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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.   

Janet Carson's In the Garden Blog

A list of monthly gardening chores is listed below. 

 

  • January
    2018 -

    Another year of gardening is in the books!  While many gardeners are taking a bit of a break from gardening chores, it is a great time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t this past year.  We did have a fairly mild growing season with more rain than normal until fall, and then we had summertime conditions—hot and dry.  Many gardeners stopped watering when temperatures cooled off, but water is not just needed when it is warm.  The thing to monitor is the amount of rainfall.    If it is dry and lower than normal humidity, coupled with wind, water is needed even in the winter months.  It just isn’t a daily need like it can be in the summer.  Pay attention as we head into winter.  Newly planted or transplanted trees and shrubs will need water when dry and container plants also dry out quickly.  Shallow rooted vegetables and winter annuals would benefit from supplemental water if it is dry, particularly before a really hard freeze. 

    Along with a little water, winter annuals including pansies and violas would benefit from some fertilizer periodically on a warm winter day.  This will keep them blooming better. 

    Winter vegetables can grow all winter provided the temperatures don’t drop too low.   Keep some covering handy and if temperatures are predicted much below 28 you should protect them with an overturned box, pot or row cover.  Harvest as needed throughout the winter, but do avoid contact when leaves are frozen since they will be brittle.

    All landscape plants, including lawns can be brittle when temperatures are below freezing.  If we do get winter precipitation in the form of ice, stay away from your plants until they thaw.  Branches can snap quickly when ice is on them.  If we get heavy snow, lightly brushing it away from gentle sweeps from below the branches can prevent limbs from breaking with the weight, but use caution.  If you do experience weather damaged plants, assess the damage once the snow and/or ice is gone.  If there are broken branches, prune to remove any dangling limbs. If leaves are burned, ignore it until spring.  Pruning off cosmetic damage too early could expose more of the plant to further damage. 

    Many gardeners are noticing that their azalea plants have a lot of yellow foliage on them.  For the majority of the plants this is their annual old leave shed.  Some evergreen plants shed leaves periodically all season, while others shed once a year.  If you look closely the leaves that are yellowing are those closest to the bottom of the branch.  The tip leaves and buds are still green.  White and light pink varieties are more prone to the dramatic yellowing than darker flowering forms, but it is nothing to be worried about. 

    As one season ends we begin planning for the season ahead.  Catalog are arriving at a fast pace these days and there are so many new and interesting things to try.  Start planning and be sure to try something new each year.

    Watch for greening in your lawn as January continues.  This greening in a dormant warm season grass will not be lawn grass but winter weeds.  If you can catch them early you can stop their growth. 

    Plant of the month

    Pansies are the most popular winter annual flower grown in Arkansas gardens. Pansies, come in a variety of sizes, colors and types, from blues, to reds, yellows, white, orange, pink and purple with even a few black ones thrown in. There are solid colors without faces called clears, to bi-colors with contrasting faces, to blended colors, giving you a mix of colors in each bloom. Intense breeding has developed flowers that can get as large as four and a half inches across, on lovely green foliage.  It is hard to believe that these large, brightly colored flowers are descendants of the quiet, diminutive woodland violets. 

    The flowers have a velvety texture and bloom over a long period of time.  Pansies thrive in cool weather, and will bloom until hot weather causes them to decline next summer.  They can be planted from October through early January and again in late March through April, although spring planted plants are relatively short-lived in the garden. 

    Plant them in a well-drained location with moderately rich soil or in containers.  They will grow in full sun to partial shade.  Those in full sun will fade away sooner in the summer, but by then you have plenty of other plants to replace them with.  Fertilize at planting and during any warm spell throughout the winter. 

    Very few pests attack pansies, however some gardeners are plagued by rabbits, and occasionally squirrels.  Use whatever resources you have to deter them, although a light scattering of blood meal has been known to do the trick.

    Pansies are also considered an edible flower.  They are used in salads, and are crystallized and used as decoration on cakes.  If you decide to nibble on your pansies, make sure that they have not been sprayed with any pesticides before doing so. 

    Picture of pansies

    Large picture of pansies

  • February

     

    2018 - We are halfway through our winter season, and it has been colder than normal.  Not only has it been colder than we are used to, but the cold has lasted longer—with one week we never made it above freezing.  It is has also been drier than normal.  Statewide I am getting reports of damaged foliage on everything from gardenias, loropetalum, boxwood, and more.  Our winter annuals have not thrived in the cold weather either.  Some have done better than others.  Pansies and violas struggle valiantly to rebound on warmer days, but the Swiss chard and giant purple mustard won’t look good until spring if they do come back.  If you have winter annuals with damage, clean up the damaged foliage, fertilize on a mild winter day and water if it gets dry.  If the damage is on permanent plants in the landscape, ignore the damaged foliage until new growth begins in the spring.  Pruning them back now will remove any buffer the damaged leaves are providing.  Hopefully the damage will be minimal and hopefully we won’t have any more severe winter weather—we can all keep our fingers crossed.  Do pay attention to weather forecasts, and if really low temperatures are predicted and we haven’t had ample rain fall, water container plants and any newly planted trees or shrubs.  If plants are bone dry going into a hard freeze, you stand the chance of having more burned foliage.

     
    February is a big month in the gardening world, with many pruning chores taking top priority.  Late February is the time to start pruning fruit trees, blueberry bushes and grape vines.  Proper pruning ensures top performance.  Both the quality and the size of the harvested fruit will be better if you know how to prune.  If you want to learn how from the experts, plan to attend the fruit pruning workshop Feb. 15 from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the University System Division of Agriculture fruit substation in Clarksville.  Call and pre-register at 479-754-2406 or email khanshaw@uark.edu   You can pay the $10 registration fee at the door, but they need to know how many to plan for. 

    Pruning is not limited to fruit crops.  All roses need annual pruning as well, and it is recommended that you prune butterfly bush (buddleia), summer spirea, and ornamental grasses back hard each year.  Butterfly bush and summer blooming spirea plants bloom on new growth.  Cutting them back hard keeps the plants more compact but covered with blooms.  Ornamental grasses die back to close to the soil line each winter, so removing the old foliage makes way for new growth the following growing season.  If other summer blooming shrubs need pruning, this too should be done before new growth really kicks in.  This list of shrubs includes crape myrtles, althea (rose-of-Sharon), Clethra (summer sweet), Callicarpa (French mulberry or beauty berry) and the Panicle hydrangeas such as Limelight or Pinky Winky.  Don’t prune the big leaf hydrangeas unless all their new growth begins from the soil line.  We hope they haven’t been winter damaged, so they can bloom for us this summer.  There are numerous types of hydrangeas, so you need to know which you have to decide when to prune.  While most guidelines call for pruning of plants that need it in February to do so towards the end of the month, use common sense too.  We have had some late springs with winter weather and we didn’t get around to pruning until March.  Late pruning is not going to kill a plant.

    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, along with seed potatoes will appear at the end of the month.  Cool season gardening season is from February through mid-April.  If you did a good job of covering any fall or late planted vegetables you should be harvesting now.  If you did not cover, you probably need to replant. 

