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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/CELIA STOREY Conditions are too dry in October 2019 for gardeners to neglect watering without worry.


September was way too hot and dry for gardeners! Let us all hope that the 90s are now a figment of our imagination and fall weather is here to stay.

Depending on where you live in Arkansas, drought could still be occurring. The Northwest tier seems to be in the best shape, but southern, central and northeast are dry in addition to being hotter than normal. This is not a good scenario for shrubs, trees and perennial plants. Many trees began leaf shed earlier than normal and are shutting down to conserve the energy they have. Evergreen plants don't have that option. Plants that bloom in the spring are setting or have set flower buds. If they are too dry, they will abort those flower buds, and you won't have a pretty spring.

Water is vital for plant health. How well these plants enter their dormant season affects how well they come back next spring. Let's hope rain will be accompanying the lower temperatures, but if not, please water.

  • If your garden needs a pick-me-up with some color, you are in luck. Garden centers are teeming with choices for quick temporary color in the form of ornamental peppers, marigolds, crotons and chrysanthemums. Winter annuals can be planted now, including flowering kale and cabbage, "Bright Lights" Swiss chard, giant red mustard, dianthus and snapdragons. As the weather cools off, add pansies and violas to the mix. If you still have summer annuals that are doing well, gradually intersperse the winter color.
  • Pumpkins and gourds are another way to add instant color, and there are so many choices. From size to shape and color, you have plenty of options. Look for firm, smooth rinds and a bit of stem attached. If any show wounds or soft spots, avoid those, as the fruits will deteriorate too quickly. Some gardeners spray a bit of clear shellac on the outside of the rinds to help them last longer.
  • Fall and winter vegetable transplants are available to be planted. From instant gratification with lettuces to broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower, you can plant a winter garden. If temperatures drop below the mid-20s this winter, just cover these vegetables and they should do fine.
  • You can also seed carrots, greens and radishes now. With season extenders like row covers, we can now garden year-round in Arkansas. A nice thing about a cool-season garden is, once we get cooler weather, insects and diseases are not as much of a problem. If planting now, pay particular attention to watering.
  • In your shrubbery beds, the only task now is watering and cleanup. It is too late to fertilize or prune. If you have deciduous plants, rake up falling leaves (especially if they had any diseases). Add a fresh layer of mulch.
  • If your perennials are beginning to die back, begin cleaning them up. Cut off the spent foliage of lilies, peonies and hostas. Once the decline begins, their season is over. Spring- and summer-blooming perennials can be divided as they go dormant if they need division.
  • Sow seeds of wildflowers now.
  • Gardens have been inundated with weeds the past few months, but it is too late in the season to spray with herbicides to control lawn and garden weeds. Summer annual weeds have set seeds and will be dying soon, so herbicides won't help. If you have perennial weeds like poison ivy and honeysuckle, now is a good time to spot treat with Roundup to kill them. Make sure they are healthy and not drought-stressed so they can take up as much of the weed killer as possible.
  • Houseplants and tropical plants that you plan to overwinter need to make the trek back inside by midmonth. Don't let it get too cool before making the move, or the transition will be harder on your plants. Check them for any insect pests and clean the foliage. A light spray of an insecticidal soap can also help with many pests. Once inside, give your plants as much light as possible, but gradually reduce the amount of water. Overwatering indoors is the leading cause of houseplant death.


The United States and Canada are divided into hardiness zones based on the average low winter temperature for various regions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture published its first plant hardiness zone map in 1960 and updates it periodically as climate conditions change. The most recent update was in 2012. Each zone used to represent a 10-degree range, but the agency divided each zone into two separate zones with a 5-degree difference.

In Arkansas, we go from zone 8a in the south, with an average low winter temperature of 10-15 degrees, to zone 6b in the northern counties, with an average low temperature of -5 to 0 degrees.

The zone of hardiness can determine whether a plant is an annual, a perennial or an evergreen.

Think of lantana. In Florida, it grows year-round. In southern Arkansas, it is a great perennial. In central Arkansas it may or may not come back depending on the winter; and in the northern tier, it is usually an annual.

The zone map can be one piece of the puzzle when determining what plants will live where you do. It does not take into account how hot we get, or rainfall or humidity, so it is not the only piece of information you need.

If you see a plant that you would like to grow, and its label says it is hardy from zone 2a (-55 to -50) to zone 6b (-5-0), this plant probably wouldn't like hot summers. On the flip side, if a plant is hardy from zone 9a (20-25) to 7b (5-10 degrees), it might suffer some damage in a particularly cold winter.

Experiment. If a plant is moderately winter hardy, plant it in a protected spot in your yard. I always say, you aren't a real gardener if you have never lost a plant. And just think what fun buying a new plant is.

Read Janet Carson's blog at

HomeStyle on 10/05/2019

Print Headline: Breaking ground


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