Arkansas gardeners should keep an eye on tender plants they just brought indoors


It seems we transitioned from summer to winter overnight. We also went from drought to monsoon season.

Rainfall amounts varied tremendously across our state in October. Central Arkansas was the driest, with less than one inch of rain leading up to the last few days of the month, and then Mother Nature made up for it. In Central Arkansas, reports of 6+ inches of rain fell in a three-day period. I guess a good drink was just the thing before the first frost of the season.

Most of Arkansas dipped below freezing this week. How hard a freeze your yard received varies based on location. Tender plants die back quickly, while some of the hardier annuals and perennials will linger after light freezes.

Gradually begin garden cleanup.

Those tender plants that you moved indoors in a rush last week need to be monitored for the next few weeks. Less light and constant warmth can be a shock, and some leaves will fall. But also watch for insects. If one plant brought in some travelers, they can quickly move to all your plants, so pay attention. Now that plants are indoors, they will need less water and will grow more slowly.

As summer annuals have played out, there are still plenty of fall and winter color options at local nurseries. From pansies and kale to violas and dianthus, you can still plant. The later you wait, opt for larger plants to jump-start the garden and ensure some winter color. You can also plant spring-flowering bulbs now. On average, larger bulbs should be planted deeper than small bulbs -- on average plant bulbs two to three times their size deep. You can plant winter annuals on top and let the bulbs grow up through the annual color.

We still have some misshapen landscape plants after last winter's deep freeze. Hold off corrective pruning until this winter has passed. Pruning now will expose more of the plant and reduce any buffer effect the misshapen branches might provide.

We have entered the dormant season, so now is an excellent time to plant hardy, large shrubs and trees. If you need to move existing plants, now is also the beginning of the transplant season. You have from now through March to get it done. Again, consider winter hardiness. Plants that have consistently been damaged in colder winters -- camellias, gardenias, azaleas and hydrangeas -- would be better left until late February or March to move. They will stand a better chance with an intact root system.

Leaves are falling in earnest and trees are beginning to put on their fall show. The northern tier of the state has already had great fall color, and it is beginning in the central and southern parts. This last rain hopefully will have saved the day for fall color in dryer areas. We get the best array of fall colors when we have warm days and cool nights coupled with ample moisture. Some trees have shed without turning color, but we are seeing a good display on others, and there is still time to have more. As leaves fall, rake them up and, if you can, shred them and add to a compost pile or use as mulch. Shredded leaves will break down much more easily than if you leave them whole. A light layer of leaves can be mulched in place with a mulching mower, but don't leave heavy coverings of leaves on your lawn or it will be smothered out.

Many home gardeners are growing vegetables year-round outdoors. With the availability of season extenders, or just some ingenuity of creating protection for the plants, they can take even the lowest of temperatures. Most cool-season vegetables will be able to tolerate temperatures to about 28 degrees without protection but will need to be covered if temperatures are lower, or if it is a clear, still night. Overturned boxes, flower pots or small high tunnels can add the protection you need. Many of these cool-season vegetables actually taste sweeter when grown in the cooler months. Some vegetable transplants are still available, so plant soon and keep them watered and fertilized, and you can be harvesting vegetables all winter.

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  photo  Planting spring-blooming bulbs in the ground now will give them the winter chill required to see tall stems in spring. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson).