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IN THE GARDEN: Humble cardboard a potential lifesaver for outdoor plants

by Janet B. Carson | February 13, 2021 at 1:44 a.m.
An upside cardboard box offers tender plants some protection against brutal cold. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

DEAR READERS: Just a word of caution with our cold weather this weekend. The forecast for tonight through Monday is brutal. Many plants started putting on new growth already, which could be quite susceptible to damage. If you can cover tender vegetation, do so. An inverted cardboard box, frost blankets, sheets or even a tarp can help. If possible, rig up something to allow air space between the covering and plant. I have used tomato cages or stakes with a sheet and tarp over them. Leave the plants covered until we are back up above freezing. It is not going to hurt the plants to be covered for a few days. When plants are in transition from dormancy to active growth, they are sensitive to low temperatures. Temperatures in the teens or single digits can be devastating. If you do see damage once this is over, don't be too quick to prune it out until we are sure winter weather is over. Let's hope the forecasts are wrong, or that we at least get some wind, since clear, still cold is much worse than overcast and windy cold.

Q These two forsythia in my front side yard need pruning. They haven't had a good floral display in years. I had read in several publications that they need to be pruned in February. When do they need to be pruned, and how severely can that happen? By the way, I live in Bella Vista.

Forsythia bushes should be pruned after they bloom in the spring, not in February. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Forsythia bushes should be pruned after they bloom in the spring, not in February. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A Forsythias should be pruned after blooming in the spring. If you prune in February, you will be cutting the flowers off. Pruning at the right time will definitely increase blooms. Remove one-third of the woodier canes at the soil line. This will still allow the bushes to retain a nice form, but it will encourage new growth at the bottom. The younger canes will set their flowers in the fall, and you should have better blooms next spring. Each year, remove one-third of the older canes to improve flowering.

Q What seeds grow most quickly? I want to do something fun with a group, and wondering what grows fast and easy.

A If you are just growing something to have something growing, think about rye grass seed. I used to use it in school programs. We would have the kids draw faces on a paper or Styrofoam cup and then fill the cups with potting soil and top with rye grass seeds. The cups sprouted "hair" quickly. Rye grass is also a unique centerpiece for Easter — grow your own Easter "grass."

Q I have several mature (at least 20 years old) loropetalum that are failing to thrive. It is a slow process. The trunks develop the type of proliferations seen in the photo, have sparse and pale leaves and flowers. There are no obvious insects. When they look really bad, I just cut them down. I have other healthy looking loropetalum intermixed with the affected ones. Anything I can do to keep those healthy? I would appreciate any recommendations, if you have time to respond.

While uncommon in Arkansas, bacterial gall appears to have infected these loropetalum. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
While uncommon in Arkansas, bacterial gall appears to have infected these loropetalum. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A It is good that you removed the damaged plants, since I believe they are infected with bacterial gall. Here is a link to a good fact sheet from LSU concerning this disease: arkansasonline.com/213gall/. It is not a common disease in Arkansas, but we have had cases of it. Once the galls are in the plant, controlling them is not possible. If you still have some affected plants in the landscape, you may want to confirm this diagnosis by taking a plant sample to your local county extension office to send to the disease diagnostic lab.

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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