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Spring is official and MG planning

March 20, 2017

The first day of spring felt more like summer.  It was 85 degrees in my yard and my parked car when I got in tonight felt like 100! Everyone keeps saying that if this is what the first day of spring is like, what is our summer going to be like.  Let’s hope we take a page from our past winter.  On December 18 we went from 77 to 17 and it was 15 degrees on December 19. Everyone felt like we were in for a brutal winter, when in reality we barely had one. So let’s hope we have a mild summer to match our mild winter.

Today was our monthly meeting of the Pulaski County planning committee for the state conference. We still have spaces available since we can take 700 people.  We have almost 600 already registered and it is going to be a spectacular event.  Today we had signs to pass out to folks to get to our garden center/nursery sponsors so that as Master Gardeners and other gardeners are out buying plants they can thank them.    If you see one when you are out, please thank them.  We do appreciate them for all the wonderful plants they provide for us to purchase, but financially backing us also shows how much they value our program!  You should see them at Cantrell Gardens, Good Earth, Hocotts and River Valley Horticulture.

We are on the downward side of planning. Our executive team met a bit early to go over what we needed to get done and then the full committee came in. Now we just wait for final numbers, since everything is fairly well organized. 

Afterwards, the decorations and signs committee met with our graphic guru Chris Meux to discuss options.  We meandered all over the building looking at possibilities.

If you are not registered, you really don’t want to miss this event.  The price has gone up slightly, but that should not be a deterrent.  If you have problems finding the registration information, let me know and we can help you out.


Spring is back!

March 19, 2017

It may have been a bit cool this morning at 60 but the day warmed up quickly to 76 and tomorrow will be close to 80!  I had some inside tasks I had to get finished before I could go play in the yard, but I did get them done and had a few hours of bliss in the sunshine!  I pruned back the buddlea, abelia, and some panicle hydrangea, plus I finally cut off the spent blooms from the big leaf hydrangea that were still lingering.    I cleaned up some perennials, deadheaded some things and fertilized and watered my vegetables.  I did harvest some kale that had started bolting, but overall the vegetable garden looks pretty good.  The perennials are coming up strong. I had the first bloom on a shade loving hardy geranium  and the Solomons seal is beginning to colonize.   The deciduous azalea is still gorgeous and the white blooming loropetalum is in its full glory. I could use a lot more time in the garden, but there is stiff competition for my time these days. Besides a busy work schedule, we have finally started on the remodeling of the kitchen and adjoining rooms that I have been planning for 20 years.  While I was gone yesterday, Clay started on the painting of the family room and it is almost done except for trim. From this:  to this:  I have a lot of room for art.

I am trying to get as many before, during and after photos.  We don’t demo for a couple of weeks so I have time to get things out so I am doing some a bit at a time. I have been cleaning off the bookshelves in the office to make a makeshift pantry.   Who knew I had so many cans of chile peppers and tomatoes?  Our house is going to be a bit chaotic the next few months but I can’t wait for the final outcome!  I think I will try to cook like a mystery basket theme to try to use up what we are finding.  Tonight I made chicken tortilla soup and used up some of the cans of tomatoes and chili peppers.  With fresh vegetables from the refrigerator, kale from the garden and chicken and tortillas on the grill it was pretty tasty.   Pumpkin pies might be in our future as well since we found 4 cans of pumpkin!


River Valley Lawn & Garden Show, Final District Dig In and a new meaning for Shrub

March 18, 2017

It has been quite a full few weeks and today was a culmination of our District Dig Ins.  We decided to combine the Ozark District event with the River Valley Lawn & Garden Show which is going on this weekend.  Folks could come early and enjoy the show, get plants, and listen to a great line-up of speakers before our private MG event.  The River Valley MG’s did themselves proud today with one of the best lawn and garden shows I have seen in Fort Smith. The gardens were great, with a ton of blooming plants, and more booths than last year with a wide range of plants and products.   Of course the Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and the Master Gardeners were out in full force with many exhibits and educational efforts.

They had some excellent speakers today and a full lineup tomorrow as well.  Chris Olsen is always a hit, and I heard nothing but rave reviews for the snake guys–glad Julie wasn’t with me.    The parking lot was packed when I arrived and I had quite a few loads to unload. Our district dig in room was in use until mid afternoon, so it was a scramble to get everything set up before I spoke for the public at the show. I finished just as our Dig In was starting, so it was a quick trip to our room to get things going. Of course I had excellent help from my County 76 team–Linda, Jane, Glenda and Patsy helped with set-up, registration, and introductions as well as with the food set up and take down.  I felt like it was a fast-paced day with one thing right after the other.  I got more than my 10,000 steps in today!  I also had fantastic help arranging this all from Hilda, who had to take over running the Lawn & Garden Show as well due to the illness of a member.  She did it all with grace and calmness!  I am blessed with such outstanding volunteers in our programs!

