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BREAKING GROUND: Cold, hot, hot, cold Arkansas weather's thrown outdoor plants off-schedule

by Janet B. Carson January 1, 2022 at 1:31 a.m.
With warm weather in December, winter weeds including spurweed are growing strong. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)


Happy New Year! It is the first day of a new gardening season. I wish I had a magic crystal ball to look in and predict the weather for 2022, but we have to take what we get.

We ended our year with a series of highs and an occasional low — in some parts even record-breaking or close to record-breaking warm days in December. Many of us had the air conditioner on for Christmas.

Huge fluctuations of temperatures are never fun for us and even more of a challenge for outside plants. They can't decide if they are supposed to be growing or staying dormant.

◼️ Walk your garden and you might be surprised at what is blooming. From hellebores and camellias (which should be blooming) to roses, irises, azaleas, loropetalum and flowering quince, there is quite a bit of color in the garden. Enjoy color when you have it, but do pay attention to the weather.

◼️ Winter annuals got a kick-start with extended mild weather and are really growing and blooming well. Pansies, violas, ornamental cabbages and mustards look great. Fertilize during a mild break in the weather, and water if it turns dry. Our warmer weather, coupled with heavy winds, can dry the soil out quickly.

◼️ Plants in containers need particular monitoring. Be sure to water periodically, since containers dry out much more quickly than ground soil.

◼️ When a hard freeze is predicted, make sure plants are not too dry. Moisture is critical to protect the plants. Avoid close contact with frozen plants, as they can be quite brittle.

◼️ Milder conditions have many plants extending their growing season this year, so garden cleanup is an ongoing job. There are still leaves to be raked and/or mulched, spent perennials and annuals to be cut back, and there is still time to get some spring bulbs planted.

◼️ Speaking of spring bulbs, many gardeners are seeing lots of foliage already on their daffodils, crocuses and tulips. The mild weather has them thinking spring is on the horizon. Just ignore them, but be careful when weeding or pulling up dead annuals around them -- you don't want to damage the only set of leaves they have.

◼️ Many gardeners plant a fall and winter vegetable garden. By now, lettuce has been nipped back often, but it is still growing strong. Some of the early plants are bolting — flowering and setting seeds. Continue to harvest as long as you can.

◼️ You can start sowing seeds of English peas and spinach soon. If you have broccoli, cabbage or other Cole crops growing, fertilize them periodically.

◼️ Most of the cool season vegetables can grow outside unprotected until temperatures fall below the mid-20s. If we see cold weather, you can easily protect the plants with row covers, cardboard boxes or overturned plant containers.

◼️ Winter weeds are much larger than normal this early in the winter season. If you just have a few, spot spray or hand weed. The earlier you can catch winter annuals like chickweed, henbit and spurweed, the less of a problem they will be this year -- or years to come. If you can prevent them from getting large enough to bloom and set seeds, they should be less of a problem.

◼️ If you have plants that need to be moved in the landscape, now would be an ideal time to get the job done. Make sure you mulch the plants and water occasionally to help get the root system re-established.


As one season ends and another starts, take inventory of what did well and what didn't.

Many landscape plants are still recovering from the extreme lows of the winter of 2021. Let's hope we don't have any repeats, but make plans for extra shaping or pruning in the coming season, and possible substitutions.

Take note of what annuals and vegetables worked for you, and start ordering seeds.

As with most things, a good plan can go a long way toward garden success.

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

  photo  Alongside its delicate foliage, spurweed sets sharp little sticker-seeds that germinate at a terrific rate. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Print Headline: Breaking ground


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