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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.    

A list of monthly gardening chores is listed below. 

  • Current Month Gardening To-Dos

    2017 - May gave us plenty of rainfall, and in some cases, too much.  We also had mild temperatures with some really cool days.  It would be nice if that trend were to continue but that may be wishful thinking. June typically brings much warmer temperatures and plenty of sunlight.  Rain tends to become a bit spottier, so pay attention to water needs.   It has been a great gardening season so far, but there is a lot of time left in this growing season.  Start scouting for insects and diseases.  Blossom end rot, squash vine borer and tomato blights in the vegetable garden, and spider mites, lacebugs and bagworms in the ornamentals often appear in June so pay attention and control as needed.

    Vegetables are bountiful now.  The cool season vegetables have been prolific this year and many are nearing the end of their life cycle. As one plant goes, plant another in its place to utilize all the garden.  Now is a great time to plant sweet potatoes, southern peas, pumpkins, winter squash and gourds, and okra.  You can keep planting peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes as they will continue to produce all summer.  Be sure to water, mulch and fertilize.   We typically get our first calls about blossom end rot after a heavy downpour.  Blossom end rot starts as a water-soaked spot on the bottom of the tomato, which quickly turns black.  While it looks like an awful disease, it is really a calcium deficiency typically caused by fluctuations in moisture levels.  Mulch your plants, and try to keep the moisture levels even.  Spraying with Stop Rot can help.

    If you have any spring blooming shrubs that still need pruning, you need to do so ASAP.  No pruning should be done after mid-June.  After that, temperatures start getting hotter and plant recovery time will be slower.  If the plants don’t have ample time to fill back in, they won’t have as many flowers next spring.  Only prune if there is a reason.  If you have not fertilized your spring blooming shrubs, do so now. One application a year should suffice on most trees and shrubs.

    Lawns have fully greened up and we are into the weekly mowing routine.  If you have zoysia and St. Augustine, one application of slow release high nitrogen fertilizer should be enough for the year.  Bermuda grass responds the best to nitrogen, and could be fertilized monthly, if you want to mow twice a week.  Two applications a year should be sufficient.  You don’t need to keep your lawn wet—letting it dry out in between watering is a good thing.  When mowing, don’t remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at a time, or you will stress your lawn.  Weeds have been quite prolific all winter and now the summer weeds are taking over.  A thick lawn is your best defense against weeds.

    As mild as our May was, many gardeners still have blooming pansies and violas, but it is time for summer color.  Our nurseries are loaded with options.  Some take heat better than others, but some great heat tolerant sun-loving plants include cuphea, lantana, pentas, periwinkle, and zinnias.  For the shade try, caladiums, dragon wing begonias, impatiens, and torenia.  Wax leaf begonias and coleus can do sun or shade.  To keep your annuals blooming all summer fertilize regularly.  Petunias and callibrachoas will bloom all summer if they are given regular fertilization. Water as needed.

    As temperatures heat up and humidity rises, tropical plants are in their element.  From hibiscus, mandevilla and ixora to jatropha, bromeliads and allamanda there are plenty of choices.  New tropical plants arrive weekly. Along with annuals, these plants need regular fertilization and water to keep blooming. 

    Perennials are adding to the color palette.  Many perennials benefit from having their spent blooms cut off (called deadheading) so they put all their energy into flower production and not seed production.  Daylilies, coneflower, gaillardia and other seed-setters, should be deadheaded weekly.  If you have roses that set seeds—or rose hips, deadheading those will also keep flower production higher.  Perennials don’t need as much nutrition as annuals, and different plants have different needs.  Most roses need monthly fertilizer during the growing season, except for the Earth kind roses, such as Knockout and Drift.  Two to three applications a year is enough for them.

    Plant of the month:

    Blackberries

    One of my favorite fruits of summer is the blackberry.  As a kid most of us dreaded picking blackberries because of all the thorns on the canes, but the end result made it worth doing.  Today we can have our blackberries and get them without scratches because of the many thornless varieties.  The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture has been a world leader in blackberry breeding. They have developed blackberry cultivars that have become the standard worldwide. All of the blackberry cultivars developed by the University of Arkansas have been named after Native American Indian tribes.  While there are both great thorny and thornless varieties, I prefer the thornless.  Thornless varieties developed by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture are ‘Apache', 'Arapaho' ,'Natchez',  'Navaho', 'Osage' and 'Ouachita'.  Thorny varieties include 'Chickasaw', 'Choctaw', 'Kiowa' and 'Shawnee'.

    Blackberries are native to Arkansas and are easily grown statewide with little need for any pesticides or spray programs. They have an upright growth habit and typically don’t need much support once established.  Most of the blackberries grown in the home garden produce their fruit on canes that were grown the year before.  Once the canes bear fruit, those canes die out and make way for new canes which have the fruit the following year. 

    Blackberries grow best in full sun, in a well-drained soil.  Fertilize as they begin growing in the spring and again after you harvest.  After harvest, remove the old canes and keep the new canes pruned to a manageable height.  Plant your blackberries where they have room to grow and spread, as they are long-lived and do multiply over time. 

     

  • January
    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.

    Plant of the Month: Citrus

    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.  

  • February

    2017 - Let’s hope we can get off the rollercoaster ride we have had with weather since December.  If you think you are confused, consider our poor plants which are out in it 24/7!  In spite of the colder temperatures this winter so far we seem to have little plant damage, with the exception of a few burned back flowering winter annuals and vegetables.  Flowering quince, mahonia, and winter honeysuckle should all be blooming soon and I have already seen blooms on Camellia japonica with some lingering blooms on Camellia sasanqua.  Hellebores are also blooming nicely and some early bulbs are beginning to bloom as well.  Pay attention to the weather, if really cold spells are predicted, you may want to cut some blooms to enjoy indoors—especially on those camellias. Covering plants will only give a few degrees of protection, but that can help, so watch the weather.

    Winter annuals, from pansies and violas to parsley and flowering kale, like a little nutrition from time to time. When we have a mild spell, fertilize them.  The new Cool Wave pansies are spreading nicely.  All in all, in spite of winter weather, our winter color seems to be faring quite nicely.  If you have color in containers, don’t forget to water periodically. Container plants dry out faster than those in the ground.

    February is pruning month.  Late in the month, prune back all ornamental grasses, (monkey grass included), fruit trees, blueberries, crape myrtles as needed, along with other summer flowering shrubs including butterfly bush, summer spirea, althea and vitex.  Roses are also pruned this month, except for climbers—let them bloom before pruning.  Before you begin to prune, have a reason to do so. 

    Winter weeds continue to thrive in spite of the weather. If you only have a few weeds, hand weed them or use a weed eater and zap them low.  It won’t hurt your dormant lawn.  If they are taking over the lawn and you want the lawn weed free, you need to use a herbicide to kill them.  You need to do so soon, before the lawn awakens and the weeds set seeds.  You can also mow the weeds to keep them from blooming.

     Vegetables that were planted in late fall have overwintered quite nicely depending on how well they were established and/or protected, but February is the time to begin planting English peas, broccoli and cabbage transplants, onions, kale, greens, lettuce, bok choy and carrots.  If you planted a cover crop in the garden, mow it down low and work it into the garden.  

