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General Care

December 1, 2018


This plant just appeared in my yard.  One friend says its asparagus fern. Is it edible or desirable?

Picture of dog fennel



The plant in question is a native perennial called dog fennel - Eupatorium capillifolium.  The plant spreads both by seeds and rootstocks which come from the main taproot and grow laterally in all directions, so it can spread aggressive.  When crushed, the leaves and flowers release an unpleasant odor.  The common name refers to the fennel-like odor, which dogs appear to enjoy, thus the common name.  It is not edible, and I find it too invasive to be desirable.


November 3, 2018


What is the blue flower? It came in a flower arrangement and we would like to identify it.


 Picture of eryngium  



The flower in question is commonly called sea holly, Eryngium planum.  It is a perennial plant in Arkansas and has beautiful deep blue thistle-like blooms.  It dries well and is often used in flower arrangements, because it is pretty for a long time in a vase.


September 15, 2018


I was given a start of this plant, said to have come from my grandparents’ home place in west Tennessee.  It went in the ground in April, has a rather prostrate growth pattern, and started to show a bloom cluster in the last few weeks.  The flowers looked white at first, then turned pink.
Picture of bouncing bet 



The plant in question is commonly called Bouncing Bet or Soapwort, Saponaria officinalis.  It is an old-fashioned plant that can become a bit aggressive in the garden. It spreads by underground rhizomes so be aware and contain it if needed.


August 18, 2018


My mother said you might be able to identify this flower.  It has a big bloom at the end and smaller ones on the shaft.  Any help would be appreciated.

Picture of campanula



The plant in question is a perennial called clustered bellflower – Campanula glomerata ‘Superba’.  In our climate they would prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.  The color of these blooms is intense and beautiful, but they are not huge fans of heat and humidity. 


May 26, 2018


We are trying to identify this plant that keeps returning each spring at my niece’s house in Mountain Home. Is it a weed or a plant we want? It has never done anything but have green foliage.

Picture of lily of the valley


The plant is called Lily of the Valley. The rhizomatous roots are called pips. They are one of a few bulb type plants that bloom in the shade and it can be used as a groundcover in a shady garden.  However they struggle in hot, dry climates.  The plants should be kept evenly moist and like a rich site.  They bloom with fragrant little bell shaped blooms in the spring.  The plant is poisonous, so deer leave them alone. 


March 4, 2017

IQuestion live in NW Arkansas and we got really cold last weekend. I had a few perennials that had emerged and I did not cover them, and some of the leaves look a little sad.  Do you think I need to replant? 



I would not throw in the towel just yet. If the leaves are definitely dead, then cut them off, but then leave the plant alone.  See if you don’t begin to see some new growth in the next few weeks.  We were fortunate the cold did not linger, but we still have almost a month to go before we are considered frost-free, so keep some extra mulch handy in case of another cold snap.


November 7, 2015


I have cleared brush-honeysuckle vines, briers, little trees etc. Today, I am beginning to plant 1200 bulbs in this area. I am wondering, after the bulbs are all planted, is there some kind of pre-emerge that I can apply so the vines and briers will not come back with a vengeance?

AnswerUnfortunately, most of the weeds you are describing are perennials or woody plants which a pre-emergent has no effect on.  Pre-emergent herbicides only work on annual weeds—those that germinate, grow and then die in one season.  The herbicide prevents the weed seeds from germinating.  It will not prevent the roots of perennials from growing, so just be vigilant, mulch and keep it as clean as you can.  Once the bulbs have had at least 6 weeks growing time following bloom, then the bulb foliage can be mowed down and the weeds too. 


October 31, 2015

QuestionI have seeds that have sprouted from my Harmony Pearl Anemone.  My question is, would it be better to plant them in the ground now? Or should I take them indoors for the winter and plant them in the spring.  They have their true leaves and look healthy.

AnswerIf they have been outside the entire time, I would get them planted. After a killing frost, add some extra mulch.  Wait for them to go dormant before mulching.  Now that we have finally have had some rain, I would recommend quick planting to give them time to get growing before a hard frost.  


August 2012

QuestionMy calla lily blooms have filled with seed pods and have gotten so heavy that the plants are now laying on the ground. Do I just leave them there, or can I cut them off and plant the seeds? If I can plant them, will they come up next year?

AnswerIf the calla lily seed pods have dried, they are ripe and can be planted. Grown from seed, it can take up to three years before you see a bloom. I am too impatient for that, so I would recommend cutting off the spent flower next season when it finishes blooming to prevent seed set and the added weight which is causing the plants to be top-heavy. Since they are already laying down now, you probably will not get the plants to stand back up for this season, so you may want to allow the seeds to ripen fully, then cut back the old foliage. The original plant should grow back next spring and hopefully bloom, as well as new seedlings can begin growth.

