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Horticulture Field Day teaches key points for fruit production in Arkansas

May 25, 2018

Horticulture Field Day teaches key points for fruit production in Arkansas

Fast facts:

  • Southwest Research and Extension Center hosts Horticulture Field Day
  • Researchers present research on fruit production, pest control and variety updates

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HOPE, Ark. – Home gardeners in southwest Arkansas found out how duct tape’s famous versatility extends even to their backyard at the 2018 Horticulture Field Day at the Southwest Research and Extension Center.

5-17-2018 Worthington-Wingfield-SWREC
HORTICULTURE FIELD DAY -- Margaret Worthington discusses fruit varieties during the May 17, 2018, Horticulture Field day at SW Research and Extension Center in Hope. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Sarah Cato)

The Southwest Research and Extension Center opened its doors to people from across Arkansas on May 17. Home gardeners went to Hope eager to learn all about fruit production in Arkansas, but even more eager to do some taste testing.

After a trailer ride out to the field, attendees and researchers alike endured the sun and 90-degree heat, all in the name of love for homegrown fruit. Topics from last Thursday’s meeting included tomato production, pest control, cover crops and many more.

Duct tape and other solutions

Jackie Lee, extension horticulture Integrated Pest Management specialist for the Division of Agriculture, shared attendees about control tactics for pests in home gardens.

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is an approach to pest management that incorporates a variety of control techniques such as biological, cultural and chemical control.

Of the things to be wary, Lee said weeds were a high priority.

“It’s not just what’s in your garden, but what’s outside it as well,” she said. “Weeds offer food and an environment for pests and diseases.”

She stressed the importance of scouting for insect pests and knowing what clues they leave.

“You need to scout as much as possible,” she said. “If there’s frass, or insect waste, outside of the fruit, there’s probably a pest inside of the fruit. Also, disease can look like insect damage, so you need to really get down there and look.”

Lee’s recommendations for control included chemical, biological and a mechanical option. 

“Bifenthrin is best for squash bug, but you need to rotate it with other chemicals like Sevin,” she said. “Keep your good insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises and assassin bugs.”

Then there’s the duct tape. 

“Squash bug eggs are can be anywhere on the leaf, so it’s very important to look out for them,” Lee said. “You can actually use duct tape to remove the eggs from the leaves.”

Tomato production

John Gavin, Bradley County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, gave home gardeners some tips and tricks for growing tomatoes.

“Your plants need 8 hours of sunlight, or a minimum of 6, so be wary of growth around your tomatoes that can block the sunlight,” Gavin said. “You also want a moist, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0-7.2”

Gavin stressed that when it comes to fertilizer, tomatoes can be very needy.

“Tomatoes require more fertilizer than most plants,” he said, “but still, don’t over-apply. Follow the direction on the fertilizer packaging.”

He added that to be confident about fertilizer recommendations, soil tests should be taken.

“Plants cannot take up nutrients if the pH of the soil is too low,” Gavin said, “and you want to allow plenty of time to get your results back so you can start planting early. So, soil should be tested about five weeks ahead of time.”

Gavin also explained differences of growing your plants from seeds or transplanting

“Growing tomatoes from seeds is the least expensive option,” he said. “Transplanting is easier, but your ability to choose the variety is limited.”

Blackberry production

John Clark, distinguished professor of horticulture for the Division of Agriculture, taught about blackberry production and popular varieties in Arkansas.

“Natchez, Osage and Ouachita are my recommended varieties,” he said. “They’re thornless and they do well in Arkansas.”

Clark explained the difference between primocane- and floricane-fruiting varieties and that good things come to those who wait.

“Primocane-fruiting varieties produce fruit the first year and floricane-fruiters don’t produce fruit until the following year,” he said, “but primocane-fruiters don’t typically do well in Arkansas due to high summer temperatures.”

Clark emphasized the importance of “tipping,” or clipping off the topmost part of the primocanes to avoid excessive growth, when growing blackberries.

“Tipping is key with blackberries,” he said. “Blackberry plants can get out of hand very quickly without tipping.”

Cover crops with watermelons

Amanda McWhirt, extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, explained her research on cover crops in watermelon production. She taught about the importance of cover crops and the benefits they provide.

“Cover crops provide nutrients to the soil as well as weed suppression,” she said.

McWhirt’s graduate student, Alden Hotz explained his research with watermelon cover crops.

“We’re working to see which combination of cover crops maximizes nutrient supply and weed suppression,” he said. “We’ve found a combination of cereal rye and Austrian pea offers high weed suppression and high levels of nitrogen.”

He gave the seeding rate for this combination as well.

“50 pounds of cereal rye to 30 pounds of Austrian pea,” he said.

The duo also mentioned that field rotation is very important when it comes to watermelon production.

“Crop rotation for any crop is important because diseases and insects can build up in the soil if the same crop gets planted in the same spot several years in a row,” McWhirt said. “For watermelons this is particularly key because of soil borne diseases and certain insects the can take down a crop very quickly.”

Peach, nectarine variety update

Margaret Worthington, assistant professor of horticulture or the Division of Agriculture, started her presentation with an update on the most recent nectarine varieties.

“Our newest nectarine is ‘Effie,’” she said. “It’s a firm-fleshed, mid-acid white nectarine. Our other new nectarine releases are ‘Amoore Sweet,’ which is low acid and yellow-fleshed, and ‘Bowden,’ which is standard acid and white-fleshed. Both of these ripen about a week before Effie.”

She continued with new and popular peaches.

“Our most popular peach cultivar is ‘White County,’” she said, “which is a large, slow-melting, white-fleshed peach that ripens mid-season. We have a whole series of white peaches with different ripening dates throughout the summer. We also have a relatively new low-acid yellow peached named ‘Souvenirs.’”

She added that all peach varieties are bred and tested in Arkansas.

“All of our peaches are bred at the Fruit Research Station in Clarksville, but they’re tested at the Southwest Research Extension Center before release,” she said. “They’re all adapted to Southwest Arkansas and have moderate resistance to bacterial spot disease.”

For more information on fruit production in Arkansas contact your county extension office, or  Southwest Research and Extension Center at (870) 777-9702 or visit

Mention of commercial products does not imply endorsement by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

By Sarah Cato
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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