2019 Garden Evaluation Time! Plan Ahead for 2020 Growing Season!

We have made it to the final weekend of 2019 and our attentions are torn between a look back at this year and looking ahead to next year.  The Christmas and holiday decorations will still be up for a few more days or weeks depending on your custom but many of us begin the annual ritual of retrospective review and prospective resolutions.  This is not only a good habit for our personal lives but also a good idea for our yards and gardens.

Most everything in life goes better with a little planning.  Sometime soon, take a few moments to think about your flower and vegetable gardens of 2019.  Which plants did the best and which struggled?  Did they struggle because we were wet for so long in the spring or because you planted too late or some other known reason?  What plant varieties and colors did you love and want to plant again?  Did you wish you had another flowerbed, drip irrigation, another shade tree, your own blackberries or grape vines, a personal apple orchard or pecan trees at some point this last year?  This is a good time to take those ideas, wishes and experiences and turn them into goals or resolution for the year ahead.  This is the time of year when gardeners often get mail order catalogs in the mail or now you may get e-mails bursting with information on the newest vegetable, herb, annual and perennial varieties and touting their attributes with delicious and enticing pictures and prose.  It is always fun to plant seeds or transplants of some of these new plants but it is wise to focus on plants proven over the years to do well in our tough Oklahoma weather conditions and then expand the use of the new plant varieties after you have trialed them and feel they are worthy of more intense planting.  Look through the catalogs and e-mails for new ideas and inspiration but it is often best to visit and shop with your local garden center or nurseryman who knows our soil, water and climate issues and can help you select plants with the best chance for success at your home or property.

Your evaluation of 2019 and prior years may not only focus on existing trees, shrubs, lawn, vegetables and flowers but on plant experiences you may want to add to your life.  Have you wanted to start a vegetable garden, to add rose bushes, to start a kitchen herb garden, to add a water feature, fish pond or water garden, to add a hobby greenhouse, to build a patio with container gardens, to add a butterfly or pollinator garden?  All these cool garden projects begin with a dream and then a plan and finally action.  What have you seen and liked, visited and enjoyed or dreamed about that you would like to add your garden?  Life goes better if we are doing things we anticipate and look forward to, that give us a sense of wonder and enjoyment.

We have entered the season of winter on the calendar and this is a great time to sit down and evaluate what is going well in your yard and garden and what needs improvement.  After some basic evaluation you can make resolutions of what you want to add or try in your garden this coming year.  Like most things in life, gardening can be drudgery or “food for the soul” depending on your attitude and how you approach it.  There are some basic parts of gardening we do to keep our yards and property functional, presentable and attractive.  The rest of our gardening time should be growing the crops or plants you enjoy. Gardening gives us a chance to interact with nature and be in awe of how everything grows and develops, to meditate and contemplate with the wonders around us, to get physical and spiritual exercise while doing something we enjoy.

Take time this weekend and over the next few weeks before the 2020 gardening season to reflect on gardens past and to plan for you own future gardening experiences and enjoyment.  We wish you a very happy and rewarding New Year 2020!

Christmas Made Easy For Plant Lovers and Gardeners!

Christmas grows ever closer and you still have time to gift or decorate with poinsettias, evergreen wreaths, boughs, swags, rope and Christmas trees.  The poinsettia has evolved dramatically to produce much more impressive and colorful bracts from the original plant  U.S. Ambassador Joel Poinsett discovered growing wild on the hillsides in Mexico as our first Ambassador to our southern neighbor.  Not only are the bracts larger and more impressive but they are now available in many colors besides the original red.  Choose many tones of red from OU red to OSU orange as well as pink, white and marbled or multi-colored bracts.  The modern poinsettia will also stay colorful for much longer than the older heirloom varieties.  With a little basic attention to water, light and temperature it is not unusual for the bracts, that most folks think are the flowers, to stay pretty and colorful well into March or April.  When I was in my grade school years we would try to have poinsettias “reddened up” by mid December and they would stay beautiful for four to six weeks.  Now we have them reddened up by Thanksgiving and they often stay pretty for three to five months.  If you are doing a living Christmas tree now is the time to bring the tree inside and decorate so you can take it down around the New Year and get it back outside with limited needle drop.

Many folks have a gardener on their gift list, whether it is a spouse, parent, sibling, business associate or good friend.  There are an almost unlimited range of gifts you can consider for gardeners.   The more you know about their gardening interests the better you can do on personalizing their gift.  Are they interested in vegetables, fruit trees, herbs, bonsai, terrariums, shade trees or roses?  If you know their particular interest you can buy plants, supplies, books or society memberships for that interest area.  If you don’t know their specific interests consider a gift certificate for their favorite garden center or nursery or for a good local garden center in their area.  A gift card allows them to select the very plants they want to add to their garden.