    February is the last official month of dormancy, and as you can tell by your garden, dormancy is breaking in many plants.  If you have shrubs or trees that need to be transplanted, get it done this month to make the move easier on your plants.  Be careful if you transplant on a windy, cold day.  Roots can dry out quickly or get damaged by cold weather. 

    Spring bulbs are up and growing, and a few are even blooming. When you see the flower bud beginning to show that is a great time to fertilize with a general fertilizer. Bulbs can bloom from now through April, but remember that the foliage needs to grow for at least six weeks after bloom to ensure flowers again next spring. 

    Fruit of the Month

    Fruit trees are gaining popularity and more and more gardeners are planting them in their landscapes.   Apples and pears are a bit easier to grow than peaches and plums, but all of these trees need annual pruning, and February is typically the time we do it. We prune fruit trees every year to maintain size and shape, but also to increase productivity and keep the trees healthy.

    While there are many different types of pruning methods, traditionally apples, pears and plums are pruned with a central leader. The growth pattern of these trees is for the main stem of the tree to be dominant almost like a Christmas trees growth. Peach and nectarine trees are usually pruned with an open center method, sort of like an upside down umbrella with all the branches growing more open, leaving the center free.  The open center is preferred as it opens the trees up for better air circulation and sunlight helping to cut down on diseases. 

    As you get started pruning, remove the obvious, and broken branches or branches crossing each other or directly on top of one another.  Then selectively thin and maintain the height to make picking easier.  For more pointers here is a link to our fact sheet on pruning fruit trees:
    http://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/FSA-6042.pdf

     

  • March

    2017 - Spring is definitely in the air—and visible in our gardens.  We are a good two weeks or more ahead of schedule.  While we are still having some nippy mornings, we have had some pretty warm days.  From daffodils and tulips, to forsythia and camellias, we have plenty of blooms in the garden.  Let’s hope we don’t get any more hard freezes, but that is always a possibility in March, so pay attention to the weather forecast and be prepared to protect what you can.

    We have had a lot of gardeners who are worried about whether they should still prune roses, butterfly bush and other summer bloomers, since they are not dormant, but freely putting on leaves.  Regardless of whether your plants are growing or not, you still need to prune your roses, butterfly bush, summer blooming spirea (NOT spring blooming), fruit trees and blueberry bushes now.  These plants need pruning every year and if you don’t prune, you will not get as many flowers on the ornamentals and the plants will get too large and woody.  Fruit trees and blueberry bushes need annual pruning as well to maintain size and vigor.  Other summer bloomers like crape myrtles, althea, abelia, itea, clethra and vitex can be pruned now too but only if needed.  Ornamental grasses should also have the old foliage pruned off.  Pull back the old growth to see how tall the new growth is coming so you can cut above that level.  Pruning is not difficult, but you do need to know why, when, and how you are pruning to help your plants perform at their peak. 

    Vegetable gardening is in full swing.  If you planted a winter garden, some of those vegetables are beginning to bolt or go to seed a bit early with all this mild weather.  It is time to plant all the cool season vegetables again.   We use onion sets or transplants, and for broccoli, cabbage and bok choy we use vegetable transplants, but we can seed lettuce, radishes, greens, spinach, and English peas.  It is too early for tomatoes and peppers—don’t plant the warm season vegetables until April, even if you can find the plants available at a garden center.

    Fertilize your winter annuals including pansies, violas and dianthus.  Some of the ornamental kale and cabbage are beginning to stretch and bolt too with the warm weather.  These plants are really biennials, which means they grow foliage the first season and then bloom, set seeds and die in warmer conditions. Normally they don’t begin to move into flowering this early but we normally don’t have 80 degree temperatures in February either.  If you need a little extra color in your late winter/early spring garden you should be seeing plenty of options at garden centers and at the Arkansas Flower & Garden Show which is going on this weekend at the Statehouse Convention Center in LR.  This is the season when we see English primroses, ranunculus and tuberous begonias being offered.  They thrive on cool weather but don’t like hard freezes, so be prepared to cover them if it gets cold.

    Pay attention to water needs on newly planted vegetables and annuals.  If you are transplanting trees and shrubs, or planting new ones, they too will need regular watering.  Water is not as critical when it is cooler, but we have had some dry, windy days and not as much moisture as we typically have in the winter. 

    Spring bulbs are blooming nicely.  If you have not fertilized your spring bulbs, now would be a great time to broadcast a complete fertilizer around them.  They need energy and nutrition immediately after bloom to help them set flowers for the next year.  Keep the foliage happy and healthy for a minimum of six weeks after bloom to give them time to complete their life cycle.  Then you can cut the foliage off.  If you need to transplant bulbs due to low light or overcrowded conditions, do so immediately after bloom.  Transplant with the foliage attached to a sunny location and let the leaves die back on their own.  They often go through a bit of transplant shock and may die back a little early.

    Winter weeds are growing and blooming quite nicely in lawns across the state.  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.

    Fruit of the month:

    Figs are gaining in popularity in home gardens across the state.  There are new varieties such as Chicago and Alma which are showing better winter-hardiness in the northern tier of the state as well as the tried-and-true varieties such as Brown Turkey and Celeste that we have been growing in the southern half for years.  Figs bear fruit on the current season’s growth, so if your tree needs to be pruned doing so in late February to mid-March is ideal.  In cold winters we can see some die-back on the trees, so waiting until the bulk of winter is over to prune can give you added protection.  Figs usually ripen in mid to late summer.  They like a well-drained spot with ample moisture but they are very disease resistant trees and require no spray programs.  The biggest challenge is keeping birds and squirrels away.

  • April
     

    2017 - What an unusual start to our gardening season we have had thus far! First an almost non-existent winter which has our gardens weeks ahead of schedule, then a late cold snap, which those up north had accompanied by a snow storm.   We can only hope our summer is mild and moist.  For most of us in central and southern Arkansas, I think we made it through the cold snap with very little damage.  Those up north have seen some loss of flower buds on fruit trees and blueberry bushes, and hydrangeas that had fully leafed out did get nipped back.  Fig trees and some tender perennials that had started growing also had a bit of damage, but should be on the road to recovery.  Big leaf hydrangeas that have all of their new growth at the base will not bloom this summer unless you are growing the reblooming varieties. Let’s hope we are frost-free from here on out. 

    Even if we don’t have another frost, we still have some cool nights. I have been amazed by how many folks were planting tomatoes, peppers and squash in late March.  There are plenty of vegetables that can be planted in the cool-season garden including broccoli, lettuce, onions, potatoes and cabbage, and they can all be planted until April 15.  You won’t be that far ahead of schedule if you plant warm season things too early.  They won’t kick in and grow until the soil temperature warms up.  We still have nights below 55 degrees now, so wait until mid or late April to start planting your heat loving warm season vegetables.   If you planted cool season vegetables either in the fall or early this winter, many of them are bolting or going to flower now.  This is a result of our extremely warm weather in February and March.  Once you see them putting up flower stalks start using them.  As your cool season crops play out, replant with other vegetable plants.