August 2012

QuestionI bought a century plant several years ago. Just recently, it seems over night, a strange ‘thing’ sprang up in the middle of the plant about three feet long. It first started shedding seeds, and then, it looks like about ten little plants started growing on the sides of the appendage. There are also a number of smaller plants growing around the base of the “mother" plant. My question is, can I remove the plants from the mother?

AnswerThe century plant is an agave. While it can take a long time before the mother plant blooms, it doesn’t take 100 years. The bloom stalk appears in the center of the plant and as it begins to grow, I think it looks like a giant asparagus spear before the blooms open. The flower stalk can get quite tall and begin to branch out before the flowers open. It does set seeds and then the stalk will wither and die. The mother plant also dies after it blooms, but produces numerous pups or babies around the base of the plant. You can start removing the babies and giving them their own space to grow in.

August 2012

QuestionI have a perennial garden that is almost 20 years old. It is in need of an "extreme makeover", if you know what I mean. I have a lot of creeping Phlox that over the years has crept over the driveway. When I tackle this project in the fall, can I dig that up, clean it out some and replant it? I have noticed over the past 2 years that the blooms are not a prolific as before.

AnswerCreeping phlox actually tends to do better in poor soil, than rich, well watered areas. In my opinion, it is not the most attractive plant after it blooms. I do think you can clean it up, and replant this fall, but I would use it as a border or edging plant, and incorporate some other perennials and annuals into your bed. Diversity is a good thing, and you want plants that can bloom in all seasons. If your perennials get too crowded, it can reduce their vigor and their blooming. A general rule for perennials is plants that bloom in the spring, should be dug and divided in the fall. Fall bloomers should be dug and divided in the spring, and those that bloom in the summer can be dug and divided spring or fall.

July 2012

QuestionI recently picked a mess of dry seed pods off some lily type flowers. I would like to plant the seeds and am hoping you will tell me if this will work. For some reason, I thought day lilies came up from bulbs!

AnswerMany bulbous type plants, including daylilies, tiger lilies and even daffodils and tulips set seeds as well from the spent flowers. It takes a while to get a blooming plant from a seed of a daylily or Asiatic lily, but it is doable. Just lightly cover the seeds with soil and be patient. It usually takes two years before you see a flower, but you will get plants much sooner. A quicker method of propagation is to divide the plant. Many gardeners like to experiment. If you have a lot of daylilies, they will cross pollinate so you will get a different bloom.

May 2012

QuestionCan you identify this plant? I found it in the woods around Rison. It was also growing along the road. It isn’t much of a plant, quite viney, with stickers, these puffball pink flowers and a long central root.

AnswerThe plant in question is commonly called sensitive briar, Mimosa microphylla.      

February 2012

QuestionWith the warm weather, we have healthy winter weeds and tops of tender bulbs and other perennials coming up. Is there a herbicide that will kill the weeds and not hurt the perennials?

AnswerAnything that will kill the broadleaf weeds will also kill or damage your emerging perennials and bulbs, so either use a hoe, or spot spray, making sure there is no contact between herbicide and desirable plants. Round-up or a glyphosate product will work, if you can shield the desirable plants. I prefer the hoe or hand pulling to avoid damage.

January 2012

QuestionI have 3 or 4 large hostas plants that have gotten too big for the area where they are currently planted. When is it a good time to dig these up and relocate them. Also, is there anything extra I need to do to insure the plants will re-establish themselves.

AnswerHostas are quite easy to divide and replant. When you see signs of them emerging in the spring, dig up the clump and cut between divisions. I find a serrated bread knife does the best trick, but anything that makes a nice clean cut will work. Leave two or three crowns per division. A crown of a plant is the area where the stems meet the roots. When hostas get growing, they often can have six or more crowns in each plant. If you over-divide and separate them down to one crown per division, it will give you a small plant and they will not bounce back as quickly.

October 2010

QuestionI was given a Mexican petunia plant that is bare root and I plant to plant soon. What can you tell me about it? I have never heard of it before, am told it is very hardy and blooms well. It has 2 purple blooms on it now.

AnswerMexican petunia is Ruellia. It is an extremely heat and drought tolerant perennial. There is a standard variety that grows about three feet tall and has purple flowers and is very hardy. It can also get a little too happy in the garden and spread, so pay attention to it. There is also a dwarf ruellia that gets no taller than 6 inches and is marginally hardy in NW Arkansas. Plant yours in full sun and water and mulch it and it should survive the winter.

