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IN THE GARDEN: Be wary of over-harvesting asparagus

by Janet B. Carson | April 17, 2021 at 1:41 a.m.
Small asparagus spears should be allowed to grow after harvest time to fuel the bed for future crops. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Q I have established asparagus beds, 5-10 years old, producing well. Some are shooting up into spindly ferns. Do I break off those ferns this early in harvest, or let them grow? I question whether breaking them off will eliminate energy to the roots, or will letting them grow signal the plants to quit producing this season?

A After the harvest season, the smaller spears are left to produce the ferny foliage that replenishes the energy in the roots to help produce asparagus the next season. If yours have some spindly, small spears, leave them alone to strengthen the plant. Many gardeners over-harvest asparagus, which can weaken the plant for the long haul. Only harvest spears that are pencil size or larger. Leaving some smaller ones to grow should not signal the plant to quit producing.

Q I live in south Arkansas. Right after our snow-storm, all of my loropetalum looked just like the photos you have been showing. During the last week or so they are all coming back to life. They bloomed on almost dried stems. However, they all look normal now. You were so right for telling us all to just be patient. Thank you.

A Patience can be hard when you are looking at brown, dead-looking plants, but I am glad you waited. Many did not.

Q Can you please identify this plant? Thank you. [The reader sent a photo.]

Peruvian squill (Scilla peruviana), also called Portuguese squill, is a Mediterranean plant. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Peruvian squill (Scilla peruviana), also called Portuguese squill, is a Mediterranean plant. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A This beauty is commonly called Peruvian squill (Scilla peruviana). The flowers can be the size of a softball. They come in the dark purple color you have along with lavender blue and pink forms. Native to the Mediterranean, they are not a common flower in our gardens but are stunning when you find one.

Q We live in Texarkana and have a red maple that was planted in 2003 and is 20-30 feet tall. It was covered in red "fringe" when the freezing rain and 12-15 inches of snow hit. The attached photos show that the lower branches have leafed out pretty well; but, farther up the tree there is only dried up fringe and otherwise bare branches. In complete transparency, there seems to be a cluster of leaves on a bole roughly midway up one trunk. My husband keeps asking is it dead; does it need to be taken down? My standard answer is that where there are leaves, there is life. But I'm afraid he will take upon himself, on a day I'm not home, to put a ladder up and butcher the upper portion. (He's pushing 80 hard and hard-headed.) Please give me hope — or at least ammunition — if there is hope.

The upper branches of this cold-damaged red maple tree are taking their time leafing out.
(Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
The upper branches of this cold-damaged red maple tree are taking their time leafing out. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A I would be completely surprised if an established red maple tree died with the cold weather when tender hydrangeas and loropetalum made it through, but strange things are happening this year. If it was as far along as you say, it is likely that the new growth got zapped, but I would think you would be seeing new signs of life any day now. We have marginally hardy plants that are leafing out in Little Rock, and red maples are not marginal. Even the live oaks (which are marginal) are starting to sprout. I would give it another three weeks before thinning out dead wood. It has definitely been a strange year, but I have been pleasantly surprised by what has survived. Regardless, keep your husband off a ladder with a chainsaw. Leave that to the insured professionals.

DEAR READERS: The following is an update from the Central Arkansas Iris Society:

"Many people have asked why we no longer have iris beds on the state Capitol grounds. Our CAIS treasurer received a call from the person responsible for the grounds of the Justice Building on which our beds were located. He requested that we immediately remove our irises as the Justice Department had found funding for an expansion that would encompass the space where our beds were located — so we complied and removed our iris beds last fall and sold the irises at our annual sale. To this date, I have not seen any construction commencing! We are sorry that the public will miss seeing our beautiful irises — but we will have our annual iris show on Saturday, May 1, at Unitarian Universalist Church at 1818 Reservoir Road, Little Rock. It is free and open to the public from 1-4 p.m. We will also have our annual rhizome sale in the fall."

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 arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email jcarson@arkansasonline.com

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