    Pansies, violas and snapdragons are still looking good in the annual beds, but if you planted flowering cabbage or kale, it is beginning to bloom and get leggy.  Begin replanting annual color starting with plants that can tolerate a little cool weather, including callibrachoa, petunias, begonias and geraniums.  Wait for warmer weather for the lantana, periwinkle and sweet potato vines.  Caladium bulbs also need warm soil to be planted in.  Just like with warm season vegetables, if we plant to early the plants will just sit there and wait until it warms up.  Caladium bulbs can sit even longer if they get chilled before they begin to grow. 

    By now everything in your garden is beginning to show signs of life.  Roses are blooming and a few folks still haven’t pruned their plants.  I would enjoy the first show of roses and then give them a haircut.  If you have roses that have not been pruned at all they will get too woody and leggy and we won’t see as many blooms all season.  For climbing roses, let them flower and then prune annually. 

    If you have the crape myrtle bark scale, and you have not applied the systemic insecticide, now would be a good time to do so.  Imidicloprid (Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Insecticide or Merit) is mixed with water and poured around the drip line of your plants.  The roots absorb it and it moves up into the trees.  Research is showing that one application is giving up to two years of coverage. 

    By mid-month you can begin to move your houseplants outside.  If they need to be repotted, that is a good time to do so, since they often grow more rapidly in the heat and humidity of an Arkansas summer.  If they are root-bound it is hard to keep them watered. If you are moving out any tropical flowering plants that you overwintered indoors, prune them back at least by half and repot as well. We want to encourage as much new growth as possible on them since they bloom on the new growth.  Fertilize tropical weekly to keep them flowering.

    Lawns are beginning to green up and we still have quite a few winter weeds blooming.  For now, just keep the lawn mown to prevent more seeds from forming. Using herbicides during green-up can slow down the process and it is too late to be very effective anyway.  Wait for the grass to be totally green before applying fertilizer.

    Visit your nurseries and garden centers regularly. So many new plants are arriving daily and the options are limitless!

    Plant of the month:

    Strawberries.  Strawberries are one of the first harvested home-grown fruits in the garden.  This year they started blooming much earlier than normal, so we will be harvesting even earlier.  These low-growing perennial plants are easy to grow in a sunny, well-drained location.  Commercially, many growers are growing strawberries as an annual crop.  They plant in plastic covered raised beds in the fall and harvest in the spring, pull the plants and then plant melons or other vegetables in the rows.  Chandler is one of the main varieties grown this way.  For home gardeners, we usually treat strawberries as perennials, growing them in a matted row system, but they can also serve as an edible ornamental and used as a groundcover. There are two basic types—often called June-bearing (which we harvest in April or May) or everbearing.  Many folks like the sound of an everbearing strawberry imagining loads of fruit all summer long, but in reality they are not as prolific a producer as our regular spring only varieties.  Cardinal is an excellent large-fruited variety developed by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.  Earliglow, Noreaster, Surecrop and Ozark Beauty are all good verities for the home garden. If properly maintained a strawberry patch can be prolific for up to seven years or longer.  If you are planting strawberries now, it is recommended that you pick off the flowers for the first season to encourage a stronger plant for future production. That can be hard to do.  Once you are in production, never fertilize until after harvest.  Early applications of fertilizer can lead to excessive vegetative growth and lead to more fruit rots.  After you harvest, thin out your plants so they are six to eight inches apart. The plants you remove can help expand your planting. 

  • May


    2017 - We skated by pretty nicely by not having any hard freezes in April and are well on our way into the growing season, with most of the state still 2-3 weeks earlier on many blooms. The unexpectedly cold weather reappeared last weekend, but it seems to be gone now.  We have had regular but spotty rain and it is important that you pay attention to water needs, particularly on newly planted trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and vegetables.  It is prime gardening season and there is plenty to do.

    Many gardeners are getting heavy returns from their vegetable gardens. Lettuce, broccoli, peas, green onions, radishes, kale and Swiss chard are all readily available.  As you harvest and create space in the garden, replant with warm season vegetables. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash can all be planted.  Watermelon and cantaloupe plants take up a lot of space, so consider trellising them to control the spread.  Southern peas and okra can be planted as the weather warms up.  Mulch and control weeds, fertilize and water and do monitor for pests.  We have already seen quite a few aphids and spider mites this season.

    If you haven't pulled your pansies and violas yet, start making room for summer color. There are so many plants to choose from.  Nurseries are getting in new plants daily, so visit often and see what is available.  Annual flowers and tropical flowering plants do best if they are fed regularly.  Speaking of tropicals, try some of the new varieties of mandevilla.  While the normal pink and red varieties are great, there are some new pale apricot, and red and white striped varieties. They will bloom all summer.  Hibiscus, bougainvillea and ixora give plenty of blooms.  Your garden can be alive with color all summer.

    Lawns are greening up and winter weeds are dying.  Once your lawn is totally green, fertilize it for the year.  Keep it mowed regularly.  The thicker the turf, the fewer problems you will have with weeds.

    May is usually the time we begin to see more insect and disease problems. The cool, wet weather at the end of April has caused us to see some thick fleshy leaves on azaleas and camellias.  This  is called azalea or camellia leaf gall. The thick, waxy growth can look awful, but is really more a nuisance.  Snap off the thickened foliage and dispose of it.  Once warm weather appears, the disease will stop, but the remaining growths can re-infest the plants next season.  Lacebugs begin feeding on azaleas, whiteflies on gardenias, and bagworms begin to feast on junipers and other plants in the landscape.    Last year we had quite a few reports of bagworm activity—that insect that constructs a sack from the plant it is feeding on.  The sack protects the crawling larvae from predators and insecticides, so the key is to catch them as they begin. If you had a bad case of them last season, you might consider a preventative spray starting soon.  Normally it is mid-May and once a week until mid-June, but they may start earlier too with our unusual weather.  An organic approach is to spray with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis). 

    Even though many of our spring blooming shrubs bloomed out a month ago, there is still time to prune them if they need pruning.  While timing is important so is how you prune. Thin out cane growers and selectively thin branches on other shrubs. Shearing plants into round “meatballs” causes all the blooms and new growth to be on the edge of the plants.   What height do you want them to be when they finish growing this season? If you prune to the expected height, you aren’t leaving any room for growth, so compensate.  The sooner after flowering you prune the better but make sure it is done before mid-June. This gives the plant time to recover before hot weather hits, and hopefully will produce more blooms next spring. Fertilize after pruning.  Typically one application of fertilizer per year on trees and shrubs is all that is needed. 

     

    Fruit of the Month: Blueberries:

    There are several types of blueberries that are grown in Arkansas. In Arkansas, the northern counties grow northern highbush blueberries and rabbiteyes are grown in the central and southern areas. There are also southern highbush varieties that grow well in central and southern Arkansas. The first to ripen are the early varieties of northern highbush and the last to ripen are the late rabbiteyes.  All produce well when planted in the right spot with a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight.  Blueberries like an acidic high organic matter soil which is well drained.  They are not drought tolerant, so have an irrigation plan when you plant. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture has released Ozarkblue and Summit (along with NC State) southern highbush varieties. For northern highbush the recommended varieties are: Bluecrop, Bluejay, Blueray, Duke and Elliot. For rabbiteye varieties plant: Brightwell, Climax, Tifblue and Premier. All of the above need at least two different varieties for cross-pollination. A few newer introductions that are self-fruitful include Bountiful Blue and Sunshine Blue. They are more compact, almost shrub like plants and are semi-evergreen in most of Arkansas.  Pink Lemonade is another self-fruitful variety. While not as prolific a producer as the other two, it produces pink fruit at maturity.  While they are self-fruitful, best production will occur when you have two different varieties.  