October 2010

QuestionCould you tell me what these flowers are and will they survive in NLR area over winter. If so where is best area to plant, presently in pots with full sun.

AnswerThe purple flowered plant is Duranta erecta, commonly called golden dew drop or sapphire flower. It is a tender perennial. It comes in purple or white flowered forms and there is also a variegated yellow and green form, which is not as hardy. I have had the common green form overwinter outdoors in the ground, but not in a pot. In the ground, it will die back to the ground. If you want you can move the pot into a protected spot this winter in a garage or crawl space and bring it back out. The yellow flower is Esperanza (Tecoma stans) and it is a tough summer blooming tropical. It is winter hardy in far south Arkansas, but would not fare well in central or north Arkansas. Move it to the garage for the winter.      

September 2010

QuestionIt looks like I may have "killed" my asparagus fern. I have had it for 29 years and it was beautiful. It was in a pot on my porch and had kept it watered well and it was doing good. Then all of a sudden it turned brown and is dying. I thought back and the only thing I can think of that I did - was, and this is dumb, I watered it with some vinegar water. I had always heard that ferns like acid soil - so thought I would give it some - Evidently Wrong!!! Do you think that I could cut it all back and keep it watered and fertilized - or is it gone????

AnswerI hope it isn't totally dead, but never use vinegar on a plant you want to live. Vinegar is often touted as an organic weed killer—and it is non-selective, meaning it doesn’t treat the good plants any differently than the bad. Regular household vinegar is a 5% acetic acid concentration. Acetic acid is what has the potential to kill vegetation because it draws moisture out of the leaf. Research is ongoing as to the effectiveness of vinegar as a non-selective weed killer, so we are not recommending it at this time, but so far, they have found that strong concentrations of acetic acid are needed to kill tougher weeds, but any amount can burn a plant. Since you did dilute your solution, it should be even less than 5%, so hopefully you just burned the plant and there is still life left. Cut off the damaged parts, and put the plant in your sink or shower and let water run through it to leach out any residue. If the plant is not totally dead, it should begin to sprout back out.

September 2010

QuestionMy husband and I are getting ready to re-vamp the outside of our house with siding, windows, gutters, etc. There is a very mature hickory tree growing just a few inches from the gutter and we are considering having it cut down. My concern; however, is that there is a beautiful resurrection fern growing at the base of the tree, approximately 4" from the ground. If we cut the tree down and leave a stump, will the fern die.

AnswerThe resurrection fern is an epiphyte or air plant--taking all of its nutrients and water needs from natural rainfall or supplemental irrigation. It dries up, appearing almost dead when it is dry and then miraculously resurrecting itself when it gets moisture. Since it doesn't take any nutrients from the host tree, a dead tree shouldn't matter, however full sun is not conducive to its growth. I am worried that without the shade of the tree limbs it may be too exposed to thrive.

August 2010

QuestionThis year I bought quite a few plumbago plants and planted them in pots with other various annuals. The plumbago have outlasted all the rest. Is there any way I can over-winter them under the house or in the garage like sometimes works with geraniums?

AnswerI am assuming you are referring to the light blue flowered plant Plumbago auriculata. It usually does overwinter in the ground in central Arkansas, however it does freeze to the ground. It comes back fine for me, but usually doesn't start blooming until late summer. It has great blue flowers. Another plant commonly called Plumbago is Ceratostigma plumbaginoides with much darker blue flowers which is hardy statewide. For your plumbago, do one of two things--either plant it in the ground and mulch for the winter, or move the pot into the garage after a killing frost for winter protection.      

April 2010

QuestionHave you had any other comments about the clematis vines just drooping over night and looking wilted? One day they were beautiful, then the next they were looking sad and wilted. They eventually began to grow back at the base, but I did not get any flowers after that.

AnswerIt sounds like your clematis is suffering from a disease called clematis wilt. This disease tends to be an issue on large flowering early blooming varieties. It is often worse in heavier soils or soils that do not drain well. Unfortunately, the disease often attacks the plant right as it is about to start blooming. The disease enters the stem and clogs the vascular system, cutting off the supply of food and water to the top of the plant, causing it to wilt and die, seemingly overnight. It only affects the plant at the soil line, leaving the crown and root system unaffected. The plant eventually grows back from the roots, but if yours is a spring only bloomer, you have lost the flowers for that season. All season bloomers, can rebound and still bloom. Some gardeners are plagued with this disease annually until they raise the level of planting or move it to a new location. Others find that as the plant matures it seems to outgrow the problem.

