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.

GARDENERS SUMMER HAS ARRIVED IN OKLAHOMA!

Gardeners are picking their first home grown tomatoes, the hydrangeas and daylilies are blooming and most of our color annuals are bursting into full flower.  It looks like summer has arrived not only on the calendar but in real life.  We appear to have left the rainy cycle and moved into the heat of summer.  Our gardening issues can and will change from battling fungus and diseases and poor drainage or standing water to needing to water and battling insects.

The erratic and wet weather has left many of our greenhouses and garden centers with more choices and supplies than normal for the end of June.  Please consider planting those flowerbeds you had not planted yet or add some new container gardens.  You can still plant successfully as long as you are ready to water the new plantings.  We have been spoiled by the wet, moist weather this spring and have rarely had to water so for this year.  That is changing quickly with the hotter dry weather and you need to be prepared to start watering your plantings when they dry out.  Depending on your soil type, how well established your plants are and whether the soil is mulched or not mulched you may need to water once a week without rain or two or three times per week.  Feel the soil for moisture and watch your plants for wilting or even a graying of the usual green intensity of the plant foliage that can signal your plants are thirsty and need water.

It is always better to soak or water thoroughly when you do water than to squirt or just spray the foliage and top of the ground with water.  You can water personally as you observe and enjoy your garden with a water hose, set up an overhead water sprinkler, install a drip irrigation system or install an automatic sprinkler system.  All these watering techniques work and each has their strengths and limits.  The important thing is to select a watering style and to remember to water your plantings as we get hot and dry.  Plant’s can’t get up and turn on the faucet on their own, they need your help!

You can significantly reduce your watering by mulching the top of the soil surface with two or more inches of a bark or hull mulch.  Mulching will often reduce watering by half or more.  You can add a top cover of cedar, cypress, fir or pine bark.  You can mulch with cottonseed hulls, pine straw, cocoa hulls, pecan hulls or well aged compost.  All these natural mulches will reduce watering; keep the soil slightly cooler and plants happier in the summer heat while dramatically reducing weed pressure.  Over time the mulches will compost and add more humus or organic matter to your soil and improve the soil quality.

Roses are really blooming now but remember on roses and many other ever blooming plants you will get more flowers if you prune off the old flowers when they are done blooming.  This deadheading diverts the plant energy to more flowers rather than to developing seed pods.  This is a pretty season in our yards and garden as many of our plants celebrate the long days and bright light and are putting on a show.  Take time to get out and enjoy your garden as you water or just for fun and relaxation.

Time To Plant Away!

Time to plant! We have passed our last average freeze date in central Oklahoma and we are into the heart of the spring planting season where you can plant trees, shrubs, perennials, color annuals and most warm season vegetables with reckless abandon. The seven day forecast is looking good with our low temperatures in the high forties and so we can plant most everything except real hot blooded plants like caladiums, periwinkle, watermelons, cantaloupe and sweet potato vines which usually do best if we wait to plant until May first or after when we are consistently above fifty degrees. The mid-April story is what we can plant – not what we can’t plant. Now that freezes and frost should be off the table, the sun is getting brighter and every day is getting longer and it is time to plant away!

We usually have about a seven month growing season so the sooner you plant the longer you can enjoy your vegetables and annual color plants.   Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer squash, sweet corn, okra, pumpkins and lima, pole and green beans now to get the longest harvest season. Although you can plant container grown perennials most any time this is one of the best times to plant perennials as they produce their surge of spring growth. The selection of available perennials at your local garden centers is usually best during this spring season and more limited at other times of the year. We see more gardeners interested in native plants and pollinator plants. They also can be planted over many months but the selection will be best over the next few weeks at your local nursery or garden center.

The main color in our gardens and decorative containers usually comes from annuals and we have a huge and growing palette of annuals to choose from as you color up your home and landscape. Shady and part shady areas will come to life with impatiens, begonias, coleus, torenia (wishbone flower), browallia, alyssum, lobelias, geraniums and countless other options.

Our choices in annuals for sun have been expanding rapidly in recent years with accelerated plant exploration and breeding. Some of the main sunny color annuals for Oklahoma include celosia, petunias, lantana, ageratum, angelonia, portulaca or rose moss, verbena, zinnia and marigolds. Part of the fun of spring planting is spring plant shopping and selecting some new plants to trial or plant. It is always good to plant more of the plants you have done well with and enjoyed hosting in your yard in the past but please consider trying some new plant varieties as well. You may discover a new favorite plant! Have fun planting your yard and use it as a way to express yourself. You can plant large blocks of a single type of plant to create a mass impact or plant combinations of plant types and colors to create more of a meadow effect. Do think about the height, different plants will grow to, and the light requirements or tolerance of plants as you select their new home in your yard. Use your imagination and plant away!

Spring is flowering and leafing all around us!

