage the lawn.   

    Don’t be too quick to move your houseplants outside.  Wait for all chance of frost to pass, and for the night time temperatures to warm up along with the daytime temperatures. Gradually expose the plants to sunlight when you do move them out.   Plants sunburn just like we do.  Instead of turning red, they go white.  Any summer blooming tropical’s such as hibiscus and mandevilla  that you have been over-wintering indoors should be cut back by at least one third to one half.  Repot them and break up any root-bound conditions.  Remember that you need healthy new growth to get plenty of flowers.  If the plants are root-bound or large and woody, they won’t produce many flowers.  Begin their monthly fertilization program

    Spring bulbs begin blooming in February and continue through early April, depending on the bulb.  All bulbs need at least six weeks of green growth following bloom to set flowers for next year.  Once they have had six weeks of green growth, you can cut the foliage off and they should be set for next year.   You can begin to plant summer bulbs this month.  Don’t be too quick to plant caladiums.  They like warm soil.  Elephant ears, cannas and gladiolus can be planted now.  If your cannas are too crowded, divide them as soon as you can so you won’t interfere with blooming this summer.  If they get too thick, the plants will grow taller and blooms will be smaller.

    Strawberries are blooming.  The central first flower is the king flower and produces the largest berries. If they get damaged by a late freeze, it can impact harvest, but they should continue to have fruit for a good month or so.  Don’t fertilize strawberries until they have finished producing for the year.  Early applications of nitrogen can lead to excessive foliage growth, which can result in more fruit rot.  Renovate your plantings by thinning them  after harvest and then fertilize. 

  • May

    2015 - Reports of winter damage vary based on where you live in the state, but by now, all plants should have begun to grow. If you still have branches that are bare, start pruning.  If you lost some plants, start replacing. I always say, you aren’t a true gardener if you have never lost a plant!  You need to try new things, and occasionally they don’t work out.  If you are looking for plant replacements, you don’t have to replace a dead plant with the exact same thing that you had. Try something new.  Think about the season you need some color in.  Many gardeners go to the nursery or garden center and only buy plants with blooms on them.  Think beyond May and June.  If your garden needs color in the winter, consider planting a Sasanqua camellia now, or a winter jasmine or some hellebores.  If you need fall color, plant a beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), burning bush euonymus or oakleaf hydrangea.  The oakleaf hydrangea has gorgeous fall color in addition to the summer blooms.  So do your homework.  Really take inventory of your garden and see what is working and what isn’t. 

    Even if you didn’t lose any plants, now is a great time to visit your local nursery and see what they have.  New plants arrive daily and as gardeners, there is always room for just one more plant.  Now is also a great time to begin planting summer tropicals.  We have so many choices today.  Even in the realm of tropical hibiscus, there are some stunning new varieties with depths of color.  Mandevilla are not just pink, but a variety of shades of pink, red, white and even yellow.  Tibouchina has purple velvety flowers and bananas may be red foliaged and dwarf or green and huge.  Esperanza will give you showy yellow flowers all summer and may overwinter in a mild winter (which we need again!) and tapioca plant is a vibrant foliaged plant.  Whether you put them in containers or plant them in the ground, tropical plants thrive in an Arkansas hot and humid summer. Don’t forget to fertilize.  If you are bringing out the tropical plants you overwintered, don’t forget to prune them hard and repot them.  Tropical plants bloom on new growth, and if they are old and pot-bound, they will not bloom well.  Regular watering and fertilization will keep them flowering.

    If your spring blooming shrubs have finished blooming and they need to be pruned, try to do so as soon after flowering as possible. While you do have until mid June to prune, the sooner you get the job done, the sooner the plant can begin to rebound and fill back in.  Fertilize established shrubs once a year.  We usually wait until after spring bloomers have finished blooming, but now you should be safe to fertilize all shrubs.  Go lightly, and be sure to water it in.  

    We are busily harvesting cool season vegetables of all kinds.  With the cold March, many gardeners got a late start planting their gardens, so some are just now beginning to reap the benefits.  As you harvest cool season crops, replant with warm season vegetables.  There is still plenty of time to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash, and May brings warmer soils which southern peas, melons and sweet potatoes like.  Warmer temperatures also bring more insects and diseases, so regular scouting is always in order.  Walk your garden daily if you can. The sooner you can spot a problem, the sooner the problem can be controlled. 

    By now all lawns have totally greened up, so it is a good time to fertilize.  Some gardeners like to fertilize frequently during the growing season, but they also mow a lot. Most lawns will do fine with one or at the most two applications of fertilizer.  Apply a slow release high nitrogen fertilizer now and your lawn should be good to go. 

