Fall Is The Fresh Start Season For Oklahoma Gardeners!

This is fresh start season in the garden.  If your spring plantings never got done, if you had a crop failure from bugs, disease or neglect, if the weeds got out of control this is your chance for a fresh fall start.  Many folks think all garden color planting is in the spring and don’t realize there are some great crops for fall and winter color.  You can buy hardy mums in bud or bloom at your local garden centers and plant them now in your flower beds, front porch urn or decorative patio pots to provide color until we get our first relatively hard frost or freeze, usual in early November.  Hardy mums are heavy drinkers and dry out quick and often, so be prepared to water them thoroughly more often than most plantings, even every day or two until they get rooted deeper into their new home with more soil.  Hardy mums can provide a smorgasbord of color in many different flower styles and sizes.  Select yellow, white, red, orange, rust, pink, purple, bronze and many flowers that evolve in colors from bud to full bloom.  Hardy mums do best in full sun or limited shade.

The color from hardy mums will deteriorate rapidly after a hard freeze but pansies will  survive all but the hardest freezes.  Pansies will actually grow and flower in the full sun most all winter until the heat of next spring wears out the winter pansies.  The quicker you plant the pansies the more vegetative growth you will get before the really cold weather of winter.  Pansies will actually grow all through winter, but at a slower rate of growth as we get colder.  They will flower all through the winter.  Few things can lift your spirits like the color and charm of bright colored pansy faces peeking through the snow or ice on a cold winter day.  The more vegetative growth you get from your pansies to make a bigger mound or canopy of healthy plant will lead to more pansy flowers all winter long.  Some pansy flowers are all one color like yellow, blue or purple but most have a charming mix of petals where three upper petals may be white, yellow or some other color and the lower petals may be another color like purple, burgundy or any of many other colors.  The contrast in petal colors not only provides garden color but almost gives pansies personality that adds to their charm and landscaping impact.

Ornamental kale and ornamental cabbage do flower but it is not the flowers that put on the big show in late fall and well into winter.  It is the beautiful and unique foliage in tones of green, gray, pink, purple and while that thrives in cool, even cold weather.  The gorgeous foliage can be the center of attention in large decorative pots near your front entrance, patio or in flowerbeds.  The sooner you plant them, the more vegetative plant you will grow before their growth rate slows down in really cold weather.  Like pansies, kale and cabbage will look good and add color all through the late fall and winter before withering as the temperatures heat up next April or May.

You can also think and plant for the long term by planting trees and shrubs.  The roots will grow in winter with modest watering and mulching and gives your trees and shrubs a chance to be better established and rooted in by the time they face their first challenging Oklahoma summer.  This is a beautiful time in the landscape.  Spend time in your yard and in our parks to enjoy the fall surge of flowers, the last burst of growth for this growing season and be ready to enjoy the symphony of fall colors as the days get shorter and night temperatures finally start to cool down.

Fall – Plant Trees, Shrubs Hardy Mums

Fall is for planting!  This is one of the best times of the year to plant trees and shrubs to enhance your long term landscape.  You can select container grown or balled and burlapped field grown trees and plant them in the fall so they can get rooted into their new home before facing the heat of our Oklahoma summers.  New tree and shrub plantings should be watered in after planting and regularly this fall and winter when we don’t receive natural rains.  An advantage of fall planting is that we get more regular natural rains and with less sunlight intensity and heat, the soil and new plantings don’t dry out as bad or as often.  Before you visit your local nursery or garden center, decide if you want to plant trees that will grow into large shade trees or smaller ornamental trees to fit the design vision you have for your home.

When selecting and planting shrubs, are you trying to create a hedge to act as a sight or wind barrier or do you want a shrub to define the corners of your porch or home.  There are flowering shrubs, evergreen shrubs and deciduous shrubs.  There are dwarf shrubs that can work for borders or as a short hedge across the front of the porch. Think about the effect or design you have in mind and your local nurseryman can help you select the right trees and shrubs for your application, soil type and light levels.  It is always best to invest some time to prepare the planting hole for these long term plantings that will anchor your landscape for years, decades and maybe even centuries to come.  Dig the planting hole about half again as deep and twice as wide as needed to plant the ball of soil and roots.  Mix sphagnum peat, a good grade of compost or other good humus or organic matter at one-third to one-half ratio with the soil you removed from the hole and then use this amended soil to fill back the hole as you plant your new trees and shrubs.  This improved soil should help your trees and shrubs get established more quickly as it will improve the aeration and water holding capacity around the new plantings.

This is also the season to plant and enjoy hardy mums, ornamental kale & cabbage, asters and pansies to color up your fall landscape.  Fall is the time to plant tall fescue or rye grass seed if you want a green lawn through the winter or if you need to cover crop bare land to prevent winter erosion.   This is a great time of year to spend more time out in your garden enjoying your flowers, vegetables and the shade of your trees.  Enjoy more time outside on your patio or porch, in the yard and your flowerbed as our temperatures moderate.