May 2010

QuestionI have a plant that I transplanted last year from my son's yard. I have no idea what it is but it has been very interesting to have in my garden. I planted it last spring and it appeared to have died when the weather got hot. To my surprise last fall, there it was !!!. It came back and flourished all winter through the snow and extreme cold that we had. Today I got another surprise. It has a beautiful bloom. I have no idea what this plant is and would like your help identifying it. I have never seen a plant such as this survive in the yard in Arkansas.

AnswerThe plant in question is called an Italian Arum- Arum italicum. It is a hardy perennial which thrives in cool weather. Once the temperatures heat up, the foliage dies away, resting until the following fall. Since yours is producing the spath-like bloom, it will probably set berries. At first the stalk will be covered in green berries, but they eventually turn bright orange. The berries persist after the foliage dies away. We get lots of questions on identification of the berries without leaves. It will tolerate sun, but is most commonly planted in woodland gardens      

October 2007

QuestionWhat is the recommended rate of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year for annual color beds?


AnswerWhen we talk about fertilizing annuals, we usually want to use a complete fertilizer as opposed to a nitrogen only fertilizer. With the huge range of fertilizers that are on the market, and the various forms—granular, slow release, water soluble, etc., it is best to find a product you like and follow the label directions. I like to start the season with a slow release product (often 20-20-20) and follow that up with regular applications of a water soluble form. The key with annuals is to push them as much as possible to get the most flowers.

June 2008

QuestionOur daughter has moved in to her great grandmother's house and would like to reclaim the garden from the weeds and Bermuda grass so we can plant it next year. How do we do that and can we keep the Bermuda grass in the yard and not in the garden?

AnswerIf you aren’t planning to use it until later—even this fall, you can solarize the site now and kill out most of the grass and weeds. I would scrape the surface free of as many of the weeds and grass as possible, then till the soil and wet it thoroughly. Once wet, cover the site with clear plastic, getting firm contact between the soil and the plastic. Weigh down the sides with soil, rocks or bricks to exclude air. Leave it covered for two to three months this summer and you can generate enough heat under there to kill out the weeds. You could then plant a fall garden, or if you want to wait until next spring, leave it covered until you plan to plant. Bare, exposed soil tends to invite weeds and grass.

July 2006

QuestionI live in Magnolia, AR and I planted Gold Mound lantana around the edges of my patio three years ago and the first year had glorious blooms on each plant. For the past two years shortly after the green growth emerges the tips of the leaves turn brown and curl. The plants continue to grow and produce some flowers but nothing compared to the first year. I don't trim back the lantana until after danger of frost is past so I'm not certain what the problem is. The plants are on the east side and get full sun.

AnswerLantana thrive in heat and sun. What you are describing sounds like some type of burn. Could you have over-fertilized, dumped some type of chemical nearby or gotten drift from a lawn weed killer? In Magnolia, Arkansas, most lantanas are perennial. Have your soil tested to make sure the pH is in balance and to make sure you don't have a salts buildup. If none of the above conditions apply, try digging up a small plant and taking it to your local county extension office so they can send it to the disease diagnostic lab. If your soil is particularly poor, and over-fertilization and salts is not an issue, try using a slow release fertilizer such as osmocote, then using a water soluble fertilizer every two to three weeks. Water when dry.

September 2009

QuestionI have grown elephant ears over the past 30 years but have never had one to bloom. One now has had two blooms and two others budding. When the flower wilts there is a pod left below the bloom, could this be some sort of seed? Should I cut them off or what? The bulb has really grown this year producing the largest leaves ever.

AnswerElephant ears have the ability to bloom like other members of the aroid family. If you find an open flower, you’ll see that it consists of two main parts. A spathe, or modified leaf, covers the spadix or stalk—similar to a peace lily bloom. The spadix is actually a cluster of tiny flowers, with the male flowers on top, female flowers on the bottom and a string of sterile flowers in between. They actually have the ability to set seeds, but rarely do we see that in a growing season in Arkansas, since it takes months for the orange seeds to mature. The flowers are pollinated by beetles. Cutting off the spent flowers won’t hurt, unless you get one really early in the season and you want to try to get seeds.

February 2009

QuestionIf you have time, I would sure like to know when you would recommend pruning Crape Myrtles, Lantana, Coral Bells, Weigela, and Dwarf Maiden Grass. We planted all these plants last summer.