  • June

    2017 - May gave us plenty of rainfall, and in some cases, too much.  We also had mild temperatures with some really cool days.  It would be nice if that trend were to continue but that may be wishful thinking. June typically brings much warmer temperatures and plenty of sunlight.  Rain tends to become a bit spottier, so pay attention to water needs.   It has been a great gardening season so far, but there is a lot of time left in this growing season.  Start scouting for insects and diseases.  Blossom end rot, squash vine borer and tomato blights in the vegetable garden, and spider mites, lacebugs and bagworms in the ornamentals often appear in June so pay attention and control as needed.

    Vegetables are bountiful now.  The cool season vegetables have been prolific this year and many are nearing the end of their life cycle. As one plant goes, plant another in its place to utilize all the garden.  Now is a great time to plant sweet potatoes, southern peas, pumpkins, winter squash and gourds, and okra.  You can keep planting peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes as they will continue to produce all summer.  Be sure to water, mulch and fertilize.   We typically get our first calls about blossom end rot after a heavy downpour.  Blossom end rot starts as a water-soaked spot on the bottom of the tomato, which quickly turns black.  While it looks like an awful disease, it is really a calcium deficiency typically caused by fluctuations in moisture levels.  Mulch your plants, and try to keep the moisture levels even.  Spraying with Stop Rot can help.

    If you have any spring blooming shrubs that still need pruning, you need to do so ASAP.  No pruning should be done after mid-June.  After that, temperatures start getting hotter and plant recovery time will be slower.  If the plants don’t have ample time to fill back in, they won’t have as many flowers next spring.  Only prune if there is a reason.  If you have not fertilized your spring blooming shrubs, do so now. One application a year should suffice on most trees and shrubs.

    Lawns have fully greened up and we are into the weekly mowing routine.  If you have zoysia and St. Augustine, one application of slow release high nitrogen fertilizer should be enough for the year.  Bermuda grass responds the best to nitrogen, and could be fertilized monthly, if you want to mow twice a week.  Two applications a year should be sufficient.  You don’t need to keep your lawn wet—letting it dry out in between watering is a good thing.  When mowing, don’t remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at a time, or you will stress your lawn.  Weeds have been quite prolific all winter and now the summer weeds are taking over.  A thick lawn is your best defense against weeds.

    As mild as our May was, many gardeners still have blooming pansies and violas, but it is time for summer color.  Our nurseries are loaded with options.  Some take heat better than others, but some great heat tolerant sun-loving plants include cuphea, lantana, pentas, periwinkle, and zinnias.  For the shade try, caladiums, dragon wing begonias, impatiens, and torenia.  Wax leaf begonias and coleus can do sun or shade.  To keep your annuals blooming all summer fertilize regularly.  Petunias and callibrachoas will bloom all summer if they are given regular fertilization. Water as needed.

    As temperatures heat up and humidity rises, tropical plants are in their element.  From hibiscus, mandevilla and ixora to jatropha, bromeliads and allamanda there are plenty of choices.  New tropical plants arrive weekly. Along with annuals, these plants need regular fertilization and water to keep blooming. 

    Perennials are adding to the color palette.  Many perennials benefit from having their spent blooms cut off (called deadheading) so they put all their energy into flower production and not seed production.  Daylilies, coneflower, gaillardia and other seed-setters, should be deadheaded weekly.  If you have roses that set seeds—or rose hips, deadheading those will also keep flower production higher.  Perennials don’t need as much nutrition as annuals, and different plants have different needs.  Most roses need monthly fertilizer during the growing season, except for the Earth kind roses, such as Knockout and Drift.  Two to three applications a year is enough for them.

    Plant of the month:

    Blackberries

    One of my favorite fruits of summer is the blackberry.  As a kid most of us dreaded picking blackberries because of all the thorns on the canes, but the end result made it worth doing.  Today we can have our blackberries and get them without scratches because of the many thornless varieties.  The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture has been a world leader in blackberry breeding. They have developed blackberry cultivars that have become the standard worldwide. All of the blackberry cultivars developed by the University of Arkansas have been named after Native American Indian tribes.  While there are both great thorny and thornless varieties, I prefer the thornless.  Thornless varieties developed by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture are ‘Apache', 'Arapaho' ,'Natchez',  'Navaho', 'Osage' and 'Ouachita'.  Thorny varieties include 'Chickasaw', 'Choctaw', 'Kiowa' and 'Shawnee'.

    Blackberries are native to Arkansas and are easily grown statewide with little need for any pesticides or spray programs. They have an upright growth habit and typically don’t need much support once established.  Most of the blackberries grown in the home garden produce their fruit on canes that were grown the year before.  Once the canes bear fruit, those canes die out and make way for new canes which have the fruit the following year. 

    Blackberries grow best in full sun, in a well-drained soil.  Fertilize as they begin growing in the spring and again after you harvest.  After harvest, remove the old canes and keep the new canes pruned to a manageable height.  Plant your blackberries where they have room to grow and spread, as they are long-lived and do multiply over time. 

     

  • July

                                                                                                                                                                      Zone Report July- August 2016

    2016 -  Temperatures are heating up and rainfall has become a bit scarce, so watering is the main chore in the garden.  Containers dry out daily, so pay attention.  The more you water, the quicker you leach out the nutrition in the soil.  Fertilization is important for flowering plants to keep blooming and fruiting plants to set fruits and vegetables.  Make sure there is ample moisture in the soil before fertilizing, and use the fertilizer at a lower rate. High doses of fertilizer on a dry plant that is heat stressed, can lead to burned foliage. You can always add more fertilizer, but you can’t take away damaged plant foliage.  Fertilizer is important for annuals and vegetables that are planted in the ground as well as in containers. 

    If you have annuals and perennials that set seeds, deadhead them frequently.  Deadheading is removing the spent flowers to prevent them from setting seeds.  Plants that bloom all season will have more flowers if you remove the spent blooms, since the energy they would expend forming seeds, goes back into the plant to set more flower buds.  Many new varieties are now called self-cleaning, meaning they drop the spent flowers on their own without setting seed heads.  They do not require deadheading.

    Tomatoes have struggled some across the state this year.  If you are not sure what is wrong with your plants, take a sample in to your local county extension office. We have seen a lot of early blight, late blight and septoria leaf spot on plants.   Early in the season we had a lot of rain, and many of the diseases are soil-borne.  Heavy rains cause the soil to get splashed up on the stems, which can help to spread these diseases.  Some of the plants are too far gone to salvage, but continue to harvest as tomatoes ripen. Consider planting some new plants in a different section of the garden, to give you a later harvest.  Rotation of crops—not planting in the same spot for three years can lessen your chances of diseases hitting quite so quickly.  Also be on the lookout for tomato hornworms.  They camouflage themselves quite nicely but can quickly decimate a tomato plant.  Aphids and spider mites are also out in large numbers.  Walk your garden at least a couple of times a week to look for problems, and to harvest.

