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October 13, 2018


What do I need to do to half of my garden to lay it by for a full season and not plant it?  My garden is about the size of a football field.   I only want to plant about half of it.     


Wow, that is a large garden. If you plan to leave it fallow for a season, whatever area you don't plan to plant in vegetables, plant in a cover crop or green manure crop.  There are choices for fall/winter and spring/summer.  This keeps the ground covered to prevent weeds, but will also enrich your soil. Here is a link to a fact sheet which explains more about them:


December 2, 2017


Saw this plant in Kentucky last week was really pretty for this late in the year, any idea what it might be?

Picture of ornamental pepper

AnswerBelieve it or not, it is an ornamental pepper plant. I would guess the variety to be ‘Black Pearl’.  Peppers will tolerate some light freezes, but will be gone once we have a killing frost


April 1, 2017

QuestionI have a raised bed garden.  Last year all my tomatoes, cucumbers, and okra, got what I think is blight and by the end of the season were completely browned out.   Started at the bottom row of limbs and worked itself to the top.  Do you know any treatment for this disease?  I have some antibiotics I could use or do I have to replace my dirt.  I added a lot of mushroom compost last year and kind of suspect that the blight may have come from it.


It is quite unusual that plants that are unrelated got hit by the same disease issues.  I wonder if the compost was thoroughly cooked.  If it was still breaking down it may have been “hot” and burned your plants.  I do recommend rotating plants in the garden, which includes a raised bed to where you don’t plant the same thing in the same spot for three years.  I would also suggest getting a soil sample and see what the pH and salt contents are before you begin planting.  If you have similar problems this year, I would take a plant sample in to your local county extension office for diagnosis.  If you do have soil borne diseases you can replace the soil or solarize the beds by covering them with clear plastic in July-Sept period.


March 25, 2017

QuestionLast year I grew tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in plastic containers. They looked very healthy and green, but not much fruit. We have sprinklers on a timer to water them every day. The area does get sun most of the day.  Could you please advise on what I might be doing wrong and what is the best way to grow them healthy and fruitful please?  I bought a tomato plant in a plastic container and it was full of tomatoes, but it did not grow anymore tomatoes after that. I must be doing something wrong. 


What size are these containers?  I think the minimum size a container should be for vegetable production is a 5 gallon pot and bigger can sometimes be better.  Small containers limit root growth, which in turn will limit top-growth and production.  Also, how often did you fertilize?  Daily watering leaches nutrition out quickly.  Using a slow release granular fertilizer or a water-soluble one will also differ on how long they last in the soil, but you will need to increase frequency in pots.  It sounds like you have the needed 6-8 hours of sunlight, so I would think container size and/or fertilizer will alter your results.  


February 4, 2017


What are the differences between long day onions and short day onions?  Which type grows best in our area and how soon can I plant some?


Onions are classified as either short day or long day onions by the amount of time or day length required to trigger bulb formation.  Long day cultivars need 14 to 16 hours of sunlight per day to initiate bulb formation, while short day onions trigger at about 12 hours.  Usually long day onions are relegated to the north, since temperatures start getting hot when the day length is long in the south.  They will grow in the south but they won’t bulb as well. Short day onions are a better bet for the south giving them time to produce a bulb before it gets too hot.   If you are growing for green onions either would work, but if you want large onion bulbs opt for the short day varieties.  Transplants are purchased in bundles (usually 60 to 80 plants) from garden centers. It is the most common way to plant short-day onions.  Onion transplants should start arriving in nurseries and garden centers soon.  As soon as you find them, you can start planting. 


May 14, 2016

QuestionI moved to Van Buren, AR 366 days ago. I started tilling my garden in January, due to the unusually mild temperatures. I was able to start planting potatoes in March and in the first week of April I planted 70 tomato plants, 56 pepper, 16 yellow squash, 4 zucchini, and the list goes on. Everything was looking great until yesterday.  We were hit with a hail storm, the likes of which, I have never experienced. My 40x75 garden looks like a weed eater came through and cut some in half and others the stem may be all that is left. Will the plants possibly survive? Can I do anything to try and save what is left? What are your recommendations? My thoughts were to wait a week to 10 days and see what plants look like.  If they don’t make it I will replace them. 


