Break­ing Ground

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - JANET B. CAR­SON

We were on a pretty mild gardening streak for a while, but now the tem­per­a­tures have risen and rain­fall is very spotty. Some ar­eas are still get­ting reg­u­lar show­ers, while oth­ers are bone dry. Wa­ter­ing is one of the most im­por­tant tasks in the gar­den right now. Make sure you have a rain gauge so you will know how much wa­ter your yard is re­ceiv­ing. High wa­ter bills may seem un­bear­able, but have you looked at the cost of hav­ing a large dead tree re­moved? Wa­ter is crit­i­cal to healthy plant growth.

Con­tinue to dead­head peren­ni­als and even some shrubs. Dead­head­ing is the process where you prune off the flow­ers as they fin­ish look­ing good, pre­vent­ing them from pro­duc­ing seed. The rea­son for a flower is seed pro­duc­tion, but in our gar­dens we want flower pro­duc­tion. Many new va­ri­eties of peren­ni­als and shrubs are self-clean­ing, mean­ing the flow­ers fin­ish, drop and don’t pro­duce seeds. If you have va­ri­eties that do set seeds, in­clud­ing but­ter­fly bush (Bud­dleia), sum­mer spirea and crape myr­tles, cut­ting off the spent blooms will help the plants con­tinue to bloom. The same rule ap­plies to peren­ni­als, black-eyed Su­sans (rud­beckia), cone­flow­ers (Echi­nacea) and gail­lar­dia. They will all set seeds and stop bloom­ing if you don’t dead­head them. Once a week or two prune the old flow­ers off. In the herb world, the more you prune basil, the bushier it grows. If you al­low it to bloom and set seeds, you get less basil for your tomato cap­rese.

We have been hav­ing a re­ally good gar­den year, with a wealth of toma­toes, pep­pers and more. The hot­ter it gets, the more toll it can take on some plants. Oth­ers, like okra, egg­plant, South­ern peas and sweet pota­toes thrive in the heat. Toma­toes slow down pro­duc­tion when day­time tem­per­a­tures ex­ceed 95 de­grees or nights stay warm and hu­mid too. But, with proper care, they will be­gin to bear again when it cools off.

Be­lieve it or not, Au­gust is the

time to start plant­ing the fall gar­den. Pep­pers, egg­plant and toma­toes can be re­planted for a boun­ti­ful fall har­vest. Broc­coli, cab­bage, greens and green beans can also be planted now. It is not the eas­i­est time to get a new gar­den es­tab­lished, so wa­ter well and mulch. With a lit­tle ex­tra ef­fort now, you can have a great har­vest this fall. Usu­ally by fall, the in­sects are re­ally at­tack­ing, so mon­i­tor for pests reg­u­larly. Grasshop­pers are also around and can dev­as­tate young seedlings, so check them fre­quently. Plant­ing can con­tinue into fall as well.

WA­TER DAILY

If you have plants in con­tain­ers, daily wa­ter­ing is a

must. The more fre­quently you wa­ter, the more you leach nu­tri­tion. Fer­til­iza­tion is im­por­tant for many trop­i­cal flow­ers and an­nu­als to con­tinue bloom­ing. Make sure your plants have am­ple wa­ter be­fore fer­til­iz­ing. You typ­i­cally want to ap­ply at a lower rate to avoid burn­ing your plants. Light, fre­quent ap­pli­ca­tions would be bet­ter than a heavy dose. Fer­til­izer is a salt, and it can burn plants that are al­ready dry and heat stressed. If your sum­mer an­nu­als are sur­viv­ing — but look­ing a lit­tle peaked — give them a light hair­cut and a light dose of fer­til­izer and they can re­bound. Keep in mind that we have sev­eral more warm months, and most an­nu­als can give you color up through Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber.

All plants that bloom in the spring, in­clud­ing aza­leas, dog­woods and for­sythia, along with camel­lias, tulip mag­no­lias, Loropetalum and ker­ria, set their flower buds in late sum­mer to early fall. Fruit trees, blue­berry bushes and straw­ber­ries all have their flower and fruit buds set when they go dor­mant in the fall as well. Be­cause we had a par­tic­u­larly early spring, many of these plants have set or are set­ting their flower buds for next spring. A few sum­mer flow­er­ing plants are also set­ting flow­ers now. They in­clude the big leaf hy­drangeas, oak leaf hy­drangeas and gar­de­nias. For this rea­son, they don’t need to get too stressed or they may set fewer (or no) flower buds. They also should not be fer­til­ized or pruned now. For the most part, wa­ter­ing and mulching is the only care they need.

FIG SEA­SON

It is fig sea­son and fig trees are loaded with fruit again in cen­tral and south­ern Arkansas, but may have had some win­ter dam­age in the north­ern tier. The com­mon fig (Fi­cus car­ica) can be grown through­out Arkansas, but har­di­ness does vary within cul­ti­vars. Figs are con­sid­ered a de­cid­u­ous tree, but in colder cli­mates they are of­ten rel­e­gated to large bushes, as they can be killed back with tem­per­a­tures be­low 15 de­grees.

Figs are a mem­ber of the mul­berry fam­ily (Mo­ra­cae) and are re­lated to many fa­mil­iar house­plants in­clud­ing weep­ing fig, rub­ber tree and the fid­dle­leaf fig. The fig is one of the old­est fruit crops known to man, and it has long been grown in the South. If they sus­tain no win­ter dam­age, figs can reach a height of

25 or 30 feet and grow equally as wide. If space is lim­ited they can be pruned to main­tain a more rea­son­able size. Even if they do get frozen back to the soil line, they will typ­i­cally re­sprout from the root sys­tem and can bear some fruit that year, since they bear figs on the cur­rent-sea­son growth. There are four dis­tinct hor­ti­cul­tural types of figs, but in our cli­mate only the com­mon fig can be grown.

Figs will pro­duce best when planted in a welldrained soil in full sun. They have a fi­brous, shal­low root sys­tem that makes them sen­si­tive to drought stress. If your fig tree gets too dry, it can drop fruit. Fruit drop can also be caused by storms, cool weather soon af­ter fruit sets and weak trees. Birds, squir­rels and other an­i­mals like figs as much as we do, so bird net­ting or pro­tec­tive de­vices can help de­ter crit­ters.

The fruit is highly per­ish­able so eat it quickly or make pre­serves.

Spe­cial to the Demo­crat-Gazette/ JANET B. CAR­SON

The com­mon fig is hav­ing a good year in south­ern and cen­tral Arkansas.

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