    Roses are blooming well, but even some of the hardy earth-kind roses have some leaf spots on them.  Just like the tomatoes were hit hard by disease, we have seen fungal diseases on many roses this summer due in part to all the rains this spring and early season.  I do not advocate spray programs for the non-hybrid tea roses, but you can do a little clean-up.  Deadhead spent flowers, give the plants a light shearing if they are in between blooms and water and fertilize.  Even though some of the older leaves have damage, the new growth is looking pretty clean.  The more new growth you get, the better they will flower the rest of the summer.

    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, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, liatris and rudbeckia.  Many of these flowers need dead-heading after bloom.

    It has been a stellar year for blooming hydrangeas of all types.  For the first time in several years our big leaf hydrangeas were covered in blooms ranging from blue to purple to pink depending on soil pH.   They love water and shade in the afternoon, and will wilt daily if they get afternoon sun or temps are really high.  If yours need to be pruned, the time to do so is as soon as the flowers start to fade.  You can remove up to 1/3 of the older canes at the soil line—but only prune if needed.  The white flowering (and occasionally pink) panicle and smooth hydrangeas are kicking into high gear and will continue to bloom for months. They bloom on the new growth and will tolerate more sunlight, but they still want a bit of water.  There are many new varieties to choose from.

    Okra is a true southern vegetable belonging to the Mallow family which includes cotton and hibiscus.  The Latin name is (Hibiscus esculentus) and if you have ever seen an okra bloom, you will notice the similarity to hibiscus.  Okra likes warm, well drained soils, so is usually not planted until May.  It thrives in the heat of an Arkansas summer and is a plant that can grow six feet or more in height.  This is a plant we typically grow from seed.  Broadcast a complete fertilizer at seeding and again when the plants are about 6- 8 inches tall, then again in 3-4 weeks.  Don’t overdo it with too much nitrogen or you can get huge plants with limited production. 

    Okra plants begin to flower within a month and a half from seeding.  Harvest the immature seed pods when they are between 2-4 inches in length.  People have different preferences to the size of okra, but if left too long, the pods get tough and woody.  If you don’t harvest frequently –every few days during production, you will also limit the amount of new pods produced.  It is best to use scissors or pruning shears to harvest, as the pods are firmly attached and the small spines on the fruits and stems can irritate some people’s skin. Okra plants continue to produce until frost as long as pods are removed or harvested regularly. Most pods are ready for harvesting 4 to 6 days after the bloom opens.

    The immature pods are used in soups and stews and are also served fried, boiled and pickled.  It is a staple in Louisiana cooking, common in gumbo, which is another common name for the vegetable in some southern states. 

    Clemson Spineless is the most common variety, but Lee and Jade were developed by the University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture.  A red podded form called Red Burgundy can be quite showy in the garden, with green pods once cooked. 

  • August

     

    2016 - We were skating through this summer feeling pretty good about the weather when late July hit and things took a nosedive! It has gotten hot, hotter and hottest in a short period of time. Some folks are getting downpours, while others are bone dry. Everyone needs a rain gauge but better yet, they need to know the needs of the plant in their own yards. In my shady gardens, my sprinkler system is handling things with no help from me, but in full sun, in containers or rockier parts of the yard, supplemental watering is needed. So pay attention. You don’t want to go to all that effort and expense of planting a garden and letting a few weeks of hot, dry weather kill it. Water is THE most important factor of gardening success this time of the year. Mulch will definitely help make your job easier, but nothing beats a slow, steady drink of water.

    Gardening may not be a top priority when it is this hot, but now is a great time to start planting a fall vegetable garden. If you are watering, you are still harvesting, and some plants 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 nights stay warm and humid too. But, water and wait, and they will begin to bear again. It won’t be long before tomato plants are available to plant again for a fall garden. We can start planting cool season things like greens, broccoli and cabbage, but we can also replant almost all of the warm season crops for a fall harvest. Water and mulch will be vitally important.


    If you have insects or diseases and you plan to spray, or even if you are simply fertilizing, make sure there is ample water in the plants you are feeding or spraying. Even the most innocuous thing can lead to damage if the plants are too stressed. Make sure you work smart, and get things done early in the day or after the sun sets. If you are watering late in the day, just try to get the job done early enough to allow the foliage to dry before it gets dark. Too much moisture on the foliage in the evening can lead to more disease issues.


    Figs are in season and most folks have a lot of them on their trees or bushes. Birds, squirrels and raccoons like them just as much as you do, so consider bird netting, at least at the base of the tree. Don’t let your figs get too dry or you will start see figs dropping before they get ripe.


    We also still have peaches in season and early apples are here as well. I let farmers grow those, as they are difficult to manage in a home landscape, but they should be readily available at farmers markets statewide.


    Continue to deadhead perennials and even some shrubs. Butterfly bush (Buddleia), summer spirea, and even crape myrtles will continue to bloom if they have the spent flowers removed, preventing seed set. Basil needs to be clipped to keep foliage
    growing, and black eyed Susan’s (rudbeckia), purple coneflower (Echinacea) and gaillardia will all set seeds if you don’t deadhead. Most of us would rather have flowers now than seeds, so continue to deadhead for another month or two and allow seed set in the fall.


    Depending on what summer annuals you are growing and how you have cared for them can determine how well they are doing. If yours look great, continue to water and fertilize. If they are 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 weeks of warm if not hot weather, and most annuals can give you color up through October or November. If you have the energy to replant, there are still plants available at local nurseries, and often at bargain prices. A few well-placed plants, given ample water can give you instant color. Take note of what plants are faring well and which are (or were) water needy. I have been quite impressed with Angelonia, periwinkle, lantana and penta this season, and the sunpatiens are pretty spectacular too. Tropical flowers are in their element and doing great. To keep them thriving don’t forget to fertilize, but do so lightly and make sure there is ample water.


    Eggplants

    Eggplant


    Eggplants were not as common in our gardens or our kitchens until the past decade or so and now for many of us, they are a staple. Eggplants belong to the nightshade family which includes tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. Unlike tomatoes, eggplants thrive in the hottest parts of summer, continuing to set fruits even on hot, humid days. They grow on a short, stalky bush similar to peppers, and rarely need staking, although if your plants get taller and are loaded with fruit, added support would be welcome. Most people are familiar with the larger fruited varieties such as Black Beauty, but the oriental varieties with the long, tapered fruits such as Ichiban is gaining ground. In addition there are small egg shaped varieties in mature shades of white, yellow and orange, along with striped and spotted ones.


    All eggplants need warm conditions to grow, so don’t plant too early in the spring, allowing the soil temperatures to warm up. Eggplants will continue to grow, bloom, and set fruit until the really cool days of fall. The main pest problem is the flea beetle which can cause small holes in the leaves and a stippling effect on the fruit.