Garden gloves, boots or gardening attire are needed by most all gardeners.  Garden tools and equipment are always needed.  A very special gift would be a hobby greenhouse, cold-frame or shade house. Decorative containers are always popular and give gardeners another opportunity to buy plants!   Gardening books and magazines are appreciated by most gardeners as we are always on the quest to learn more and discover new plants.  Consider getting your garden friends a membership in the Oklahoma Horticulture Society at www.ok-hort.org or membership in  Myriad Botanic Gardens, Tulsa Botanic Gardens or the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanic Garden so they can visit all year, get magazines and newsletters and be invited to special classes and speakers.  For really special gardeners consider garden tourism in our state to view the Muskogee Azalea Festival, botanical gardens at Oklahoma City, Tulsa or Stillwater or around the world to see spring bulbs flowering in Holland, as well as great gardens all over our country and the world.   For the gardener who has everything consider a scholarship in their name at the horticulture programs at OSU Stillwater or OSU-OKC or support horticulture youth programs at 4-H or FFA in their name.

We wish you and your family a very happy and Merry Christmas and hope the poinsettias and greens help add a lot of color and excitement to your holiday festivities.

Focus on Christmas Season, Trees or Plants!

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and are still celebrating the many blessings you enjoy.  Hopefully we can all live with an attitude of gratitude, not just during Thanksgiving week, but throughout the year.  One of the benefits of gardening and working with nature is the chance to witness miracles daily and to live in wonder at the complex cycle of life that surrounds and interacts with us.

Our focus now turns to the Christmas season and plants and greenery have traditionally played an important role in these holiday festivities.  Evergreen trees and foliage have been a significant part of the Christmas celebrations for centuries.  Our ancestors decorated with boughs of green needle evergreens.  Over the year’s holly and other broadleaf shrub foliage and even mistletoe have been added to the seasonal celebrations.  What started as boughs of foliage on tables or under candles or lanterns has evolved into evergreen wreaths, swags and evergreen rope in addition to the original boughs as we all try to bring natural life and color into our holiday celebrations.

Christmas trees are said to have become a tradition in Germany and Northern Europe as another way to bring in fresh greens and to create a bigger symbol to decorate.  We can choose the traditional cut Christmas tree, originally cut from the forest or farm and now available at local Christmas Tree Farms or already cut at garden centers or nurseries.  You can choose many varieties and sizes of cut Christmas Trees but remember to select for freshness, make a fresh cut for bottom of trunk so it can absorb water and keep the cut tree in a stand with water you refill periodically.  You can also choose a living Christmas tree that you can grow on after the holiday.  You can choose an indoor house plant like Norfolk Island pine that you would keep inside after the holiday.  These are popular with folks who live in apartments or condos that don’t have a place to plant the living Christmas tree outside after the holiday.  You can select a container grown or balled and burlapped outdoor needle evergreen or pine from your local nursery to use as a living Christmas tree and then plant it out in the yard after Christmas.  Make sure to keep it watered while you have it in the house and it is best not to have the living outdoor type Christmas tree in the house for over two or three weeks as they will start to dry out and also get warmed up to where they have a harder time adjusting to hard freezes that may follow when they are moved outside.  Living Christmas trees are normally not as full and impressive as cut Christmas trees that have been sheared and pruned to be impressive for their Christmas responsibilities.

Poinsettias are a fairly recent Christmas tradition but have become a significant part of our modern Christmas celebrations.  The red bracts announce the Christmas season and brighten up our homes, churches, businesses and most everywhere we go in the Christmas season.  We can now enjoy them in red, pink, white, almost orange, and many speckled or combination colors.  They do need to be in a heated space and are pretty heavy water drinkers so check the soil for moisture and water regularly as needed.  Smaller pots will dry out more often than bigger pots.

Select your Christmas tree, buy or make some evergreen wreathes, swags and rope and select poinsettias to help get your Christmas celebration in full swing.


The hard killing freeze arrived this week across Oklahoma.  Leaves have been falling or blowing off our deciduous trees in waves.  We had experienced several light frosts and freezes that had already “retired” our more tender annual vegetables and flowers.  This hard freeze, in the teens, has pretty well finished off all the annual plants unless they are in a very protected courtyard or micro-climate.

