Questions and Answers…

If you have any questions about gardening, outdoor living, greenhouse growing or anything else that I might be able to help with, please leave your question in the comments section and I will do my steady best to answer!

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Plant to Celebrate Your Freedom!

Most of our state and therefore most of our trees, lawns and gardens have been blessed with nice, soaking, life empowering rains over the last two weeks.  It is a real joy to see the Oklahoma countryside and neighborhoods so green and flowering at the end of June as we prepare for the fireworks and festivities of July 4.  Some years we are in deep drought at this time, worrying about pond and lake levels and our plants are literally gasping or screaming for water just to stay alive.  This year the trees, shrubs and plants that are in well drained soil and not standing in water, are dancing happily in the wind and celebrating with new growth, good green color and a sound and healthy root system gently sipping moisture from the earth that holds and supports them.  We know from experience these cooler temperatures and good moisture are unlikely to last all growing season so please mulch your plantings.   Be prepared to provide supplemental water when it does get hot and dry, so you can keep your plants healthy and help protect them from drought stress when that time comes.

Many of our local garden centers and nurseries are running specials to turn their inventory and clear out spring crops so they can get ready for fresh fall crops of shrubs, perennials, color plants, vegetables and hardy mums.  If you have been busy and never got some of your flowerbeds or containers planted or if you want to add some new plants to existing flowerbeds or to create new flowerbeds you have dreamed about this is still a good time to buy and plant.  Digging will be easier after these rains and we still have over 4 months to enjoy annual color plants and many years to enjoy perennials, trees and shrubs we plant now.  Container grown plants with a good, well developed and healthy root system can be planted any time of year as long as we are prepared to water them when Mother Nature doesn’t provide regular, thirst quenching rain.

We have been involved in horticulture and agriculture relief work in a number of other countries.  We Americans are very blessed as we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the Independence of our country.  Most of our population can choose to grow their own vegetables, fruits and flowers for their own enjoyment or because they love the taste and satisfaction of home grown food.  We are blessed to have the best selections of food at the lowest cost compared to our income of any country in the world.  We have wide choices at not just one store but at many competing stores in most areas of our state and country.  Besides political independence, most in our country have food independence and are able to choose whether to raise our own food or buy our food at grocery stores, restaurants or even convenience stores.  Almost two-thirds of the world population still has to be involved in raising all or part of their own food to sustain life and to support their family.  Their health and even their very life can be dependent on droughts, untimely freezes, squash bugs, grasshoppers or other pest or disease problems.  Our family farms that count on all their income from farming are still dependent on all these factors for their annual survival as well as market trends and world trade and tariffs, they have little control over, but that greatly impact their income and financial stability.  Thank our founding fathers and the generations before us in our great country that created such a robust and competitive economy with such amazing distribution and logistics, to where we each can choose a field of specialty whether it be teaching, accounting, home building, working at a law office, retail or building computers and still be able to access the food and fiber we need to support out families.  We can garden and landscape because we want to, not because we have to, as so many face each morning when they awake around the world worrying about food and water for that day and the next few days.

Happy Birthday America!  Plant some extra plants in your yard this summer and make time to commune with nature in your yard and in our public spaces as you celebrate the gift of gardening because you want to, not because you have to.

Plant, water, mulch and enjoy are the key words for the Oklahoma garden in June!

We are two months into the 2018 growing season and have four to five months left to enjoy our plantings before a hard freeze ends the season.  With temperatures in the nineties and even flirting with triple digits it is hard to imagine a killing freeze in our future but we know it will come.  While we can still be planting trees, shrubs, color annuals and warm season vegetables our priority in the June, July and August heat is to water and take care of the plants we have planted.  We have plenty of light and heat to help our plants grow and so water becomes the main limiting factor to plant success through the summer months.  The main question on watering, folks want to know, is whether to water once a week or twice a week or how often to water.  The answer is never that simple.  Watering needs vary dramatically based on your type of soil, depth of soil, type of plants, how much sun or shade they receive, the size of the plants, whether they are new plantings or established plantings.  Correct watering actually requires you to practice good observation skills, to think and to exercise judgment.  It may well be the most important gardening function and often makes the difference in how successful your garden and plants perform.

New plantings always need more water than established plants that have a bigger root system and are rooted deeper into the ground. Plants in sunny areas or setting on or along concrete or asphalt sidewalks or driveways will need more water than plants at the middle of a flower bed or vegetable garden.  Plants in sandy or well drained soils will need more water than plants in loamy or clay soils that stay moist longer.  Lots of organic matter in your containers or flowerbeds like sphagnum peat moss or different kinds of compost will help hold water and reduce surface evaporation and watering.   A good deep soaking style of watering whether by hand or using drip irrigation will get moisture deeper in the ground and will allow you to go longer between watering applications than short bursts of overhead watering by hand or a sprinkler system.

