Questions and Answers…

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Plant Away On Warm Season Plants!

This last week we got a reminder of why April seventh is the last average freeze date in central Oklahoma as some freezes occur after that date to make it the average.  Many areas across Oklahoma got three freezes last week but we have been above forty for night temperatures since Tuesday and the seven day forecast looks good to plant going forward.

We gardeners experience great anticipation as winter winds down and we are anxious to get our crops planted as spring arrives so we can get the maximum length of growing season and take advantage of as many spring showers as possible.  Hopefully we have seen our last freeze from the winter of 2017/2018 and we can safely encourage you to plant away for the 2018 growing season.  Folks get the most anxious about planting their tomatoes, peppers and eggplants as there is a special joy in having the first big, real home grown, juicy tomatoes in the neighborhood or to add to your homemade sandwich or hamburger.  You should be able to safely plant your tomatoes and other warm season vegetables in your flowerbeds, raised beds, container gardens or Root Control bags.  Most of the greenhouses and garden centers had their crops targeted to be ready a couple weeks ago and so their tomatoes may be taller than normal. For tomatoes you just dig a deeper hole and leave the top six to twelve inches above ground.  Peppers, eggplants and other most crops should only be planted at the same depth or soil line of the container they have been grown in.  Tomatoes and marigolds can be planted deep as they are stem rooters and will develop additional roots all up and down the planted stem.  Most other plants should be planted at the existing soil line.  It is fun to plant several varieties of tomatoes and peppers to add variety to your garden and your dinner plate.  Plant some large beefsteak sized tomatoes, some smaller cherry or pear tomatoes for quick snacking or salads.  Plant different color bell peppers, sweet banana shaped peppers or hot peppers from across the full scale of hot, depending on your taste.

We can now plant all kinds of tender warm season annuals except for the hottest blooded crops like sweet potatoes, okra, periwinkle and caladiums which will do best if you wait another couple of weeks for nighttime temperatures to be consistently above fifty degrees.  You can plant most everything else with reckless abandon as long as you are prepared to water when nature does not provide quenching rains.

You can select and plant hundreds of species and thousands of varieties of plants to liven up and beautify your home and property.  You can plant traditional bedding plants like geraniums, fibrous begonia, impatiens, penta, petunias, coleus, marigolds, zinnia, lantana and dianthus as well as dozens of lesser known annuals that will make a big color statement in your yard.

This is also a good time to plant perennials, shrubs and trees. This is a great planting time for most everything because daytime temperatures are often warm, but not hot and nighttime temperatures are cool, but not cold and give our plants a chance to relax and produce a significant spurt of spring growth.

This is a good time to feed your trees, shrubs, lawn and flowerbeds to help support this natural spring growth spurt.  A spring feeding and then watering as needed will help your plants avoid plant stress and will help develop a healthy root system so the plants are better able to handle stress and challenges later, like droughts or brutal summer heat.

Make time to visit your local greenhouse and garden centers and have fun exploring the many plant choices.  Then select some tried and proven plants and a few new plants to get planted so you can enjoy watching them grow in your yard this growing season.

Oklahoma Late Freezes and Spring Planting!

We are getting very close to planting season for most of the warm weather crops.   Our last average freeze date is around April 7th or today in central Oklahoma.  That means some years the last freeze is before today’s date and some years the last date is well after that date to end up with the April 7th average.  A few years ago we actually had a freeze on May 3rd in Oklahoma City.  We have flirted with freezes three nights this week depending on your specific location.  Most metro nurserymen suggest waiting to plant the tender or warm season annuals until mid April and the really hot blooded crops like periwinkle, sweet potato vines and caladiums until May first or after when night temperatures are consistently above 45 degrees.  Those reading this column in Ardmore or southern Oklahoma are usually about a week earlier to warm up while those in Enid, Ponca City or Bartlesville are about a week later than these Oklahoma City dates.  You can safely plant trees, shrubs and perennials now as they are more tolerant of a light frost or freeze.  It would be wise to wait another week on tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, penta, geraniums, marigolds and other warm season annuals.

We have had some gorgeous spring days mixed in with our last cool days.  The beautiful days really make us want to plant.  If you can’t wait any longer and want to get your tomatoes or other crops planted before the neighbors please be prepared to cover them with row cover, hot kaps, boxes, milk bottles, or other protection if we do get another cold snap that flirts with freezing.

