September 15, 2018
This lovely petite flower is growing in our front yard. The twisting stem is as fascinating as it is delicate. Can you help identify this little gem?
The plant in question is actually an orchid commonly called Ladies Tresses – Spiranthes is the genus.
September 1, 2018
After traveling for nine weeks during the worst heat of the Arkansas summer, we returned home to much damage in our garden. I am penitent and dreaming of a sprinkler system, BUT how may I best salvage these plants? Should I try? There is green foliage at the base, but the top 2/3’s are crispy.
Miraculously the plants are not totally dead. I think they died back at some point and have been making a comeback, thus the green growth at the base. Cut out all the deadwood, lightly fertilize and water. Big leaf hydrangeas have never been classified as a drought-tolerant plant and do need supplemental water in the summer. They set their flower buds in late summer to early fall, so see if you can’t get enough growth on them to set flower buds before our first frost.
August 18, 2018
We had a small circle of rocks around our October Glory maple. Roots were showing beyond the rocks. We enlarged it quite a bit because I wanted plants around the tree. Now we’ve been told if we fill it in with dirt, we will kill the tree. Could we mulch where the first rocks were and put dirt beyond the mulch without damaging it?
This is one of the most common gardening questions without a definitive answer. There are so many variables when it comes to adding soil around existing plants. Knowing the area that you are covering (both depth and width), the type of tree or shrubs you are growing, and the type of fill you are bringing in all make a difference. Maples are quite prone to surface roots so enlarging the area is fine, but consider just filling in with mulch which has a larger pore space to allow water and oxygen in. If you actually want to plant something in this bed, consider just bringing in smaller pockets of soil to plant in and use mulch as the fill around it. It will look like the whole garden is planted.
November 11, 2017
I 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?
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.
August 19, 2017
Could you please tell us where we could find French sorrel? We use it in scrambled eggs, omelets and soup. I would also like to purchase water cress for a dish of steak, French fries and watercress—the combination is delicious and very healthy.
There are two types of sorrel that I have seen sold in Arkansas nurseries and garden centers—the green leaf form and the red-veined one. In my garden I have some of the red-veined form that has overwintered several years now. I would think that garden centers are gearing up for fall planting of edible vegetables and herbs and you may be able to find some plants, but both types of sorrel can be grown from seed, and now would be a fine time to plant it. Watercress is easily grown from seed as well, and can be grown indoors in a moist environment.
Someone in my house did the unthinkable and threw out Saturday July 15th paper with your article Showy Survivors. I tried going through AR Dem Gazette web site but wasn't allowed to view it. Is there a way I can view it again? I was mostly interested in how some plants were from the same family as (okra)? For years, I have questioned what the plant is that blooms in road ditches this time of year that looks like okra blooms. I keep your book close by and a huge fan of your column.
I believe it is my understanding that subscribers can also have an online account as well which they should be able to search. If you have problems, you can call my editor Kim Christ at 501-378-3495. The showy plant related to okra is hardy hibiscus with dinner plate sized blooms in pink, red or white.
July 15, 2017
I have 2 black lace elderberries about 10 years old. They have bloomed wonderfully every year, but thanks to my haphazard pruning over the years, the plants have a haphazard shape. The plants are 7'-8' tall, and about that wide, with each having several trunks ranging in size from 1/2" to 2" in diameter. Can you give me some pruning ideas?
You have a few options. You can thin out some of the older canes at the soil line and then lightly shape the ones you leave. Normally pruning is done after bloom unless you are trying to grow the fruit. If you are treating it as an ornamental, you can enjoy the flowers and then prune next year, or do a little shaping now and the bulk next season. If your main goal is just the black foliage, prune it hard next year before growth begins. A little pruning can be done now but we are in the hot, dry part of summer and recovery will be slow. I would wait until a more accommodating season.
May 1, 2017
I know it’s early to think about pumpkins but I want to be ready. Last summer my pumpkin plants had great foliage, but every bloom fell off. What can prevent that so I will have pumpkins for Halloween? Also what is the best seed to plant for BIG jack-o-lantern pumpkins?
Pumpkins should be planted any time from June through mid-July for pumpkins for Halloween. There are numerous varieties, and the seed packet should all give you the number of days to maturity from seeding until harvesting, so simply count back. Jack-o-lantern makes a nice size pumpkin for Halloween, but there are some giant ones like Giant or Atlantic Giant which can get up to 50 pounds or more. If you had blossoms last year and they fell off, it was one of two things. Either you had all male blossoms--possibly because of shade, or you had male and female flowers but you didn't have any pollinators. Pumpkin blossoms, as with all cucurbits, have male and female blossoms. The male blossoms simply have a stalk behind them; the females will have a small pumpkin attached prior to pollination. If they don't get pollinated, they shrivel up. If they do get pollinated, the pumpkin will continue to grow. IF it is lack of pollinators, you can play the part of the pollinator with a paintbrush. Pumpkins need a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight to produce fruit, so if shade is an issue plant in a new location.
April 1, 2017
I bought my daughter a fairy garden kit for her birthday. It came with dirt and a mixed packet of seeds. We enjoyed planting and were excited when just days after, they began to sprout. But then days later, the dirt began to grow a white fuzz and it spread. I think it was mold. We had it in her room in front of her picture window that faces west. According to instructions we watered it every day. There are no drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Can you advise? Would we have better luck drilling holes in bottom? Keeping it outside? I was hoping to leave it in her room so she felt more ownership over it but open to your advice.
I am not sure what you are growing inside, but I think you may have better success with seeds outdoors. Inside you could create a fairy garden terrarium but I would use small houseplants. Watering every day is never needed and I think all containers should have a drainage hole unless it is a terrarium which is a self-contained unit that keeps itself fairly moist.
January 21, 2017
On the clay pots of my potted plants is a white substance on the outside at the top of the pot and sometimes a ring further down towards the middle. I see it more during the summer months outside, but even some of my empty pots on the shelf have it. I have tried to wipe it off with alcohol, but it does not totally come off. How can I get rid of it and what is causing it? I use Miracle gro potting soil and my plants grow well.
The white substance you see on the outside of your clay pots is accumulated salt. This salt comes from the fertilizers you are using and leaches through the porous clay containers. The potting soil you are using is pre-mixed with fertilizer, but it would happen from using any fertilizer in the containers. Soak the pots in a 10% diluted bleach and water bath and let them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Then rinse thoroughly. If you still see the white substance, use a small brush to help clean them and allow them to dry in the sunlight. It doesn't hurt the pots or the plants, but it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing. This cleaning of the containers also sterilizes them and gives you a clean start on the growing season.
November 26, 2016
You have probably received many emails from your readers telling you about the unusual things blooming in November in Central Arkansas. Here are some that have bloomed or are currently blooming in my West Little Rock backyard: forsythia, violets and dandelion. I also have clematis that had died back but is now 2 feet tall. There is also a Southern Magnolia with blooms on South Shackleford Road across from Cracker Barrel Restaurant. What causes this?
It is not unusual to see a few errant blooms in the fall on spring blooming plants, but this year I expect to see more, if we ever get a decent rain. Spring blooming plants set their flower buds in late summer to early fall. As dry as we have been, many plants have really slowed down and gone into a semi-dormant stage. If we get a good rain, coupled with mild temperatures, they thing spring has sprung, and a few flowers open. Typically it is not the full show, just a few flowers. Enjoy them if you have them, as there is nothing you can do to prevent it, other than keeping your plants watered when it is dry.
September 2016 ARK Gardener
I have decided to throw in the towel as far as grass is concerned under my large oak tree. I have put in mulch and am considering planting something for seasonal color. Do you think spring bulbs will survive and actually bloom under this tree, or do I need to just leave it alone?
Wise decision, since grass does not grow well in the shade, and shade is an excellent thing during an Arkansas summer. Early blooming spring bulbs should do great under deciduous trees. Deciduous trees will allow enough sunlight through until the foliage matures later in the season. Early daffodils, crocus and hyacinths should work well. Later blooming varieties may not get enough sunlight to produce energy for new flowers, but there are some bulbs that like shade. Scillas (or wood hyacinths), Virginia blue bells, snowdrops and crested wood iris love shade. Any time you can add color, go for it.
August 13, 2016
I your other column July 30th you mentioned that we could start planting for fall. My problem is where do you find live plants in Little Rock to plant for fall?
It is true that fall vegetable plants can be a bit hard to find right now, but some places still have a few. Most of our garden centers will start getting in their fall vegetable transplants in late August through mid-September, which is still a great time to plant. I have been growing year-round the past few years and last year barely had to cover anything with extra protection since our winter was so mild. You can readily find seeds now, and you can start kale and other greens from seed as well as carrots, fall squash, cucumbers, etc. The vegetables that do best as transplants are tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
September 19, 2015
What is this flowers name & origination?
The plant in question is an annual native impatiens, commonly called jewelweed - Impatiens capensis. It is found statewide in shady, moist locations. This one is the spotted jewelweed or touch-me-not. There are also solid yellow varieties. Legend has it you can rub the sap of this plant on you to prevent and/or stop the spread of a poison ivy break-out
What do you mean by a light application of fertilizer and would that be water soluble or granular?
When I say a light application it would be to use a rate that is half of what is recommended on the package. It can be either granular or water soluble. When plants are stressed by heat or drought, it is always better to err on the side of applying less and reapplying in a couple of weeks, then burning them with too much.
I am sorry to find that your Saturday show is not on KARN or KZNG in Hot Springs. Please advise which station you may still be on. We live in Hot Springs Village. We really missed it again today.
I am sorry to say that the garden show ended March 10 after 28 years. Cumulus radio station moved the show from KARN January 2 to KAAY and we had no advertising letting folks know of the move nor did we have many listeners. I gave it two months but decided it wasn't working. We just weren't getting calls and listeners couldn’t pick up the station.
When is the right time to put out my feeder for hummingbirds?
Hummingbird feeders can be put outside as long as there is no chance of freezing. I have already put mine out, and can easily move it indoors should a frost be predicted—lets truly hope that doesn’t occur. Even though the hummingbirds that hang out here all summer probably haven’t arrived yet, putting out early feeders, and leaving them up after your main flock has fled, can give food to travelers that are passing through.
USDA Hardiness Zone Map changes for 2012.
The USDA Hardiness zone map has been around for many years, and is a planting guide giving the average low winter temperature in regions across the United States. Recently it was updated to reflect the more moderate winter temperatures. Arkansas still has three different hardiness zones (6-8), but they have shifted. Zone 8a, with an average winter low temperature of 10-15 degrees now encompasses almost half of the southern part of our state, leaving only a fringe of zone 6b in a few northern locations with an average winter low of -5 – 0 degrees F. The remainder of the state is in zones 7a and 7b with a range of 0-10 degrees F. This zone map should be used as another reference tool when choosing plants, but do keep in mind that it only gives you one piece of the puzzle—average low temperature. It does not compare summer high temperatures, rainfall, humidity, or other weather patterns. It would be helpful when looking at a catalog of plants, for example, if it tells you the plant is hardy from zone 2-7, you would know that the plant was very cold tolerant—zone 2 can get as cold as 50 degrees below zero. Zone 7 would be the warmest it could tolerate, so it might struggle in the heat and humidity of the south. On the flip side, if it was hardy from zone 7 – zone 10, you would be the coldest zone it could survive in. But try new plants. You aren’t a gardener, if you have never lost a plant—experimentation may give you some new favorites.
I got mulch from the city this past week. It's beautiful this year but evidently toxic. I spent many hours today mulching. Later I walked around and looked at my beds and my tender perennials, lettuce and herbs, in addition to some flowering plants look like the leaves have burned. The mulch has a slight chemical smell. I can't imagine what that might be. Perhaps there is a chemical in the mulch or perhaps the mulch is very green and what I am smelling, and what is burning the plants, is excess nitrogen. What do you think would cause this problem and do you have any ideas what I can do? Should I water my beds excessively or put something on my beds to neutralize the nitrogen. Please let me know your thoughts. I'm frazzled, frustrated and worried about my plants.
There sometimes can be a problem with what is called "Sour" mulch. What basically happens is that if the mulch pile is large and we get a heavy rain, the oxygen levels sort of bottom out in the pile when it gets waterlogged. Toxic gasses can begin to build up inside this anaerobic environment and if applied in this state, the mulch can burn or damage tender plants. If you are applying mulch and it has a rotten egg odor or ammonia smell, stop applying it. Turn the mulch pile, or spread it out to allow oxygen in. The condition in the mulch pile is quickly remedied, but if it has already damaged your plants, you may have to replace some of the more damaged plants. For more information on sour mulch look at our fact sheet at: http://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/FSA-6138.pdf.
In a recent column you talked about oleander, but you didn’t mention anything about the known toxicity of this plant. I’m talking about Nerium oleander, as I suppose you are. It is indeed an attractive plant. However, what I read tells me its greatest danger comes when the leaves are eaten, and it is more poisonous to humans and dogs (and some grazing animals including horses) than to some other species. I personally would forego it as a yard plant. But I recognize that someone else might decide differently, and so I feel strongly that anyone who chooses oleander ought to do so in full knowledge of its riskiness to children and pets.
You are correct that oleander is poisonous and I should have mentioned its toxicity. There are quite a few plants in our landscapes that fit this bill. The popular brugmansia and datura perennials are highly toxic, as is foxglove (Digitalis), hellebores (Lenten rose) and all members of the milkweed family. Even our common boxwoods and daffodils are toxic.
Where did you go? I have noticed that you are no longer on KARN every Saturday morning. I have been a long time listener and understand you may want your Saturday’s back, but just wanted you to know we miss you!
The radio show came to an end on March 10, 2012. I've done the show for 28 years.
So much comes out of hoses when they are not used for a while, and I recall you saying to let the water run clear before watering either plants or animals. Am I correct in this?
I really don't think it is that important when watering plants. I wouldn't want to drink dirty water, nor give it to the animals, but if dirt collects in the hoses, I don't think the plants will mind. I do let the water run in the summer when watering, so that I don't scald plants with hot water that may have collected in the hose.
I just got a new car and I park under a neighbors oak tree. The tree seems to rain a fine mist of sap during the day, seems more so when it is sunny. Is this possible, and if so, how long does this happen? I guess I have never noticed on other cars I have owned. When I have searched online I see info about honeydew aphid infestation? If so how is this treated?
It is honeydew from aphids. They build up quickly, especially when it is dry. It doesn’t really hurt the tree, but it can be a nuisance on car windshields and patio furniture. The honeydew is the droppings form the aphids as they feed. It is extremely sticky, and if allowed to stay on the surface of leaves, cars, etc. it can eventually form a black sooty mold. Try spraying the lower limbs of the tree with a strong spray of water periodically. Aphids are poor swimmers and you can control the insects at the base of the tree. Unfortunately, they multiply prolifically, so it must be repeated. There are insecticides as well, but for a large tree, they too would need to be repeated, so the water works almost as well.
I don't know if you can answer this one for me, but I have been wondering if, during the winter months, the birds can get the water they need from the snow, ice, etc., or do they still need water?
Regardless of the weather, birds do need water to survive. There are some heaters that you can put in a bird bath to keep the water from freezing, but they aren’t commonly used in the south. This year, we sure could have used them. They can get some water from snow and berries and even insects that they eat, but fresh unfrozen water is preferred and should invite more birds to your yard. So try to add fresh water to your birdbath and break the surface of ice to provide some water for the birds.
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