    While eggplants can be harvested from small sized fruits up to larger one, under-ripe or over-ripe fruits can be a bit bitter. For the larger fruited forms, the outer rind will be deep, dark purple and have shiny skin. If the skin begins to turn dull or the color begins to fade, they are getting too ripe. The smaller fruited forms will usually stop growing larger and the outer skin will get glossy. Although we have all done it, try not to pull the mature fruits off by hand, since they are firmly attached and you can damage the plant. Use pruning shears to harvest and leave a short stem attached. Eggplants will last for about a week in the refrigerator and can be grilled, fried, sautéed or roasted. If you start having too many to eat at once, roast them along with peppers, garlic, and tomatoes in the oven, then puree in the blender for an outstanding dip. 

  • September

                                                                                                                                                Zone report September 2016

     We had more than our fair share of insects and diseases this gardening season, and the disease problem was exacerbated by the excess rainfall we had in the spring.  If you have perennials that don’t look good, don’t wait to begin cleanup.  Plants that traditionally grew until a killing frost, may have started dying back a bit earlier, and may be cut back now.  Once they begin to die back, begin garden clean-up.  Anything that blooms in the spring or summer can also be divided if needed when cutting back or at the end of the month through mid-November.  If your summer annual color is still growing strong, continue to enjoy it.  If some of your plants have gotten a little leggy, give them a light haircut and a quick shot of fertilizer as a little pick-me-up.  You can begin to plant winter annuals in late September—let the weather get a bit cooler, or the cool season plants will get leggy. If color is lagging in your garden, consider some ornamental peppers, callibrachoa, petunias.  Last year our callibrachoa and petunias actually overwintered with our mild conditions. Fall flowering chrysanthemums and asters are also arriving at garden centers which can give you instant color.  While mums are considered perennials, many people use them as annuals.  When choosing plants, look for plenty of flower buds and some showing color.  If you buy one in full blown bloom-out, your flower display will not be as long lasting. 

    If your vegetable garden is still producing quality produce, then you are paying attention and doing a good job of managing the garden. More and more gardeners are trying to garden year-round in Arkansas, planting cool season vegetables into the fall.  They need to get established before really cold weather hits, but with some season extenders and coverings, they can last all winter long.  Fall gardens are by far the hardest to manage, since insects and diseases have had all season to thrive and multiply—and this was a buggy year, so monitoring for problems is important.  You can still plant some fall crops including lettuce, radishes and fall greens, but you can also plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, and beets now.  Water is a vital component for success, and mulch is always a plus.  As you transition from one season to the next, remember that good sanitation is important.  Don’t just leave spent plants in the garden. Diseased plant parts should not be tilled into the soil, nor should they be left there.  Good sanitation at the end of the gardening season can pay big bonuses at the start of next year’s garden.  

    Tropical flowering plants are becoming a staple in Arkansas gardens and are at their peak now. They thrive in the hot, humid days of summer, and as long as you have been watering and fertilizing all summer, these plants should continue to thrive and bloom up until a killing frost.  If you want to keep them for next season, they need to be moved inside by early to mid-October.  Continue your fertilizer and watering programs throughout this month, and as with all plants, be on the lookout for insect or disease problems—especially if you plan to keep these plants indoors all winter. 

    September is often hot and dry, so water is really the only thing you should be adding to your shrubs and trees from this point onward.  Fertilization late into the season can lead to potential problems.  If you encourage too much vegetative growth in the fall, you can have plants that are more susceptible to winter damage.  If you have plants that bloom in the spring, don’t prune them or even try to shape them this late.  These plants should be in the process of setting flower buds, and pruning can interfere with next years flower display.  If you have evergreens—hollies, boxwoods, aucuba, etc that you grow for foliage only, a light pruning can still be done.  Severe pruning—taking off more than a third, should not be done this late in the season.  If the plants don’t produce foliage to cover up the pruning job, they will be more open and susceptible to winter damage.  If they do produce a lot of new vegetative growth, that may not have a chance to harden off before frost, so go sparingly on any pruning of evergreens this late.  If you have just noticed a bad case of insect damage—particularly spider mite, lacebugs or whiteflies, the bulk of the damage has been done, and spraying will not help a great deal.   You can treat with an oil spray as the weather turns cool, but have a goal of monitoring for problems better next year. Scale insects continue to plague landscape materials, and we saw more and more cases of crape myrtle bark scale this summer.  Systemic approaches are best, but we are getting a bit late in the season for them to be as effective.  As leaves drop this fall, do a good job of clean-up.  If you can use a small soft brush with soapy water to clean the trunks, then use horticultural oil as they go dormant.  Thorough coverage is necessary for control.  Hollies and camellias have had their share of scales this year as well.  If you ignore the problem, they will build up larger numbers, and it can result in severe damage.  Use a systemic insecticide in late winter to early summer next year.  

    In central Arkansas we grow primarily warm season grasses—Zoysia is probably number one, with Bermuda a second followed by St. Augustine and centipede with some cool season tall fescue in the shady spots.  This is the month to stop fertilizing warm season grasses, and begin repair on the cool season ones.  If your lawn has not had much fertilization, you can apply one last application by September 15.  Gradually raise the height of your lawn at this time to prepare for the winter.

    Breaking Ground - September 2016 

    2016I think August 2016 is one for the weather record-book!  I thought we were living in the rain forest for a while, and then we had mild temperatures and low humidity—too bad that isn’t a normal August in Arkansas.  For some of our plants, the huge amounts or rain had them growing like crazy, but some of the heat lovers may look a bit worse for wear.  Take inventory of your garden and if the annuals aren’t looking good, gradually begin to replace them.  We are seeing new arrivals of petunias and callibrachoa—these plants can overwinter in a mild season, but still will perform well until a killing frost.  We also have fall and winter bedding plants making their appearance. Dianthus, Swiss chard, flowering and edible kale and cabbage can be planted now and should survive all winter.  I would hold off until late September or early October before planting pansies. If pansies get exposed to hot temperatures (which can occur in September) they get leggy and don’t perform well.  Violas are more forgiving.  You can also start adding some chrysanthemums for fall color and it won’t be long before we see pumpkins and gourds.  Fall is on the horizon!  If your summer color is still thriving, fertilize now to keep them blooming.  

    Some gardeners had a great growing season while others had an abysmal one.  If your vegetables are still producing, keep harvesting and gradually begin to fill in the blanks with fall vegetables.  We should see vegetable transplants arriving at local outlets soon.  You can seed carrots, lettuce, spinach, kale and other greens now.  If you can find some new tomato plants, they can also continue to bear until a killing frost.  If your plants have been destroyed by the rain/diseases/insects, start clean-up.  We are gradually changing how we garden in Arkansas.  Instead of stopping for the winter, with even moderate protection, we can now have fresh vegetables all winter long, so start planting.

    One thing the rain really helped, were the weeds and grass!  In the lawn, it is too late to worry about herbicide usage, but mowing can help prevent seed set.  In flower beds and vegetable gardens, attack with a good sharp hoe.  If allowed to grow unchecked, the seeds they leave behind will cause problems for years to come. 

