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OPINION | JANET B. CARSON: Breaking Ground

by Janet B. Carson | October 29, 2022 at 1:47 a.m.
The key to successful pansies is to plant good-quality plants in well amended soil and fertilize periodically throughout the winter. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)


The roller coaster ride has begun. We went from 90 degrees to 30 or below in much of the state, with an early end to our warm growing season.

Quite a change from last year, when most of us still had tropicals blooming at Christmas.

For now, clean up the remains of your summer garden, plant for fall and winter, and keep your fingers crossed that this is not a hint of a bad winter to come.

◼️ There is still time to plant winter annuals and winter vegetables. From pansies and violas to flowering kale and mustard, there are plenty of color options to choose from.

◼️ Mums will still last another few weeks, and we still have blooms on calibrachoa, petunias and geraniums.

◼️ In the vegetable garden, the tomatoes and peppers are history, but you can still plant broccoli, cabbage, kale and Swiss chard transplants. It is a bit too late to start them from seed.

◼️ Have season extenders nearby to protect from any extreme lows. Season extenders can be as simple as an overturned flower pot or cardboard box, or as elaborate as a low tunnel, cold frame or frost blankets. Arkansas weather tends to go up and down, and protection is usually needed only for a few days.

◼️ Water is still critical in the garden. Some parts of the state have had more moisture than others, but all plants benefit from ample soil moisture prior to low temperatures. Moisture in the soil is synonymous with moisture in the plants, and will serve as a buffer preventing freeze damage in leaves.

◼️ If you use containers as permanent planters year-round outdoors, don't forget to water, especially before a cold snap. Containers will dry out even in cool weather, and moisture in the soil and plants can prevent damage. The smaller the container, the colder the roots will get.

◼️ Bulbs can be grown in containers, along with seasonal color and even trees and shrubs. Unsealed clay pots may not be the best choice for the winter months, as they can freeze and thaw, which can lead to cracking.

◼️ As you clean up your summer garden, take stock of what did well and what didn't. For many gardeners, the list of what didn't do well outweighs what did do well this gardening season, but make notes of what to try next year.

◼️ Any spring- and summer- blooming perennials that need dividing can be dug, divided and replanted now as they are ending their season.

◼️ Cut off spent debris and add to a compost pile — unless it was diseased. Home compost piles typically don't get uniformly hot enough to kill disease organisms or weed seeds, so don't add weeds or diseased plants to the pile. A healthy compost pile should be a mix of green and brown — nitrogen and carbon. Ample moisture (not too much) and frequent turnings will speed up the decay process.

◼️ It is spring-bulb planting time. All spring-flowering bulbs need a chilling to grow and bloom at their peak. Planting them after the soil has started to cool down gives them plenty of time to get established and chilled before blooming next spring. Most bulbs need a well-drained soil and should be planted roughly two or three times the size of the bulb, deep in the ground. The larger the bulbs, the larger the blooms next spring.

  photo  October is the right time to plant colorful annuals, including pansies, to brighten winter and early spring. (Democrat-Gazette file photo/Staci Vandagriff)

Many yards are in need of new trees after some tough growing seasons. November is the ideal time to plant a tree. Trees are going dormant, but we have some soil residual heat and ample moisture.

Planting now means young trees can begin the task of establishing roots while they don't have to devote energy to growing leaves.

Make sure you look up: Don't plant under utility lines and don't plant any closer than 15 to 20 feet from your house to allow the canopy to grow to its full potential.

New narrow-growing varieties of many shade trees are available for smaller yards. Go visit your nursery and see your options.

Make sure you mulch your trees to prevent competition from grass and to prevent lawnmower and weed trimmer damage.

Read Janet Carson's blog at


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