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November 2012

QuestionI have a baby Hydrangea bush that is probably well under a foot tall. We have tried to grow Hydrangea in the past with no luck, they all died. This is the first that we have had any luck with. It was just a baby plant when we put it in the ground several months back. With cold weather coming on I don't know how to take care that it doesn't die, but I don't know what to do to protect it during the winter. What should I do!


AnswerHydrangea bushes can be damaged by a cold winter, but usually are not killed. Pay attention to it in late winter. If we have mild winter days, they often begin to grow, and this tender new growth can get zapped by cold weather. The problem lies in the fact that they set their flower buds before they go dormant, so if they get nipped back by winter weather, they will not bloom that summer. I am a little worried about even larger, established plants, because many began a new set of growth late this season, which may or may not have a chance to harden off before winter sets in—only time will tell. Mulch your plant with 2 – 3 inches of mulch, leaving a little space between the main stem and the mulch. You can cover it during really cold days with a large cardboard box, but that only gives you a few degrees of protection. Hydrangeas like well amended, well drained soil on the north or east side of the house, provided they do get some sunlight—(planted in heavy shade, they will not bloom). They are not drought tolerant plants, but if you give them the right location and ample moisture, they can be beautiful plants in the landscape.

July 2012

QuestionLike a lot of people, I'm losing some plants this summer. You may know that here in Maumelle, we're restricted to once-a-week watering. Even sneaking around my back yard with my hose isn't doing the job! You mentioned in your column today that hydrangeas are not drought-tolerant. I have one that's in a bad spot that I think I'll just take out after this year, so I know what you're talking about. My question is this: Would it be possible for you to print a list of plants that are drought-tolerant in an upcoming column? I've threatened to tear everything out and plant cacti next year or maybe just rosemary and Black-eyed Susans, since that's all that's doing well in my garden right now!


AnswerAs mentioned above with the crape myrtles, even they are struggling with the heat! Also, when planting even the most drought tolerant plants, the first growing season, they will need water. I can’t imagine what my landscape would look like with once a week watering—the soil is so incredibly rocky, and I am on a slope, so I feel for you with water restrictions. Deep, excellent soil encourages deep roots, which makes it easier to water less often. Some drought tolerant shrubs for sun include: abelia, althea (rose of Sharon), forsythia, spirea, buddleia (butterfly bush), barberry, junipers, beautyberry, nandina and ninebark. For shade, acuba, cleyera, and even camellias once they are well established. Perennials include rosemary, thyme, lamb’s ear, butterfly weed (milkweed), yarrow, gaura, rudbeckia (black eyed Susan), purple coneflower, liatris, sedum and penstemon. Annuals include lantana, periwinkle, cleome (spider flower), cockscomb, cosmos and portulaca. There are also a good number of succulents—plants with thick fleshy leaves that are available from nurseries.

February 2012

QuestionThis may be a crazy question but here goes. I live in Little Rock and my daughter is getting married June 8. She loves gardenias and would like to use them at her reception as centerpieces, probably floating in water. Gardenias are expensive to buy and I know very delicate. Is there any way to grow our own this spring? I am not good in the garden at all. I have friends who have gardenia bushes so I know they can grow in Arkansas but I don't know the conditions or the timing. I know it might be risky but could this be a possibility? Do you have any suggestions?


AnswerGardenias grow quite nicely in Little Rock. As a cut flower, they usually start to decline pretty rapidly, so I would float them a couple of hours before you plan to use them. There are numerous plants that will have flowers on them that would be available from local nurseries. I would also put the word out to family and friends to see if they have plants. As early as things are moving this year, I would bet on flowering gardenias by June 8. I know many nurseries sell them loaded with buds for Mother’s Day which would be a few weeks before. Depending on how many tables you have, you could actually get some small blooming plants ordered and use those as your centerpieces.

March 2012

QuestionMy home in Colony West faces west and the front beds are empty now that all of the original azaleas have passed away. They were planted in 1970 and extended along the 60 foot front of the bed. There are four large Pine trees directly centered in the front and one very large Pine tree at the southern most part of the front of the house. At the north end of the house is a rather large Holly bush (tree), perhaps standing 10 feet tall. Originally, Holly was placed at each end of the front bed to anchor the beds and the Azaleas residing along the length of the bed. I need your recommendation on a plant/tree/shrub selection and your ideas regarding planting, soil addition, etc. I need something hardy that will last. Also, do you think the plants/shrubs/trees sold by the big box stores like are very safe? I think a local nursery would be safer in the long run regarding the viability and health issues of native plants, etc.


