We are enjoying some remarkable mild summer temperatures and have even been blessed with periodic rains.  As a result most of our plant materials are looking great and we are enjoying some nice vegetable harvests and beautiful flowers.  You can be planting for fall as you enjoy your current plantings and keep a close eye on your watering to keep your plants properly hydrated between rains.

Earlier this week I made a quick trip to Raleigh, North Carolina for CARET, the Council on Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching.  The trip included a couple of stops that got me thinking about where our new and improved plant materials come from.  The first stop was the JC Ralston Arboretum which was started by the famous modern plant explorer who grew up in the Oklahoma panhandle and graduated from Oklahoma State University.  He had few trees and shrubs in the panhandle but loved them and longed for more.  He led plant expeditions around the world as a professor at North Carolina State University and discovered many new plants he and his students brought back to the United States where many were introduced into the American nursery trade.  There have been many other great plant explorers like Alfred Graf of Roehrs Nurseries, John Creech of the U. S. National Arboretum and many more with the United States Department of Agriculture.  We have two prominent active explorers in our state today including Steve Bieberich of Sunshine Nursery in Clinton and Steve Owens of Bustani Farms in Stillwater.  These explorers find new plant varieties and genetics from all over the world to enrich our plant choices and to expand cold hardiness, drought tolerance and other important plant traits.

The second stop was the plant breeding program at North Carolina State University.  Breeding of the most significant agronomy or field crops is done by the big seed companies and our land grant colleges.  The breeding of specialty crops is done by smaller seed companies, land grant universities and even a few amateur breeders.  This is a very important process to stay ahead of diseases, viruses, pest problems and environmental conditions. North Carolina State University has been a national leader in breeding sweet potatoes for the food market that resist wireworms, have thicker skins for digging and storage and better uniformity for harvesting and marketing.  Sweet potatoes are the seventh most important crop to deliver nutrition and calories to humans in the world and this one breeding program evaluates 65,000 new seedlings from breeding crosses each year in the quest for a better sweet potato.  Many of these selections did not prove out for food production but some have been introduced as the beautiful ornamental varieties we use in our summer landscapes that explode with new multicolor, chartreuse or burgundy foliage.  North Carolina also has important breeding programs in cucumbers, stevia for sweeteners, redbud trees, blackberries, gourds, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, azaleas, peaches and raspberries.

Closer to home, the University of Arkansas features a spinach breeding program that achieved mildew resistance and that is now used on most every American spinach variety and most spinach around the world.  Dr. John Clark has led the nation for decades in breeding blackberries and his varieties are built on the thirty-three years of work by his predecessor, Dr. James Moore. Their work has led to over a dozen varieties now grown on every continent except Antarctica as these innovations have extended the harvest season and dramatically expanded the geography for blackberry production.  Arkansas has also been a leader in raspberry, blueberry, peach and strawberry breeding and plant introductions.  Here in Oklahoma our most famous plant breeding program is by the Oklahoma State University wheat team lead by Dr. Brett Carver.  Over half the wheat grown in our state the last few years are Cowboy varieties bred by Dr. Carver and his amazing wheat team which has introduced over twenty varieties well suited for production in the plains states and is now grown on over three million acres just in Oklahoma each year.

Oklahoma horticulture breeding is led by two former Oklahoma State University professors who have stayed active breeding since their college days.  Dr. Jim Motes is one of the top hot pepper breeders in the world and his varieties are grown on many acres in the Southwest including thousands of acres at the Hinton/Hydro area for use as food additives, as a safe replacement for food dye and for pepper spray personal protection and deer repellents.  Very brave people actually eat some of his hot peppers.  Dr. Carl Whitcomb has several breeding programs underway at Lacebark in Stillwater including hardy hibiscus, desert willow, lacebark elms, river birch and his many amazing varieties of crapemyrtles.  You can find many of his pink, raspberry and red crapemyrtles at nurseries and garden centers all across the southern half of the United States and his breeding fields outside Stillwater are breathtakingly beautiful at this time of year.

It is important we use and save native and heirloom plants but these plant discoveries, introductions and new plant breeding are critical to expand our plant choices, to extend flowering and fruiting seasons, to deal with wetter or drier locations and to achieve insect, virus and disease resistance.  There are lots of great stories about plant explorers and breeders available in books or magazine articles so you can learn more about the rest of the story on your favorite plants.


Oklahoma Summer Gardening & Watering!

