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Winter Blues/Where is Spring?

February 17, 2020

This past week was tough. For the most part it was overcast, cold and damp which is not untypical for February in our region. But the weather added to the fact that I had the dreaded “Flu”, made it a very “Blue” week for me. What made it even worse is that my wife came down with the Flu as well. I had to cancel 3 speaking engagements which I’m now trying to re-schedule into an already busy spring. Although I had the Flu shot, I feel very fortunate to have bounced right back to good health. My Doctor cleared me and said that I’m good to go.

These are houseplants in my South facing bay window. The key to houseplant winter health is, good light and keeping water at minimum. A cool damp soil is not good for any tropical plant. I will resume fertilizing in about 6 weeks. This collection of houseplants was good “Plant Therapy” for me this past week.

I ventured outside once I started feeling better on Saturday and found Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in bloom. Snowdrops are a welcome site in February. These are planted at the base of a Japanese maple.

Blooming in my back yard I found a native shrub the Ozark Witch Hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, blooming its heart out. This multi-trunked winter-blooming deciduous shrub grows 10-12 feet tall. Clustered flower buds, growing from previous year’s stems, are rounded and stalked with several flowers per stalk.  Flowering begins in early winter and continues into early spring. Fragrant flowers, ½ inch wide and long, have four ribbon-like reddish to yellowish petals and four short stamens.  Petals roll up on very cold days to avoid freeze damage. Ozark witch hazel has good specimen value in a garden setting or in a naturalized area.  It grows well in moist well-drained soil in full sun to part shade, with best flowering in full sun. Established plants are drought tolerant. I find this to be very true because you will find this Witch Hazel in my backyard in full sun on a severe slope.

Winters Grip

January 21, 2020

Cold temperatures have returned, reminding our gardens that it’s not time yet. Although most of us are ready for spring’s arrival, the last 2 weeks of January and the first 2 weeks of February are on the average our coldest part of winter. So, hunker down. The next couple of days has some winter mix predictions for some parts of the State which has many kids excited.

I was in Jonesboro on Friday where I captured these daffodils already in bud. In central Arkansas and to our Southern border, some daffodils are in bloom. Daffodils can tolerate freezing temperatures without much concern. However, I would consider covering blooming daffodils only if temperatures are predicted to fall into the low teens.

This japanese maple is showing signs of winter/cold damage. The sudden drop in temperature last fall (November 11), caught many of our landscape plants not acclimated to winters cold. It is way to early to determine the severity and extent of damage to our landscape plants. Right now, take note of what you are seeing in your landscape, knowing that you may have to address some of this later this spring to summer. Yes, some winter damage is not expressed in some plants until early summer, when plants can suddenly collapse. Do not prune any plants at this point. I will provide pointers as the season progresses.

This living wall at the new Embassy Suites in Jonesboro is providing the fix we all need during these cold winter days. I spent last Thursday and Friday here, working on details of this years Master Gardener Conference, May 14-16.

Pansies are Looking Good!

January 16, 2020

Pansies and other cool season annuals have been performing very nicely for us this winter. Other than the winter blast we had in November, our winter has been mild for these annuals to really shine. Plant winter annual transplants by end of October and they typically will withstand our coldest winters. If you didn’t get around planting some this past fall, you can still enjoy cool season annual color by planting them from mid-February into March. Winter annuals are heavy feeders so they do benefit from applying additional nutrients. Initial fertilization is made at planting and then hold off until mid-February to give them a boost to make them pop. Make a second spring application mid to late March to carry the color into May. Expand your winter annual palette by planting Dianthus, Swiss Chard, Flowering Kale, Dusty Miller, Snap Dragons, or Ornamental Cabbage. In protected areas you can plant Sweet Alyssum and Calendulas as well.

This is one of two planters which the Pulaski County Master Gardeners plant and maintain which are located at the public entrance to my office at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service headquarters in Little Rock. This mix (pansies, kale, cabbage, swiss chard and rosemary) was planted before our cold blast in November. Everything survived except the Rosemary on the backside. The second Rosemary was planted by early December. Rosemary is marginally hardy and does fine for us most winters. Here in Little Rock, we are expected to get to the low 20’s by late weekend. If this Rosemary was at my house, I would cover it to soften the blow of this encroaching winter blast.