Another great fall gardening experience will be the Oklahoma Horticulture Society Farm to Table dinner fundraiser to support their 4-H and FFA scholarships, their sponsorship of the OETA Oklahoma Gardening TV show and Oklahoma State University Horticulture Department scholarships.  This dinner with horticulture enthusiasts from across our great state will be at the recently restored Ed Lycan Conservatory at Will Rogers Park in Oklahoma City on Sunday, September 29, 2019.  Tickets are $85.00 each and the social hour will be from five to six p.m.  The dinner at 6 p.m. will be catered by Kamala Gamble of Kam’s Kookery featuring Oklahoma grown foods.  Order tickets from the OHS website www.ok-hort.org  or call (405) 696-3076.  Come support the Oklahoma Horticulture Society, meet a lot of fun plant people and have a great evening supporting great horticulture causes.

September Beautiful Time Of Year For Gardener!

September is usually a mix of summer and autumn days as the day length shortens and the weather starts to cool ever so gradually.  A lot of our spring and summer blooming annuals get a fresh burst of energy as fall approaches and they produce a new round of growth and flowers as we confront the last two mouths of the normal Oklahoma growing season.

There are a number of plants we traditionally plant in the fall.  As football season starts we often think of hardy mums or chrysanthemums.  Most garden centers produce a nice crop, already in bud, that you can plant in your front flowerbeds, by the back porch or patio or in decorative containers for impressive fall color.  Hardy mums set bud by day length as the day gets shorter.  Some varieties are already showing color while other varieties will color up over the next few weeks.  Hardy mums produce mounds of color in white, yellow, orange, rust, bronze, red, pink, purple and an assortment of mixed colors and will generally be showy up through Halloween and until the first hard freeze.  There are varieties with clusters of small flowers or larger single flowers from simple daisy type flowers to spoon petal flowerheads and double dahlia style flowers to add variety and interest to your hardy mum plantings.

You can buy hardy mums from the smaller 4” pot transplants to one, two or three gallon size containers or even larger bushel basket sized specimens depending on the amount of plant and flower impact you want this fall.  If hardy mums are watered and cared for through the year they will freeze to the ground this winter and then re-sprout next spring.  After producing vegetative growth through the spring and summer they will flower again when the short days will trigger another round of fall flowers next year.

We usually let the temperatures cool a little more before planting the semi hardy pansies, viola, ornamental kale and cabbage.  These semi hardy plants like cooler temperatures and will wither under the increasing heat late next spring.   We suggest planting these cool season crops starting later this month, after you are done planting hardy mums which can be planted now.  Don’t forget to water in new plantings and to be ready to water more when we are not receiving regular natural rains.

Now until mid October is a great time to plant or over seed tall fescue grass seed if you want to establish a green lawn for the winter months and for after your Bermuda or other warm season grass has frozen back to brown for the year.  You can also sow annual or perennial rye grass or Kentucky 31 Fescue seed to establish a green cover crop on bare land to prevent blowing or erosion until you can plant your permanent warm season lawn grass next spring.

Fall is a fabulous time to plant container grown trees and shrubs.  Fall plantings don’t have to battle such intense heat and our scorching, dehydrating summer winds and they will generally benefit from more regular autumn rains as they get established.  The roots will keep growing well into the winter and this will help your new trees and shrubs get established before facing the extreme heat of next summer.

This is a beautiful time of year to be outside in your yard and garden.  Enjoy the re-energized flowers and vegetables as you do your watering, weeding, and while planting your hardy mums.

Scorching August Heat Means Watering #1 Job For All Gardeners!

We continue to experience scorching August heat which means watering is job number one in the Oklahoma garden.  Sunlight, carbon dioxide and water are the most essential elements for our friends in the plant world.  The sun is quite dependable and appears in varying intensity every day.  We humans and other animal life generate lots of carbon dioxide that our plants need as we need the fresh oxygen our plants produce.  Water is the least dependable of these required life elements for your trees, shrubs, vegetables, and flowers.  To maintain optimum plant health we humans often have to supplement natural rains with extra water for our plants, especially in the hot & windy Oklahoma summers.  Regular watering by drip, water hose or sprinkler can keep your plants from stress and keep them growing and productive.  Mulching with bark, hulls, pine straw or other natural mulches can cool your plant roots and reduce watering demand by half or more.

You can still plant a variety of vegetables for your fall vegetable garden although we run out of time each week on a few more of the fall vegetable crops.  Check out the Oklahoma State University extension fact sheet on fall gardening or visit your local nursery or garden center for updated details on the fall vegetable gardening schedule to beat the winter freeze.