Hail can create havoc, and some plants will rebound, while others won’t.  The key is to clean up as much as you can. Broken or jagged branches or stems can be a site for diseases to hit.  Once you have it clean, see what continues to grow, and what doesn’t. Replanting some things will be inevitable, but some plants are more resilient than others.  We missed a late freeze this year, and then you got hail. Gardening isn’t for sissies! 


February 13, 2016


When is the best time to plant cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts?  I have my garden tilled up and need to know when to plant these.


As soon as you can find vegetable transplants, you can plant. They usually don’t start hitting the garden centers and nurseries until the end of February. All of the vegetables you names, are usually grown from small transplants, versus seeds.  Right now you can plant seeds for carrots, English peas, snow peas, spinach, and greens.  Just pay attention to the weather just in case we do get any more winter.

December 5, 2015

QuestionWith the freeze forecast last weekend, I harvested the remaining peppers on my one Jalapeno plant. They were all dark green. Overnight, they all turned red. Why? Can we still use them?


Jalapenos often turn red if you leave them on the plant long enough. It is just like picking the green tomatoes and bringing them inside. They continue to age and turn red. They should be perfectly safe to eat.  I found some of my last ones were much hotter than they were earlier in the season, so beware. 


October 2012

QuestionWe have been gardening at our home for the seven years we have lived in Arkansas. Last year we planted broccoli for the first time and had great success. This year, we planted three times as much. The plants are much larger and vigorous, easily 25 to 30 inches tall with large foliage, than last year. However, there is no sign of flower heads. My question: Will they eventuality produce flower heads for us to eat?

AnswerWith the lack of winter last year, those who planted a fall garden actually harvested all winter long. Broccoli is cold tolerant and can survive light freezes. It all depends when our first killing frost occurs, how cold it gets, and how long it lasts. There should still be time for the flower heads to form, but it all depends on the weather.

December 2012

QuestionLiving in Hot Springs Village, I was wondering if a cold frame set up along a south facing wall, in full sun, would be warm enough to germinate seeds in late winter/early spring here, for a summer vegetable garden.

AnswerA cold frame on the south wall will definitely generate enough heat to start seeds, and even grow cool season vegetables all winter. The challenge will be to keep it from getting too hot. We have spells of warm weather all winter, and it will get really hot inside. You will need to pay attention to the weather and vent the frame on warm, sunny days. A new trend in gardening is high tunnels, or what used to be called a hoop house. You can build a small structure and cover it with visqueen and cover an existing vegetable garden to grow year-round.

July 2012

QuestionCan you tell from these pictures why I am not getting any squash? I keep getting these gorgeous male blossoms; but the lower female blossoms appear to be rotting off the stems? Am I watering too much or perhaps not enough or what is the problem? I have seen and killed several squash bugs and/or stink bugs; but I have not seen them for awhile. In the meantime, I continue to see these healthy-looking plants with new beautiful blossoms; but no squash or zucchini.

AnswerYou aren't alone. Summer squash seems to be much more affected by the heat than other members of the cucurbits. Folks are getting cucumbers and melons, but no squash. Even those with beehives in their backyard are having an issue. For some, a lack of pollinators can affect the fruit set. Squash has separate male and female flowers and to get squash, something needs to transfer pollen from the male bloom to the female bloom. If you don’t have bees, you can do it yourself with a paint brush or q-tip. But from the pictures, it looks like your female flowers aren't even opening up, so there is no chance of fruit set. I would not blame it on a damaging insect or lack of bees, but I would blame it on the weather. I am pulling my squash and going to use that space for okra and
more peppers, which can take the heat.

June 2012

QuestionCan I use store bought new potatoes to use as seed potatoes to plant in my vegetable garden?


