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OPINION | JANET B. CARSON: Breaking Ground

by Janet B. Carson | July 3, 2021 at 1:34 a.m.
Sourwood belongs the same family as azaleas and has fragrant white flowers in June and July. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

JULY

From feast to famine, we went from heavy rains and lower temperatures to hot, humid, dry days seemingly overnight in June.

Watering is becoming a common pastime for many gardeners. Work smartly, by getting out and gardening early in the day. Pay attention to your plants and monitor for insects and diseases, and water when dry. July is typically when the heat and humidity kick into high gear, but we can all hope it won't get any worse.

◼️ We continue to get questions about winter-damaged plants. Many plants came back from severe damage, but there are some that did not. I think by now you have waited long enough. If you still have damaged plants that are limping along, it is time to start making decisions. Do you have the patience to let them grow back after a severe haircut, or is it time to replace them?

◼️ July is not a prime planting month — container-grown plants can be planted year-round, but it is tough on you and the plant putting them in the ground in July when it is hot and dry. If you do plant, water with good regularity to help get roots established. You might also consider putting in a couple of tropical flowering plants or even large houseplants as place-holders until cooler weather arrives this fall.

◼️ Vegetable gardens are doing well. We have had good summer squash, cucumbers and now tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are coming on strong. If you have plants that have seen better days, or have voids where you harvested cool-season vegetables, there are still vegetable transplants at garden centers and some seeds. There is plenty of time for Round 2 of peppers, tomatoes and eggplants, along with melons and cucumbers. If you keep up your watering, there is also time to get pumpkins growing for a fall harvest. Weeds are growing as well (or better) than some vegetables, so keep up with your weeding. Weeds compete for water and nutrients as well as sunlight and can harbor insects.

◼️ When temperatures rise and dry weather occurs, some insects start to build up in large numbers. Aphids, white flies and spider mites are all poor swimmers and thrive in dry conditions. Using a spray from the garden hose can knock them down, but pay attention and try to catch them as they are getting started. There are many insecticides on the market that can work. As with any pest problem, the sooner you catch them, the easier they are to control. Grasshoppers also are becoming a problem. They can ravage a plant in a short amount of time, so move quickly when you see problems.

◼️ To keep annuals blooming at their peak, fertilization does make a difference. Fertilize annuals every two to three weeks during their growing season. A light application is always preferred but especially when it is hot and dry. Consider watering your plants well before fertilizing and then water lightly afterward, to help fertilizer work its way into the soil. Heavy applications or applying when plants are stressed can lead to burned plants, so use caution.

◼️ Perennial plants vary in their need for fertilization. Some do better with low fertility, while others thrive with rich soils. Know something about the plants you are growing to give them the best care.

◼️ Gardening has taken on a life of its own, with more gardeners active than ever before. Annual and perennial flowers flew off the shelves this past season, and evidence of that is visible in colorful gardens all over Arkansas.

PLANT OF THE MONTH

Native to the Southeastern U.S., sourwood is not naturally found in Arkansas. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Native to the Southeastern U.S., sourwood is not naturally found in Arkansas. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is a small, deciduous tree native to the Southeastern United States but not found naturally growing in Arkansas.

This member of the azalea family has fragrant white flowers in June and July and outstanding red fall foliage.

The flower stalks and fruits persist in the fall and accent the red foliage well. The blooms are favored by honey bees, and the honey is prized for its sweet flavor.

A sourwood tree will grow to 20-30 feet tall in full sun or partial shade. It prefers acidic, well-drained soil and benefits from supplemental water while young. Once well established it is better able to handle drier conditions.

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

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