We had a great group of MGs who got to hear two speakers before my MG update. Susan Belsinger wowed us on herbal concoctions.  I was frantically running around trying to find a lavalier microphone for her, so I missed her opening remarks. When I came back in she was talking about shrubs–strawberry shrubs, and Habanero shrubs.  I was thoroughly confused.  Then we got to sample a shrub–and it definitely had pucker power!  So I learned a new use for the word shrub today–In beverage history, the word shrub has carried several meanings. What we had today  was an acidulated beverage made of fruit juice, sugar, and vinegar along with some herbs. Think drinkable vinegar.  It supposedly is quite healthy so I am sure it gave me the boost to drive home tonight!  She also created some herb butters, some tinctures and some sampled her homemade bitters.  We also got to eat redbud flowers–I had never tried them before, and they tasted about like you would expect a redbud to taste. Some liked it more than others.   In between talks as we cleaned up all her products  attendees had some refreshments to tide them over.

Then my good friend Gerald Klingaman did a great presentation on conifers.  This is not my strong suit, so I learned a lot. He is such a wealth of information and it was good to share a program with him again.    As he said in his talk, he has never met a plant he didn’t like!

After my presentation we packed up and we were on the road by 6:30 p.m. with help from the MGs.  I kept seeing a gorgeous sunset at my back in the mirrors, and at times the sun was intense.  So since Julie wasn’t with me, I snuck a few photos.

I have enjoyed the District Dig Ins and will be interested to read the evaluations once we get them out.  I have been busy speaking at many but not nearly all the educational gardening events that are going on all over the state right now.  It was unseasonably warm today–my car said 83 in Fort Smith.  Quite a difference from last Saturday’s 30 and 4 inches of snow in Mt. Home!  What a weird year this has been.

If you did not make it to Fort Smith and the show yet, there is still time. They are open all day tomorrow, so don’t miss out. You can buy plants and take them home and plant them!


Greene County

March 17, 2017

I am so impressed with the Greene County Master Gardeners and how they pull together to pull off an amazing educational event.  Today they had a packed house of 100 people who came to learn about pollinators of all sorts–from butterflies and bees, to hummingbirds and bats.  I think they may need a bigger room next year!    They had a table full of breakfast snacks and then every break the tables were replenished.  One of their members (Marilyn) took the lead on preparing lunch for everyone and it was delicious.    They had packets put together with handouts for everyone, registration went smoothly and they kept the meeting on time and flowing.  There was a whole lot of learning going on today and I saw people from as far south as Magnolia and Mt. Ida as well as all the counties surrounding Paragould.  They really outdid themselves. Mimi represented County 76 and was selling gardening wares.

This just goes to show that you don’t have to have 100’s of members to put on a great event. I am amazed at the quality of these events from Jonesboro, El Dorado, to Mt. Home and now Paragould.  Thanks to all our volunteers who work so hard to organize, educate and feed our clientele!

Leaving the community center I loved the look of the fresh mulch in the beds surrounding the parking lot. There is something clean about a fresh layer of mulch that just freshens up any landscape.   And while I admire firemen for all the work they do to keep our communities safe, I think we might need to educate them on how to prune a crape myrtle.    I took this photo outside the local fire station!

It was an easy drive with a little rain off and on as I went and redbuds in bloom all along the interstate. It was much cooler in Paragould than Little Rock, and they did have some damage up there with the recent cold snap.  They also had almost 6 inches of snow last weekend.  Thankfully that was long gone.

I came home to a dinner that was almost done. I started corned beef with vegetables this morning and added the cabbage after I got home.  This is our traditional dinner on St. Patrick’s Day.

I also had time to walk the garden. My peas, spinach and kale seedlings that emerged so quickly have really just been sitting there with this cool weather.  No damage, but not much growth either.   I think the upcoming warm weather coupled with a little rain should be the boost they need to kick in and grow. I did buy two new artichoke plants today.   I have one that continues to come back each year and last year another plant grew large but did not flower, so third time is the charm right?

Tomorrow morning I head to Fort Smith to speak at the River Valley Lawn & Garden Show, then I will host and speak at our last District Dig In from 3-6.  The River Valley Lawn and Garden Show is open all day tomorrow and Sunday at the Convention Center in downtown Fort Smith.  Come join us!