    Herbs can be planted in the vegetable garden, interspersed with vegetables, grown in containers, or in a stand-alone herb garden, but fresh herbs are a real boon for the cook.  Many herbs are perennials, and some like rosemary, sage and lavender are evergreen.  Oregano, thyme and chives will also come back year after year with minimal care, and be sure to contain your mint, as it can take over the world if given the chance.  Annual herbs need to be planted again each year, and now is a great time to add basil, dill and summer savory.  Who doesn’t love fresh basil with their fresh tomatoes!  So many choices, so start planting.

    By now all spring bulbs have finished blooming and many of them have had the requisite 6-8 weeks of green growth. If they have completed their life cycle, you can cut the foliage off. Don’t cut it too early or it could impact flowering next year.  Now is a great time to start planting summer bulbs.  Caladiums just sit and fester in cool soils, but will bounce up quickly in warm soils.  Canna, elephant ears, gladiolus and dahlias can all be planted now, and most will overwinter with minimal care.  Not all are winter hardy, so read the labels when you buy to know for sure.

    It is safe to move your houseplants outside for the growing season now.  Gradually expose them to sunlight and remember that more water will be needed.  I like to remove the trays under the pots to allow for better drainage and prevent mosquitoes from breeding.  If your plants are large already, consider repotting or dividing now.  Many plants respond to the heat and humidity of our summers by growing in leaps and bounds and are even larger at the end of the season.  They are tropical’s after all!  Dividing them now when they are about to hit peak growing conditions will help them bounce back quicker than trying to do so in the fall when you move them back indoors. 

  • June
     

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • September

    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

    2014 - What an unusual year it has been, starting with a horrid winter a cool spring, but at least we were blessed with cooler temperatures and plenty of moisture this summer.  The mild growing season helped our plants recover but we did see some new insect pests and we have had some leaf disease.  Late fall is a good time to take inventory of what did well, and what didn’t and continue to scout for problems.  The two big issues in the insect world are the new crape myrtle felt scale and the emerald ash borer, both of which have been identified in our state.  Currently they are in isolated counties, but time will tell where they will spread.  The reports on the ash borer are pretty bleak, but do monitor for issues and report your findings to your local county extension office.

    Trees
    Trees are an often unsung hero in our gardens until we lose one.  If you need to replace a shade tree, or simply need a new one, November is the ideal time to plant.  The plants are heading into dormancy so they can spend the remaining dormant season producing roots instead of leaves.  They will be stronger when the growing season begins.  Consider the mature size you want and look up—avoid planting under power lines or too close to your house.  If you want a specific fall colored foliage, buy the tree with fall color.  Don’t forget to water, even in the winter if it is dry to get the tree established.

    Composting
    The mild season had our plants setting spring flower buds earlier than normal and fall color started early as well.  Some trees have been shedding leaves for months.  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.  Composting bins vary in size and construction and there are numerous excellent publications regarding composting available through our extension website.  If you don’t want a standard compost pile, consider starting your own worm composting bin—vermicomposting is getting quite popular.  What starts out as raw materials ends up as an excellent soil amendment.  Using compost or worm castings to amend your soil is an excellent way to add organic matter, and build up the moisture and nutrient holding capacity of your soil.

    Bulbs
    Now is the ideal time to plant bulbs.  From grape hyacinths, to daffodils and tulips and hyacinths, there are plenty of choices available to you.    Plant them in a well drained location that will receive at least six hours of sunlight next spring when they are in bloom.   Sunlight after bloom is critical for re-blooming the following season.  Plant your bulbs 2-3 times the size of the bulb deep in the ground.  Fertilization is not needed at planting, since the bulbs contain what they need for this growing season.  Layering a variety of bulbs in the planting site will give you a bold splash of color next spring and extend your bloom time.     If you have already planted bulbs in the past and are simply adding to the planting, be careful not to damage existing bulbs when planting new ones.

    Perennials
    If you haven’t cleaned up your flower beds, do so before you get too busy with the holidays.  There is still time to divide spring and summer blooming perennial plants, but cut back and get rid of the spent foliage.  Not only is a clean bed more attractive, but it also can limit the spread of diseases.    