We are definitely in the high heat of our Oklahoma summer season and watering continues to dominate our garden and landscape priority lists.  Please make certain you walk your yard regularly and soak or water thoroughly your trees, shrubs, perennials, vegetables, color plants and lawn to avoid extreme stress.  The shallower a plant is rooted in, like color plants and vegetables, they will need water more often than deep rooted plants like trees and shrubs that can pull moisture from deeper in the soil.  The soil closer to the surface gets hotter, has surface evaporation and is supporting more plant roots so it will dry out quicker and more often.  You can help cool the soil and reduce surface evaporation and drying by mulching the soil surface with two to four inches of bark mulch or hulls like cottonseed hulls, pecan hulls, cocoa hulls or pine straw.  Soaking style watering replenishes moisture deeper into the soil and is more effective and long lasting than squirting or syringing and just wetting the surface which inspires shallow roots instead of deeper roots.

Even as we enjoy the harvest and beauty of our spring and prior year plantings it is time to plant ahead for our fall vegetable gardens.  Gardening is a good metaphor for life in that we are rewarded for thinking ahead and taking action to get what we want or dream of.  This is the time to get your plants of tomatoes, tomatillo, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers planted if you want a fall harvest before our first freeze which is usually in early November. These crops need sixty to ninety days from planting to harvest so fall vegetable plants should be planted at once.  We usually say to plant from July fifteenth to August tenth.

You can plant seeds of cowpeas, bush beans, pole beans, or Lima beans to get a harvest in fifty to eighty days after seeding.  You can plant seeds of sweet corn, pumpkins, summer squash, winter squash or cilantro to get a fall harvest.  All these should be planted this weekend or next week to assure plenty of time to raise and harvest your crop before the winter freeze, that seems so distant as we deal with the triple digit temperatures of summer.

These fall garden crops are usually grown in the ground but you can grow limited amounts of most all these crops in container gardens on your patio, porch or even setting in flowerbeds.  Remember all of these young plants and seedlings will need careful attention to watering as they will have a small root system and can dehydrate quickly.  They will become more tolerant as they grow and get bigger and deeper root systems.

You can reduce your water use and get more even and efficient water to your vegetable garden and flowerbeds by using drip irrigation.  Next best is the use of soaker hoses.  If you have a automatic sprinkler system consider upgrading to smart irrigation by adding a soil sensor and rain sensor to your controller so you will not waste water by watering when we do get blessed with rain.  The soil sensors can measure moisture tension in the soil and only water when dry to conserve our precious water while still caring for your plants water needs.  You can use hose end water sprinklers or water your crops by hand as you evaluate and enjoy your garden.  It is much more pleasant to do your summer gardening activities, including watering or planting your fall garden, early in the morning or in early evening as the temperatures moderate.  Enjoy your garden meditation as you water and remember fall will be here soon.

Summer in Oklahoma Garden Means Lots of Heat, Water and Mulch!

It feels like summer has really arrived in Oklahoma this week.  We have been very blessed so far this growing season with periodic breaks in the heat thanks to clouds, cool fronts and even some rain showers.  This was the first week of pretty much full time, unfiltered bright sun and temperatures in the mid to high nineties every day.  It looks like more of the same in the weeks ahead.  Our early spring plantings have had time to get rooted in and have grown a nice plant canopy and many of our flowering annuals and perennials have been and are blooming nicely this season.  Folks are harvesting their first big tomatoes, cantaloupes and even a few early pumpkins.  This summer weather is a real test for many of our plants as they deal with the extreme heat and dehydration.  Just like we humans need to drink more water and stay hydrated in the heat, so do our plants.  Deeper rooted and more established plants like trees, shrubs and many perennials and native plants can handle the heat and water stress better as they have a larger and deeper root system that can draw in water from deeper in the ground and using a bigger network of roots as “soda straws”.

Annuals and newer plantings that have shallow roots or don’t have as well established of a root system will show the stress of the heat and dry conditions quicker and more often.  We can grow lots of types of plants if we are faithful to take care of their watering needs.  They can grow great corn not just in Iowa, but in Guymon, Oklahoma and even the Arizona desert as long as the growers are prepared to irrigate and provide adequate water to keep the corn from too much stress.  Many plants will tolerate the high light and intense heat as long as they receive adequate water at the right times and don’t become too stressed.  Some plants will visibly wilt, some turn grayish green instead of bright or dark green, and most all will begin to yellow and drop leaves so they have less plant to support if they are under too much heat or drought stress.  Plants under stress become much more vulnerable to pest problems, like bagworms on needle evergreens, red spider mite on tomatoes and marigolds, webworms on pecans, walnuts and other trees.  As soon as you notice these pest problems, get them identified and decide on a course of action.

