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October 2012

QuestionDuring a visit to Fayetteville about two years ago, I saw hydrangea trees. I live in Malvern. Would these trees grow well here? If so, when is the best time to plant them?


AnswerMy guess is you saw some peegee hydrangeas, or Hydrangea paniculata. They can be pruned into small trees or large shrubs. These hydrangeas bloom on the new growth and have large panicles of white flowers that typically fade to pink. They are not quite as finicky as the big leaf Hydrangea macrophylla, which can suffer from late freezes, particularly in the NW part of Arkansas. I would plant in late winter to early spring. They should do fine in Malvern, and there are some new varieties that will tolerate more sun – ‘Limelight’ and ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ are just two options.      

November 2012

QuestionI have a baby Hydrangea bush that is probably well under a foot tall. We have tried to grow Hydrangea in the past with no luck, they all died. This is the first that we have had any luck with. It was just a baby plant when we put it in the ground several months back. With cold weather coming on I don't know how to take care that it doesn't die, but I don't know what to do to protect it during the winter. What should I do!


AnswerHydrangea bushes can be damaged by a cold winter, but usually are not killed. Pay attention to it in late winter. If we have mild winter days, they often begin to grow, and this tender new growth can get zapped by cold weather. The problem lies in the fact that they set their flower buds before they go dormant, so if they get nipped back by winter weather, they will not bloom that summer. I am a little worried about even larger, established plants, because many began a new set of growth late this season, which may or may not have a chance to harden off before winter sets in—only time will tell. Mulch your plant with 2 – 3 inches of mulch, leaving a little space between the main stem and the mulch. You can cover it during really cold days with a large cardboard box, but that only gives you a few degrees of protection. Hydrangeas like well amended, well drained soil on the north or east side of the house, provided they do get some sunlight—(planted in heavy shade, they will not bloom). They are not drought tolerant plants, but if you give them the right location and ample moisture, they can be beautiful plants in the landscape.

June 2012

QuestionMy dwarf gardenias were full of blooms this year but lasted only a couple of weeks. What can I do to prolong the bloom period?


AnswerDifferent varieties bloom at different rates. I have a Kleim’s Hardy or Daisy gardenia. It has a simple flower and when it is in bloom, it is a solid mass of white flowers that all bloom at one time. But it only lasts for about a week. My double standard gardenia blooms for at least a month with flower buds opening over an extended period. Some varieties re-bloom such as August Beauty and Jubilation.

May 2012

QuestionI have a gardenia bush on the east side of my house. A few years ago I cut it back and ever since it does not bloom. Can you please tell me how to get it to bloom again?


AnswerProper pruning should encourage flowering, but even if you butchered the plant, improper pruning should not impact flowering for more than one year. Has the plant grown back? Did you water last summer? Gardenias bloom normally in late May and June, but this year they are already blooming. I had one with blooms in late April. Gardenias set flower buds for the following year in late summer to early fall. They do need sunlight to set flowers. If they are in deep shade, they won’t bloom. If they were overly stressed and didn’t put on new growth, they wouldn’t bloom well. In cold winters, damage can occur which can impact blooms, but that sure wasn’t the case this year. Check the sunlight and water when dry. Fertilize now with an azalea fertilizer and see what happens.

May 2012

QuestionSome neighbors and I in our Stagecoach Village community near Otter Creek have side yards on the north sides of our homes that are exposed to the public, so we'd like to put some shrubs against those north walls. However, the areas get no sun, even during summer months. Do you know of any shrubs, bloom-producers or not, that will live and grow in areas where they get no direct sunlight? I've read that caladiums for lower growth can live in total shade, but we'd like to have some shrubs for some north windowless walls.


AnswerThere are numerous shrubs that do well in deep shade. Aucuba or gold dust plant, and fatsia is hardy through central Arkansas are both shade tolerant evergreen plants. Leucothoe comes in variegated or green, and standards and dwarf varieties are available. Otto Luyken laurel, boxwoods and hollies are also pretty variable and will take shade. Illicium is a native shrub that will bloom in the shade, and for light shade with filtered sun or morning sun, you can grow hydrangeas, camellias, azaleas and gardenias, but they do need some sunlight to bloom. The previous plants can take pretty heavy shade quite well.

April 2012

QuestionI have a tall plant that is 4 or 5 years old. I think it is called a Photenia plant. It has purple looking shiny leaves. I saw several deer feeding on the plant early last fall and thought they had damaged it. Thus far this year, the plant seems to be dead, but has new growth springing up from the bottom. My question is this? The tree is about 6 ft. tall--do I need to cut the upper branches back to the new growth or leave them alone?