When planting your crops it pays big dividends to spend a little extra time to prepare your soil as the soil is the home for your plants and the foundation of gardening success.  If you have been adding organic matter for years you likely have established a good loamy soil with good air movement and good water penetration and drainage.  In these good well developed soils you can literally clear any weeds and start planting.  If you have clay or tight soils you should add organic matter like sphagnum peat, fine composted bark, or aged compost based on manure, cottonseed hulls or alfalfa.  This organic matter will help lower the Ph of our normally high alkaline soils and will improve drainage and allow more air circulation to help support healthy roots. If you have sandy soil the addition of organic matter will help moderate the air movement and will retain more moisture in the root zone while lowering the Ph levels to a slightly acidic level where more nutrition is available to most plants.

We are at the very end of the time where you can reduce summer weeds like crabgrass in your lawn through the use of a pre-emergent herbicides. Remember that pre-emergent herbicides only work if they are applied before the crabgrass or other weed seeds germinate.  Once the weeds have sprouted we have to switch from pre-emergent herbicides to post emergent herbicides to get any control.  If you want pre-emergent control you need to apply at once as a weed and feed type product that fertilizes as you kill the weed seeds or as a granular herbicide you spread or a liquid weed-killer you can spray on your lawn.

Our state is in bloom as spring marches forward.  We are enjoying the last of the tulip bulbs and the first of the iris in flower.  We are seeing the last of the yellow forsythia and the first of the enchanting purple wisteria.  We are seeing the last of the fruit tree flowers and the peak flowering of our state tree, the many gorgeous varieties of Redbud.  Please take time to enjoy your yard, your neighborhood and your city parks as well as fun visits to your local nurseries and garden centers.

Oklahoma Rain, Prime Planting Season,Weeds!

Most of Oklahoma has thankfully received measurable rain over the last week.  Some areas have even been blessed with several rains after virtually no rain across much of the state since September or October of last year.  Our trees, shrubs, perennials and spring bulbs are all breathing a deep sigh of relief after this much needed moisture.  We have had more winter damage than usual because of the extreme drought which has led to some actual dehydration of many trees and shrubs and the loss or burning of more foliage then usual on our broadleaf and needlepoint evergreens.

We are in the middle of prime planting season for our cool season food crops.  Between now and mid March you should plant leafy greens like leaf or head lettuce, cabbage, spinach, and Swiss chard.  Now is the time to plant broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, green peas, and turnips.  There are many root crops to plant now to harvest and enjoy two to three months later including beets, carrots, onion plants or onion sets, Irish potatoes and radishes.  These are very easy crops to grow and have limited pest or disease problems so they are a good way to start gardening.  The above crops are all annuals that will produce this year and then be done when harvested or stressed out by the summer heat.

There are some good perennial, cool season food crops that should live and produce for multiple years with just a little basic care.  These include crops like asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, horseradish, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries and blueberries.  These cool season fruits and vegetables can be grown in traditional ground beds, raised beds or in decorative containers.  Most do best in a well drained soil where they will not be standing in water.

Cool season veggies are a great opportunity to involve kids, grandkids or neighbor kids in a gardening experience.  I just returned from a national meeting of Seed Your Future, a volunteer group that is committed to encourage more youth to have experiences with plants and hopefully encourage some to even explore plant careers.  Many youth get to sow seed or take cuttings and see the miracles of plants in first, second, even third grade but few get much exposure or  experience with the joy of plants after those early grades.  Reach out to the kids in your world and invite them to plant seed potatoes or onion plants with you and let them check in over the next sixty to ninety days as those crops grow. Then have them help you harvest, clean, cook and eat these fresh crops they helped plant and grow.  Kids are always impressed when you sow the seeds of carrots, radish or beets and then to see them germinate, watch them grow and then to pull them out of the ground at harvest.  Most kids don’t even realize these root vegetables are grown underground.  This is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with the kids in your life, to learn and have fun together as you increase their awareness of plants and nature.  You can learn a lot more about plants, soil, moisture, bugs, weather and life by living and participating in gardening than you can in a class lecture or reading a science textbook.

As we get closer to spring planting of warm season crops in mid April  this is a good time to prepare the soil in our flowerbed and garden areas or to create new flowerbeds.