    Spring bulbs are beginning to make an appearance, albeit a bit later than last year. Crocus and early daffodils are blooming some years now, but I haven’t see any signs yet, but it won’t be long.  After that come hyacinths, tulips and then flowering onions.  When you see flower buds emerging in your foliage, that is the time to put out some complete fertilizer to aid in bud set for next year.  Remember to keep the foliage happy and healthy for at least six weeks after bloom.

    Plant of the Month - Ornamental Kale and Cabbage

    Ornamental cabbage and kale (also known as “flowering” cabbage and kale) are in the same species as edible cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.  While ornamental cabbage and kale are edible, they tend to have a bitter flavor so they are often relegated to an ornamental in the garden.  Technically, ornamental cabbage and kale are all kales (kales produce leaves in tight rosettes while cabbages produce heads).  In the horticultural trade, ornamental kale is the term used for plants with deeply-cut, curly, frilly or ruffled leaves, while the broad flat-leaved types are typically called ornamental cabbage.  Ornamental cabbage and kale grow approximately one foot wide and 15 inches tall.   In some parts of the state, the winter cold has taken its toll and the plants are not very attractive, while in some parts they have taken a little hit but are still growing strong.  They can give us a lot of winter color in shades of pink, purple and white from fall through spring, depending on the winter weather.  If they are doing well, they typically begin to stretch or get leggy as warm temperatures increase in the spring, and then begin to produce some straggly yellow blooms which signals the end of their growing season, if Mother Nature didn’t end it sooner!

    Picture of flowering kale  Picture of flowering kale  Picture of flowering cabbage

  • March

    2018 - It seems we left the drought behind us and moved into the monsoon season!  Rain was more than plentiful in February so once it dries up a bit, our soils should be ready for planting.  We are kicking off the 2018 gardening season with a splash!  Now is the time to plant cool season vegetables from onions and potatoes to greens, cabbage and broccoli and all the others thrown in.  It is WAY too early to plant the warm season lovers, like tomatoes and peppers, but there is plenty to plant.

    It won’t be too long before we are harvesting the first crop of asparagus.  When asparagus is in season, it requires a bit of attention.  Harvesting every other day or so is needed to prevent the spears from becoming too large.  You also want to stop harvesting when the spears are smaller than a pencil in diameter.  For those who don’t have an established asparagus bed, now would be a good time to plant one.  One year old crowns are available at most nurseries and garden centers.  Work up your soil and add some organic matter.  Dig a trench and spread out the crowns, lightly covering them with soil.  As they grow, continue to fill in with more soil until the trench is filled back up.  We don’t begin harvesting until the crowns are 3 years old.

    Winter weeds got off to a slow start during our colder winter, but they are rebounding quickly.  Many are growing rapidly and some are already in bloom.  We are getting pretty late in the season for herbicides to be very effective on winter weeds, but you still have time to put out a pre-emergent for summer weeds.  Once winter weeds begin to bloom and set seeds, damage is done.  Try to mow to keep weeds from setting seeds but hold off on using any fertilizer until your lawn grass has totally greened up—usually late April to early May.  Putting out any fertilizer now is going to feed winter weeds, which don’t need any encouragement.

    The cold weather kept many people indoors early in February and then the rains hit at the end of the month so many pruning chores didn’t get done.  Luckily for us there is still plenty of time to prune those summer blooming plants including roses, butterfly bush, and summer spirea.  All fruit trees, grape vines and blueberry bushes also need pruning every year.  Ornamentals won’t bloom as well if you don’t prune, and fruiting plants will not give you the quality fruit you want if you don’t prune. Last year our mild season had everything growing so early.  This year, many plants are just getting started, so there is plenty of time.  Do try to get the pruning done by mid-March if you can.  IF needed, you can prune crape myrtles, althea and abelia now too, but don’t touch the spring blooming shrubs—many are blooming or beginning to.  You prune those AFTER they bloom, not before.  There is some winter damage in landscapes on ornamentals.  If you have spring blooming ornamentals such as loropetalum, azalea or gardenia with damaged leaves, still take a wait-and-see approach.  Hopefully the damage will be only cosmetic and the plants will still have flowers, but we may have to prune more.

    For many gardeners their winter annuals are beginning to make a slow-comeback.  Fertilize pansies and violas to encourage more blooms. If your plants look really bad and you need some quick color, consider putting in some short-season color plants like English primroses, calendula, and ranunculus.  You may also be able to find some pansies, dianthus and snapdragons for extra color.  They have at least two more months to bloom. 

    Spring bulbs are going strong.  We are well into daffodil season with tulips not too far away.  Spring bulbs are an easy way to add color in a garden, but do need to have six weeks of green growth after bloom to set flowers for next year.  Crocus, daffodils and hyacinths will come back annually with minimal care, but tulips are a bit of a challenge.  To ensure stunning color each spring, it is often best to plant new bulbs each fall.

    I think we can all hope that the cold weather is behind us, but this is the month when we do need to pay attention to weather forecasts.  As plants are breaking dormancy is the time when they can be the most sensitive to a late freeze.  Have protection on hand if it is predicted to be cold. 

    English primroses

    The showy colorful blooms on English primroses are gracing delicate looking compact plants right now in nurseries and greenhouses.  They are a sure sign that spring is on the horizon. Native to the Himalayas and cool regions of Southeast Asia and Europe they thrive with a combination of moist, rich soil and cool, humid air. Unfortunately for us, they are not all that happy in the ground year-round in Arkansas’ hot, humid summer, but they make a nice addition to early season color.  While we usually think of two seasons of annuals—warm season for summer and cool season for winter, we do have spring and fall.  While the warm and cool season plants often extend their bloom periods into these seasons, some years we have less color than others.  “Shoulder plants” those that won’t last a long time, but are showy and can help us through the transition, include English primroses.  Whether you plant some in the ground or in containers, keep them evenly moist, but not water-logged and they will bloom until hot weather arrives. 

    Picture of english primrose    Picture of english primrose

  • April
     

    2018 - I am not sure Mother Nature can decide for sure which season we are in.  We have summer-like conditions one day, spring the next and then winter reappears for a few hours.  We are definitely way behind where we were last spring, and where you live in the state is making a huge difference as to how advanced your spring-blooming plants are.  Each warm, sunny day though is like a shot in the arm for our plants and they burst into bloom, seemingly overnight.  So far it is turning into a beautiful spring in spite of our colder winter.

    Most plants are beginning to leaf out, but not all fully.  Start assessing if you had any winter damage and begin the clean-up process.  The cold and wet weather we had in late February and even some of March pushed some of our pruning chores to the back burner.  There is still time to prune summer blooming plants such as crape myrtles, rose of Sharon, summer blooming spirea (NOT SPRING blooming bridal wreath spirea), butterfly bush and more.  Don’t prune any spring blooming plants until AFTER they finish flowering.  For evergreen shrubs such as boxwoods and holly you can prune as needed now through early summer.  Ornamental grasses are beginning to grow and if you have not pruned, pull back the old dead growth to see how tall the new growth has gotten, and prune above that line.  You don’t want cut edges on your new leaves.

    Vegetable gardening is in full swing, but again, cooler weather delayed planting in some gardens.  There is still time to plant cool season vegetables including lettuce, broccoli, greens and onions, but get it done by mid-month.  Wait for the soil and air to warm up before planting tomatoes, peppers and eggplants—even though garden centers have been selling them for over a month now!  You won’t be gaining anything if you have to replant or the plants get stunted by cold nights.

    Lawns are beginning to green up but there is competition in many lawns from the winter weeds or as some call them their “wildflowers”. Whether you call them weeds or wildflowers, flowering plants in the lawn mean seeds are forming and your “wildflowers weeds” will increase next year.  If you aren’t enamored with the flowering weeds, try to keep them mowed now to prevent additional seed set. Many of the weeds are going to be dying out in a few weeks when warmer conditions occur.  Herbicide usage now is not very effective and may actually hinder your lawns green-up.  Your lawn is in transition now from winter dormancy to summer green.  Keep the lawn area mowed and wait on your first application of fertilizer until your lawn has totally greened up.  Then you can worry about summer weeds.

    Many gardeners are chomping at the bit to move their houseplants back outside to reclaim some of their indoor living space.  Again, patience please.  Even though we are having some really warm days, we are still having some really cool nights and houseplants can suffer cold damage.  Waiting until early May is not going to hurt, especially if you live in the northern tier of the state.  If you have plants that are too pot-bound, dividing them or repotting them is a great chore to do when you do move them outside.

    Winter annuals are doing well in some gardens, and in others they have barely recovered from winter damage.  If yours still look good, then fertilize them and enjoy them one more month.  If yours are non-existent or barely there, start replanting with warm season annuals.  Some will tolerate cooler temperatures better than others.  You can start planting callibrachoa, verbena, petunias and begonias, but hold off on lantana, periwinkle and summer impatiens.  In addition to more annuals, visit your local nurseries and garden centers to see the new selections of perennials, shrubs and trees.  If you had some plant casualties now is a great time to replace them.  Consider the time of year you need color help in the garden and choose plants that can extend your color palette.

    Petunias:

    Petunias were originally native to South America, but the petunias that we grow today consist of a large family of hybrids derived from many species. The mature size can vary from 6 inches to 18 inches tall with a spread from 18 inches to 4 feet.  Petunias can be found in every color of the rainbow in solids, contrasting veins or edges, and star patterns. The flowers may be large or small, ruffled, fringed, or double. Some petunias may not be too happy when temperatures reach the 90s for extended periods of time, unless they have been well cared for with ample water and fertilizer. Older varieties can lose vigor and quit blooming during mid-to-late high summer temperatures. Plant breeders have tried to deal with this by developing petunia cultivars that are especially vigorous and more heat-tolerant. The Wave petunias were among the first of the heat-tolerant petunias, and the Supertunia petunias are another group of vigorous, heat-tolerant petunias.  One of our Arkansas Diamond selections from last year is the Supertunia Vista Bubblegum. I have also been impressed with the Supertunia Vista Fuchsia.  But even with the heat tolerant varieties, success can be measured with frequency of light fertilizer applications. They can bloom from spring until frost provided they get enough nutrition. Petunias can be used for color masses in the ground, in borders, containers, hanging baskets or as a seasonal groundcover. Petunias need full sun and while tolerant of a wide range of soil types, they do best in well-drained, light soil. Purchase healthy young petunias that are short and compact. Leggy, thin plants are slow to gain vigor. Young plants not yet in full bloom will often establish themselves faster.

    Picture of petunia   Picture of nightsky petunia

  • May


    2018 - I think everyone is holding their breath to see if a final cold snap occurs. My, what a difference a year makes; last year we didn’t have any cold weather after late March, and this year we have had one of the coldest Aprils in my memory.  We were already having a late spring as it was, but the recent two weekends of cold weather has slowed things down considerably.  There is still plenty of time to start planting warm season vegetables and flowers.  Garden centers are abounding in options for both edibles and ornamentals.

    Vegetable gardens, like flower gardens are a bit slow this year.  The wet February and the colder than normal temperatures had many gardeners planting later than normal.  Some gardeners are getting an early harvest of lettuce, broccoli, peas, green onions, radishes, kale and Swiss chard but others are still waiting.  As you harvest and create space in the garden, replant with warm season vegetables. There is still plenty of time to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash, which for some is their second planting!  Watermelon and cantaloupe plants take up a lot of space, so consider trellising them to control the spread.  Wait for the soil to warm up a bit before planting Southern peas and okra.  Mulch and control weeds, fertilize, water and monitor for pests. 

    In early April the general consensus was that it was going to be a great year for big leaf hydrangeas, and then the two late cold snaps hit.  In southern and central Arkansas, many plants made it through unscathed, while northern counties in particular to a hard hit.  If your plants froze back to the ground, new growth should be sprouting, but no flowers for this season, unless you are growing the reblooming varieties.

    If you had winter damage on trees or shrubs, give them a couple more weeks to show signs of life before pruning, unless you are certain there are dead branches.  We did see some plants begin to leaf out only to be frozen back.  A week or more of warm weather should have them rebounding if there is life left.  In rare instances we may have totally lost some less-than-hardy plants, but there may need to be severe pruning to correct some damage.  Loropetalum and figs were hard hit north of Clarksville, and gardenias took a hit in many parts of the state.  There has been a wide range of damage to fruit crops.  Early blueberries, peaches and pecans took a hit in many parts of the state, while later blueberries and blackberries appear fine.  In the northern tier we are also seeing some winter damage to lawns.  The low temperatures coupled with dry weather, and then late freezes during transition time all will add to the equation.   Time will tell for many of our plants as to how much damage was done.  Unfortunately for us, there is little we can do to alter that damage once it is done.

    The cool weather hasn’t been all bad for our gardens. The spring bulbs lasted way longer than normal, and the pansies and violas are looking fabulous if they survived the winter.  Continue to enjoy them for a while, but gradually begin to replace them with summer annuals.  Visit garden centers to see what new plants are arriving daily.  Try some of our new Arkansas Diamond selections—Vermillionaire Cuphea, Wasabi Coleus, Dragons Breath Celosia and Bouquet Purple Torenia.  We are also seeing loads of tropical appearing at our garden centers.  They thrive in hot, humid weather which I am sure is just around the corner.

    Now is the time to prune spring-blooming shrubs and trees if they need it.  Pruning is done as soon after flowering as possible.  Be selective in how you prune.  Selective thinning or knowing the natural growth of a plant, results in a much more pleasing plant profile than the sheared “meatball” look.    Now is also the time to fertilize trees and shrubs.  Most of our woody plants only need one application of fertilizer per year.

    Perennials are also up and growing well.  If you had some early plants that got nipped back by cold, clean up any damaged foliage.  Lightly fertilize once they have leafed out again.  Peonies seem to be setting a copious amount of flowers.  Before the blooms open up, consider using perennial stakes around them to prevent them from falling over after a rain. 

    Webs are appearing in many small trees around Arkansas.  For a few weeks we will have the marching of the Eastern tent caterpillars.  They look much worse than they really are, but they are a nuisance and can make a mess.  The larvae gather at a fork in the tree and build a web or "tent”. They use the tent as their nightly lodging and emerge on non-rainy days to feed. The tent enlarges as the caterpillars eat.  If you can reach the tents, pull them down on a cloudy day or at dusk when the caterpillars have gathered for the night, and destroy them.  Luckily for us, they have a short life span and don’t have more than one generation a year, unlike their cousin the fall webworm, which will start appearing in a month or so and can have several generations each season.