AnswerIf it is a red tip photenia, it is an evergreen plant. Having no foliage on the upper portion doesn’t bode well. You can try cutting all the dead out and see if there is enough life left in it to regrow. Photenias were the number one hedge plant in the south for the past 50 years, but have been declining due to disease problems. If they don’t come back, I would replant with a different plant.

March 2012

QuestionWe are searching for replacement evergreen trees where dead Leyland Cypress had been removed from our backyard. They had been a screen between our house and a neighbor. We would like to have something that won't get over 10 to 12 feet in height, that will remain green year-round and that will allow flowering plants between them and the front of the bed and still provide the screen against the chain link fence between houses. The bed is approximately 25 - 30 feet in length and 8 - 15 feet wide. The trees will face the South (our house faces East) so will get at least 6 hours of full sun daily. We would appreciate your suggestions for that space. We have seen so many evergreens labeled "emerald green arborvitae" but according to the information can grow as high as 60 feet and 6 - 8 feet wide. Can those that are said to grow so tall be trimmed back in height as they grow? Thank you for any information to assist us in making our decision.


AnswerIf all you want is a plant that gets 10-12 feet tall, then choose a plant that has that as its maximum height. Especially if you plant something like the green giant arborvitae that can reach 60 feet tall, you will have to constantly prune, which makes a large hedge a constant work in progress. Some better choices include the Nelly R Stevens holly, cleyera, winter honeysuckle, or even one of the loropetalum varieties. Some varieties grow taller than 12 feet, others much shorter.

February 2012

QuestionHow do you get a hydrangea to bloom? It starts a new bush each year and it is just green. I have seen bushes with large blue flowers and that is what I would like.


AnswerThe big showy Hydrangea macrophylla sets its flower buds in late summer to early fall, and blooms the following year in late May through June, if the buds aren’t damaged by cold weather. Northern Arkansas in particular has had annual winter damage, which lessons your chances of flowers. This year, many hydrangeas started growing in late December with our mild winter, and the recent cold snap could have damaged them. If all of your growth starts at the ground level, there will be no blooms on traditional hydrangeas. However, there are some newer varieties that bloom on the new growth as well as the old, so even if they get nipped back and all your growth starts at the soil line, they will have flowers. Varieties include: Endless Summer and Blushing Bride.      

March 2012

QuestionWe have just built a new pool and it turned out much higher than expected so we need privacy OVER the 6 ft fence as we are almost looking over the fence into neighbors yard. We have a very small yard and were thinking we would almost have complete back full with pool and patio and plants. There is 53 inches between fence and concrete around pool on one side and 36 inches on other side. Rest is connected to house and porch. I would like to know what you would suggest to fill this space in that will grow up over the fence for privacy. We were thinking about Bamboo and someone suggested oleander. We would be open to other suggestions also if you have any thoughts.


AnswerDefinitely not running bamboo-or your neighbors won’t be your friends any more. I would assume you want tall plants, and if you have tall bamboo, it can run as far away from the base as it is tall—20 foot tall bamboo can send up suckers 20 feet away. Clumping bamboo would be an option, but your space is quite narrow. Since your space is limited, you want tall vertical plants. Oleander is an option if you live in central or southern Arkansas, but it would not be reliable further north. The downside with oleander is the blooms will drop in the summer, which will be quite close to your pool and it is not fast growing in Arkansas and it does spread fairly wide. What about a holly such as Nelly R. Stevens, Foster, Savannah or Lusterleaf holly. Another option would be to build a trellis and let a vine grow up it to give instant privacy, and not take up an abundance of space.

March 2012

QuestionIn a recent column you talked about oleander, but you didn’t mention anything about the known toxicity of this plant. I’m talking about Nerium oleander, as I suppose you are. It is indeed an attractive plant. However, what I read tells me its greatest danger comes when the leaves are eaten, and it is more poisonous to humans and dogs (and some grazing animals including horses) than to some other species. I personally would forego it as a yard plant. But I recognize that someone else might decide differently, and so I feel strongly that anyone who chooses oleander ought to do so in full knowledge of its riskiness to children and pets.      


AnswerYou are correct that oleander is poisonous and I should have mentioned its toxicity. There are quite a few plants in our landscapes that fit this bill. The popular brugmansia and datura perennials are highly toxic, as is foxglove (Digitalis), hellebores (Lenten rose) and all members of the milkweed family. Even our common boxwoods and daffodils are toxic.