Plants Are Confused

January 13, 2020

The roller coaster temperatures swings we have had this winter will no doubt have some negative impact on some plants. The severity of winter damage to plants will differ greatly from regions in the state. The major impact is from the cold front which hit the state on Veterans Day Nov 11 with temperatures in single digits in the northern part of the State and in the high teens in lower Arkansas. Northern Arkansas had already had several frost events by then, but Southern Arkansas had not. Because of this, its predicted, gardeners in Northern Arkansas will not see much winter damage. Central Arkansas and gardeners further South can expect some plants with severe damage. Crepe myrtles, Japanese Maples and azaleas and definitely plants to watch out for. Bark splitting will be seen as well as general die back. Azaleas with winter damage often begin growing in the spring but collapse my early summer. It is recommended to do nothing at this point. Wait until spring growth begins to asses your damage.

Hellebores, Lenten Rose, have begun to bloom in my garden in Fayetteville. It is not unusual for Hellebores to bloom at this time. Snow and ice melted just hours before I took this picture Sunday afternoon.
This is a single bloom from an Encore Azalea, variety Ameythst. I captured this picture right before the snow event in Fayetteville on Saturday. This azalea has been in this large container for over 5 years. It is free standing on a concrete patio area. Unlike, some Encores in central and southern Arkansas, this one is not showing any signs of cold damage.
This shrub rose in my Fayetteville garden has started to push new growth as a result from the unseasonable warm temperatures in December and early January. Don’t be tempted to prune your roses just yet. Wait and prune roses early March in the Southern half of the State to early April in Northern Arkansas. Pruning now will only make the new cuts more prone to winter injury because we are sure to get more cold weather.
Everyone got there share of more rain than needed this past Friday to Saturday. This is the farm pond just 100 feet down from my house. It’s double the size it normally is, making it impossible for me to go to my barn on the other side.
The horses on my farm have really enjoyed this mild weather. They do take refuge in the barn during the cold.
Most weekends, my dog and I go for a walk on the farm. This was Saturday morning right before the snow event started. You can see my home in the background.
Roads were a mess Saturday afternoon but by mid morning on Sunday, the roads were clear and Fayetteville was frost covered. This was the scene my wife and I saw as we went to church near campus. Laura Wilkens, a Master Gardener who lives on Mt Sequoyah in Fayetteville, shared this picture.

Summer Vegetable Garden Coming to an End

November 7, 2019

This summers vegetable garden was not typical for Arkansas. Heavy rains delayed plantings and then the rains never quit. Rains did quit mid summer and gardens dried up, all except NW Arkansas which has had non stop rain all year. An early frost hit NW Arkansas the first week of October and central Arkansas early November. The next few days will bring frost to Southern Arkansas as well.

These cucumbers in my garden at Lonoke, did not survive the November 1st frost. I did cover this tower of cucumbers with floating row cover but they were too far off the ground to keep the frost out. I did pick 8 nice size slicers right before I covered them.
The second crop of figs were just starting to ripen. Green figs will not ripen once hit by frost.
Floating row covers worked wonderful on my green beans. Plants such as these that are lower to the ground, the covers were able to hold the warmth that the soil released over night. I harvested 5 gallons before the frost a week ago. I will cover them again with hopes to harvest the remaining beans as you see in the picture, the plants are loaded.
My fall broccoli is coming along nice. Although they can take light frost, I did cover them as well and will cover again the next few nights. They are about 7 days out from being ready to harvest.
Fall potatoes were slow to start growing. The hot dry temperature of September delayed them. Potatoes grow best in cool mild weather but they are frost sensitive. You can see some damage on these plants even though they were covered with floating row covers as well. This coming weeks low temperature is expected to be in the teens and with those temperatures, floating row covers will not prevent frost under the blankets. I will strip the remaining beans in a day or two, harvest the broccoli and dig the potatoes.

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.
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