    Armyworm damage has been intense in many Bermuda grass lawns in central Arkansas.  If your lawn totally turned brown from this insects feeding, once you control the insects you can lightly apply one more application of fertilizer by mid-month to help the lawn re-green.  Rarely will armyworms kill an established lawn, but they can come back. A second generation is not out of the question, so pay attention.  Moths prefer to lay their eggs in a lush green lawn, and the caterpillars can do a lot of damage in a short period of time, so monitor and treat if needed.

    Tropical plants may need a bit of fertilizer now to keep blooming until frost.  All the rains we had, cut down on our watering duties, but they still leached out the nutrition in the containers.  Fertilization can help with blooms. 

    We are beginning to see signs of fall at many garden centers. Pumpkins and gourds are popping up and fall bulbs are beginning to make an appearance.  You can buy your bulbs now, but hold off until October before you begin to plant. 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.

     

    Vegetable of the month – Luffa gourd  

     

    Luffa gourds                                        Luffa gourd                                         Luffa gourd 3

     Luffa gourds are also referred to as the dishcloth or sponge gourd, since they are typically grown to produce your own “sponges”.   As with most gourds, the plants are quite vigorous and the vines can spread 20 feet or more.  While they can be grown on the ground, to conserve space and to get straight fruits, it is best to grow them on a sturdy trellis or fence. 

    Most gardeners grow luffa gourds for the fibrous insides they use as a sponge; however the young fruits which are six inches or less in size can be cooked and eaten as squash or substituted for cucumber in salads. They are sometimes sold as Chinese okra in their edible form. 

    Once you harvest the ripe gourds you need to dry them before peeling off the outer skin to get to the sponge.  There are several method used. Once dry, cut open the larger end of the gourd and shake out the seeds.  You can save the seeds to replant next summer, but let them air dry for a few days before storing.  Mature dry fruit will peel somewhat easily, while green fruit can be a bit more of a challenge. Some gardeners peel the skin off while they are dry, while others soak the gourds in warm water for a few hours or overnight and then peel.  Once you get the sponges loose, let them air dry in the sun to help them turn white.  Then use them as you would a sponge in your bath or kitchen.  They can also make great gifts—along with a few seeds so folks could plant their own next year.    

  • October

     2016                                                                                                                                                               Zone report October 2016

    Fall is finally on the horizon.  We are transitioning from one growing season to the next, so there is plenty of work to do in the garden.  From raking to planting, harvesting to clean-up there is a range of chores that can be done.  We usually get more moisture in October, but monitor water needs. 

    Not all plants wait for a killing frost to end their gardening season.  Some annuals and perennials are dying back, so clean-up is in order.  If you have spring or summer blooming perennials, now is a great time to dig and divide them.  Try to have at least two to three crowns per division.  Replant, water and mulch and they should be happy and thriving plants next spring.  As your summer annuals play out, start replacing with winter color.  From pansies and violas, to snapdragons, Swiss chard, beets, kale and cabbage—both edible and ornamental, are available now.  If your summer annuals are still growing, intersperse some cool season plants with them to allow them time to get established. 

    Vegetable gardens are still producing nicely and new plants are still available to plant.  In mild winters, many of these cool season vegetables will grow undaunted without protection.  If temperatures below 29 are predicted, you will need to add a little covering to get them through, but we can now grow vegetables year-round.  Winter vegetables also have very few insect or disease problems.  So if you have not thought about growing a winter garden, think again. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, beets, carrots and turnips all do well.  Don’t forget about watering needs, and mulching will help manage moisture, temperature and weeds.  

    Houseplants and tropical plants that you plan to overwinter indoors need to be moving indoors soon.  Moving them when inside and outside conditions are similar will be less stressful on the plants. As a general rule, the first time your heat is on, your plants should be inside. Prepare houseplants for the move indoors by checking them for insects before making the move. Lower light, less humidity and static temperatures can be hard on tropical plants indoors, so help them by grouping them together to increase humidity and let them dry out between watering. Give them bright light and less water and they should be ok, but don’t be alarmed if you see some leaf shed. 

    If you need some instant color in the garden, you have a wealth of pumpkins and gourds to choose from.  There are all sizes and colors now.  Choose a blemish free fruit with a stem attached and they can last for months.  To add to the mix, throw in some corn stalks, mums and asters, and you have quite a show. 

    Ornamental grasses are at their peak now.  Plants come in a variety of sizes with various colored seed heads.  Even though the grasses die back with a killing frost, you want to enjoy their plumage all winter long. Cut them back in late February before new growth begins. 

    Vegetable of the month:

    Few things symbolize fall better than the pumpkin.   Pumpkins in all sizes and shapes, from the traditional orange, to white, red, green and striped; smooth rinds to warty, gives the gardener many options to choose from.  While pumpkins aren’t difficult to grow, they do require a long time to mature and a large area to grow in, so many choose to simply let someone else grow them and buy them each fall. Pumpkins are members of the cucurbit family, which means they are kissing cousins of cucumbers, squash, watermelons and gourds.  They are normally planted in the garden once the soil warms up in June or early July which will have them ready for a fall harvest.  Sizes range from the tiny “Jack-b-little” which produce a softball size fruit up to the giant award winners like “Big Max” and “Prize Winner” which can produce fruits weighing more than 100 pounds.   Supposedly the world record is over 1800 pounds for a pumpkin.  These giant fruits aren’t that attractive, but they do break records.  Pie pumpkins are traditionally smaller fruited forms—usually between three to six pounds.  Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron. You can even cook a stew or soup inside a hollowed out pumpkin and roast it in the oven. The flowers are also edible and roasted pumpkin.

    Pumpkins                        Pumpkins

    If you are choosing your pumpkin for the season choose one with a stem attached.  Look for one with a smooth rind and free of soft spots or blemishes.  If there is no stem, the fruit tends to deteriorate rather quickly.  If you choose well, they can last for months both inside and out.  Some folks even paint them silver or gold to extend their usefulness.  Another way to extend their life is to clean them and spray them with a clear paint. 

  • November   

     

    2016 - I think we are all grateful that we are finally seeing rain back in our forecasts.  We went through an extended dry period in September and October which was not ideal for our gardens.  Spring blooming shrubs and trees have their flower buds set, and if they got too dry, they may have started to shut down early.  Don’t be surprised after some rain and cooler temperatures if you see a few blooms on them.  There isn’t anything you can do to stop it anyway, so you may as well enjoy them.  Tulip magnolias, azaleas, flowering fruit trees and even forsythia sometimes will put on some blooms, but it isn’t full bloom and we should still have a display next spring.

    Do continue to monitor water needs as we head into late fall and winter.  Newly planted trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and vegetables, will need added moisture if we don’t get regular rainfall, it just isn’t as urgent as it is when temperatures are in the 90’s and 100’s.  Mulch your plants to conserve moisture and moderate soil temperatures.  Our first frost usually occurs in mid-November, so pay attention to the weather. If you have moderately hardy perennials in the garden, wait for a killing frost and then add an extra layer of mulch for winter protection. If you add it before the plants go dormant, they may rot.