It is still early and too hot for fall plantings of pansies, ornamental kale and cabbage but there are many other plants planted at this season as folks dress up their yards and container gardens for fall parties and events or just for personal enjoyment.  We still have ten weeks or more left of this growing season and lots of gardeners plant petunias, begonias, impatiens or a multitude of other color annuals to get a burst of fall color as the days start to get shorter and the evenings and days get cooler.  Remember these new plantings are even more dependent on you for supplemental watering in the heat as they do not have as large and established of a root system.

Your existing flowering annuals will often get a new burst of growth as the temperatures start to cool.  Many annuals that have survived the summer heat will also produce a surge of new flowers as the temperatures begin to temper or cool.  One fun thing to look forward to as we approach fall is deeper color or intensity on many of our flower blooms.  Pink, red, blue, orange, yellow and purple flowers will be darker and more intense as we move from August to September and into October.  The summer heat bleaches out many of these colors and their intensity returns as the night temperatures drop.  Watch your flowers over the next couple of months to enjoy this cool act of nature in your own yard.

We continue to battle the pests of summer as we have seen significant bagworm damage on many of our junipers and needle evergreens.  Left unchecked they can literally defoliate and kill these evergreens, usually from the lower foliage moving up.  Watch for the tell-tale bags and hand pick these bagworms to put in the trash or visit your local garden center to select a spray solution to battle this problem.  Red spider mites are also loving the heat and multiplying like crazy to attack your plants.  When they get real bad they even create webs like traditional spiders.

Water, observe and enjoy your garden even when it is hot.  Soon it will cool down and both you and your garden plants will be re-energized!

Summer Heat – Fall Veggies To Plant!

The summer heat is back in full force with triple digits highs as we might expect for August in Oklahoma.  That means our flowers, trees, shrubs and vegetables are counting on us to assist them with needed water.  Don’t forget you can mulch your plants to reduce watering by up to half while also cooling the soil surface and plant root zone and reducing surface evaporation.

Even while we battle the heat and extreme drying of August this is the time to wrap up planting of your fall vegetable garden.  You can plant transplants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or tomatillo.  Plant seed or transplants now of cucumber, pumpkins, summer squash or winter squash.  You can plant seeds of bush beans, cow peas, pole beans, lima beans or cilantro.  These tender vegetables need to be planted at once in order to allow time for the crop to grow, produce their crop and harvest before the first killing freeze.  Fall vegetable gardens are often more dependable and consistent in their yield as they benefit from cooling temperatures as the crops mature.  The key is to keep the young vegetables watered and happy as they get established and battle the heat before it starts to cool down as we advance into September and October

There are also many semi hardy vegetables that you can plant throughout August that will tolerate a few light frosts and stay producing later into the fall or even early winter.  You can plant transplants of broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale or kohlrabi, green peas, radish, rutabaga, Swiss chard and turnips.  You can use seeds or plants of Chinese cabbage, collards, leaf lettuce, parsnip, leek or onions for fall gardening.  Use seed potatoes to grow a fall crop of Irish potatoes.  You can start mustard or spinach from seed and garlic from cloves or bulbs in September and early October as the temperatures cool down.

All of these fall veggies can be grown in well drained, sunny ground or flowerbeds but many of these vegetable can also be grown in decorative containers, smart pot fabric pots or raised beds.  Watering during the hot, dry start of the crop is the most important factor in success but these vegetable plants will benefit from well developed soil with lots of organic matter and some fertilizer applications to provide extra nutrition.

Many of the garden questions right now have centered around loss of leaves on trees and shrubs.  We had such a moist spring and early summer that lots of trees and shrubs produced more new growth and a great canopy of foliage that now is hard to support as we have gotten hot and very dry.  The trees and shrubs respond by dropping part of their leaves to match their ability to draw up water and nutrients to support the canopy.  Some trees are having extreme leaf loss if you have not be helping them with supplemental water and they have gone from dealing with extreme moisture to now confronting drought or extreme dryness.  The goal is to keep your plants from these wild swings and this kind of stress.  We can’t stop or protect them from the rains but we can water to supplement the missing moisture when we are so dry.

Watering Oklahoma’s Garden Agenda


Summer has arrived the last several weeks in Oklahoma and we are now dealing with the intense and grinding heat of summer.  That means watering, mulching and pest control have moved to the top of the Oklahoma gardening agenda.

Water is critical not only to the good health of your plants but to their very survival.  The rains are but a distant memory now and most of our soils have dried out and need your help to provide the moisture your plants, lawn, trees and shrubs need to perform their best.  There is a tremendous variation in the water holding capacity of different soils and in the water needs of different plants as well as the drying conditions at different places around your yard.  Plants in full sun or windy areas will dry out much faster than plants in shady or protected spaces.  Soils with lots of organic matter like sphagnum peat moss, compost or fine bark or other humus, can hold much more water and for longer than a sandy open soil.  Plants that are well established and have a deeper or more extensive root system can go longer between rains or watering.  Plants in smaller containers like hanging baskets or eight inch or ten inch diameter decorative containers will need watering more often than plants in really large decorative containers that are eighteen inches or twenty-four inch in diameter.