    Calibrachoa

    Calibrachoa is a kissing cousin to petunias, and a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which includes tomatoes.  Unlike some of the other annual flowers we have grown forever, Calibrachoa was introduced into the US market in 1992, making it a relative newcomer.  Native to Brazil, this plant hit the US market and hasn’t stopped, gaining in popularity each year.  The small flowering plants go by many of the series names: ‘Million Bells’, ‘Mini Bells’, ‘Superbells’ and ‘Callie’.  Calibrachoa usually grow better in containers than in the ground.  For non-stop flowering fertilize every other week during the growing season, and water when dry.  These plants are self-cleaning, dropping the spent flowers as they finish, so deadheading is not required.  They grow best in full sun with a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day needed for best blooming.  The plants vary in size and habit (some types are trailing, others have a bushier habit), flower type (single or double) and size from tiny ‘mini bells’ to larger 1 inch blooms.  The biggest variation is in the color palette—they run the gamut from white, pink, red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, green and more, sometimes with a contrasting eye, a star blazoned over the base color, streaks or splotches. Every year new color combinations appear on the market.  In a milder winter, they can overwinter in central and southern Arkansas (but that didn’t happen this year). 

    Picture of Calibrachoa 1   Picture of Calibrochoa

  • June

    2018 - As always, gardeners like to talk about the weather, and they have had a lot to talk about this year.  Everyone is hoping that our May weather was a fluke, and the hotter than normal temperatures are over and we can have a mild summer like last year.  Whatever Mother Nature throws at us, we need to be prepared.  With only five months gone this year we have dealt with drought, monsoons, hail, high winds, late freezes, snow in April, and 96 degrees in May.  I think we had 3 days of spring-like weather. In spite of the weather, our gardens have looked pretty spectacular.  Roses have never been as pretty, nor peonies as loaded with blooms.  We have good fruit set on blueberries and blackberries, and tomato plants are coming on strong.  So continue to talk about the weather, which means you are paying attention to it and water accordingly.

    Many of our spring blooming shrubs bloomed later than normal, but since heat has already set in, try to get any pruning chores that are needed done as soon as possible.  Once it begins to get hot and dry, plants start slowing down on their growing.  We want them to rebound so they can set plenty of flower buds for next year.

    Big leaf hydrangeas, oak leaf hydrangeas and gardenias are beginning to bloom (if they were not winter damaged).  These are three plants that bloom in the summer but set flower buds in the fall.  If you grow any of these three plants, and the plants need pruning, as soon as the flowers fade, prune.  The single-flowered gardenias (Daisy and Kleim’s Hardy) tend to bloom all at once and are done quickly.  They can be pruned as needed once all the flowers are gone.  Many of the newer gardenias do re-bloom later in the season, so later blooms may be delayed or non-existent depending on how much pruning is done.  For big leaf hydrangeas and oak leaf hydrangeas that need to be pruned, remove older, thicker canes at the soil line after the blooms have faded.

    By now, most of our cool season vegetables are beginning to bolt or stop producing as the heat increases.  Bolting is the term used for the flower stalk that appears on lettuce, greens, and onions.  As cool season vegetables play out, replant with warm season crops.  Now is a great time to begin planting winter squash, pumpkins and gourds, along with okra and southern peas.  You can also still plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and watermelons.  Pay attention to your gardens and monitor for insects and diseases.  If you find something you are unsure of, take a good picture and send it to your county agent, or take a sample in.  Early detection coupled with proper identification of a problem, can lead to a fast solution.  Fertilize your tomato plants lightly about every two weeks once they start setting fruit, and make sure you water them evenly.  Fluctuations in moisture can lead to quite a few issues including blossom end rot. We typically get our first calls about blossom end rot when we have a dry spell followed by a heavy downpour.  Blossom end rot starts as a water-soaked spot on the bottom of the tomato, which quickly turns black. Most gardeners think they have a disease but it is a physiological problem, a calcium deficiency typically caused by fluctuations in moisture levels.  Mulch your plants, and try to keep the moisture levels even.

    Perennial plants are those that come back for at least two seasons.  Right now, many are in full bloom, including purple coneflower, daylilies, gaillardia, hardy hibiscus and lilies. One that continues to gain in popularity is the milkweed.  The showiest of them is the bright orange butterfly weed, but all members of the Asclepias genus are great host plants for the monarch butterfly.  As flowers end on many perennials, they begin to form a seed pod.  Allowing them to set seed, delays more flowers.  Deadheading, or removing the spent flowers will direct energy back into flower production much quicker.  Know the fertilizer needs of your perennials.  Some like fertility such as hosta, while other require very little, such as Artemisia and lambs ear. 

    Annual and tropical color choices abound at local nurseries and garden centers.  No garden should be without color, so if yours is, start planting.  Most annuals and tropical flowers like fertility.  Frequent watering also leaches out nutrition, so fertilize every two to three weeks to keep them flowering.  As with vegetables and shrubs, monitor your flowers weekly to scout for insects or diseases. 

    Plant of the month 

    Periwinkle or annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus) is a tough and durable annual flower for the garden.  Native to Madagascar, another common name has been Madagascar periwinkle.  This annual was once the staple annual in commercial landscapes until sprinkler systems became the norm.  With frequent overhead watering, the plants developed a disease problem called stem canker which led to dying plants, and they fell out of favor.  Through advances in plant breeding, we now have varieties with good disease resistance to stem canker, and the plant is once again becoming a staple in home landscapes.

    Periwinkle plants can be upright in growth habit or spreading.  Flower colors can vary from shades of pinks, red, white and purple, with some interesting bi-color combinations coming soon.  Some have a bright center eye, while others are a solid color.  The foliage is a bright glossy green with white veins.  The plants perform best in well-drained soils with full sun.  Water to get them established, but then they are one of the most drought tolerant annuals we grow. Foliage will curl if they begin to get too dry, which is a good sign to water. Moderate fertilizer needs.  The flowers do not need dead-heading as they will drop as they finish.  The plants are covered in blooms all summer long.  Another added bonus is the plant is poisonous, so the deer and rabbits leave it alone.

    Some excellent series to try include: Cora and Cora Cascade (an upright and a spreading form).  These come in a wide range of colors from pure white to blush, shades of pink and lavender with single and bi-color options.  The Cooler and Titan series are also disease resistant.  Coming soon are some outstanding color choices in the Tattoo series, but unfortunately they are not disease resistant, but would still make some good container choices.

    Picture of vinca  Picture of periwinkle

     

  • July

    2018 - We have already had more hot days this summer than we did all of last summer combined.  Some areas have been getting regular rainfall, while others are bone dry.  This is the time of year when a rain gauge comes in handy, and knowing how much water your personal garden needs.  There is no set formula that works for every garden.  Factors that apply include what you are growing, how much sunlight they get, what type of soil or bed they are growing in and how much rainfall we are getting.  Plants in containers are always going to dry out faster than plants in the ground.  Soil-less mixes usually dry out faster than garden soil.  Mulching will definitely help.  Get to know your garden and your plants, and do what works best for you.  Early morning deep watering is best, but again, you have to work with your schedule.

