Q: I am a North Little Rock gardener. My asparagus bed seems be producing smaller diameter shoots, which I am allowing to grow into ferns. Could the bed be getting old (it's approximately 10 years old) or could it be that I harvested too long of a season last year? Usually I harvest up to three months and get really strong, mature ferns later each year.
A: If an asparagus bed is well maintained, fertilized, watered, etc. and not over-harvested, it can produce for 20 years. Typically, you stop harvesting when the spears get smaller than a pencil in diameter. Asparagus likes a rich site. Some gardeners add a layer of compost or well rotted manure every spring, while others use a commercial fertilizer. Most gardeners fertilize once a year after harvest, while others divide the application in two and fertilize after harvest and again 6-8 weeks later. Try to keep the asparagus bed happy and healthy with regular watering when dry, and see if you can't build it back up to a good harvest next year.
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Q: I moved last summer and have this tree in my yard that looks like its bark is splitting and may be shedding. It began blooming this spring with pink carnation-shaped blooms and it is covered with the blooms. Do you know what this tree is?
A: It would have been helpful to see a flower, but from the striations (small lines on the trunk), I would say the tree is a flowering cherry tree. They are not the longest-lived tree in our gardens, and I would say from the amount of bark damage that you have, the tree was wounded years ago. That would make it even less stable. There isn't a thing you can do about it, other than keeping the tree as healthy as possible with regular care during the growing season. Enjoy it as long as it lives, but be prepared to replace it in a few years.
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Q: I have a row of aucubas on the side of my house. They started declining last year and they look absolutely horrible now. They don't get any direct sun, so I don't think that could be the cause of the blackening. Any thoughts?
A: Aucubas did take a hit from the cold this winter and will need some pruning to get them back in shape; but if yours started declining last year, winter weather is not the only culprit. Did you water during the summer? Is the drainage good? Consider digging up one of the worst plants and taking the plant with roots attached to your local county extension office. Let's see what the disease diagnostic lab can come up with.
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Q: Many plants in my garden are starting to grow, but my gardenias look dead. The last time I had this happen, they eventually started growing down low, but it took forever. What should I do now, cut them to the ground, start over or keep waiting?
A: Gardenias were hit hard this winter and many still look awful. I have several varieties in my yard, and some are showing no signs of life, while others are starting to get slow sprouts scattered throughout the bush. You have several options. You can continue to wait and see what begins to grow, or cut the plant back severely and wait for new growth, or do some thinning cuts and see what happens. It is not going to be a fast recovery since the entire plants were damaged, but I am pleased to see new growth beginning on many of my plants. Fertilize lightly and keep the bushes well watered this summer. If the plants are in a focal spot in the landscape, some gardeners might want to replace them with something else.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org