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Master Gardeners Working Hard Across Arkansas

September 13, 2019

As horticultural trained volunteers by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, Master Gardeners extend research-based information through demonstration and educational programs using horticulture best practices, strengthening communities and families throughout Arkansas. In Arkansas over 3,000 Master Gardeners can be found in 67 of our 75 counties working on various community projects volunteering nearly 170,000 hours for the betterment of Arkansans in 2018. This current year, as the volunteer hours are being reported, it appears that we will exceed last years efforts by several thousand hours.

I (Berni Kurz) was in Texarkana yesterday and visited a couple of Miller County Red Dirt Master Gardener projects. Pictured is of the Courthouse flowerbed project which has several beds on all fours sides of the Miller County Courthouse.
As I drove from the Miller County Courthouse to the REA Building where I was due to give a talk to the Miller County Red Dirt Master Gardeners, I saw this project by the local group. The Keyhole garden project, on the grounds of the Farmers Market, is showcasing how to construct a Keyhole garden. I learned later that the Red Dirt MG’s are present on Market Days to answer questions to anyone interested and they have hosted and have plans to host special events teaching local residents about this gardening method.
My week started off in Pine Bluff where I followed John Pennington (pictured) on the Jefferson County Master Gardener monthly meeting. I discussed the roles of Master Gardeners as well as roles of County Agents in the Master Gardener program. Tuesday I headed off to Marion AR, to present a program to the Crittenden County Master Gardeners on plant propagation. On Wednesday I headed to Monticello where I met with the Drew County Master Gardeners and presented a program on how to maintain a healthy garden soil. Besides gardening project work, it is a busy time of year for Master Gardeners with County Fairs, new training classes, and planning budgets and programs for next year. Contact your local County Extension office to learn more about Master Gardener programs near you.

Good Year for Figs

August 16, 2019

Its been since 2016 that our fig trees (bushes) have produced a bountiful harvest. The common fig (Ficus carica) can be grown throughout Arkansas, but hardiness does vary within cultivars. The fig trees in the northern tier counties of Arkansas, typically die back to the ground and therefore fig trees are bushes in this colder region. Winter damage generally occurs with temperature below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Figs are a member of the mulberry family (Moracae) and are related to many familiar houseplants including weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), rubber tree (Ficus elastica) and the fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata).
While there are over 700 fig cultivars, only about 50 are offered in the nursery trade in the United States. There is quite a bit of name confusion amongst fig cultivars so don’t be surprised to see the same plant grown with several names. The two most commonly grown varieties of figs in Arkansas are Celeste and Brown Turkey. Others may perform well and through testing, I hope to be able to add additional varieties to the recommended list.
The fig in the picture is Celeste, which is the most cold hardy of the two. This Celeste fig has been growing on my family farm for over 60 years. I have been picking a gallon or more per day from 3 plants for the past 2 weeks. My mom has been busy making fig preserves as well as freezing them for later use.
In Central and Southern Arkansas, its not uncommon to have 2 crops of figs in a single year. Two of the three fig trees on the farm are loaded with green figs which will begin ripening mid to late September. In Northern Arkansas, the second crop seldom matures in time before the first frost.
Figs will produce best when planted in a well-drained soil in full sun. They have a fibrous, shallow root system which makes them sensitive to drought stress. If your fig tree gets too dry, it can drop fruit. Fruit drop can be caused by several things, including dry conditions, but also storms, cool weather soon after fruit set and weak trees.
Figs are easily propagated by cuttings or layering branches of an existing fig tree down into the soil. If you want to purchase and plant some new fig trees, plant them in late winter through late spring to allow time to get them established before they have to contend with winter weather.

Master Gardeners “Plant, Nurture, & Grow”

July 26, 2019

Yes, Master Gardeners do plant, nurture, and grow beautiful gardens, vegetables and flowers alike. Master Gardeners as well “Plant, Nurture, & Grow” individual county organizations across our beautiful state. The strength and vibrancy of the Master Gardener organization in Arkansas is that each county program is allowed to be different yet all function under statewide policies which guide and support the local programs. In order for the continuance of growth and vitality, it is important that Master Gardeners across the state convene to discuss and learn what makes this the great organization it is. The “Plant, Nurture, Grow Leadership Conference” also known as PNG Leadership Conference, is scheduled for August 23 & 24 near Little Rock at the Arkansas 4-H Center in Ferndale. Your participation is vital to your county program and I hope to see you there.

