IN THE GARDEN: Simple test can show gardener whether seeds in old packets will still sprout and grow

A few days wrapped in a damp papertowel should reveal whether these 2019 cilantro seeds are viable. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey 11/29/23)
A few days wrapped in a damp papertowel should reveal whether these 2019 cilantro seeds are viable. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey 11/29/23)

Q:Will old seeds bought before this year grow if planted?

A : There is not a definitive answer for this question. It depends on the type of seeds and how they were stored. Some seeds hold their viability indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place. Others don't last long. To test your seeds, get a small plastic container with a lid and a moist paper towel. Scatter a few seeds on the paper towel and then seal the container. Place it in a warm spot and see if they sprout.

Q:  I remember reading in one of your columns about a small tree or shrub whose leaves will turn red in the fall. I failed to save the information about it. It was not a maple, a burning bush, etc. I think it will be a good choice to replace our crape myrtle that we lost this last year. I do remember your saying the best time to plant this tree or shrub is in the fall.

A:  Fall is the ideal time to plant trees. The tops are dormant, so the plant can spend its time rooting, without having to supply energy to foliage. Fall can be a good time to plant winter-hardy shrubs, but hold off on anything that has gotten nipped in recent winters. Established shrubs are more winter hardy than newly planted ones, but last year it didn't seem to matter how long they had been planted. Many established plants did eventually rebound, while some of the newly planted ones did not. For red fall foliage, there are several options -- Amur maple and, of course, red maple (but pick a named cultivar to ensure red fall color), Chinese pistache and Blackgum all are good choices.

Q:  I am attempting to overwinter two large hibiscus plants in my garage. They have been inside now for about three weeks and they already look pretty sad. Is this a lost cause? How often should I water?

A:  Overwintering plants in an unheated garage should keep them from freezing, but won't keep them thriving. Try to keep the plants as far away from the outside as possible. The closer to the house the warmer it will be. You don't want to water often, but don't let them get bone dry either. Wrapping the containers with a frost blanket or sheet can help keep the soil from getting quite as cold. Don't prune them back when you move them in, but prune them hard when you move them outside, and re-pot then as well. Hibiscuses bloom on new growth, and you want as much new growth as possible next summer. Good luck.

Q:Have I waited too late to plant daffodil bulbs? I bought them a month ago and never got around to planting them.

A:  You have plenty of time. I like to have spring bulbs planted by the end of the year, but if they are getting chilled in your garage or carport then they can go in the ground as late as mid-January. Keep in mind that spring-blooming bulbs need a minimum of 10-12 weeks of temperatures in the 40s-low 50s to put out stems that expand and lengthen.

Q: We were recently getting a new roof and one of the ladders fell and put a big ding in the base of my oak tree. Is there anything I should do to help it?

A:  The only thing you can do is clean it up. If there are loose or torn chunks of bark, cut them off and smooth the edges. Eventually the wound should callus over. Tree paints or wound dressings don't serve any purpose.

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 [email protected]