    With frequent watering, nutrition gets leached out.  If you are growing trees and shrubs, they should do fine with one application of fertilizer per year—usually applied in the spring.  Annual flowers and vegetables need the most nutrition.  When temperatures are hot, water your plants well before fertilizing, and then water the fertilizer in.  Frequent, light applications are best to avoid burning. 

    Vegetable gardens are producing at their peak right now.  Peppers, squash, tomatoes and eggplants are coming in well.  Harvest regularly to keep them setting more fruit.  It is not surprising for tomatoes to slow down in production during periods of hot weather.  When temperatures exceed 95 during the day and/or stay above 75 degrees at night, flowers quit setting fruit.  Existing fruit often slows down and is slower to ripen.  Keep your plants evenly watered and fertilized, and as soon as there is a break in the weather, they should rebound and begin to produce again.  If you have plants that are on their way out, harvest what you can and then replant with new tomatoes or other vegetables.  The key is to keep them watered to get them established, but there is a lot of gardening season left to grow in.

    If you still need some color in your garden, there is still plenty to choose from at local nurseries and garden centers.  Tropical flowering plants are still arriving and this is their season—they love it hot and humid.  Water and fertilize weekly and they will bloom non-stop.    Many summer blooming perennials are in their prime now, from the dinner-plate sized blooms on hardy hibiscus, to non-stop color on coneflowers, gaillardia, coreopsis, and rudbeckia.  Summer annuals are also flowering well if they have been watered and fertilized.  Lantana, vinca, Cuphea, zinnias and ornamental sweet potatoes thrive in hot weather. Many of these flowers need dead-heading after bloom to keep them flowering all season.

    Scout your garden frequently looking for pest problems.  Pests include insects, diseases and weeds.  We have seen aphids, scale, white flies and spider mites, along with stink bugs, caterpillars and more.  Know what insects are good and which are bad.  If you are trying to attract butterflies, then don’t kill the caterpillars that are eating your milkweed or dill—you want to see the butterflies, but if tomato hornworms are chomping on your tomatoes or corn earworms are eating your corn, then you want to control them.  Diseases can spread quickly from plant to plant.  We have had quite a few reports of rose rosette, septoria leaf spot on tomatoes, and some powdery mildew is beginning.  We have also had more reports of herbicide damage to ornamental landscape plants this year.  Be sure to read and follow the label directions if you are applying herbicides to your lawn and you have landscape beds nearby or trees growing in the lawn.  Some of the chemicals used can cause problems.  If you have problems in your landscape, properly identify what is happening.  Take a plant sample in or take good pictures and get them to your local county agents.  The earlier you spot a problem and identify it, the sooner you can handle it. 

    If you aren’t growing a vegetable garden or raising your own fruit, visit one of the many farmers markets in the state.  Besides all the wonderful fresh vegetables that are out there, they have blueberries, blackberries and peaches!  Eat local and fresh!

    Annual of the month

    Impatiens are the most popular flowering annual for the shade in Arkansas gardens.  Native to Tanzania and Mozambique, they come in a wide range of colors and will grow and bloom until frost in light to heavy shade, provided they get ample moisture and fertilization.  But today impatiens are not just shade plants.  Newer to the market are the Sunpatiens, large flowered annuals which will grow in full sun to light shade.  In deep shade, they are not as full-flowering.  Unlike some of the early touted sun-loving impatiens, which required you stand next to them with a garden hose, these will tolerate slightly drier conditions than most impatiens.  Some gardeners still prefer to give them a bit of afternoon shade, but with just average moisture, and fertilization, these Sunpatiens have been performing quite well across the state.  Each year we see a larger color palette.  With larger foliage and flowers than common impatiens, these can make a dramatic color splash in the garden.  Regardless of your light conditions, there is an impatiens plant for any garden.

    Picture of sunpatiens    Picture of impatiens     Picture of sunpatiens

  • August

    2017 -

    We were on a pretty mild gardening streak for a while, but now the temperatures are heating up and rainfall is very spotty. Some areas are still getting regular showers, while others are bone dry.  Water is one of the most important tasks in the garden right now, so make sure you have a rain gauge and know how much water your yard is receiving.  High water bills may seem unbearable, but have you looked at the cost of having a large tree removed?  Water is critical to healthy plant growth. 

    ontinue to deadhead perennials and even some shrubs.  Deadheading is the process where you prune off the flowers as they finish looking good, preventing them from producing seed. The reason for a flower is seed production, but in our gardens we want flower production.  Many new varieties of perennials and shrubs are self-cleaning, meaning the flowers finish, drop and don't produce seeds, making them more free-flowering.  If you have varieties that do set seeds, including butterfly bush (Buddleia), summer spirea, and crape myrtles, cutting off the spent blooms will help the plants continue to bloom.  The same rule applies to perennials, black eyed Susan’s (rudbeckia), coneflowers (Echinacea) and gaillardia will all set seeds if you don’t deadhead them, and you want more flowers.  Once a week or two prune the old flowers off.  In the herb world, the more you prune basil, the bushier and fuller it grows.  If you allow it to bloom and set seeds, you get less basil for your tomato caprese!  

    We have been having a really good garden year with a wealth of tomatoes, peppers and more.    The hotter it gets, the more toll it may take on some plants.  Others like okra, eggplant, southern peas and sweet potatoes are thriving in the heat.  Tomatoes are slowing down in production when daytime temps exceed 95 degrees or night's stay warm and humid too.  But, with proper care they will begin to bear again when it cools off.  It won’t be long before tomato plants are available to plant again for a fall garden.  Believe it or not, August is the time to start planting the fall garden.  Peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes can be replanted for a bountiful fall harvest.  Broccoli, cabbage, greens, and green beans can also be planted now.  It is not the easiest time to get a new garden established, so really water well and mulch.  With a little extra effort now, you can have a great harvest this fall. Usually by fall, the insects are really attacking, so monitor for pests regularly.  Grasshoppers are around and can devastate young seedlings, so monitor frequently.  Fall planting can continue into fall as well.

    Many of you may feel permanently attached to a garden hose, but if you have plants in containers, daily watering is a must.  The more frequently you water, the quicker you are leaching out nutrition.  Fertilization is important for many tropical flowers and annuals to continue to blooms.  Make you’re your plants have ample water before fertilizing.  You typically want to apply at a lower rate to avoid burning your plants.  Light frequent applications would be better than a heavy dose.  Fertilizer is a salt, and it can burn plants that already dry and heat stressed.  If your summer annuals are surviving, but looking a little peaked, give them a light haircut and a light dose of fertilizer and they too can rebound.  Keep in mind that we have several more warm months, and most annuals can give you color up through October or November.

    All plants that bloom in the spring, including azaleas, dogwoods, forsythia along with camellias, tulip magnolias,  Loropetalum and kerria, set their flower buds in late summer to early fall.  Fruit trees, blueberry bushes and strawberries all have their flower and fruit buds set when they go dormant in the fall as well.  Because we had a particularly early spring this year, many of these plants have set or are currently setting their flower buds for next spring.   A few summer flowering plants are also setting flowers for next summer now.  They include the big leaf hydrangeas, oak leaf hydrangeas and gardenias.  For this reason, they don’t need to get too stressed now or they may not set any or fewer flower buds.  They also should not be fertilized or pruned now.  For the most part, watering and mulching is the only care they need. 

    Figs

    It is fig season and fig trees are loaded with fruit again in central and southern Arkansas, but may have had some winter damage in the northern tier.  The common fig (Ficus carica) can be grown throughout Arkansas, but hardiness does vary within cultivars. Figs are considered a deciduous tree, but in colder climates they are often relegated to large bushes, since they can be killed back with temperature much below 15 degrees.

    Figs are a member of the mulberry family (Moracae) and are related to many familiar houseplants including weeping fig, rubber tree, and the fiddleleaf fig. The fig is one of the oldest fruit crops known to man, and it has long been grown in the South. If they suffer no winter damage, figs can reach a height of 25 or 30 feet tall and equally as wide. If space is limited they can be pruned to maintain a more reasonable size. Even if they do get frozen back to the soil line- they will typically re-sprout from the root system and may bear some fruit that year, since they do bear figs on the current season growth. There are four distinct horticultural types of figs, but in our climate only the common fig can be grown.

    Figs will produce best when planted in a well-drained soil in full sun. They have a fibrous, shallow root system which makes them sensitive to drought stress. If your fig tree gets too dry, it can drop fruit. Fruit drop can be caused by several things, including dry conditions, but also storms, cool weather soon after fruit set and weak trees.  Birds, squirrels and other animals like figs as much as we do, so bird netting or protective devices can help.

    The fruit is perishable so eat it quickly or make preserves

     Close up of fig tree

     

  • September

                                                                                                                                        

    2017 - We have had a taste of fall-like weather, so we know fall is not too far on the horizon.  While we are probably not done with hot weather, we really were lucky on the summer we had.  We had milder than normal temperatures and more rainfall than normal for an Arkansas summer.   Some plants thrived in these conditions, while others may have struggled a bit.  It is time to take stock of your gardens, figure out what worked and what didn’t and with annuals and vegetables begin to replant for fall and winter.

    Leaf spot diseases and mildew have been a common problem on many plants late in the season.  I doubt you will find many hydrangeas without a spot here and there, or peonies dying back, or spots on dogwood leaves.  Don’t worry and don’t start spraying.  This late in the season it is time to clean-up, water when dry, and prepare for dormancy.  Any perennials that have started dying back or have dead or diseased leaves can be cut back now. That includes peonies, lilies, and bleeding hearts.  Once the leaves begin to decline, their season is over and they will be fine until they reappear next spring.  Trees and shrubs with damaged foliage should be monitored for leaf fall.  Once that begins, rake it up and clean it up and start fresh next spring.  Don’t prune trees and shrubs now, especially spring bloomers, as they have set their flower buds for next spring.

    Fall color is arriving at nurseries and garden centers statewide.  If your garden needs some quick color you can plant some warm season plants like ornamental peppers and marigolds which will survive until a frost and have great fall color, but you can replant petunias and callibrachoa which will tolerate warm weather and several light freezes.  Dianthus, ornamental kale and cabbage—along with the edible ornamental Swiss chard, purple mustard and kale can all be planted now.  Violas will tolerate more swings in temperatures than pansies will, so consider adding a few as the temps cool off.  Hold off on pansies until the hot weather is gone. They get leggy quickly if exposed to too much heat.  Make sure you don’t forget to water. 

    Fall perennials include mums and asters, which many gardeners grow as annuals.  We are also seeing good color on Chelone (turtlehead), Tricyrtis (toad lilies) and Japanese anemones.  Goldenrod is blooming and salvias are kicking into high gear.  We are beginning to see good plumes on ornamental grasses. Pumpkins and gourds are also popping up and fall bulbs are beginning to make an appearance.  You can buy your bulbs now, but let it cool off a bit before planting.  Large, firm bulbs will give you the best display next spring. If you have room in your refrigerator you can pre-chill the bulbs before planting, but that isn’t a requirement.

    Some gardeners had better success than others in the summer vegetable garden, but many plants are getting tired.  If you can find transplants, you can replant some fall tomatoes and peppers.  You can also begin to plant cabbage, broccoli, greens, lettuce and radishes.  Eggplants and peppers are still producing pretty well in most gardens, so continue to harvest and enjoy as long as they last.  Mulch any new plantings and do water.  With just a little bit of protection, we can now produce edibles year-round in a home garden.

    Muscadines:
    One of the easiest of the fruit crops to grow in Arkansas are muscadines.  Muscadine grapes are native and grow in almost all parts of Arkansas except the most northern counties.  They can be eaten fresh or made into juice, jelly or wine.  They grow best where they have full sunlight and a well-drained soil.  They need some type of trellis, arbor or fence to grow on, and will grow up a tree-but production will not be as good, since shade can be a limiting factor. 

    In the wild, muscadine vines produced either separate male or female flowers, with both plants needed to produce fruit. Today cultivated varieties are self-fruitful, meaning the plants have perfect flowers containing both male and female parts.  For self-fruitful black varieties try Cowart, Nesbitt and Noble and for bronze-fruited varieties plant Taro, Granny Val and Carlos.   If you still prefer the old-fashioned female only varieties like Supreme, Black Beauty, Summit and Fry, if you have at least one vine of a perfect-flowered variety it can pollinate eight surrounding female plants.

    Musacadines don’t need as much pruning as a table grape, nor do they have many diseases or insect problems.  They can be an acquired taste with large seeds inside, but I do love to eat them.

  • October

     2017 - We skirted through the bulk of our growing season with flying colors and then September happened. We seemed to have gotten our droughty summer in one month.  Most gardens were the driest they have been all season.  The quick week of cooler weather, and maybe the calendar had many folks thinking fall was here and they didn't need to pay attention to watering anymore.  I have seen so many brown lawns, dying plants and falling leaves.  I am truly worried about some of these plants surviving to grow another season.  If you have not been watering, pay attention and do if your yard is dry.  How well your plants head into fall and winter can determine how well they will begin growth next spring.

    Now is a great time to start planting fall and winter color. If you haven't visited your local nursery or garden center recently, you are in for a treat.  From pansies and mums to snapdragons, flowering kale and edible kale, purple mustard, Swiss chard, asters, goldenrod and much, much more awaits.  Make sure you do water when planting.

    Spring blooming bulbs can also start going in the ground mid-month through the end of the year. I like to wait for cooler weather before I begin to plant.  Daffodils, crocus and hyacinths will come back year-after-year, but for most varieties of tulips, it is best to treat them as annuals and plant new bulbs each season.  You can plant the bulbs underground with pansies and winter annuals above. 

    Fall vegetable gardens are still growing strong if you kept up with their care. Many gardeners are seeing a resurgence of tomatoes and peppers, while okra and eggplant are also doing well.   There is still time to plant transplants of broccoli, cabbage, Swiss chard and kale.  Most of these plants can grow year-round now with just minimal protection if temperatures get below 28 degrees.  If you are done gardening for the season, consider planting a cover crop or mulching your garden spot to prevent weeds from growing all winter.