Now is the time to apply pre-emergent herbicides or weed killers to your lawn for control of crabgrass and warm season weeds.  Lawn weeds are much easier to control with a pre-emergent which kills the crabgrass and winter weeds as they germinate.  Most of these pre-emergents will work for four to twelve weeks, depending on their chemistry, after application to your lawn and getting watered in to activate the herbicides.  You can apply these as a herbicide or weed killer only or blended with a fertilizer to act as a weed and feed product.  Look for a herbicide or weed and feed product that includes Prodiamine (Barricade), Dimenson, Balan, Treflan, Team or Sulfentrazone for best weed control results in Oklahoma.  Some folks try to get organic pre-emergent weed control with corn gluten.

Gather the kids in your life and share the joy and productivity of planting your cool season vegetables and food crops as we prepare for spring 2018.

Love in the air and drought in the Oklahoma ground!

Love is in the air and Valentine’s Day will be here in just a few days.  Flowers are one of the best ways to express love and to share joy and appreciation.  For centuries we have shared flowers and plants to celebrate and commemorate our love, respect, adoration and affection.  In our part of the world, fresh colorful flowers are even more symbolic and enjoyable at this time of year as winter, with its symphony of brown and green surrounds us in nature and before the bulbs and trees begin to bloom in spring.

Our local florists bring in fresh cut flowers from local greenhouses and literally all over the world so you can provide your sweetheart the traditional long stemmed roses or a bunch of blooming tulips or daffodils.  Carnations and chrysanthemums are still a favorite but gerbera daisies, anthurium, lilies and a host of tropical or exotic cut flowers are now available at your local florist from the Netherlands, Africa, Israel and South America. You can do a bunch, bokay or arrangement of a single flower type that may be special for your loved one or a mixed bokay that focuses on a favorite color or a part of the world where you have traveled and have special memories together.

Many folks love a good mixed bokay of flowers that look more like a spring flower festival.  You can trust your local florist to build a bokay of the prettiest flowers they have in the shop or ask them to design a bokay around roses or bird of paradise or some other flower special to you and your loved one.

As lovely and thrilling as fresh cut flowers are to spark a romance or trigger special memories together, some couples prefer to share live plants.  You can share potted blooming plants of cyclamen, tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, kalanchoe, chrysanthemum, anthurium or bromeliads.  Some sweethearts love foliage or house plants to keep alive year round to celebrate your love.  Gardening sweethearts may prefer a tree or shrub, rose bush or a gift certificate from their favorite nursery or garden center so they can pick out their own plants to celebrate Valentine’s Day and take a permanent spot in your yard.

It has been freezing most every night this week reminding us that we are still in winter even though the sun is getting brighter and the days are getting longer.  We are actually into gardening season with an increasing list of things we can be doing and even planting in the garden.  Ornamental trees, shrubs and cool season vegetables lead the planting  list but we can also plant fruit trees and many types of berries and small fruits at this time.

This is prime time to plant potatoes, onion sets and onion plants over the next four weeks to enjoy a harvest this season.  Plant cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, carrots and Swiss chard as you start your vegetable garden.  Plant asparagus, rhubarb and horseradish crowns over the next month so you can harvest produce for years to come.

If you have always wanted to start a vineyard to raise your own fresh grapes or wine grapes this is the best time of year to plant bareroot grapes and begin your vineyard.  Plant raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, gooseberries and youngberries so you can pick your own fresh berries for cobblers, pies or to just eat off the bush.   Strawberries grow short, almost like a groundcover plant but can produce those tasty red fruit that are so healthy for you.  Planting bareroot strawberry plants over the next month is the least expensive way to start your own strawberry patch.

We are in another bad drought and we are seeing lots of leaf burn and lost leaves on our broadleaf evergreens and even some needle evergreens.  Please use the next nice warm day to hook up your water hose and give your evergreens a good watering so they can make it through the rest of the winter without being “freeze dried” or dehydrating, even to death.  A good watering can actually save plant lives at this point of our long dry winter.

Christmas Plants and Live Trees All A Part Of The Celebration!

Christmas is just over a week away and it seems when I was growing up mid December is when we brought poinsettias into our homes or businesses and moved in the cut Christmas tree.  Christmas decorating really started about ten to fourteen days before Christmas.   Over the years everything for Christmas has started earlier and earlier from shopping to decorating to parties.  Even our poinsettia has evolved with new varieties to stay in bract or full color for weeks and even months with a little basic care.  Many of you may have purchased and decorated with poinsettias as early as Thanksgiving and may be able to enjoy their color and beauty all the way to Valentines or St. Patrick’s Day.  Others may like the tradition of adding poinsettias this weekend or even closer to Christmas to enjoy their red, white, pink or patterned bracts for Christmas and though the winter.

