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(October 2012)

QuestionArkansas Gardener October 2012 Zone Report


AnswerGarden clean up is important.  Our poor plants need as much tender loving care as they can get after making it through the past two years outside.  Rake up spent debris, cut back perennials as they begin to die back.  Cannas continue to be plagued by the leaf roller, and it lives in spent debris in the garden, so don’t give it a resting place.  Cut and destroy.  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. Houseplants should all be safely back indoors, along with any non-winter hardy plants you want to save.  Cut back on the watering indoors and give them bright light to acclimate to the inside conditions.  Check for insects. Plant spring blooming bulbs from now through the first of the year.  Expand your plant palette and instead of just daffodils and tulips, try some unusual bulbs.  The alliums, or flowering onions are gaining in popularity along with scilla, grape hyacinths and snowdrops.


QuestionArkansas Gardener October 2012 Zone Report


AnswerIn spite of the growing season, we actually had a pretty good vegetable garden, and that trend can continue.  By now, for the most part things should be in the ground.  You can still find cabbage, broccoli, and other cool season transplants, so plant them.  Last year our winter was so mild, that gardeners who planted fall vegetables gardened all winter long.  Greens and kale can take it fairly cold and can serve as a cover crop and an edible.  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.  Leaves started falling this year in June and have continued.  We preferred falling leaves to those that died and stayed attached to the trees.  If they fell early, we at least knew the tree was healthy enough to produce the abscission layer and conserve its resources by not having to supply water to the foliage.  Plants that have leaves that are brown and attached to them, probably have dead limbs.  Some oak species hold old leaves until early spring and then drop them, so if you want to be 100% certain a tree is dead, wait until new growth next year.  But with all the dead plant matter, coupled with garden clean up and leaf shed, this is a composter’s nirvana now--so many raw materials to work with.  Remember, you need a combination of green and brown matter to make it work.  Vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and fruit peelings work well, but avoid adding any meat or dairy products to the compost pile.  If you can shred the materials before you add them, it will speed up the composting process.  If plants died because of drought, add those to the pile, but if they were heavily diseased, or loaded with weeds, don’t put them in.  Although a compost pile does heat up and can kill many disease organisms, insects and weed seeds, a home compost pile doesn’t have great uniform heat throughout the pile and we don’t kill all the bad stuff.  How many of you have used compost and had tomatoes and unusual gourds or squash emerging?  This is from seeds that made it through, and while they aren’t bad seeds, the pigweeds and nutsedge are.

(November 2011)

QuestionFall Gardening Tasks


AnswerRake leaves as they begin to fall.  Start your own compost pile or use shredded leaves as mulch in the garden. If you haven’t planted winter annuals, do so soon.  Pansies, violas, flowering kale and cabbage can all still be planted.  Make sure you buy blooming plants now, or you won’t get great flowers until spring. Plant spring blooming bulbs from now through the first of the year. After a killing frost, clean up your flower beds and vegetable gardens.  Canna foliage needs to be cut back and disposed of to help cut back on the leaf roller insect which overwinters in the spent leaves.   Houseplants that are inside need less water now, and may shed some leaves as they readjust to indoor conditions.   November is the ideal month to plant a tree.  The ground still has some residual heat, we have ample moisture and the plant is going dormant so it can spend its time putting on roots. If you need to transplant hardy shrubs or trees from one part of your yard to another, the transplant season has begun.


QuestionFall Gardening


AnswerThe soil is the foundation of a garden.  The healthier the soil, the healthier and more resilient your plants will be.  Too many of us in Arkansas are blessed with more rocks than soil, but even those who do have decent soil often lack organic matter.  Building up a strong soil and amending with organic matter in the form of compost, gives plants a better start in life and makes them easier to maintain.  When amending soil, it is best to blend in your amendments with the existing soil.  Creating a homogenous mix will encourage rooting better than layering in different soil types.   Fall is also an excellent time to test your soil to find out what the pH is and determine nutrient levels, so that you are prepared for the next growing season.  The pH of the soil determines the level of acidity of the soil.  It is measured in a range of 0 – 14.  7 is considered neutral, while below 7 is acid and above 7 is alkaline.  Most plants like a slightly acidic soil, between 6-6.5.  Blueberries and azaleas like it even more acidic, getting in the range of 5 – 5.5.  Many soils in Arkansas are acidic, and we occasionally need to add lime to raise the pH.  A soil test will determine whether you need to lime or not. It will also tell you how much lime to use.   Lime that can be mixed into the soil will give quicker results, than lime that is laid on the soil surface.   To test your soil, take slices of soil from the surface down around six inches.  Get soil from 6-10 different spots in your yard or garden for each sample you are taking.  Mix it together and take one pint of soil for each sample into your local county extension office.  Many gardeners test their lawns, vegetable gardens and flower gardens separately, since they treat them differently.  Within two to three weeks you will get a computer printout mailed to you with the results, and recommendations on what to do.

(September 2009)

QuestionThis is the first year that I grew asparagus with two year old crowns.  I did not harvest any this year as directed.  What or how do I take care of them this winter? When I harvest next year how much and how often; I have 10 plants?  How do I take care of my garden spot for the winter as I have never had a designated garden spot before?


AnswerAsparagus is a great perennial vegetable.  You can begin a small harvest next spring, but don’t overdo it.  Harvest until the size of the spears is smaller than a pencil in diameter.  If you continue to harvest really small spears, you can wear the plant out, which will impact your harvest for years to come.  By the following year, you should be in full production.  As to winter care, simply let the ferny fronds grow until a killing frost and then cut them back.  Some folks leave the fronds out for the bulk of the winter to cut down on weed issues, but you should remove the spent tops by mid January at the latest, to get the spot ready for spring harvest.  For the general garden, fall sanitation—removing spent debris and either mulching or planting a fall cover crop can help keep weeds at bay and start your season cleaner.  Some choices for fall cover crops include clovers, vetches, rye, and field peas.

(October 2007)

QuestionI have plants (in pots) that will need to come inside for the winter.  I don't want to bring in a lot of bugs in the house.  What do you suggest that I spray them with before bring them inside?


AnswerClean the outside of the containers and lightly spray the foliage with insecticidal soap.  You can also water the plants and then drench the soil lightly with insecticidal soap as well. You want to make sure there is ample soil moisture before using insecticides to prevent burning the foliage.


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