    October is the month when we move our houseplants and any tropical plants into a protected spot, if you are bringing them indoors.  Try to move them when inside conditions mimic outside temperatures.  If you wait for too many cool nights, the plants will have a much harder transition moving inside.  Usually by mid-October they should be making the move.  If you are just putting them into a garage or winter storage area, then you can wait a bit longer. 

    Many perennials started their decline early this year.  If the plants are looking bad, don't wait for a frost to cut them back, do it now.  If your spring or summer blooming perennials need to be divided, now is a great time to do so.  By doing the work in the fall, we allow the roots to get established while the tops are dormant.  They will be well-established and ready to take off next growing season.   Now is also a great time to plant wildflower seeds and many perennials including poppies, purple coneflowers, columbine, foxglove and the annual larkspur, Texas bluebonnets, bachelor’s buttons and cornflowers.

    Practice good sanitation in the garden.  We had a lot of diseases this season and weeds were at an all-time high.  As plants begin to play out, pull them up and get them out of the garden.  If they were diseased, discard them, if not, add them to the compost pile.  Weeds are continuing to grow and if you allow them to bloom and set seeds, you will have more next season.  Summer weeds are nearing the end of their season, while winter weeds are beginning to grow.  That is one thing we are almost never without in a garden—weeds!  Use a good hoe, or hand pull, mow and mulch. 

    Pumpkins are everywhere now, along with gourds.  It is an easy way to add instant color to a landscape, and with good choices, they can last for months.  Choose a pumpkin that is blemish free and that has a short stem on it.  Some gardeners

    Jujube:

    The jujube originated in China where they have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. Eventually they made it to the United States, but it wasn't until 1908 that improved Chinese selections were introduced by the USDA.  Ziziphus jujube, is commonly called Jujube, Chinese date or Arkansas date, since the mature fruit resemble and taste somewhat like a date. 

    The jujube can withstand a wide range of temperatures--from hot summers to cold winters.  Winter dormancy allows it to withstand temperatures to about -28° F, yet it requires only a small amount of winter chill in order for it to set fruit.  While it is not a common fruit in Arkansas it does grow statewide.  I was recently at a meeting in NW Arkansas where someone had brought the yellow-green fruits. 

    The fruit can vary from round to elongate and can be the size of a cherry to plum-size depending on cultivar. It has a thin, edible skin surrounding whitish flesh. The single hard stone inside contains two seeds. The immature fruit is green in color, but as it ripens it goes through a yellow-green stage with mahogany-colored spots. The fully mature fruit is entirely red. Shortly after becoming fully red, the fruit begins to soften and wrinkle. The fruit can be eaten after it becomes wrinkled, but many people prefer them during the interval between the yellow-green stage and the full red stage. At this stage the flesh is crisp and sweet, reminiscent of an apple. Under dry conditions jujubes lose moisture, shrivel and become spongy inside--date-like.

    Plant the tree in a well-drained location in full sun. These deciduous trees are easy to grow and can grow to be 30 feet tall or more. They are pest-free and self-fruitful.  You will have better production if the tree has ample moisture through the growing season.  The fruits ripen in the fall and can be eaten fresh, dried or candied. 

    Picture of a jujube
                            

     

  • November   

    2017 - We had a taste of cold weather sooner rather than later this year.  Many folks are saying we went from summer to winter overnight.  I hope all tender plants have been moved indoors or to protected places.  Don’t be alarmed if some of the leaves fall as they acclimate to inside conditions which are low on light and humidity.  Some parts of the state have had a frost, but others have not.  Regardless, the cooler temperatures make for a pleasant environment to get outside and rake some leaves, and get some gardening chores done.

    In addition to raking leaves, fall clean-up season is here, both in your flower beds and vegetable gardens. Cut back the fronds of asparagus as they die back and put down a light layer of mulch. If your vegetable plants struggled with insects and diseases, rake up the spent debris now and dispose of it. Don’t add it to your compost pile or you may add more problems next season.  The leaves have been falling for months now, and will continue this month.  A light layer on your lawn or garden is not an issue, but don’t let them accumulate for too long.  Heavy piles of leaves can cut down on air circulation, oxygen and sunlight.  Leaves are a great raw commodity for compost—one of the best things to enrich your soils. Start your own compost pile or use shredded leaves as mulch in the garden.

    If you haven’t planted your winter annual color, do so soon.  From pansies to snapdragons, flowering kale, cabbage and Swiss chard, there are plenty of options, but we need to have time for the roots to establish so they can make it through the winter.

    Fall is an excellent time to plant bulbs.  The ground is cooling off and it is the perfect season to get a jump-start on spring color.  Plant your bulbs in a well-drained location in full sun.  On average we plant the bulbs 2-3 times as deep as they are large.

    November is also the ideal month to plant a tree. Whether you need a large shade tree or a smaller ornamental tree, while they are dormant they will spend time getting their root system established.  This will make them better adapted to surviving the first summer.  Water is always important.

    Many vegetable gardeners are now gardening year-round with just a little bit of covering on hand.  Most cool season vegetables will tolerate light frosts with no covering. If temperatures get much below 28 degrees, then covering them with a cardboard box, an inverted pot or a covering can help.  High tunnels or row covers can also extend your gardening season.

     

    Persimmons

    There are two types of persimmons grown in Arkansas, the native persimmon with mature fruits which are about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and the oriental persimmon with mature fruits ranging from flat shaped to rounded grapefruit sized fruits weighing up to a pound or more.  

    The native persimmon tree is dioecious—there are separate male trees and separate female trees.  You need one of each to bear fruit, and only the female tree will have any fruit.  With the oriental persimmons, some are self-fruitful and others need another variety for pollination. 

    Persimmons can be grown from seed, but it can take 4-9 years before they begin to bloom and then you need to determine if they are male or female.  Most trees in the trade are grafted, and can begin to bear fruit in 3-6 years. 

    The common persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is a slow growing, mid-sized native tree whose fruit ripen in the fall. The Latin name means “food of the gods”, but if you have ever eaten a common persimmon fruit prior to a frost, you know the meaning of pucker-power. The fruits are highly astringent until they have fully ripened.  While a frost is really not needed to ripen them, they do require a long season to get fully ripe, and if not ripe, they will be astringent, bordering on inedible. 

    Oriental persimmon fruit ripens from late August until early December, depending on the variety and weather conditions.  Fuyu-Gaki persimmon is the most widely planted cultivar in the world.  When fully ripe, this fruit turns a crimson red with a blue blush. It is also self-fruitful.  Other self-fruitful varieties include Gionbo with very large (4-5") orange conical, astringent fruits, Great Wall, and Matsumoto.  Most oriental persimmon trees grow about 15 feet tall and wide and can be as ornamental as they are edible.

    Persimmon fruits can be eaten raw or cooked, fresh or dried, and are eaten out of hand or used in baked goods, puddings, and other deserts. Low in calories and fats, this little fruit contains all kinds of phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants.

    Persimmons on tree   Persimmons close up   Persimmons

  • December

    2017 - Arkansas is famous for fluctuating temperatures, but few can remember anything as drastic as this year.  We had colder than normal temperatures in mid-December (down into the teens or single digits depending on where you live) and we ended the year with a repeat of spring.  From heat to air conditioning in the same day!   We did finally get some much needed rain, so our plants are in pretty good shape if they can just stay dormant until spring officially appears. 