March 2012

QuestionI would like to plant hydrangeas on the north side of my house in Little Rock. I would like a hardy variety that grows tall and wide, and I am not particular about color. Which variety would you suggest and are these better planted in the fall?


AnswerHere in central Arkansas we can pretty much grow all of the hydrangeas. Occasionally we have winter damage which can prevent blooming on the big leaf hydrangeas, but that usually isn’t an annual problem like it is in the northern tier of our state. There are plenty of new varieties to choose from including the reblooming Endless Summer and Blushing Bride, to Strawberries and Cream, to Limelight. Oakleaf hydrangeas are also a great addition. For most hydrangeas spring planting is preferable to allow the roots a chance to get established before cold weather.

March 2012

QuestionMy home in Colony West faces west and the front beds are empty now that all of the original azaleas have passed away. They were planted in 1970 and extended along the 60 foot front of the bed. There are four large Pine trees directly centered in the front and one very large Pine tree at the southern most part of the front of the house. At the north end of the house is a rather large Holly bush (tree), perhaps standing 10 feet tall. Originally, Holly was placed at each end of the front bed to anchor the beds and the Azaleas residing along the length of the bed. I need your recommendation on a plant/tree/shrub selection and your ideas regarding planting, soil addition, etc. I need something hardy that will last. Also, do you think the plants/shrubs/trees sold by the big box stores like are very safe? I think a local nursery would be safer in the long run regarding the viability and health issues of native plants, etc.


AnswerYou do need a basic grouping of evergreen plants so that you have something that is green year-round, but adding some deciduous plants can give you great color in the summer. While your yard faces west, it sounds like the pine trees shade it from intense sun. If you like azaleas, by all means replace some. There are numerous plants that you can choose from and diversity is good. I like to have something blooming in every season. Possibly sasanqua camellias for winter, azaleas and loropetalums for spring color and Itea and buddleia for summer blooms. Take pictures of your front yard and do a sketch of your yard on graph paper. Take that to your local nursery and they can help you plan how many plants you need and can give you other options. You don’t have to buy everything from a nursery, but if there are specific plants or varieties you want, independent nurseries usually have better selections.

October 2011

QuestionI would like to plant a winterberry holly. Because I don't see them in the Little Rock area often, I wonder if they do well here. I am particularly interested in a dwarf variety called Red Sprite with Jim Dandy as the pollinator.


AnswerOutstanding choices! The winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is one of our deciduous hollies – the other is Ilex decidua. They do very well in Arkansas. You can see the native ones up and down the roadways each winter, with their clusters of red or orange berries. They do sell deciduous hollies at most nurseries, but they often get overlooked until they shed their leaves and expose their berries.      

January 2012

QuestionWinter Color 2012


AnswerSo far this winter has been an improvement over last year, with weather almost too mild at times. But our winter is far from over, so keep your fingers crossed. Typically when we think of garden color, we think spring and summer, but there are a number of plants that can add winter interest and color. From true flowering plants to colorful bark, leaves and berries, there are options for all gardens. Take inventory of your own garden, and if you need color, consider some new additions. Shrubs are the backbone of the landscape. While we do want evergreen shrubs to be the foundation of the landscape, deciduous plants can also add seasonality and rhythm to a garden. While green is of course a color, there are variegated plants and some that take on their own winter hue. Nandina’s can be a nice green addition to the garden during the growing season, but they really shine in the winter landscape with red or burgundy foliage. Standard plants also have a nice berry display. Some folks dislike nandina’s since they can spread by seed into wild areas, but they are a versatile plant, and usually pretty tough. Many female hollies are loaded with berries this year, and the fruit is a nice addition to color. The deciduous hollies are really showing off with berries on full display without being masked by foliage. But there are some plants that actually bloom in the cooler months. There are several species of camellias that are common throughout central and southern Arkansas, and with hardier introductions, now being planted even in the northern tier of the state. Camellia sasanqua’s are in full bloom now, and some of the Camellia japonica’s are beginning to bloom. There are other hybrids available as well. These plants do best in full morning sun, and afternoon shade. They like acidic soil conditions and even moisture in the summer—not tolerating heavy, wet soils very well. Flower colors run from pinks to reds and whites, with some bi-colors as well. There are several species of mahonia that shine in the shade garden. Oregon Grape Holly is a common name, but these plants are setting flowers now, which will be open in a few weeks. The fragrant yellow blossoms will be followed by robin’s egg blue fruits. A new introduction is the Soft Caress mahonia, which looks almost like a small palm plant. Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is already blooming in many parts of the state. Often mistaken for forsythia, which won’t be in bloom for a month or so, winter jasmine is a low growing plant with cascading branches covered in bright yellow flowers. Even though it does lose most of its leaves in the fall, the branches stay green. It has started blooming a bit earlier than normal this year. Some less known shrubs for winter interest include wintersweet and winterhazel. Both of these shrubs bloom in the winter and are highly fragrant. Winter sweet, Chimonanthus praecox is related to our common sweet shrub (calycanthus) and has smaller, fragrant flowers and is the first to bloom in January. By February, the winterhazel, Corylopsis platypetala is blooming. This plant is in the witchhazel family and while it has small flowers they cascade together in a small cluster. Both plants will grow in partial shade, and while not too exciting the rest of the season, can give you great fragrance and interest in the winter garden. Another fragrant winter shrub is winter honeysuckle. Its tiny white flowers may not stop traffic, but it can add fragrance to your home and garden.        

