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March 2014

Question I have a large back yard in Fayetteville that is pretty much a blank canvas with some large trees in the perimeter, allowing areas of full sun, deep shade, and dappled shade. I'd like to plant all native shrubs and flowers to benefit the birds and insects. Are there any hardy favorites that you'd recommend?

Answer The list would be too long to put here, but there are many great natives that you could use.  Some of my favorites are beautyberry—Callicarpa americana, ninebark (Physostegia), itea, clethra, buckeyes—both red and bottlebrush, native ferns and azaleas, and a myriad of wildflowers from Echinacea (purple coneflower), coreopsis, gaillardia, wild phlox and more.  Check out Carl Hunter’s Wildflowers of Arkansas or Trees, Shrubs and Vines of Arkansas to get more ideas.  Many of the above plants are common in the nursery trade, while some of the more obscure plants will be more of a challenge to find.  Never dig plants from the wild unless it is on property of someone who has given you permission. 


October 2012

QuestionI have a lovely lavender bush that has been growing and looking very healthy until recently and now parts of it look like "dried lavender." I cut off the dried looking part, but the problem seems to be spreading. Do you have any guesses as to what is causing this and how to fix it before the whole plant is gone?


AnswerLavender is one of those plants that thrives in drier seasons, and struggles in damp, hot and humid ones, especially if the drainage isn’t great or if you have a sprinkler system which hits it regularly. Raised beds and rocky, poor soils tend to be better than highly amended, rich sites. Cut out the damaged parts and get it through the winter. Then prune it back by 1/3 to 1/2 before new growth kicks in next spring and see what happens. It tends to do better in poor soils which are not heavily fertilized or watered.

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 am removing nandina around the foundation of my house. They are probably at least 20 years old and have spread all along the bed behind the azaleas. I have to use a pick ax to uproot thick clumps of roots. Then I hand pick out the long running roots extending out every direction. My question is will I need to sift through to get all the little bits and pieces that this destruction is creating? There are fat white runners and brown woody runners. I'd like to not have to do this again in another 5 years.


AnswerNandinas are tenacious plants and it is possible they will sprout from the roots that are left behind. The key is to monitor the garden and if you see sprouts weed eat them down or cut them off. Eventually you will wear them out. I don’t think you will get 20 years worth of regrowth from sprouts versus established plants. I like nandinas, but I know many gardeners do not.

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.

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.

May 2010

QuestionWhat shrub would you recommend as a hedge in the Cammack Village area? I'd like to create a living screen to hide a shed & work area in the backyard. The shed sits at the back of the property which is fairly narrow & deep like a rectangle. What vine would you recommend to use for a small arbor which located just out the back door of the house on the same property?


AnswerIs the area shaded where the hedge will be planted? If so here are some good choices: wax myrtle, illicium (Florida anise), cherry laurel and Sweet bay magnolia--this last one is not evergreen. In sunny conditions you can use Little Gem magnolia, one of the hollies- Foster, Yaupon, Lusterleaf, Nelly R. Stevens; or eleagnus. For the vine, you could use a mix: trumpet honeysuckle, clematis, akebia and some annual vines: moon flower morning-glory, cypress vine and hyacinth bean.

May 2008

QuestionI live in Northwest Arkansas and would like to plant some shrubs and trees in my new yard, but I will be leaving soon to spend the summer back up north. Is it ok to plant now, water well and mulch and still have plants left when I return, or should I wait until I come back this fall to plant? Since I am gone all summer, I prefer plants that bloom in the spring or fall. I love azaleas, dogwoods and rhododendrons.


AnswerIf you plan to leave every summer, then invest in a good sprinkler system with a timer, and have a friend or neighbor check to make sure it is working. While there are drought tolerant plants, it is a rare summer that we can go an entire summer season without supplemental watering. New plants, regardless of their drought hardiness once established, must have regular watering the first year they are planted. I prefer to plant azaleas in the spring and early summer, however, no newly planted plant would survive a month without water in the summer, much less the entire summer, if we have no natural rainfall. Rhododendrons are best planted in the fall, as are dogwood trees. Fall planting is preferable for many plants, but don’t plant any of these unless you have an irrigation system. None of the plants you mentioned are drought tolerant.

February 2008

QuestionI hope you can help. I have seen a lot of small bright red bushes in the neighborhoods near my home. They don't have any berries, but they are a brilliant red and very compact. When I asked someone what they were, they told me nandinas. I have nandinas in my own yard, and they have red berries, but not red leaves. They are also quite a bit taller than the plants I'm talking about. Is it possible that these are one in the same? I don't think it’s possible. Can you tell me what they are if you know?


AnswerThe plants are indeed nandinas, only different varieties than the ones you have. What you have is a standard nandina. The small plants are dwarf nandinas. There are quite a few different varieties including 'Harbor Dwarf', 'Nana', and 'Fire Power'. The color may vary somewhat depending on variety, but most of the dwarfs turn brilliant shades of red or orange in the winter months, and are simply green during the summer. They rarely get taller than two feet in height and do not set berries.

July 2010

QuestionOur beautiful Chinese Photinia (30 ft. tall, crown 25 ft. in diam.) has died in spite of our efforts to save it with fungicide. It was not only a focal point, but the screen between our windows and our neighbors. We need to replace it with an evergreen shrub or tree that will eventually fill that space as gracefully. Any suggestions?


AnswerThere are several possibilities. Cryptomeria plants grow quite large at maturity but can be slow to get started. A common name is Japanese cedar. There are numerous cultivars and size varies based on which you choose. Another possibility is one of the hollies--lusterleaf holly (Ilex latifolia) is fast growing and I think fairly graceful in central and south Arkansas. Nellie R. Stevens holly is fairly fast growing but will not get near as tall as your photenia. As far as graceful, I would look at a deodara cedar. Some cultivars will grow way taller, but others can fit your size. 


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