    If you had winter vegetables that were not covered, they may have been nipped a bit, but should bounce back.  Even an upturned pot covering can protect them enough to make it through on really cold nights.  If you have some burned leaves on ornamental kale or cabbage, clean them up.  On one of the milder days, fertilize your winter vegetables and winter annuals. 

    If you have some damaged leaves after the last cold snap, don't do anything about it. We are just heading into the winter season and pruning now would expose more of your plant to damage.  Unless you see broken branches, leave them be until spring.  When we get well below freezing, your plants may look wilted or shriveled, but they are frozen. Frozen plants can be quite brittle, so leave them alone and wait for the temperatures to come above freezing.  If we do get any winter precipitation, same rules apply. Ice or sleet on plants should be ignored.  If you have heavy snow accumulations, lighten the load gently so you don't break branches in the process.

    Many of us were in the midst of holiday activities when we got our first killing frost. If you have time, clean up the garden removing the spent summer annuals, and clean up the perennials.  If you still have leaves in the garden, continue to rake.  By now the majority of the leaves are off the trees.

    Sasanqua camellias are still looking great in the garden.  A few flowers may have been zapped by the cold, but there are many more flower buds that can open over the next month.  If your garden lacks winter color, consider adding some Sasanqua camellias, deciduous hollies for their beautiful berries or the perennial hellebores which are putting on a show.

    Our houses often look a bit bland after we take down the holiday décor, but if you received a poinsettia, they can continue to add color for months, if you give them the right care. Bright sunlight and even moisture can keep the colorful bracts showy.  Amaryllis bulbs can also add instant color.  These large bulbs produce large showy blooms on a tall stalk.  But beware they can become a bit top-heavy, so weighing down the pot can help support them.

    The saying “if you don’t like the weather today, just wait until tomorrow” could not be more applicable these days.  While the entire state has had some light freezes, and some parts have had a hard, killing frost, the majority of the state is still seeing summer blooming annuals, and lingering tropical flowers.  We go through all four seasons in 24 hours some days.  This is tough on people, but even harder on the plants that must decide what season it is.  In addition to the warmer temperatures, we have been really dry.  When the temperatures gets cool, it often misleads people to think that their watering days are over.  Monitor the rainfall, or lack thereof, and water when dry.  There are many wilting plants out there.  Dry plants will be more sensitive to winter damage.  Pay particular attention to newly planted trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.  Plants in containers also dry out faster than those in the ground, so water.  We may not have to water daily like we do in the summer, but water is still important for survivability.

    While some summer annuals are still blooming, so are the cool season annuals.  If you haven’t planted your winter annuals, there is still time. The key is to look for blooming pansies and violas, and larger flowering kale, Swiss chard and purple mustard.  Small non-blooming plants will not give you much in the way of color until spring, so buy more established plants, plant, fertilize and water and they should give you instant color and last all winter.  If you have already planted, fertilize monthly during the growing season.

    Raking is definitely needed in most yards.  Leaves were falling early this year, and the high winds in November felled most of the foliage, but there are still some leaves left on our trees.  A heavy layer of whole leaves on your lawn shouldn’t last all winter or it can damage the lawn.  Rake them and if possible shred them and add them to the compost pile, or use the shredded leaves as mulch in the garden.

    It is bulb planting time.  Through December you have ample time to plant daffodils, tulips, crocus and more.  Speaking of bulbs, a popular indoor flowering bulb is the amaryllis and the bulbs are readily available now.  These large bulbs produce huge, showy blooms in shades of red, pink and white.  With proper care, they can live for years giving you larger and longer blooming flowers each season.  The plants do get quite tall and can be top-heavy, so weight them down or use a larger pot to plant them in.  Turn the plants periodically to keep them from leaning.  Once they begin to grow, you should see a bloom in 6-8 weeks. 

    Poinsettias are still the number on holiday plant and they are everywhere.  From the orange colored ones available at Thanksgiving to red, white, pink and multi-colored plants, there is a poinsettia for every home.  With plenty of sunlight and even moisture the plants can stay showy for months.

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

    Pecans

    Pecans are synonymous with the holidays in the south.  They are native to North America, from Texas to Illinois.   Native Americans were using pecans extensively long before the European settlers came.  They pressed the oils for seasoning, ground them into meal to thicken stews, cooked them with beans, and roasted them for long hunting trips.  While many still harvest and use native pecans, through plant breeding, the size and quality of the nut has grown substantially over the years.

    Pecan trees grow best in a long, warm growing season, without much of a temperature drop at night, which is why they are a southern crop. Further north the hican, a cross between a pecan and a hickory tree are grown, which are more tolerant of cold weather. 

    To produce nuts, you need at least two varieties for cross-pollination.  Pecan trees produce separate male and female flowers on the same tree.  However, they are usually not in bloom at the same time on the same tree.  Some varieties shed their pollen before the female flowers are receptive.  Therefore they need pollen from another variety that matures its pollen a little later. 

    Nut size will vary with the variety, age of tree, size of the crop and moisture conditions during the growing season until shell hardening.  Most trees will start to produce pecans within five to eight years depending on variety, growth rate and location. 

    Harvesting pecans occurs from mid-October through November, and occasionally into December.  For home harvesting, gathering falling nuts can be an option, but you usually have to fight the squirrels, who are master nut gatherers.  Unlike smaller growing apple and pear trees, pecans trees are quite large at maturity, growing up to 150 feet tall with a wide spreading canopy.  Since at least two trees are needed, this can quickly fill up a standard home landscape.  Although they do serve as a good shade tree, harvesting quality nuts in a home situation can be tricky.  There are several diseases and insects which attack them, and commercial growers are better equipped to spray for these problems.  Due to their large size, it is difficult, if not impossible for home gardeners to spray for control. For this reason, consider pecan trees as a shade tree, and if you get quality nuts that is a bonus. 

    While there are not many citrus trees that can survive outdoors in Arkansas, many home gardeners are raising lemons, limes and even oranges.  They grow them in large pots outside for the summer months and then move them indoors or into a hobby greenhouse for the winter.  Probably the easiest of the citrus plants to grow indoors are Meyer lemon and the Calamondin orange, but once you get the knack of it, branch out and you can have your own "orangery" indoors.  Dwarf varieties are more suited to indoor and pot culture. Citrus trees need bright light--up to 12 hours per day would be great, but need at least 6-8 hours.  If you don't have a bright sunny window, there are now great indoor plant lights available.  The size of the container can be an issue. The bigger the pot, the bigger the plant can grow, but the larger the container, the more weight is involved which make moving it inside and out a problem. Opt for a large lightweight container, and make sure it has drainage holes.  Use a lightweight potting soil. Indoors, cut back on the watering during the winter months. Even though they don't go dormant indoors, they usually slowdown in their growth inside during the winter months.  Humidity is also low inside during the winter because of heaters. To increase humidity, you can put the pot on top of a shallow tray filled with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, it raises the humidity.  Fruit trees don't like wet feet, so don't let them stand in water, and let them dry out a bit in between watering. Make sure all chances of frost have passed before you move them outdoors for the summer. Citrus plants make beautiful and fragrant houseplants, and the edible showy fruits are a bonus as well.