Arkansas gardens have felt their first frost, so it’s time to get those plants tucked in for winter

Coneflower seed heads left to weather on the stems will provide food for wildlife in winter. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey 11/29/23)
Coneflower seed heads left to weather on the stems will provide food for wildlife in winter. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey 11/29/23)


DECEMBER

Most of the state has now had a killing frost.

Vegetation in the northern tier was already pretty much dormant, but Central and southern Arkansas were still growing strong. Unusually late blooms were popping up on summer tropicals and Encore azaleas, but we also had some weird late blooms on hydrangeas, irises and even a peony -- a new one on me.

The holiday season is in full swing, but if you can find the time, there is always something to do in the garden. For instance, you may have some raking to do. Some trees are now bare, while others are hanging on to some leaves.

Continue planting winter color, from pansies and violas to flowering kale and mustards. Spring-blooming bulbs can go in before you plant annuals for double beauty next spring. And now that we've had that frost, adding a little extra layer of mulch over tender perennials and around shrubs can convey an extra bit of winter protection.

Unfortunately, none of us can predict what kind of winter we are in store for, but keep your fingers crossed that it is nothing like last year.

◼️ To clean up the garden or not is a point of discussion these days. Each gardener can choose their own preferences, but a few plants need to be looked after. If you had diseased annual or vegetable plants in the garden, removing all parts is important to prevent spreading more diseases next season. For instance, canna plants are often targeted by leaf roller insects. These insects tend to overwinter in spent debris. But spent flower or seed heads can be left in the garden for food options for birds and other wildlife this winter.

◼️ Crape myrtles or fruit trees that were plagued by insects and/or disease can be sprayed now with a dormant oil. The oil works by smothering out any scale insects accumulating on branches. The oil works best on deciduous trees after they have shed all their old leaves. Thorough coverage is best.

◼️ Winter annuals are putting on good new growth and lots of winter color. If you still need to plant, there are options available, but plant soon. Look for larger, blooming plants for pansies and violas, or you might not get many blooms until spring.

◼️ If you have already planted, don't forget to fertilize and water, if dry, on warm days. If we get ample moisture, water isn't critical, but check moisture levels prior to a hard freeze. Existing shrubs and trees should be fine unless it gets really dry, but look out for your newly planted trees and shrubs, and winter vegetables and annuals that don't have elaborate root systems and need moisture to buffer them from cold. Pansies in particular are heavy feeders and will bloom better when fertilized.

◼️ When temperatures drop below freezing, stay clear of your plants -- frozen plants are quite brittle and can be easily damaged. They will often look half-dead when frozen, but once they defrost, they typically keep on blooming, unless it stays below freezing for extended periods of time.

◼️ The holidays are here, and holiday plants are available everywhere. If you receive or buy a poinsettia, to keep it colorful, give it bright light and even moisture. Don't over- or underwater it. With just a little care it will keep its color for months.

◼️ Holiday cactus plants are also available and can re-bloom annually with minimal care. Other plants that can add easy color include amaryllis bulbs, paperwhite narcissus, bromeliads and cyclamen.

◼️ More people are choosing fresh Christmas trees than they have in years. If you opt for a real tree, your choices include fresh-cut, cut your own or a living tree complete with roots. Know what you are getting into with the last option. Does your landscape need an evergreen tree? If it does, limit the time the tree is indoors so it doesn't get damaged by low humidity and low light. Cut trees also can dry out pretty quickly indoors.

◼️ Make sure before you place a pre-cut tree in the tree stand that you give it a fresh cut at the base to allow good water movement. Keep the stand full of water, and redirect your heating vent away from the tree if possible.

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