AnswerYou do need a basic grouping of evergreen plants so that you have something that is green year-round, but adding some deciduous plants can give you great color in the summer. While your yard faces west, it sounds like the pine trees shade it from intense sun. If you like azaleas, by all means replace some. There are numerous plants that you can choose from and diversity is good. I like to have something blooming in every season. Possibly sasanqua camellias for winter, azaleas and loropetalums for spring color and Itea and buddleia for summer blooms. Take pictures of your front yard and do a sketch of your yard on graph paper. Take that to your local nursery and they can help you plan how many plants you need and can give you other options. You don’t have to buy everything from a nursery, but if there are specific plants or varieties you want, independent nurseries usually have better selections.

February 2011

QuestionI have a bunch of Encore azaleas that have bloomed every year since I planted them 2-3 years ago. The problem is they haven’t thrived. I took a cutting to a nursery and a guy there told me that the leaves were burnt. Is it possible that these azaleas are planted too close to the white siding of my house that the afternoon sun is being reflected onto these azaleas and burning them?


AnswerEncore azaleas can tolerate more sunlight, but they do like water. Last summer took its toll on many plants. If they weren’t watered well, they could have been burned. Winter damage can also cause burned leaves. Wait and see what happens this spring as they start growing, then assess the damage and prune them then. Make sure they are mulched and watered, and fertilize them after the first bloom and see how they do.

October 2010

QuestionOur yard was sodded with Zoysia this year. The yard was somewhat shaded, so we had the trees trimmed up 10-12 feet so sun could shine through. We have had no rain but we do have a sprinkler system and do water every other day, however the sod is dying. I guess we will have to re-sod next spring. What do you suggest for a yard that has 3 large oak trees in it-- Zoysia, St. Augustine or what? The yard before the drought was green.


AnswerIt has been a tough season for gardening and continues to be dry. How much are you watering every other day? For newly laid sod we normally water a little bit every day to establish roots, then start increasing the amount of water but applying it less frequently. I suppose it is possible the grass is going dormant early, but you will have to gauge how well it comes back next spring before deciding to re-sod. St. Augustine is probably the most shade tolerant of the warm season grasses, followed by centipede and Zoysia.

September 2010

QuestionMy husband and I are getting ready to re-vamp the outside of our house with siding, windows, gutters, etc. There is a very mature hickory tree growing just a few inches from the gutter and we are considering having it cut down. My concern; however, is that there is a beautiful resurrection fern growing at the base of the tree, approximately 4" from the ground. If we cut the tree down and leave a stump, will the fern die.


AnswerThe resurrection fern is an epiphyte or air plant--taking all of its nutrients and water needs from natural rainfall or supplemental irrigation. It dries up, appearing almost dead when it is dry and then miraculously resurrecting itself when it gets moisture. Since it doesn't take any nutrients from the host tree, a dead tree shouldn't matter, however full sun is not conducive to its growth. I am worried that without the shade of the tree limbs it may be too exposed to thrive.

August 2010

QuestionAll this summer I have been trying to grow various heucheras. Every time I see an article or suggestion about shade gardens, these plants are encouraged. Because I have so many trees in my backyard, I bought at least seven or eight varieties and decided to re-pot them to keep them from drying out until I'm sure of where I'd like to plant them. But each time I bought some, the leaves dried up within days. The roots on each looked healthy, and the soil in each pot is kept reasonably moist (not wet). Do you have any idea as to what the problem could be?


Answer      There are hundreds of cultivars of heuchera on the market and some can take the heat and humidity of the south, and others look at it and die. When you are choosing heucheras look for Heuchera villosa in the parentage. H. villosa is much more heat and humidity tolerant than standard heucheras, and the plants should be evergreen for us--provided they have ample moisture--but in very well drained soil. Heavy soils and heucheras are not a good combination. Many recommend raised beds or even containers for heuchera care. Some varieties to try include: 'Citronelle', 'Caramel', 'Crème Brulee' and 'Frosted Violet'. Heucheras typically start to play out after three to four years, but there are so many plants to choose from you have lots of options.      


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