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Welcome to the "Ask Janet Carson" portion of our website. Here you will find Janet Carson's current "In the Garden" Questions and Answers found weekly in "The Arkansas Democrat/Gazette" Saturday edition. Have fun reading these pages and check back with us weekly. This page is constantly updated and new questions are added on Monday following their appearance in the paper. So stay tuned...

All of the Questions & Answers that Janet writes for all publications are archived.

In the Garden with Janet B. Carson


November 11, 2017


These beautiful roadside shrubs are in full bloom along highway 65 in SE Arkansas. There seem to be male and female versions as you’ll see blooming next to non blooming trees. What are they?


Picture of a groundsel bush

AnswerWe get this question almost every fall as the Groundsel bush (Baccharis halimifolia).  There are separate female and separate male plants. The female plants have the showy flowers which are feathery seed pods similar to what a dandelion produces.  They are a bit too aggressive to be a shrub in the home landscape.

QuestionI recently retired and am trying to take up flower gardening, so I read your column in the newspaper and find it very helpful.  But, I am confused about some of the terminology and hope that you can help me.  For example, deadheading.  Should all flowers be deadheaded, and when and how?  Annual vs. perennial: do annual plants just get thrown away and new ones planted every year?  Can annual plants be planted in the ground, or only in pots?  Does pruning or trimming after flowering mean to wait until the blooms are gone (not immediately after blooms flower), then cut it off?  What is the difference between foliage and leaves?


Answer I say this often when I am teaching gardening classes. An understanding of terminology in any hobby is necessary to understand what you are doing—whether it is gardening, cooking, golf or football, there are terms thrown about that are useless unless you understand what they mean.  Deadheading is a process of removing the spent flower to prevent it from forming a seed.  Not all flowers need deadheading.  Some plants—like camellias and dogwoods, only bloom once a year and we like the seeds to form.  Annuals and perennial flowers that can bloom all season, may need deadheading, but again, not all.  Some newer varieties are “self-cleaning” meaning they don’t set seeds. The flowers bloom, then fall off and new blooms replace them without dead-heading.  An example is lantana—older varieties need dead-heading as every bloom will try to set a seed.  If you aren’t cutting off the old flowers, pretty soon you have a non-blooming plant with a bunch of seeds.  The reason for the blooms is to set seeds, and we, as gardeners would rather have flowers.  The designation of annual or perennial has to do with the climate we are growing the plant in.  Many of the houseplants we grow can be trees or shrubs in tropical climates, but cold weather makes them houseplants here.  Again, let’s look at lantana—in northern Arkansas (and further north) it is an annual—it much be replanted every spring (either in the ground or in containers) as it will freeze during the winter.  In central Arkansas it is hit and miss.  Some years it survives, others not.  In south Arkansas it is a perennial, coming back each year. In southern Florida it is evergreen.  Pruning and trimming are synonymous, but for spring blooming shrubs we want to prune as soon after bloom as possible to allow time for the plants to rebound before they begin the process of setting new blooms.  You have from the day after flowering until mid-June to get it done.  Foliage and leaves are also synonyms, and mean the same thing.  I think you should consider becoming a Master Gardener—a volunteer gardening program through your local county extension office. 



I have a tulip magnolia tree that has a dozen or more blooms on it.   I don’t remember it blooming and putting out new leaves last fall.  Is that normal?  I sure don’t remember this tree blooming until early spring. 



We have had some very unusual weather.  I would not be surprised to see other errant blooms coming on some spring blooming plants.  We were so hot and dry in September and early October, that some plants shut down early.  Then we got some rain, cold weather and then it appeared to be spring again.  The plants are confused.  A few of the blooms will open, but hopefully just a few, and you will have a normal display next spring.



I have some old granular fertilizer that I found in the garage.  It is probably several years old. I also have some year old liquid fertilizer. Should I keep it and use it or discard. Are they harmful to plants?



As long as they have been stored in a cool, dry place, they should be fine to use.  If the granular fertilizer has gotten wet, it will not be as effective, but if it is still dry, I think you are safe to use it.  The liquid fertilizer again, should be fine unless it has been exposed to extremes of temperatures—freezing and thawing or really heating up, can change the chemical properties. 

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Great tip from a reader:

Recently a reader said the issue of your column had gotten tossed out and they wanted to know how to get a copy.  Anyone else that needs a past issue should go to their local public library because they keep past issues.


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