IN THE GARDEN: Warm spell after first frost can trigger late blooms, but rarely in a peony!

Q : I have been growing peonies for many years, and have never had one bloom in the fall. It's an Itoh peony "Morning Lilac," which I planted three years ago, and had not yet bloomed until now. What gives?

A:  I think your peony is as confused as Mother Nature. It is not unusual for spring-flowering trees and shrubs to put on a few errant blooms in the fall after we have a cold spell, followed by a warm spell. I have never heard of a peony doing so however. Enjoy the bloom as long as it lasts. It is unusual to even have foliage this late on a peony since they start their season early. It is an interesting color combination with bloom and fall foliage!

Q:  I always appreciate your advice and the time you take to address my questions. What are your recommendations for planting Elaeagnus pungens? The Encyclopedia of Arkansas and Arkansas Heritage websites list it as invasive. I couldn't find a recommendation on the extension website although there was a Q&A link that didn't suggest the species was invasive. Your thoughts and recommendations would be appreciated.

A:  I have seen Elaeagnus pungens listed as invasive, and while it can escape occasionally, there are other Elaeagnus species that can be a real nuisance. I wouldn't plant Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) and Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). I actually like Elaeagnus pungens, or thorny Elaeagnus, primarily for its fragrant fall flowers. The blooms are born in the interior of the plant, so they aren't showy, but very fragrant. I think the general consensus with E. pungens is you either love it or hate it. Some call it ugly Agnes, because it does need pruning two to three times a year to cut back wild sprouts -- sort of like a bad hair day. It can sucker at the base. I have seen it grown in large containers or as an evergreen hedge. It is not a native plant.

Q:  Is it possible to start an oak seedling from an acorn? How can I do this? My friend has a beautiful oak tree that I would love to grow in my yard. I love your column in the paper.

A:  Oak trees grow readily from acorns. Collect the acorns as soon as they fall to the ground. Once you have harvested them, put them in a bucket of water. Viable (healthy) acorn seeds will sink to the bottom. If they are floaters, discard them. There is a bit of variability to needs of different species of acorns, but you should have good luck if you get a large container, fill it with fresh, moist potting soil and plant the acorns about ½ inch to 1 inch deep. Put a screen over the container to keep animals out of it, and leave it outdoors next to the house for the winter. Some species of oaks will germinate without pre-treatment, while others will sprout after a cool, moist storage period (stratification). Both types should be happy with the above method. In the spring, watch for sprouting trees. You can grow them in containers for a year or two unless you know where you want the trees to grow. Protect them while they are young so they don't be mowed or trampled.

Q : Spring of '22, I bought a camellia bush. It was loaded with buds. The buds remained through the summer and into the winter. The freeze killed it. Spring of '23, I bought another. It too was and is loaded with buds. When should they bloom? What am I doing wrong? This one is in a planter so I can and will move it in with the weather. I also bought some covers for outside plants for this year.

A:  I think either I am confused or the plant is. Normally camellias set flower buds at the very end of summer or beginning of fall. They then bloom in either early winter or late winter, depending on the variety. If you say you bought them in the spring, I am assuming late March through early May. Sasanqua camellias typically bloom November through early January, while japonica types bloom from late January through March -- again, some variability will come in based on specific variety. If your plant came loaded with buds in the spring, they should have burst into bloom then. They would not usually hold flower buds throughout the summer. Let's hope we don't need plant covers this winter!

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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 Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email