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OPINION | JANET B. CARSON: Breaking Ground

by Janet B. Carson | May 1, 2021 at 1:35 a.m.
New foliage also appears when the native fringetree fluffs out with white flowers in late spring. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

MAY

What a year of weather we have had so far in 2021. Low temperatures and even winter precipitation came later in April than we are used to, and many of us were scrambling to cover tender plants. It looked like our linen closets exploded for a couple of days as sheets and blankets covered yards across the state.

At least in the central and southern parts of Arkansas, most plants sailed through undamaged. Unprotected plants in the northern tier of counties might have been nipped. The cold weather may have slowed their spring burst of growth, but the higher temperatures we ended the month with should have our plants back in gear.

There is plenty to do in the garden right now.

◼️ I am sure many of you have been hearing the reports of plant scarcity. While nurseries still do have plants to buy, you might have to take what they have. So try something new. There was a huge rush on plant material this spring, and coupled with shipping delays (and costs), availability of seeds and plugs, winter weather (slowing production and causing damage), it is turning into an unusual year for home gardeners and the green industry. This is not going to correct itself overnight. In fact, I have heard some in the trade say it could be two or more years before the woody plant materials are back to their pre-covid levels.

◼️ Patience and kindness should be in high demand. Nurseries want to stock the plants you want just as much as you want to buy what you want. They don't have options, and believe me, they are searching.

◼️ On a more positive note, many of the winter-damaged plants are surprising us by growing. A huge percentage of loropetalum have come through almost unscathed. Nandinas, spiraeas, azaleas and palms are all leafing out.

◼️ For the true heat-lovers, patience is still needed. I was pleasantly surprised to see several figs leafing out at the top and not just at the base. Crape myrtles are always slow to grow, but we are hearing reports of damage up north.

◼️ Start assessing what needs to be done to correct damage in your permanent landscape plants and prune accordingly.

◼️ If you have spring-blooming plants that need pruning, do so as soon after flowering as possible. Lightly fertilize and water them as needed this summer. Plants may need a little more care this summer to aid in their recovery.

◼️ Most of the pansies and violas are getting pretty leggy. If you haven't pulled the cool-season annuals, now is the time. Start replanting with heat-loving plants. Fertilize annuals and tropical flowering plants every two weeks to keep them flowering well.

◼️ It is prime planting time for summer vegetable plants. From tomatoes, peppers and eggplant transplants to squash, cucumbers, okra, beans and summer peas, there is a lot that can be planted now.

◼️ Early cool-season plantings are ready for harvest. Monitor for insects and diseases and keep up with the weeds — nothing seems to be slowing them down.

◼️ You can safely start moving houseplants outside. Gradually expose them to bright sunlight so they don't sunburn. Scattering them out and about in your landscape beds can add different textures and colors to the garden. Make sure all the plants have drainage holes so they don't drown from too much water.

◼️ It is strawberry season, and we seem to have a great crop. If you grow strawberries at home, once you finish harvesting, thin out the beds. If you don't thin them, strawberry beds become tightly matted and production will decline in future years.

◼️ Lawns are growing along with the weeds, but once your lawn is fully green, fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer. The mowing season has also started, and recycling the grass clippings puts nutrition back into the garden.

NATIVE OF THE MONTH: FRINGETREE

The native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) will grow in full sun to partial shade, but the more sun it gets, the better it flowers. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
The native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) will grow in full sun to partial shade, but the more sun it gets, the better it flowers. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), also commonly called Grancy Gray Beard or Old Man's Beard, is a wonderful small tree for late spring gardens.

Fringetree is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 30 feet tall, but is usually smaller. It can have a single trunk or several trunks.

In late spring, white, fringe-like flowers appear along with the new foliage.

This native tree will grow in full sun to partial shade, but the more sunlight it gets, the better it flowers.

Only female fringetrees produce berries; the male trees have a larger flower. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Only female fringetrees produce berries; the male trees have a larger flower. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

There are separate male and female trees, and both are beautiful, but the females are the only ones that produce a small fruit, while the males have a slightly larger bloom. When buying a fringetree, you won't know if it is male or female unless there is fruit on it. Either does well in the garden.

They can be a bit finicky about transplanting, so buy a smaller tree versus an overly large one, and plant it in well-drained soil. It is a relatively slow-growing tree.

They have been stunning this spring.

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

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