    Many home gardeners are growing vegetables year-round now outdoors. With the availability of season extenders, or just some ingenuity of creating protection for the plants, they can take even the coldest of temperatures.  Most cool season vegetables will be able to tolerate temperatures to about 28 degrees without protection, but will need to be covered if temperatures are lower, or if it is a clear, still night.  Overturned boxes, flower pots or small high tunnels can add the protection you need.  Many of these cool season vegetables actually taste sweeter when grown in the cooler months.  Some vegetable transplants are still available, so plant soon and keep them watered and fertilized and you can be harvesting vegetables all winter. 

    November is an ideal time to plant spring bulbs.  It was so hot and dry in October, that many of the chores we normally do then we put off.  Now that temperatures are cooling off and we are getting some moisture, it is a great time to plant.  Remember the larger the bulb, the showier the blooms next spring. Plant your bulbs 2-2 ½ times as deep as they are large.

    November is the ideal month to plant a tree, but this can continue all winter long.  Planting larger plants while they are dormant, allows them time to put down roots before they have to contend with supplying nutrients and water for foliage.   Fall color was slow due to the dry conditions, but should start to catch up.  Some trees started shedding leaves early.  This is the season to rake and clean up the garden.  If you don’t have a compost pile, consider starting one.  Don’t add diseased plants to the pile, since home compost piles will not generate enough heat throughout the pile to sufficiently kill disease organisms.  Other items you should not add to a compost pile include meat products, oil, and animal refuse.  Using compost to amend your soil is an excellent way to add organic matter, and build up the moisture and nutrient holding capacity of your soil.

    Vegetable of the month:

    Sweet potatoes
    The sweet potato is native to South America. It is high in calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C.  It is rich in dietary fiber and has small amounts of iron. Sweet potatoes are a healthier alternative to white potatoes.   Since they are a tropical plant and will not survive cold weather, we don’t plant sweet potatoes until the soil has had a chance to warm up.  May to early June is the best time to plant. Sweet potatoes are grown from “slips”.  Slips are shoots that sprout from the sweet potato when they are placed in a moist bed of sand.  What you are eating when you eat a sweet potato is an enlarged root, called a storage root.    Sweet potatoes are a long season, vining plant, which we harvest in September or October, before a killing frost. Sweet potato roots are easily bruised by rough handling. Once the sweet potatoes are harvested, they need to be cured.  Curing will heal any cuts and will also trigger the development of the sugar-creating enzymes. Dig your potatoes and allow the soil on the surface of the potatoes to dry. Shake off any excess soil but don’t wash the roots. Cure the sweet potatoes in a room with high humidity and warm temperatures for seven to ten days. A temperature of 80 degrees to 85 degrees and a relative humidity of 80 percent to 90 percent are ideal, but may be hard to achieve in a home setting.  Try to get as close to this as possible.  Once cured, sweet potatoes will last for 6 months in a cool, well-ventilated room. 

    Image of sweet potatoes         Picture of sweet potatoes

  • December

    2016 - We finally got a taste of cold weather and some moisture, but we were way too dry during October and November. Let us hope that we get some moisture throughout the winter months, only not of the frozen variety.  Pay attention to moisture levels around your plants, especially any in containers or newly planted trees and shrubs as well as winter annuals and vegetables.  If plants are too dry heading into a hard freeze there is no buffer to protect them from winter damage, and they can get damaged. 

    Garden clean-up is in order.  Many parts of the state have had some light freezes, and some of you may have had a hard freeze.  Summer annuals such as coleus, impatiens and sweet potato vines don’t take any cold weather and die back quickly, but others like Dragonwing begonia, petunias, callibrachoa and geraniums will tolerates light freezes and keep on going. If your plants have played out, pull them and clean up the garden. Cut back spent summer perennials and rake up fallen leaves.  Good sanitation can help your garden start next growing season clean. 

    here is still time to plant pansies, flowering kale and cabbage and other winter color if you can find it.  When planting late, you need to choose larger, flowering plants or you won’t see much color before spring.  Get them planted, watered and mulched and you should be good to go.  Fertilize periodically throughout the winter months to keep them blooming. 

    There is also still time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  Layer different varieties together in the soil for a dramatic display next spring. 

    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. 

    Holiday plants are everywhere now. If you purchase or receive a poinsettia, remember to keep them evenly moist—not wet, and give them bright sunlight during the day.  The colorful part is actually a modified leaf and will hold its color for months with proper care.  Poinsettias come in a wide range of colors from the traditional red to shades of pink, purple, white, speckled and even a pale orange variety.  In addition to poinsettias, other welcome holiday plants include kalanchoe, anthuriums, Norfolk Island pine and bromeliads.  A flowering plant can be the gift that keeps on giving.

    The warm weather we had in November has many of the holiday amaryllis bulbs getting a jumpstart on the season.  Before you buy one of the boxed varieties, open the box to make sure the bulb has not already bloomed inside the box.  Amaryllis bulbs have a mind of their own and when they are ready to grow, they do whether they are planted or not. If the bulb has already sprouted, that is ok, as long as you pot it quickly and give it light.  If the flower has already tried to open, don’t buy it as it will not bloom again until next year.

    Fresh cut greenery and Christmas trees can dry out quickly so make sure you make a nice fresh cut on the tree when you bring it home and let it sit in a bucket of water to get a good drink before you bring it inside. Then keep the tree stand full of fresh water.

    Vegetable of the month-Greens:

    When you say greens in the south, you may be talking about turnip, mustard or collard greens.  These three inter-related vegetables are loaded with nutrition and easy to grow.  They are also sometimes called potherbs and are all members of the cabbage family.  While turnip plants can be grown for the root as well as the leaves, most “greens” are plants that are grown to be eaten in their leafy stage, sometime accompanied by the stems as well. 

    These three greens are often used interchangeably in recipes, with many folks having their personal favorite.  Collard greens will tolerate the most cold and heat of the greens, while mustard greens probably are the least heat tolerant.  Mustard greens have the best flavor if harvested under cool temperatures. They can be bitter or quite hot if they are exposed to high temperatures.  Collard greens taste somewhat more bitter than turnip greens which tend to be sweeter. Turnip greens are also smaller and more tender than collards.

    They all are widely considered to be very healthy foods.  A one cup cooked serving of these greens contains iron, calcium several B vitamins and more vitamin C than an orange—with less than 20 calories unless you load them up with pork fat or bacon.   They are also a good sources soluble fiber and flavonoid anti-oxidants.

    All of the greens are easy to grow.  They can all be grown in the early cool season garden and again in the fall and winter garden.  They all do best in full sun with even moisture.  Collards will also do well in the summer in Arkansas, while turnips and mustard will typically not be as tasty when the weather gets hot.  They are easily grown from seed.  Once they are up and growing do some harvesting of the older leaves on a regular basis.  This will keep the plant producing new, tender leaves instead of having a lot of older, tough leaves. 

    If we should get an abnormally low cold spot, they can be nipped back, but they usually resprout from the base and come back strong.  You can also cover them with a cardboard box or row cover and give them a little protection and they won’t get nipped.

    Today we also have a few varieties of mustard greens that are being used as edible ornamentals including the giant red mustard with deep dark purple mature foliage and the green and red frilly leafed varieties. They can be as pretty as they are edible. 

    If you aren’t growing greens, it is a bit late to get them started for the winter garden, but get ready in February to start planting.