If you got a cut Christmas tree make sure to keep it standing in water to slow down how quick it dries out and to extend its life in your home.  This is the perfect time to set up a live Christmas tree that you can then plant out in your yard to enjoy for years to come.  Live Christmas trees do best if only kept indoors for ten to twenty days.  If you keep them in a warm dry home for too long, they will dry out and drop needles and it will reduce your chances of success when you transplant the live Juniper, Pine or Spruce out into your yard.  Make sure to place the live tree in a container with drain holes and set it in a saucer to collect drained water. Water the live tree every five to seven days while it is in your warm home.  A live tree will generally not look as impressive and full as cut tree but it is a great way to make memories with your family and then add to your landscape and commemorate those memories for years to come.

If you have an apartment or limited spaces consider using a Norfolk Island pine as your miniature Christmas tree.  You can save it to use as a beautiful and interesting house plant after the Christmas celebrations are over. There are many other interior plants you can use to add color and life to your Christmas celebrations.  Cyclamen (shooting star plant), amaryllis, kalanchoe, orchids, English Ivy wreathes or trees and many other house plants can add color, fresh oxygen and fun to your holiday celebrations.

There is still plenty of time to get the perfect Christmas gift for your gardening family and friends or even yourself.  Consider a gift of a tree, shrub or plants that have a special meaning or interest for that person or a gift certificate from their favorite nursery, garden center or florist.  Live plants or a fresh floral bouquet are always a great gift for Christmas parties or events.  There are unlimited gift possibilities from hobby greenhouses to tools, wheelbarrows or carts, gloves and gardening clothes or nice decorative containers. Gardeners will appreciate a membership in the Oklahoma Horticulture Society or their favorite garden society or club.   A membership in the Myriad Gardens Conservatory is a special treat they will enjoy all year long.  Don’t forget gardening books and magazines or a card with an offer to help with their yard work later this year.

We wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and would encourage you to get out and enjoy the Christmas color at the Myriad Gardens Conservatory, Will Rogers Park Conservatory and Gardens and in neighborhoods across our state. It is exciting to see the extra beauty of our trees, shrubs and homes when they are dressed up in Christmas lights.

Christmas Season-Holiday Celebrations and Traditions!

Thanksgiving the holiday is over for another year although life is best when we have a heart and attitude of Thanksgiving year round.  Now our attention has shifted to the Christmas Season.  Many have already engaged in Black Friday Christmas shopping, hanging and touring Christmas light displays and the start of holiday celebrations and gathering.  The weather has been so moderate that it works well for hanging wreaths, greens and Christmas lights.  We may have the best Christmas light displays across our neighborhoods in years since the weather has been so cooperative.  This is also a great time to plant the tulip and daffodil bulbs you have already purchased and that are still in your shopping bag.  Better yet, go buy some spring flowering bulbs and get them planted so you can enjoy a great flower show to announce the arrival of spring next March and April.  Buy a few pre-cooled bulbs and force some hyacinths, tulips, daffodils or paperwhites to enjoy indoors before spring arrives. This is also a great time to plant trees and shrubs to landscape your yard.  They will need some watering when we face dry stretches of time, like right now.  Trees planted now will still start to root in at their new home and will be a little better prepared for the heat of summer. 