Help keep your plants summer strong by mulching the soil surface around them 2” or more deep with a good bark or hull mulch.  Water deeply and regularly between rains using drip irrigation, soaker hoses, sprinklers or your water hose.  Every time your plants go to the wilted stage or come under heavy heat or drought stress it saps some of their energy and momentum and acts like a growth regulator.  You surely don’t want to overwater your plants but you don’t want to get them “wilted” dry either.  Some good gardener judgment is involved to know your soil type and water accordingly.   Sandy, well drained soil will dry out more often while clay, tight soils will dry out less often.  One key reason to add sphagnum peat and organic matter to our garden soils over time is that soils with more organic matter will hold more moisture and need less regular or extra watering.  Don’t forget that above ground hanging baskets and container plantings will dry out quicker and will need to be watered more often.

You can still plant in this heat as long as you will be faithful in watering these new plantings.  Like the stories of the cobbler’s kids being the last to get shod we horticulturists are often the last to get our own gardens planted because of being so busy serving others in spring.  Dona and I have done most of our plantings the last two weeks and there may be a little sunburn and extra “heat wilting” for the first few days or even weeks as they adjust to their new home but with adequate water they will adapt well and look great as the season progresses.  You can still plant as long as you will water and mulch!

Midway Point of Our Gardening Calendar!

We have arrived at the midway point of the 2017 calendar and are a little over a third of the way through this growing season.  Time marches on without pause and we are at a point in the growing season where many of our spring plantings are really starting to make a show.  The summer flowering shrubs are producing waves of colorful flowers.  The vitex or butterfly bush is covered with blue flowers.  The crapemyrtles are impressive this year dressed in all tones of pink and red, purple and white flowers.  Crapemyrtles not only produce one wave of flowers but often will bloom repeatedly throughout the hot summer months they love into early fall.  They are available in dwarf varieties that only grow a few feet tall to varieties that make large shrubs or even small trees at 20’ tall or more.  There is a lot of active breeding and variety selection growing on now for new crapemyrtles.  The most prolific breeders are the National Arboretum in Washington D. C. and Lacebark Publications operated by Dr. Carl Whitcomb, right here in Oklahoma at Stillwater.  Gardeners all over the south half of the country are growing new varieties bred and grown right here in Oklahoma.

Other summer flowers putting on a show include the lovely cannas, started from a tuber or purchased as a plant.  These large leaf plants produce impressive flower stalks of red, pink, yellow or orange cannas with either green or reddish foliage.  Many of our perennials bloom now as we enjoy our longest days of the year including white Shasta daisies, Echinacea, gazania, and the impressive Rudbeckia also known as Gloriosa daisy or coneflowers with their exciting yellow and orange flower petals spiraling off the black or brown flower center.  Rudbeckia were first named by Linnaeus and recent breeding has produced lots of stunning choices for your summer garden.

Those of you that are vegetable gardening are now digging your early crops of potatoes and onions.  The tomato plants have really grown over the last few weeks and you should have quite a bit of fruit showing on your tomatoes and may have already had a few fruit  turn red.  Many more tomatoes should start turning red over the next week or two. Green beans and squash are producing their crops while the cantaloupe and watermelon fruit is visible under their canopy of foliage and just needs time and water to product their tender, thirst quenching melons.

Many of the annuals that love the heat are now exploding with color.  Look for lantana, penta, periwinkle, marigolds, zinnia, rose moss, sweet potato vine, copper leaf plant and many other warm blooded crops to respond well to our summer heat.  Even the plants that love the heat the most still need regular and adequate watering to perform well.  Remember your plants can’t turn on or operate the water hose yet so please remember to check your watering regularly and water and mulch your plantings to keep them healthy, happy and growing through our hot and dry summers.  You can still plant container grown annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, trees and shrubs as long as you will commit to provide adequate water to get them established.

We continue to be blessed with mild, even beautiful mornings and evenings so this really is a good time to get outside and smell the roses and all your other pretty and amazing flowers and vegetables.  Don’t forget to enjoy the cooling natural shade of your trees in the heat of the day.

Hot, Dry Weather quickly changes Our Garden Priorities, Water & Mulch!

Temperatures this week moved into the upper nineties and rain has about disappeared from weather forecasts as Oklahoma looks to have moved into the summer frame of mind.  Fortunately we still have pleasant nights and mornings with those temperatures still touching the lower seventies and giving our plant materials a chance to relax and de-stress during those cooler hours.

The hot, dry weather quickly changes our priorities in the Oklahoma garden.  Watering becomes the most important priority to care for our established plants, the plants we started earlier this spring and particularly any plants we plant now as the weather turns hot.  We lose moisture to dehydration as the bright sun and heat pull moisture from points of high concentration in the plant and the soil.  We lose moisture to hot, dry, blowing winds that visit us regularly in Oklahoma.  When there is no natural rain to replace this moisture, your trees, shrubs, vegetables, flowers and lawn become dependent on you to keep them in a healthy, growing condition.  Many plants will survive through the hot dry weather but make adjustments to stay alive.  As they stop growing they will wilt, get a grayish tone to their color and will shed leaves to reduce their “plant operations” to the available moisture.  Those things happen if you do not water sufficiently to keep them in a healthy vegetative state.  It causes great harm to most plants to get excessively dry or to go through extreme wet/dry cycles.  Watering needs vary a lot depending on your type of soil, amount of organic matter in the soil, whether the plants are in full sun, shade or partial sun.  Other factors are whether plants are planted alongside concrete walks or driveways, in front of concrete or metal walls, growing in a container or in a ground flowerbed, in the wide open or a wind protected microclimate.   Do you water by hand, drip or sprinkler and are the soil surfaces mulched or is there bare soil exposed to the sun’s heat and our blow dryer winds?

Giving your plants sufficient water keeps the plants in “go” mode, growing larger canopies, producing flowers, veggies, fruit and nuts.  Heat stress and drought is like throwing up a stop sign and causes the plant to reduce operations and growth to the available water.  Many plants will bounce back from one or several heat stresses or wilting but repeated stresses can kill or stunt plant development.  Pull or remove weeds that compete with your chosen plants for precious water resources, mulch the tops of your container gardens and flowers beds with two or three inches of bark or natural hull mulches and consider installing drip irrigation or using soaker hoses.  When you water, soak good so the water penetrates several inches down in your soil.  It is better to soak one to three times a week depending on your plants and soil type rather than to spray or squirt the plants every day.
Besides watering and weeding, this is the season to be alert for insect problems.  We usually see fewer fungus and diseases problems in the heat but we see an increase in insect problems as most insects lay many more eggs in hot weather and more often so populations can appear to explode.  Be on the lookout for aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, bagworms, webworm and other unwanted insect challenges.  You can identify them using garden books, the internet or take a sample in a sealed plastic baggie or paper bag to your local garden center.  They can help you evaluate control choices whether you want to look at organic or chemical options.

The season finally slowed down a little so while many of your are digging potatoes and onions and preparing to pick your first squash, cucumbers and tomatoes we are finally getting to plant our tomatoes, peppers and lots of pretty flowers.  You other procrastinators can join us in planting now as long are you remember to water regularly to help these new plants get well established.

In the Heart of Prime Planting Season for Warm Weather Plants!

We are still in the heart of the prime planting season for all the warm weather annuals and color plants as well as perennials, shrubs and trees.  We have been blessed with regular rains and moderate temperatures so we have a wonderful extended planting season this year.  This is a great time of year to visit your local nurseries and garden centers to see the full selection of plant material that can be grown here in Oklahoma.  We have a huge palette of plants that can be grown in Oklahoma although we have to pay attention to get the right plants in the right locations.  The main keys to gardening success in Oklahoma usually come down to soil preparation, getting the sun/shade light (heat) levels correct when we pick plant location and watering.  Since we are a true four season state we get to see plants like pansies and kale that do well, even in full sun, in the cool parts of the year but succumb to the heat as summer temperatures and longer days confront us.  This time of year is a good indication as the pansies that survived the winter and looked great this spring begin to melt or wilt away in the increasing heat.  Other crops like sweet potatoes, caladiums, periwinkle or vinca, okra, melons, hibiscus and many other tropical plants love the heat, as long as they get adequate water and will grow and flower or fruit best as they thrive in the heat of an Oklahoma summer.

This is a good time to plant while selections are still good and the summer heat is not yet overwhelming so that new plantings have a good chance to get rooted in before the extreme heat.  You can plant container grown and balled or burlapped trees and shrubs with an intact root ball ready to transplant.  You can plant virtually the full smorgasbord of color annuals and perennials to add color and life to your landscape.  You can still plant most all the warm season vegetables including tomatoes, peppers and eggplant and we are nearing the end of the planting window to sow seed or plant transplants of summer and winter squash, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and watermelons.  You can sow seed of Bermuda grass or install sprigs or sod if you are typing to establish a summer lawn in a sunny location.