    Winter Color
    Last winter was the ugliest our landscapes have been in years.  If you haven’t planted your winter color yet, there is still time and many choices.  From pansies and violas, to ornamental kale and cabbage, snapdragons, or edible kale and cabbage, there are lots of plants to choose from.  Parsley and cilantro make great companion plants as do Swiss chard, bull’s blood beets and giant red mustard.   Keep in mind that with all of these plants, the later you plant, the larger the plant should be in order to have any type of impact in the winter landscape.  Flowering winter annuals should have blooms on them at planting if you wait this late, because they won’t have much time to get established before cold weather hits.  If you plant small green plants late in the season, you will not see your first blooms until spring, and that sort of defeats the purpose of fall planting. 

    Holiday Plants
    Poinsettias abound in all colors now—with even an orange one for Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Choose whatever color you like, but give the plant even moisture and very bright light and they can reward you with loads of color, even long after the holiday season is over.  When using a fresh cut Christmas tree, make a fresh cut at the stem before bringing it indoors and keep it in plenty of water.  If using fresh greenery from your garden for holiday decorations, prune judiciously since these are permanent plants in the landscape. Amaryllis bulbs make great gifts, but also give you quick indoor blooms, and they are readily available now.

  • December

     2014 - Winter is upon us and if predictions are correct, they say it is going to be worse than last year—and that is hard to believe.  We can all hope the almanac is wrong, but if not, it is good to be prepared for what could happen, and then know how to deal with it once it does occur. 

    Heavy accumulations of ice and snow can cause limbs to bend and break.  If limbs do break off, then clean up should be done as soon as damage is noticed.  But don’t do anything more than cutting off broken branches.  Corrective pruning to reshape or restructure should wait until spring is here and all potential damage is over.  Jagged, dangling limbs if left unpruned, can eventually break off and possibly create larger wounds, or damage underlying plants, so do minimal pruning just to get off broken limbs.   Some branches that get bent may return to an upright position on their own. 

    If you see burned foliage on your evergreen shrubs, ignore it for the rest of the winter.  It may not be the most attractive thing to look at it, but it will serve as extra protection for the plant for the remainder of the winter.  Wait until late February to early April to begin corrective pruning –as new growth is beginning.  The same holds true if you think you have dead branches due to low temperatures.  You can’t be 100% certain if a plant is dead or alive when it is dormant, so wait until winter is over, allow the plants a chance to begin new growth and then see what needs to be removed or reshaped. 

    Pay attention to the forecast.  Prior to a hard freeze make sure that any plants in containers have ample water.   Soil in containers dries out much more quickly than soil in flower beds.   Water newly planted trees or shrubs, and winter annuals if we have been dry leading up to a hard freeze.  Ample moisture within the plants can protect them from some damage—moisture in the foliage and stems serves as a buffer.  If a plant is dry and wilted, there is no buffer, and you will have more problems with freeze damage.  Mulch your plants—especially those that are moderately winter hardy.  Now that everything is dormant, a little extra protection of leaves can help them get through the rest of the winter---if they aren’t already damaged. 

    If we do get only snow, you can lightly remove it with a broom or rake from the underside of the plant to reduce the weight load.  Pay attention to temperatures before you do this. If it is well below freezing and your branches are frozen—or covered in ice—don’t come into contact with the plants.  Frozen plants are brittle and limbs can easily snap off.  Wait for the limbs to defrost before trying to remove any accumulation.

    Plants are typically most susceptible to damage during their transition periods—going into dormancy in the fall or emerging into new growth in the spring.  Once dormant, they basically are like animals hibernating.  They are conserving their resources and not actively growing, but they are hopefully living!  Some plants are more tolerant of cold than others.  We had quite a bit of damage last winter, from marginally hardy shrubs including big leaf hydrangeas, gardenias, rosemary and some azaleas. Temperatures below 15 degrees for any extended time may cause damage.  Many gardeners had few flowers on big leaf hydrangeas last year because of cold damage.  To protect tender plants if temperatures below 15 are forecast, you can cover them, but keep in mind, most coverings only give you a few degrees of protection.  Large cardboard boxes can be inverted over smaller plants and will help tremendously for a few weeks even.  Sheets and frost blankets will give you some help, but if it is raining or wet, the weight of the coverings can cause additional problems—that is why the box works better, no weight on the plant.  So if you are using a cloth covering, you might consider having some type of support for it.  Not only will that prevent a weight problem, but it can also give you some air space around the plants that may help a bit.   Avoid using plastic in contact with your plants for covering.  Plastic generates heat during the day and can cause even more extremes in freezing and thawing, so if you do use any type of plastic, it needs to be vented on sunny days.

    Keep your fingers crossed that our winter will be mild!