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In the Garden: Give trumpet vines full sun and ignore them

by Janet B. Carson Special to the Democrat-Gazette | July 13, 2019 at 1:43 a.m.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette smoke tree illustration.

Q: I have a 3 -year-old trumpet vine I bought as a tiny plant from our local Master Gardeners sale. As of now, it has never bloomed. The vine grows but no blooms. Any thoughts?

A: Trumpet vines thrive and bloom best in poor soil. If they are well-cared for with ample fertilizer and moisture they tend to grow foliage more than flowers. Depending on who is growing them and where, they can be a weed or a flowering vine. Give them full sun and ignore them. If you do have the old-fashioned variety that sets seeds, try to deadhead them once they begin blooming or you may find seedlings coming up where you don't want them.

Q: Can you identify this tree/bush? It is about 20 feet tall and wide.

A: The tree or large bush in question is a smoke tree, Cotinus. Yours is the European or purple smoke tree. Our native smoke tree has green foliage. The fluffy light pink "smoke" you are seeing on the bush is actually comprised of billowy seed clusters which look like a puff of smoke, thus the common name. The flower is actually quite small and insignificant. The purple forms are showy throughout the season even when not "smoking" due to their colorful foliage which will be even more dramatic in the fall. Our native species is also quite colorful in the fall when the leaves turn beautiful shades of orange or yellow. While they can be grown on one trunk as a tree, they often produce multiple stems and can be as wide as tall. There are dwarf forms available, but the standard varieties can be 15 feet tall and wide. It grows well in full sun to partial shade.

Q: My hydrangeas are past their peak for this year. Is this the best time to trim them back? Can you give me tips on how to do it?

A: Only prune if needed. If you need to reduce the size of your bigleaf hydrangea, the time to prune it is as the blooms start fading. Remove up to 1/3 of the older, larger canes at the soil line. This should reduce the size, while still leaving a shrub in your yard. New canes will grow from the base. Pruning as soon after flowering for bigleaf and oakleaf hydrangeas allows them time to recover before they begin to set flower buds this fall.

Q :Can you identify this tree for me? It was blooming for months in Fayetteville [Reader submitted a photo].

A: The tree in question is a Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa. Unlike our native flowering dogwood, the Kousa (which is native to Japan) blooms after the foliage has come on. It usually blooms in mid-May through early June. The showy white part of the "bloom" is actually a modified leaf, like our native tree, while the true flower is the insignificant part in the center. The kousa is disease resistant and can set some lovely round fruits which can be pink or red in the fall. It is a nice, tough tree, but many gardeners prefer the native because the foliage does not detract from the blooms.

Q: I don't think I've ever seen this question answered in your column: Our beloved dog died recently. We had him cremated. I have thought of putting his ashes in my flower bed. Would this harm the plants? Nothing is planted there right now but I usually have annuals in that area (it's dappled shade). Would some plants be better than others? He was 50 pounds so there is approximately a quart size bag of ashes. If it won't hurt the plants, I intend to empty them from the bag. Should I mix them equally with the soil and spread them over an area or would it matter? How deep should they be?

A You are correct, this is a new question for me. Ashes typically contain a lot of salt and can have a high pH, so a large volume of ashes is not going to be good for the soil or plants. I would scatter the ashes lightly and work them into the soil. I am sorry for your loss.

Q: Our Rose of Sharon shrubs are blooming but don't seem to have as many blooms as previous years. They are about 5 to 6 years old, and I have never pruned them. Do you recommend pruning and, if so, what time of year?

A: Pruning should not make much difference on a rose of Sharon and blooming. Think of all the old, abandoned home sites where they bloom every year with no care. How much sunlight do they get? The more sun, the better flowering. Light fertilization once a year in the spring is all I do for mine, and they bloom their hearts out every year. If you do want to reduce their size, then, by all means, prune to whatever size you prefer in late February to early March before they begin active growth.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
The fluffy pink “smoke” of the purple smoke tree, or Cotinus, is created by billowy seed clusters. It is also known as smoke bush because the plant can grow as wide as it is tall.
Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
The Kousa dogwood blooms after the leaves come on, usually in mid-May through early June.

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