You can hand water with a water hose and that allows you to really observe and enjoy your plants while you water.  This gives you a chance to watch for bug or disease problems, if the wind or varmints have physically impacted your plants and to make judgment decision on which plants need water and which can wait until later.  If you hand water you should get a water breaker or nozzle to help soften the water flow to reduce erosion or washout as you water.  If you water using sprinklers you give up the option of exercising judgment on which plants to water and pretty much water everything the same within the sprinkler pattern.  You can water with a sprinkler you set at the end of the water hose or install an automatic lawn or flower bed watering system.  If you do an automatic system please make sure it has a moisture or rain sensor so you are not wasting precious water and irrigating when it is raining.

Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water and the slow, steady water penetrates into the soil with the least run off or waste.   The simplest form of drip irrigation is a soaker hose and the most sophisticated are low pressure lines with emitters spaced in a regular pattern or added to water right by your trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables.  An emitter every eight inches or twelve inches will result in a solid wet row or space emitters further apart to match a specific planting pattern.  There are emitters for half gallon, gallon, two gallon or other flow rates per hour.  A half gallon emitter left on for four hours will provide the same water to a plant as a two gallon emitter left on for one hour.

All of these watering techniques work best when you mulch your plantings, with a two or three inch layer of bark, cottonseed hulls, pine straw, cocoa hulls, pecan hulls or other natural mulch.  Mulching will often reduce watering by up to fifty percent as it cools the soil and plant roots from summer heat, reduces weed pressure and reduces soil surface evaporation.

Don’t forget to be scouting for red spider mite, bagworms, webworms and other insect pests that thrive in the summer heat.  These summer pests can explode in a matter of days if you don’t address them fairly early.

Wonderful Summer Color In Our Flowering Shrubs!

We are enjoying a great display of summer color on our flowering shrubs across Oklahoma.  The significant spring rains and cooler spring temperatures have led to a bumper crop of color in July.  We are going to highlight a few of our top flowering shrubs for Oklahoma beginning with the amazing Crape Myrtle.  Crape Myrtle will literally bloom for months and produce spectacular displays of pink, red, lavender and white in sunny areas.  Crape Myrtles come in many varieties from dwarf to small trees and new varieties are constantly in development.  Oklahoma is home to one of the nation’s top breeders and former Oklahoma State University Professor Dr. Carl Whitcomb of Lacebark Publications.  Vitex flowering shrubs produce large clusters of blue flowers beloved by bees and butterflies.  Althea or Rose of Sharon was beloved by our grandparents on many early Oklahoma farms and is still a great choice for summer flowers of pink, lavender, blue and white.  Many new varieties are being introduced including sterile varieties that are less likely to seed and germinate in places you may not want them.  The beloved rose bush is still the royalty of the summer flowering shrubs and is available in literally thousands of varieties in practically every color of the rainbow.  Roses are wonderful to enjoy in the garden or to cut and bring in the house as cut flowers.  There are bush varieties from small polyantha or border roses to large grandiflora shrubs and even climbing varieties to grow on fences or your favorite trellis.

All the above flowering shrubs do best in full sun and are perennial plants that come back year after year.  Many hydrangea varieties are putting on a show right now in the shade or partial shade including the traditional hydrangeas, Oakleaf hydrangeas or dozens of new varieties in many tones of pink, blue and white.  Hydrangeas have really grown in popularity as many of the newer varieties have much longer flowering seasons.

Some other summer flowering shrubs you many want to add to your yard include hardy or saucer hibiscus, buddleia or butterfly bush, spirea, potentilla, abelia or smoke bush..  Enjoy the beautiful flowering shrubs around our state, choose what you want to add to your yard and visit your local greenhouse, nursery or garden center to select new flowering shrubs to add to your yard.

These are even tropical shrubs that bloom great in the summer but are annuals and have to be brought inside each winter or planted again each year.  Those include oleander, gardenia and the very colorful and exciting tropical hibiscus.  Even though these flowering shrubs have a one season life in our climate they can put on a breathtaking show in your container gardens or flowerbeds.

Be on the lookout for increased pest problems in your yard as the temperatures have heated up.  Please check your junipers and arbor vitae for bagworms and try to get them under control while they are small by either picking them off by hand or spraying with a number of chemicals that can help control them.  They get much harder to control as their bags get larger and thicker.  Webworms are also growing rapidly in many of our trees so be prepared to address them when you first see their webs before they “tent” your trees.

We have not had to do much watering this season because of regular rains but now that we are going hot and dry please be prepared to water your plants as needed.