Pine Bluff training and new ideas

March 16, 2017

I am hoping that today was the last of the winter weather, and looking ahead we are moving back into spring.  I have had a fire in the fireplace almost every night this week, which I love, but I will give that up if we can get past these cold days.
I had a great class of Master Gardeners today in Jefferson County.  They had a lot of questions and were very engaged in the classes.  I forgot to take a picture after we started, but it was a full class.   I was asked today what I thought would be the impact of these cold temperatures on tomatoes and peppers that were purchased early or on shelves at the garden centers that surprising are still green.  Many have seen them at some of the big box stores in racks, and they are as surprised as I am that they didn’t die the past few nights and they don’t think they were protected all that much. Even if they are green and growing,  I still think they are impacted. Tomato plants exposed to low temperatures or planted in cold soils often results in purple foliage.  This is due to a lack of absorption of potassium when the plant is exposed to low temperatures.  The leaves will usually turn green as they warm up and begin to grow, but they often are stunted for the season and less productive.  Peppers are more sensitive than tomatoes, but with both, even if the plants were not outright killed by below freezing temperatures, chilling can cause stunted growth, wilting, surface pitting or death of foliage, and also make them more susceptible to disease. Low soil temperatures also stunt plant growth and prevent root development.  That being said, it is still just March 16 and we don’t recommend planting tomatoes and peppers in central Arkansas until April 15 and in the northern tier even later.  Even in the southern fringe April 5 is an early planting date.  So there will be a new crop of tomato transplants by the time we should be planting that have not been exposed to our week of winter weather.  Buy those at the correct time and have good production.

The seasoned Jefferson County Master Gardeners were on hand to treat the new trainees to a wide array of snacks and lunch.  I am expecting great things from this group!  This afternoon agent Lee was going to do some hands on activities with them teaching them how to use simple things you may have at home to create a self-watering container.   He is also leading the way to using zoom for training Master Gardeners and producers. He told me he had a guy from Germany on earlier in the week speaking to producers.  I think we need him to do a session for our PNG Leadership conference to give examples to the rest of us.

One of their biggest projects is the youth vegetable garden that is right outside the extension office. This is a huge garden and they have it prepared and ready to go as soon as the weather cooperates.

For me, it was back to the office to meet with our other three horticulture specialists to devise a plan of action for a monthly zoom meeting with our county agents to update them on what is going on in the horticulture world.  What’s up Wednesdays will start soon with timely topics and what we are seeing around the state.  This is an idea that has been needed for a long time, and I am thrilled to see it about to launch.   This is a great way for us to connect with agents statewide and then they can share with their clientele.



I think I dodged a bullet, and planning for 2018

March 15, 2017

Even though I did get to 28 degrees in my yard this morning it was for a very brief time and no frost accumulated.  I think I dodged a bullet and my plants are fine.  Let us hope that this is the end of winter weather. While it is still going to be cool the next few days, I think the freeze alerts have passed.  I would like to hear from our gardeners in the northern tier later this week to see what their fruit tree and blueberry bushes look like. They did get much cooler than we did here in central Arkansas.

I am still not acclimated to the time change. I can’t fall asleep early enough at night and morning comes way too early. It was a full day at the office with trying to make sure everything is ready for events from now through mid-week. I will be in Pine Bluff in the morning for MG training, back to the office for an afternoon meeting. Then Friday is the Greene County MG event on pollinators and they have 100 + folks registered. County 76 will be there selling lots of garden wares. Then back to LR to get ready to head to Fort Smith Saturday for our third and last Dig IN.  Friday through Sunday is the River Valley Lawn & Garden Show at the convention center in downtown Fort Smith.  It is full of vendors and gardens, so if you are in the area, you don’t want to miss out.

Today was our first official meeting of the Arkansas Flower & Garden Show board since the show.  It was a good wrap-up of comments and then a lot of brainstorming on ideas for 2018 and our new venue –the Arkansas Fairgrounds.  One positive note will be free parking! Parking this year downtown was a nightmare. It was a productive meeting but we have a lot of work ahead to plan for a new location.  Mark your calendars now–it is a week later, March 2-4, 2018!

Hope to see you at events around the state this weekend!

Spring feels like more than a week away!

March 14, 2017

Another round of cold, wintry weather creeped in today. The high today was only 45 and tonight is predicted to be the coldest one this week.  Here in Little Rock we are predicted to get to 28 degrees but it is supposed to be overcast.  I wish we had a bit more wind than we do. I am taking my chances with plants and hope I didn’t make a mistake by not covering anything.  So many plants are up and growing well beyond their normal period.   Even though I worry, if LR is expecting 28 what does that bode for the northern tier and even outlying areas in Pulaski County. There are many ways that temperatures can differ even in the same neighborhood. If you live on a slope you usually aren’t as susceptible to heavy frosts as if you are down in a valley.  Windy areas have less frost than those that are still.  So we should all keep our fingers crossed.  If we can just make it through tonight, it is supposed to get warmer every day and by the first day of spring next week they are predicting almost 80!  This weather is nuts!

The wisteria is in full bloom in central Arkansas. If you doubt its invasiveness look at this:   If you give it an inch, it will take a mile. While the flowers are beautiful, the vines need to be kept in check on a trellis or structure, and pruned annually.

And speaking of pruning–I saw one of the worse pruned nandinas this week that I have ever seen.   It doesn’t even look like a shrub.  Knowing how and when to prune will really give your plants a chance.  This Saturday my column is all about pruning. Some people may need to read it!

Don’t forget–if you are a MG and you want to register for the state MG conference in May, tomorrow is the early bird discounted deadline. Price goes up on Wednesday.  Register on line and if you have problems, let Julie or me know.

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