At this two day conference, you will be able to select from 24 different breakout sessions to attend as well as the general session with keynote speaker. Click on this link to go to the MG Only web page to review the conference outline, schedule and individual session descriptions.
The host and lodging site is the Arkansas 4-H Center which is nestled on 228 acres of land a few miles west of Little Rock in Ferndale. Take a virtual tour of the 4-H Center by clicking this link.
While attending the conference, you will be able to see the newly establish Demonstration Garden which is a Pulaski County Master Gardener project. You will have an opportunity to visit with MG coordinators of this garden.
The Arkansas 4-H Center is Arkansas Cooperative Extension’s premiere stage for Leadership and Life Skill development for both youth and adults. This conference is open to any active Master Gardeners in Arkansas. Register to attend this conference by the August 2nd deadline. You can register online by clicking this link.

Native Ground Cover & Vine

July 19, 2019

I, along with a half dozen Master Gardeners from Craighead County toured some areas in NE Arkansas to finalize plans for our 2020 State Meeting in Jonesboro next May. I ran across a few native plants that I want to share with you.

I found this native ground cover growing at The Delta School in Wilson Arkansas. Commonly called Aaron’s beard or creeping St. John’s wort. Hypericum calycinum is a stoloniferous subshrub or shrublet, typically growing 12″ high.  This groundcover would have been in full bloom starting around mid June. This native ground cover will grow under trees where it competes well with shallow roots.
Also at The Delta School, growing on a fence, I found the first signs of Autumn. Clematis terniflora, commonly called sweet autumn clematis is a fragrant fall-bloomer. It is a vigorous, deciduous, twining vine with an extremely rampant growth habit. If given support, it will climb rapidly with the aid of tendrilous leaf petioles to 20-25′ in length. Without support, it will sprawl along the ground as a dense, tangled ground cover. Some gardeners consider this vine as a “native invasive” because of its aggressive nature.
We found this plant growing on the square in Wilson near the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park. Equisetum hyemale, commonly called scouring rush or rough horsetail. It is a non-flowering, rush-like, rhizomatous, evergreen perennial which typically grows 3-5’ tall. This native plant will need some sort of barrier like a sidewalk to keep it in the area you would want it to stay. This is another native plant that has invasive tendencies.

Rain and More Rain

July 16, 2019

It is July and it is raining. We should feel fortunate but many gardeners and farmers are having to deal with flooding and disease issues.

Most of our gardens have flourished with the frequency of rain events this summer. Powdery mildew is being seen on dogwood trees, crape-myrtle, euonymous shrubs,  and on some azaleas and roses. Some annuals and perennials are affected as well.
Powdery mildew seldom warrants chemical control in the home landscape. However, in those instances where control in desired, materials with low environmental impact, such as horticultural oils, neem oil, or antitranspirants (like Vapor Gard® or Wilt Pruf®) can prevent infection when applied to uninfected green tissue on the plant. Such applications can remain effective up to 30 days in the home landscape. Do not apply these products when it is above 85°F and for this reason, I never spray to control powdery mildew. Always read and follow product labels to make sure the plant you want to spray is listed on the label.
The native Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan, front) and Callicarpa (Beautyberry, back) have done well with the abundance of rain. Many of our native plants can tolerate the extremes of soil moisture. These two natives receive minimal care on the Kurz farm in Lonoke and perform well year after year.
The landscaping at the main entrance at Extension Headquarters in Little Rock has undergone a total makeover. The addition of the 2 large containers updated this entrance to the twenty-first century. These containers each have nine different flowering annuals in them including: tropical pink hibiscus, ‘Wasabi’ coleus, ‘ColorBlast Mango Mojito’ and ‘ColorBlast Double Magenta’ portulaca, ‘Bloomify Rose’ lantana, ‘Cora Cascade Cherry’ vinca,Tropical Rose Sun Patiens Impatien, Purple Fountain Grass, ‘Cannova Bronze Scarlet’ canna, and Blue Wave petunia.
Keeping containers moist enough to prevent wilt is most often troublesome. If not raining, these containers require daily and on extreme hot days, twice daily watering. These two containers are on an automatic drip system which makes daily watering not so daunting. The irrigation tubes were fed through the drain holes in the bottom before they were filled.