There are many great gifts for gardeners from plants to tools, books and memberships, gift certificates and even offering to work together to create a new flowerbed or to help with pruning.  Few holidays have their own plant but Easter has the Easter lily and Christmas has the poinsettia.  The poinsettia is a relatively recent tradition as it was only introduced in the United States in the early 1830’s.  Joel Poinsett of Charleston, South Carolina had a colorful career traveling Europe, Russia, Chile and Argentina, was elected to the South Carolina State House of Representatives, then Congress.  He resigned Congress in 1825 to become our first Ambassador to the newly independent country of Mexico.  During his time in Mexico, working to assist them adopt a constitution and dealing with defining the United States – Mexico boundary he discovered the native Flor de Nochebuena or Christmas Eve Flower near Taxco de Alarcon, South of Mexico City.  Poinsett was an accomplished amateur botanist and sent starts back to his plantation in South Carolina and other plant geek friends in our young country.  By 1836 the plant was widely known as the Poinsettia, in his honor, and has grown in popularity over the decades.  It is widely grown as an outdoor bedding plant in Australia and New Zealand but in America we think of it as the Christmas flower and grow them in containers to flower from Thanksgiving past Christmas.  Poinsettias bloom with short days so their flowering can be timed based on day length.  When I was a youngster the varieties all grew several feet tall before flowering and the bracts were often only colored and pretty for a few weeks.  Growers would try to have them ready by mid December and they were showy to New Year’s Day or a little later.  As a result of breeding and selection we now have shorter varieties that work great for table centerpieces and other decorations.  The modern varieties are often colored up by Thanksgiving and with a little attention to light and watering will often stay colorful into March and April of the following year.  Adventurous gardeners can enjoy them outside on the patio or porch next spring and summer and then expose them to short days next fall to rebloom their poinsettia for another year.  The flower is actually a small yellow boat shaped flower that sits above the bracts or colored leaves that most folks think of as the poinsettia flower.  The true flowers are not very spectacular but the colored bracts can be stunning in their traditional red, the many tones of pink, orange, white or marble tones.  Get yourself in the Christmas spirit by selecting several poinsettias to decorate your home along with your Christmas tree, wreaths and greens.  There are a number of other plants that do well inside to decorate for the holidays including amaryllis, cyclamen, cineraria and calceolaria so select the flowers you enjoy to liven up your home and have a happy and blessed Christmas Season.

Thanksgiving is not only a time to celebrate a successful growing season and a bountiful harvest. 

This next week we celebrate Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays of the year.  It has been called different names over the centuries and in different cultures but in almost all civilizations and societies there has been some type of harvest festival or holiday of Thanksgiving.  Our American holiday began with the Pilgrims celebrating the fall harvest as they prepared for another long, cold winter.  In that era it was often a matter of life and death based on how much crop was produced in the growing season that you could save and store to make it through the dreary and harsh winter months when you were limited to hunting and fishing for most of your food for survival.  We are so very blessed that our American farmers are so productive and that just a few percent of our population is now required to produce the food for all of us, plus many more folks around the world.  The efficiency of the modern farmers, whether it is your local growers at the Farmers Market or several thousand acre wheat or corn farmers, frees you from the daily pressure of producing food each and every day to ensure the survival of your family.  We are blessed to have access to the world’s best selection of fresh food, canned food, frozen foods and even dried and prepared foods.  You can visit your local grocery store or farmers market and select fresh vegetables, berries, fruits, nuts, a wide selection of beef, pork, chicken, lamb and fish and more kinds of grains, cereals and prepared or processed foods than we can even sample.  The amazing progress in farm equipment, crop breeding and even types of crops has given us more food choices than at any time in history.  You can choose to eat locally grown foods, you can choose to sample foods from around the world including historical or exotic foods, you can choose to eat organically grown foods or you can eat to fit a multitude of diet options or restrictions.

The advances in American farming, refrigeration, canning & freezing have freed you up from the pressure of growing your own food so you can pursue the type of job that utilizes your best talents and abilities and gives you the most personal satisfaction.  Farmers and our amazing food distribution systems are what allow you to be an artist, a doctor, a salesman, an accountant, a teacher, a driver, a lawyer, a warehouse worker, an office worker or whatever career you are pursing.

Food production and our food choices have become so plentiful and available that they have become controversial to some folks.  I guarantee you food production techniques are not controversial when you are struggling to grow food, hunt or find enough food to feed your family each day.  It is only because of the amazing success of American farmers that we argue about breeding practices and techniques like what kind of fertilizer or herbicides are used in producing those crops instead of the base worry of having food to eat.  We are blessed to have lots of different crop production systems and they have different costs of production so you can decide if you want to pay extra for production like organically grown vegetables or meats.  An organic vegetable grower often gets about a third less harvest so they need to charge more to survive and continue their business as compared to a farmer that uses modern insecticides and fungicides to control their pest and disease problems.  Both produce good quality nutritious food so you have to decide which is right for you and your budget.

Thanksgiving is not only a time to celebrate a successful growing season and a bountiful harvest.  It is a great time to celebrate with family and count the many blessings of family, friends, and health as well as access to a warm, safe home, the kindness of neighbors, the joy of children and the wisdom of our seniors.  We hope that you will be able to spend time this next week to celebrate the harvest of food and beauty from your yard and garden and the warmth and love of your spouse, family and friends.  Have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving.