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story.lead_photo.caption Cleome is typically an open-pollinated plant, so its seeds grow plants like the parent. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette by Janet B. Carson)

AUGUST

We had a reprieve from the heat and humidity for about a week, but the rains that were predicted didn't amount to much, if anything.

Up to mid-July, we got enough rainfall to keep lawns green and almost enough to keep our plants growing, but watering is now of primary concern to keep gardens flourishing. August can be brutal, with heat and humidity and not a lot of rain.

• Humidity has been high, causing the heat indexes to move into dangerous territory, so work smart and get your outside activities done early in the day.

• Everyone asks about how often to water and how much to apply. Unfortunately, there isn't an answer that works for every yard. Whether you have great soil or rocky soil, raised bed gardens, in-ground gardens or containers, amount of sunlight or shade — and the type of plants you are growing — all determine how much water is needed.

• Early in the day is the ideal time to water to avoid loss from evaporation and to give plants their drink before they are stressed by heat. But if you work all day and don't have an automatic system, watering when you have time is preferable to not watering. Try to water early enough that the foliage can dry before the sun has set. Moist foliage overnight encourages diseases.

• If you are fortunate enough to have a sprinkler system, don't turn it on and ignore it. Check it periodically to make sure all heads are working properly and you don't have leaks.

• Vegetable gardens have been a little hit or miss this summer. The early rain kept many gardeners out of their gardens, so they planted later than normal. Cool-season vegetables grew well and lingered longer than normal, which again delayed planting the warm-season vegetables. Then heavy rain caused tomatoes to crack, and many squash plants were hit with diseases and squash bugs. Some gardens were flooded out.

• Peppers have been a bright spot for many gardeners. They are producing by leaps and bounds, and that should continue up until the first frost.

• If you are one of the lucky ones and your garden is still growing strong, continue to fertilize, harvest and weed.

• If your garden has seen better days, consider revamping and planting for fall. In spite of the heat, August is the prime month to replant summer vegetables. Begin planting cool-season crops from mid-month on. The key to success will be water to get them established, and mulch to conserve moisture and keep the weeds at bay.

• While many have not had as much produce from the vegetable garden this summer, the same does not apply to fruit crops. We had large crops of early strawberries, then blueberries and blackberries and for over a month we have been seeing some of the best peaches Arkansas has ever produced. They are wonderful, with new varieties ripening every week. I don't recommend home gardeners grow peaches, but do pick or buy some.

• Figs are also prolific this year, and fig trees are an easy-care tree for much of Arkansas. In the northern tier of counties, figs can get frozen back, but there are hardier varieties to plant. Figs have a short shelf life and so must be used soon after picking. If birds or squirrels are competing for them, consider using bird netting until your harvest is over.

• Summer weeds are prolific now and tend to be even worse in exposed soils. Some of the more tenacious annual weeds are chambers bitters, mulberry weed, crabgrass and spurge. Annual weeds exist for a season, but if allowed to set seeds, they will be back and even worse next year. Hoeing them or pulling them up is best done while they are small. Perennial weeds come back from the root system and also can set more seeds.

• Nutgrass has been particularly bad this year. Pulling it after a rain or after you have irrigated can help get root, nutlet and all out of the ground. Poke salad is another tenacious perennial and seems to be worse this year as well.

• Summer color has been going strong, from annuals and perennials to flowering shrubs. Annuals respond to regular fertilization and moisture. Perennials benefit from being deadheaded to prevent seed set and encourage more blooms.

• Hydrangeas of all sorts, from the big pink and blue to the white panicle types, have done well this summer. Panicles are still blooming along with rose-of-Sharon, abelia, crape myrtles and summersweet (Clethra). If your garden needs color, there are plenty of plants to choose from at local nurseries and garden centers. From replacement annuals and perennials to tropical flowering plants, you have options. Just make sure you water.

• Sanitation is always important. Even if you have had enough and can't take the heat, don't leave diseased or damaged plants in the garden. This will lead to more problems. Clean up spent plants, and add a layer of fresh mulch. Cut back damaged plants and lightly fertilize and water; then see if they rebound.

Cosmos is typically open-pollinated. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette by Janet B. Carson)
Cosmos is typically open-pollinated. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette by Janet B. Carson)

TERM OF THE MONTH: OPEN-POLLINATED

If a plant is "open-pollinated," it produces seeds, which will produce plants that are identical to their parent. Heirloom or old-fashioned varieties of plants are typically open-pollinated. You can allow such seeds to mature on the plant and save them to plant the following spring.

In contrast, the seeds of hybrid plants produce variable offspring that could differ greatly from their parent.

Read Janet Carson's blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.

HomeStyle on 08/03/2019

Print Headline: Breaking ground

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