Spring appears to be flowering and leafing out all around us as the days get brighter and longer.  The daffodils are fading as the tulips and late hyacinths take over.  The redbuds are bursting into full color as the ornamental pears drop their flowers.  The bright yellow forsythia and orange and red quince are taking the starring role among flowering shrubs as the spring calendar advances.  It feels like we may have had our last freeze but the weather history tells us we would be wise to wait to plant tender or warm season vegetables and ornamental flowers until after April 15th or at least another week and see what the ten day forecast looks like then.  Hot blooded plants like periwinkle, sweet potatoes and caladiums will do best if you wait to plant them until after May 1 when nightly low temperatures are consistently above forty-five degrees.

Lots of folks get really anxious to get an early jump on planting their tomatoes, peppers and eggplant so they can harvest the first home grown produce in their neighborhood. Many garden centers do already have plants available for these early birds who are willing to risk planting twice in order to have the early crop in the years we don’t get a late freeze.  If you do plant early and we do have another cold front slip in, be prepared to protect these early plants by covering them on nights that frost with Hot Kaps, Wall-o-water plastic water warming tubes, old sheets, cardboard boxes or adapted gallon milk jugs.  One of the major risks of late freezes is dehydrating or freeze drying your plants. You can help your fruit trees, flowering shrubs or tender plants avoid severe cold damage by watering well before a light frost or freeze.  Peaches, apricots and pears have bloomed or are blooming so this is a critical time to avoid freezing in order to allow those fruit crops to develop.

This is a good time to fertilize your trees and shrubs to maximize the new growth as they start to leaf out and grow new shoots or branches.  If you did not already feed your lawn, this is a good time to feed our Bermuda and summer turf grasses as they begin to green up and grow.  It is always best to take soil samples and test your soil before feeding so you don’t over fertilizer and only feed what is needed.   You can get a good soil test evaluation for a very reasonable testing fee at your Oklahoma State University County Extension Office.  If you don’t have a soil test apply a good general fertilizer as recommended by your local nurseryman and his general knowledge of soils in your neighborhood.

As you begin to plant, whether it is trees and shrubs, fruit trees and berries, vegetables or perennials and annual color plants, make sure to water in new plantings.  You should always observe your yard and garden and be prepared to water when Mother Nature does not provide adequate rain water.  Remember new plantings, container gardens and hanging baskets will dry out more often and need more water then established plants.

Working in the garden is great physical exercise, wonderful mental and psychological therapy and can feed your soul while beautifying your environment and raising fresh food.  Get in on the fun and start planting.

Blessed with some gorgeous days & we have light later into the evenings!

It is amazing the difference a few warm sunny days can make as it serves as a wake up call or alarm clock for the plant world around us.  The daffodils are still blooming, the forsythia are just starting to show their bright yellow colors, the peaches and apricots are blooming.  The buds are swelling on many of our other trees and soon the crabapples and ornamental pears will join the “spring is here” party.  Many of our wild flowers including some we think of as weeds like the purple flowering henbit are also coming into flower.  The symphony of spring color will continue its annual march through spring as the hyacinth and tulips, flowering Quince, azaleas and wisteria, then redbud trees all begin to flower.  Often we will spot plants in our parks, neighborhoods or commercial landscapes that will ignite dreams of adding those plants, shrubs or trees to our yard.  Most of these materials are available, container grown, that you can plant in your yard at any time.  The bulb crops should have been planted last fall to enjoy this spring but most everything else can be planted now when you are thinking about it and motivated to act.

The range of activities we can do in the garden seems to be exploding as the days get longer and the sun gets brighter.  Although we still need to wait until around mid April to plant warm season color annuals we can plant perennials, shrubs and trees as long as our muscles, the weather and pocket books will allow.

We can plant most all of our cool season vegetable crops as we wind down the planting season on seed potatoes, onion sets and onion plants, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce.  If you want to plant any of these cool season vegetables you should plant them as soon as possible so they can grow and develop before we get too hot.  This is prime season to plant beets, broccoli and radishes.  You can still plant asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish and strawberries.  If you plan to plant bareroot grapes, blackberries, raspberries or fruit trees they need to be planted very soon or you will need to switch to container grown transplants to insure a good success rate.

We are running out of time to apply pre-emergent weed killers on your lawn as more weeds begin to germinate.  Pre-emergents basically work on weeds that have not already germinated or sprouted.  Once the weeds have germinated you will need to use a post-emergent spray or granular to control the germinated weeds that are much trickier to manage after your desired turf grass has greened up.  Visit with your local nurseryman to help you pick out the best weed control for your lawn, soil type and time of application.  If you want to plant new or freshen up existing turf in shady areas now is the start of the season to sow tall fescue seed.  Make sure not to apply pre-emergent herbicides in areas where you plan to sow desired grass seed.

We have been blessed with some gorgeous days and we have light later into the evenings so use this time to feed your soul as you get some good exercise working in your yard and garden.