Mulching the top of your flowerbeds and container gardens will  cut your watering by about half.  A two or three inch layer of hulls (cottonseed, pecan, cocoa), pine straw or the many kinds of bark mulches will reduce surface evaporation of water, keep the root zone of your plants cooler and happier and dramatically reduce weed pressure.  When used with drip irrigation, mulching and drip can often reduce water use by up to seventy-five percent while keeping your plants growing and getting more consistent growth.

Most all plants do better if you can keep the moisture on at even level.  They don’t like to stand in water where they can’t get oxygen to the roots or to get so dry they are wilting, especially the stress of repeat wilting.  Make sure to keep an eye on your plantings and water as needed to keep your plants healthy and growing.

Beautiful crape myrtles blooming in yards and parks across our state is a sure sign that long and warmer summer days have arrived.  Crape myrtles make a spectacular show in red, pink, white, lavender and many variations of these colors. You can plant container grown crape myrtle all through the summer as long as you are prepared to water them.  We often get the idea to add crape myrtle to our yards when we see their amazing summer display of flowers.  Spring and fall are the easiest time to get them established but with proper care crape myrtles can safely be planted now. Another advantage of summer planting, as long as you are prepared to water, is the chance to select the color of flower you want to see for years to come in your yard.  Beside many colors there are many varieties that go from dwarf plants that only grow a few feet tall to small tree varieties that will grow to twenty even thirty feet tall over time.

Plant, water, mulch and enjoy are the key words for the Oklahoma garden in June.  Don’t look at watering as a task but as a chance to meditate and enjoy your garden as you watch your plants grow and evolve.

May, Flowering Season Offers Wide Range of Plant Materials that Bloom!

Hard to believe it is already mid May and we are well into another flowering season.  Every season is a march through our wide range of plant material that blooms at different temperatures and different day lengths.  The peonies, iris, clematis and roses are all putting on their annual show of flowers while the azaleas and others wind down their color displays for another year.  The weather varies yearly so these flower displays can change by one to three weeks from year to year but the flower show follows pretty much the same order annually.  This gives us the chance to select and plant shrubs, trees, and perennials that will stage their flower performances at different times in our home gardens.  Watch your neighborhood to notice when plants bloom and watch which plants you like and then add them to your yard in similar light conditions.  Many of these plants blooming now are heirlooms or family treasures passed from generation to generation.  Often you will hear someone talk about iris, day lilies, peonies, roses, snowball bushes, lilacs or crape myrtles that were special to their mother, grandmother and grandfather or even earlier generations.  How cool it is to have one or more living family plant treasures you can divide and share or take cuttings and share from generation to generation.

Those that planted their tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and colorful flowering annuals a few weeks ago are already starting to enjoy significant flower shows or may have the first harvest just starting to appear.  If you have been busy and haven’t done your planting yet, you still have time to get a good crop and to enjoy a great harvest of flowers or fruit.  We are only one month into this growing season for warm weather crops and have about six months left for this season.  Most of the greenhouses and garden centers are still growing fresh crops and have a great selection.  You can still plant warm season veggies like tomatoes and peppers in flower beds, gardens or container gardens and get a good harvest this year.  You can still select and plant warm season annuals like geraniums, penta, petunias, marigolds, begonias, impatiens, periwinkle, zinnias and dozens of others and get a great display of color for months to come.  Plant in flower beds, flower boxes, hanging baskets or decorative containers to brighten up your yard and your life.  Although you can plant all the way into the fall, the quicker you plant these warm season crops the quicker they will grow, the more established they will be when we get into our really hot and stressful summer weather.  It also gives you longer to enjoy your plants before we get a killing freeze sometime in November.

If you haven’t planted yet, time is passing and you are missing the chance to liven up your yard. The old timers always said the best time to plant was yesterday but today is the next best choice!  If you have already done some planting there is still plenty of time to tackle another project like a new flowerbed, updating an old flowerbed or landscape or adding some container gardens to your front porch or your patio.

This is the season for planting, watering, mulching and watering again.  After you have your plants planted and watered in, please consider mulching then with a 2” to 3” layer of bark, compost or hulls to reduce weed competition, reduce watering, keep the soil cooler and reduce soil surface evaporation and to raise happier plants.  Use cottonseed hulls, pecan hulls, cocoa hulls or a wide variety of shredded or chopped barks like pine, cedar, cypress, oak or fir.  Mulching is one the best gardening practices we can use to improve gardening success with new or established plantings.

Don’t forget to water after you make new plantings; after you mulch your plantings and as needed based on rain, temperatures and drying winds that confront your new plantings.

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.