Master Gardener Annuals to Perennials Program is a Wrapup

July 15, 2019

First year Master Gardeners and their mentors were invited to participate in one of the four Annuals to Perennial program sites across the State. A total of 327 registered to attend programs in Hope, Fayetteville, Batesville, or Little Rock. I presented a program entitled “Gardening with Bees in Mind” along with a different guest speaker and topic at each site. Those attending were inspired, energized and motivated to continue their involvement in their home county educational projects.

Leslie Patrick, with the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, spoke to the group in Batesville on Saturday July 13. Her program was entitled “Gardening For Pollinators”. Attendees learned a great deal of how native plants support a regional eco system.
Michelle Wisdom, U of A Horticulture Department Student Recruiter, spoke to the group in Little Rock on Sunday July 14. Her program was entitled “Pollinator Plants in Lawns”. Her presentation stemmed from her Masters Thesis work and illustrated how we can have a great looking lawn as well as planting ephemeral bulbs to support pollinators in lawns.
Besides being great gardeners, Master Gardeners are good cooks. At each of the 4 training sites, I enjoyed grazing on the variety of homemade cookies and snacks. Kudos to the “County 76” MG’s for making this year’s A to P program a success.

Crapemyrtles Thrive in the Heat

July 3, 2019

Summer heat is here and crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) feel right at home. A native to southern India, it can tolerate summer extremes of heat and drought which has made it a popular plant choice in our landscapes. Crapemyrtles are relatively disease resistance with the occasional Cercospora Leaf Spot and Powdery Mildew issues. As far as insect issues, aphids in the spring and Japanese Beetles in the summer were its problems but now we have the more serious Crapemyrtle Bark Scale. Even with these issues, crapemyrtles still have their place in our landscapes.

In the last two decades considerable breeding work has resulted in a number of new crape myrtle cultivars. Many of which are hybrids of L. indica and L. fauriei (native to Yakushima Japan). Many of the newer cultivars also have improved flower color, better fall leaf color, handsome bark and better cold and disease resistance than the old seedling types. Plant height ranges from less than 3 feet to more than 20 feet, making it one of the most versatile plants. Some cultivars can be used as small foundation shrubs while others as specimen trees.
Crapemyrtle will grow under adverse soil conditions. It grows and flowers much better in well-prepared soil. Preparation includes digging a large hole — at least two times wider than the root ball. Set the plant in the hole no deeper than it originally grew in the container or field. Then back-fill with the same soil removed from the hole after breaking apart clods and removing rocks or other debris. Research has shown that organic matter amendments are not necessary when planting in individual holes. Amendments in the hole encourage roots to stay within the hole and not grow outward into the surrounding native soil. Amendments are most beneficial when they are incorporated uniformly throughout the soil surrounding the planting hole.
It is a common misconception that crapemyrtles require pruning in order to flower. This is not only false but has also resulted in virtually millions of plants being pruned very aggressively. The most natural and beautiful crapemyrtle trees result from limited or no pruning. Aggressive pruning leads to increased suckering (shoots arising from below-ground roots) which is not only undesirable but it could result in powdery mildew spreading from the suckers to the canopy of the tree. Aphids are also attracted to the succulent growth which results from aggressive pruning.
It is far better to plant dwarf, or semi-dwarf varieties (Centennial in picture is 3 ft. tall) which grow to desired mature heights than to continue fighting with a more vigorous, larger cultivars planted in a too-small space. If you choose to prune however, follow the simple steps: First, remove suckers from the base of the plant. Second, as the tree grows, remove lower branches form the bottom third of the tree to expose the trunk character. Last, remove crowded or crossing branches from the canopy.

On some cultivars, pruning to remove spent flower blossoms after they fade will stimulate new growth and another blossom flush in late summer. A second bloom is sometimes difficult to force on cultivars that bloom after mid-July.
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