November 2011

QuestionWe need some suggestions or ideas for an evergreen barrier that will get to 3-4 ft tall in pm sun on the south and west side of our yard. We want to run this about 100 ft long. Water is no problem. Types and spacing ideas would be greatly appreciated.


AnswerThere are a wide range of plants that stay in the 3-4 foot range including compacta hollies, loropetalum—both green leafed and purple leafed (check variety height), Indian hawthorne, boxwoods and even nandinas. All will take full sun. For a denser hedge, stagger the planting in a zigzag pattern instead of in a straight row.

November 2011

QuestionI have seen so many pretty camellias in bloom in the state and would like some for my garden in Independence County. Am I too far north for them to survive? If not, what variety do you recommend?


AnswerYou are too far north for the Camellia japonica to do well, but there are several selections of hybrid Camellia’s which have crosses between C. sasanqua and C. oleifera that can go as far north as Fayetteville. Polar Ice, Winter’s Rose, and Winter’s Charm are just three that have been released. They will bloom nicely every year in late fall through early winter.      

February 2011

QuestionI have a bunch of Encore azaleas that have bloomed every year since I planted them 2-3 years ago. The problem is they haven’t thrived. I took a cutting to a nursery and a guy there told me that the leaves were burnt. Is it possible that these azaleas are planted too close to the white siding of my house that the afternoon sun is being reflected onto these azaleas and burning them?


AnswerEncore azaleas can tolerate more sunlight, but they do like water. Last summer took its toll on many plants. If they weren’t watered well, they could have been burned. Winter damage can also cause burned leaves. Wait and see what happens this spring as they start growing, then assess the damage and prune them then. Make sure they are mulched and watered, and fertilize them after the first bloom and see how they do.

December 2010

QuestionI've been trying to plant a Gardenia near my backyard deck for years. I love the smell of the flowers and have purchased numerous plants only to have them die in the winter. I purchased another plant last spring and planted it in a pot on the deck. The gardenia is now about 24" tall and I have it in an 18" diameter pot. I had planned to transfer it to a larger diameter pot before winter, but am wondering if I should wait until spring. I have moved the plant to the screened in back porch for the winter. What should I do as far as care for the Gardenia to get it through our winter?


AnswerI am surprised you have had winter damage in Little Rock. That was common in the 80's but we haven't seen much in recent winters. Gardenias typically experience winter damage when temperatures drop to below 15 degrees. In a container, they would be more susceptible to damage since the soil is elevated. On your porch, monitor the temperature and if it gets close to 20 degrees, you may want to move it to the garage for a night or two. Repotting it now is not necessary. Water when dry, but don't keep it saturated. Gardenias do best where they get full morning sun and protection from the hot afternoon sun. They like a well drained soil and an acidic one. I would consider planting it outside this spring and let it get established during the growing season to have a stronger root system for winter. There are also some more cold tolerant varieties on the market that should overwinter even in NW Arkansas that you may want to try. Frost Proof has been out for awhile and Jubilation is a new gardenia for central Arkansas that re-blooms.

November 2010

QuestionHave the wholesale growers all stopped growing the traditional azalea varieties? (I mean things like Hino, Snow, Coral Bells, Formosa, etc.) All I have seen at local nurseries and stores the past two years are the "Encore" azaleas which are three times as expensive as the older varieties.


AnswerNo, most nurseries still carry a fairly good collection of azalea varieties. They often push the Encore types in the fall because of their rebloomability in the fall. In the spring, when the azaleas are all in bloom, you should see a huge selection of varieties, including the old standbys. Spring is a much better time to plant azaleas anyway, in case we have cold weather.


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