Although most planting is over with the end of the growing season there are still a few things we can plant.  We can still plant cold hardy plants like pansies, ornamental kale and ornamental cabbage to provide color and excitement in our flowerbeds or large decorative containers well into winter, often all the way to next spring.  Pansies, in their multitude of bright colors and perky, fun flower faces are by far our most popular winter color plants.  We can still plant container grown or balled and burlapped trees, shrubs and evergreens to add to our foundation plantings and to start the shade trees of the future.  You won’t need to water winter plantings as often as spring and summer plantings but they will still need to be watered after planting and periodically through the winter if we get dry without the benefit of regular rains.  Although the tops or branches and foliage of trees and shrubs won’t grow through the winter the roots will grow some and help get these new plantings better established before next summer.

This is the best time to plant spring flowering bulbs to enjoy their party of color next spring.  Visit your local garden center to select the bulbs, plant them as soon as you have pretty days, water them in and relax until next spring when the inspiring flowers pop up from the ground.  Our most popular spring flowering bulbs to plant now include crocus, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, Dutch iris, snowdrops and many more lesser known spring flowering bulbs.  Select firm bulbs or rhizomes to plant upright in well drained soil.  Visit with your nurseryman to decide how deep to plant and on what spacing depending on the bulb crop you are planting.  I like to write the depth and spacing on the sack with each kind of bulb.  Bigger bulbs are usually older and have more stored energy to make more and bigger flowers.  Daffodils or narcissus produce beautiful trumpet style flowers in bright yellow, white, orange or a combination of colors.  Daffodils naturalize better than most other spring flowering bulbs here in Oklahoma and are more likely to come back year after year.  We have several groups of daffodils that we were told were planted in the 1930’s and still come back up and flower every spring.  Tulips are less likely to naturalize but are considered the “royal” flowering bulb and produce gorgeous upright flowers in red, pink, purple, white, and other colors.  Crocus are usually the first flowering bulb to flower each spring and these short, cute little flowers are often our first sign of spring as they announce the arrival of spring with longer days and warmer temperatures.

Start a compost pile with the leaves that have fallen on the lawn and ground.  Go shopping for spring bulbs and trees and then plant these now for your future enjoyment.

Fall wonderful time of year for planting!

The hardy mums and lycoris also known as naked lily or red spider lily bulbs are producing lots of color in our fall gardens.  The big fall color comes from our trees as their leaves change color and they prepare to drop from the trees and became humus or organic matter to support the plants of next season.  Fall leaf color is influenced by day length, weather and leaf pigments.  Day length or night length is the most consistent of these factors and repeats virtually the same schedule each year.  As the days get shorter, the nights get longer and cooler and trigger a number of biochemical processes in the leaf.

Chlorophyll is the basic green pigment we see in plant leaves and is a key ingredient of photosynthesis that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars for food.  Carotenoid pigments produce yellow, orange and brown colors in carrots, corn, bananas and daffodils as well as in many fall tree leaves.  Anthocyanin pigment produces red, blue and purple colors in cranberries, cherries, strawberries, red apples, concord grapes, blueberries and plums.  Anthocyanin is water soluble and appears in the liquid part of fall leaf cells.

Chlorophyll and Carotenoids are present in leaf cells throughout the full growing season but chlorophyll usually masks or covers up the yellow or orange of the Carotenoids.  Anthocyanins are produced in the fall when we have bright days and excess plant sugars within the leaves.  When day length is reduced, Chlorophyll production slows down and then stops.  When the chlorophyll is not replenished in the tree leaves the yellow Carotenoids are unmasked and the fall Anthocyanins become visible to paint our tree landscape in tones of yellow, orange, brown, red, bronze and even tinges of purple.

The amount and brilliance of fall tree color can vary a lot from year to year based on weather conditions.  Temperature and moisture are the biggest factors.  Warm sunny days and cool, crisp nights usually produce the best color.  The warm sunny days produce more sugars into the leaves and the cooling nights result in the gradual closing of the leaf veins and trap more sugars in the leaf to produce more Anthocyanins that produce the most vivid fall colors.  Summer droughts or extended warm fall weather or early hard freezes will lessen the intensity of Oklahoma fall tree colors.

After the fall color, the leaves will separate from the trees and float to the ground.  They act as a mulch to protect the tree and surrounding vegetation and they deliver nutrients back to the soil.  Instead of raking and hauling off these valuable leaves consider using them as mulch over your flowerbeds or creating a compost pile to let them break down into fine humus or organic matter you can add to flower beds when planting next growing season.  Poplar trees will be bright yellow, Oaks produce red and brown colors, Sugar Maples turn orange-red while Red Maples turn a brilliant scarlet and most Elms just shrivel up and turn brown.

This is a wonderful time of year to work in your garden planting mums, kale and pansies and to enjoy the fall color.  Visit your local parks and drive through the countryside or plan a trip to southeast Oklahoma to get different perspectives of the great fall color nature produces each autumn.