This is the season for container gardens if you want to add color to a patio, front porch, balcony or other area for a summer party, family get together or just for your own enjoyment.  Remember above ground containers will need more water and more often than ground beds and the smaller the container the more often it will dry out and need water while larger containers with more soil media will need less attention.  You can grow ornamentals or vegetables in your container gardens.  There are literally hundreds of choices in the containers you select and the plants to go in them to allow you to express your artistic or design personality.

All new plantings will require more water than established plantings as they grow their root systems and get settled into their new environment.  You can reduce your watering needs and the urgency of watering by mulching your new and existing plantings with a surface mulch of shredded bark or hulls.  This garden practice of mulching will often reduce watering needs by up to half while cooling the soil and reducing weed pressure.

Not only our desired plants are growing good as the temperatures warm up but also the insect and disease activity picks up as the temperatures rise. Our disease problems are worse after rains or when we have extended dark, cloudy weather or very high humidity.  The insect pressure is largely driven by heat.  If you face an insect or disease you don’t recognize or know how to respond, put a sample in a zip lock bag and take it to your local garden center, nursery or the nearest OSU County Extension Office to Identify and suggest a solution.

There was a great Garden Festival at the Myriad Gardens last Saturday and today the Oklahoma City Council of Garden Clubs is hosting a plant sale and garden festival at the newly remodeled Garden Exposition Building in Will Rogers Park if you want to go exploring for plants today.

Get busy planting and enjoy this magnificent planting season!

World Naked Gardening Day on the First Saturday of May is the Season to Plant Away!

Today is the well publicized World Naked Gardening Day which is the first Saturday of May, but I suspect most Oklahoman’s will participate inside their safer protective clothes.  It is a good thing World Naked Gardening Day wasn’t last weekend when it felt more like winter then spring in Oklahoma.  The weather forecast looks like all the snow and cold is now in our rear view mirror and we really can concentrate on spring planting.

May is the season when we can plant most everything and have a good chance of gardening success.  If you want to vegetable garden, whether in traditional garden rows or in patio pots or the fun new fabric grow bags this is the time to plant your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  There are many other veggies you can grow from seed including warm season crops like okra, cantaloupe, cucumber, pumpkins, black-eyed cow peas, summer squash, winter squash and watermelons.  The night temperatures look like they will now be 50 degrees or higher so you can plant sweet potatoes slips that will allow you to dig your own fresh sweet potatoes later this year.

Colorful annuals and perennials provide a lot of the spark or pizzazz for our yards and patios.  There are literally hundreds, even thousands of choices of the plants you can use to add color and excitement to your home.  You need to consider light levels like sun or shade, soil type and drainage as well as your watering habits to help select the right plants to fit each area of your yard.   You also need to think about the height the plants will grow, the size and shape of the plants and the colors of their flowers to get the right fit for your landscape.

Almost all plants do best when you have prepared the soil right with the addition of good organic matter like sphagnum peat, composted bark, cotton burrs or other humus to help provide a well drained home for your plant roots.  These composted materials also help hold and release moisture in the soil and tend to help acidify our alkaline soils.

Shade and part shade areas can be dressed up with plantings of impatiens, caladiums, begonias, salvia, coleus and many wonderful perennials.  The smorgasbord is full of great choices for sunny garden color in Oklahoma including lantana, petunias, crotons, plumbago, petunias, ornamental sweet potato, zinnia, marigolds, periwinkle, sun coleus, ornamental grasses and pentas.

This is also a good time to plant container grown shrubs and trees.  Many folks had a lot of tree damage last weekend and this may be a good time to replace those wind damaged Bradford Pears or other fast growing, soft wooded trees.  We are blessed to have lots of choices in the trees that will grow across our state but you really do need to think about whether you want a tree in twelve to twenty years that will grow to fifteen feet, twenty-five feet, thirty-five feet tall or even larger as you select the tree for your available space.  There are trees that provide shade, others that provide fall color, some that produce fruit or nuts, others for spring flowers.  Some trees will cover multiple uses in addition to their aesthetic impact and the amazing job they do in cleaning your air and providing cooling for your home and property.  Shrubs make a big impact around your home or other buildings as foundation plantings and as living fences or screens.

Decide what kind of landscaping or gardening you need or want to do this season and get busy planting to take advantage of the full 2017 gardening season.  Don’t forget Mothers Day is one week away and plants make a great gift to celebrate and honor the special women and mothers in your life.   May is the season to plant away!