AnswerThere are several different types of plants you are asking about from annuals to perennials to woody shrubs. Let's start with the woodies. Crape myrtles bloom on new growth. If they need it, prune them before new growth begins in late Feb. Weigelia is a late spring bloomer, but it has its flower buds set now, so prune it after it blooms. All ornamental grasses benefit from a haircut before new growth begins--in late Feb through mid March. Before pruning, check to see how much new growth there is, and then cut as low as possible, without cutting into any new green. Coral Bells--or heuchera ( I assume you mean the perennial--not Coral bell azaleas) is a semi-evergreen perennial. Often you will have some cleanup to do in the spring before new growth begins. Lantana is a summer annual/perennial. In some parts of the state it comes back easier than in others. It is rare to see any lantana resprouting above ground. Usually it will come back from the crown, with the upper portions burned back by winter, so cutting back the dead foliage before new growth begins is beneficial.

June 2005

QuestionThis year I planted Gerber daisies for the first time in pots on my deck. For several weeks they bloomed and were beautiful. As the flowers faded I pinched them off. No new blooms have appeared for several weeks now and none are in sight. Will these bloom again this summer? Also, can I over-winter them in the pots or should I plant them outside and when? If I do carry them over either in pots or planted in the ground should they bloom next year?

AnswerGerber daisies like fertilizer. Be sure to fertilize them regularly—without overdoing it. In containers they need even more, because you are leaching it out with the frequent watering. Water as needed. I often find that in the hottest months, they can slow down a bit, especially if they don’t get the nutrition they need. Gerber’s are short-lived perennials, but easier to maintain in the ground versus in pots. I have had them in the garden for 3-4 years. Make sure the soil is well drained, especially during the winter months. Deadheading is important, as well as water. With proper care, they can bloom throughout the season.

June 2005

QuestionWe moved to Hot Springs Village from the Chicago area in 1998. When we were "up north" we had a plant my grandmother (from Missouri) called "the money plant." It was a perennial. Since I moved here to beautiful Arkansas, I have searched high and low to find the seeds again. I go through every display of flower seeds in every store, especially in the spring. I have looked through seed catalogues and magazines to no avail. Could you give me some advice as to where I might find them? They made such a beautiful dried arrangement for the living room or entry foyer. Perhaps you know of a seed catalog that has some of the older standbys (which I favor because of the lovely memories of my family members and my childhood).

AnswerMoney plant or Lunaria biennis or L. annua, is actually a biennial, and should be available as a seed packet. Parks, Burpees, and Heirloom Seeds all sell seed packets. If you can find a gardener who has some, they are usually more than willing to share, since it is a prolific reseeder. The plant grows foliage year one, blooms year two then dies back after producing the round papery seed pods. To perennially have money plant in bloom, plant seeds in the spring and fall. It does best in a partially shaded area, as it doesn't like afternoon sun.

March 2005

QuestionLast year all my Canna Lilies had some kind of worms that caused the leaves not to open. Are the tubers left from last year still infected, should they be destroyed, or, is there a chemical I can use to control the problem this year.

AnswerThere is an insect called a leaf roller that can keep the leaves rolled up tight. Cleaning up the spent foliage from last season, may help cut down on the problem this season, since the insects often over winter in the old foliage and mulch. Make sure all the old foliage and mulch are removed and monitor the plants closely for signs of problems. Spray if you see a problem beginning. BT - Bacillus thuriengiensis, Dipel, or Sevin can help, but hopefully, won't be needed.

January 2006

QuestionI spent the summer preparing a 30 x 55 foot 3 season perennial flower bed. I have two questions that none of my books answer fully. First, do you recommend a pre-emergence herbicide and if so which one. Also, I've been told that you can actually double your bed color by planting - example, summer blooming oriental poppies between your spring irises?

AnswerI usually don't use any herbicides in my flower beds. Right now, keep it weeded with a hoe and then mulch after planting. The main summer weed is grass which is not prevented by a pre-emergent herbicide. I usually have more problems with broadleaf winter weeds, which it is too late to use now anyway. Plus, be aware that pre-emergent herbicides can impact any flower seeds you may be planting. Double planting--or close spacing of spring ephemerals or short-lived cool season plants can work, but make sure you allow ample room for their root systems to grow and to become a mature size. Bearded iris doesn’t like competition, but spring bulbs can be interplanted around many perennials.

November 2005

QuestionHere in Fayetteville, my callas have almost ceased blooming, though the foliage is healthy. I think they have become too dense to bloom much. When is the best time to divide them? At this moment, due to the very late onset of frosts, the foliage is still healthy.

AnswerCalla lilies are becoming more commonplace in our gardens, but I would consider them only moderately hardy in Fayetteville. For that reason, I would wait and divide them in the spring as they are emerging --or lift and store for the winter months before or immediately after the first frost. Dividing them now and replanting would leave them open to more winter damage. If you do leave them outdoors year-round, cut back the foliage after a frost and add an extra layer of mulch to give them a better chance of survival.


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