AnswerNo, you should use certified seed potatoes which you can get from a nursery or farm supply store in the early spring. It is too late to plant potatoes now. They are best planted in March or early April. Potatoes bought at the grocery store are typically treated to prevent sprouting. I have had some gardeners who planted some potatoes they had begun to sprout in their kitchen, and they had
decent results, but usually struggle with disease issues. You can save some spring garden potatoes to use in a fall planting. Keep in mind that newly harvested potatoes have a natural dormancy which prevents them from sprouting, so you may want to make sure they are stored in a cool, dry place for a month or two before planting.

March 2012

QuestionSince spring is so early this year and the temperatures are above normal, is it okay to plant small tomato plants in pots to be replanted in the garden when they area reasonable size? We live in Russellville.

AnswerI wish I had a crystal ball and could predict that we will have no more cold snaps! Everyone has the spring planting bug early this year, but keep in mind it is still March. While tomato plants are arriving at nurseries and garden centers statewide, if you plant now, be prepared to either replant or protect them, should a cold snap ensue. I would prefer you continue to plant cool season vegetables and hold off on tomatoes until April. Since you plan to have yours in pots, they could be moved into a garage or home if it gets cold.

January 2012

QuestionI have had a small backyard garden (20x50 foot) for many years. I put compost and fertilizer(10-20-10) on it every year. This last spring I put on some well composted chicken manure and tilled it into the soil. I rotate the crops around in this space, so as not to plant the same crop in the same space 2 years in a row. BUT, In the last 2 years, I have not been able to grow any radishes, turnips or similar root crops, all they produce is green tops. What can I put into the soil to cure this problem?

AnswerI assume you have ample sunlight, because all vegetables need a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight to produce. I think possibly the soil is too rich, putting loads of nitrogen into the foliage, and not forming the roots. Try mixing some coarse sand into the planting area, and using a 10-20-10 fertilizer. Make sure you plant in the cool season (before April 15) and thin the seedlings to give them ample room to grow, and see what happens this year.

November 2011


QuestionYou had a recent article about how to prepare dormant veggie garden and what kind of plastic covering to use. I cannot find the article. My garden has been tilled, fertilized and weeded and now I want to cover it for winter. What kind of covering is best?

AnswerEarlier in the year I discussed solarizing soil with clear plastic to kill weeds, diseases and insects. That only works when it is hot outside—during the months of July, August and September. You can still use plastic to smother out winter weeds and prevent them from growing this winter, but you would want to use black plastic to prevent light from getting through. Black plastic also warms up the soil earlier in the spring which can allow for earlier planting. Clear plastic used in the winter acts as a mini greenhouse and allows weeds to continue to grow.

November 2010

QuestionWhen I plant my tomatoes in the ground they start out pretty good for the first two weeks. Then when they start coming up, during the next two weeks they just start drying out. After blooming and producing the tomato the same problem is occurring. As the blooms come out they will dry and fall off. Needless to say the tomatoes plants have a short life span. They will totally stop producing
around the middle of the summer. I was told by the agriculture dept. that I was probably splashing water up on the plants too much when watering. This last year I only had a soaker hose on them. The agent said to put straw down around the bottom of the plants, but to no avail. Maybe there is a better method that you can help me with. Are there other solutions that you might know?

AnswerFirst, get your soil tested. Take a pint of soil to your local county extension office and see what the pH is and the levels of N, P and K. I always want to start with the foundation of the plants, which is the soil. If your soil is pitiful and rocky, you can enrich it with compost. How is the drainage? If they are sitting in waterlogged soil, they will die quickly. We recommend that you rotate where you plant your tomatoes every year because many tomato diseases are soil borne, and attack the plants earlier each season, but problems beginning within two weeks of planting is pretty amazing. I think we might have something else going on. Mulching the plants to keep soil from splashing on the stems can slow down the disease spread, but again, it doesn't usually occur within two weeks of planting, nor does it cause the flowers to dry. Most tomato diseases either start with the leaves dying from the bottom and it progresses up the stem, or we have a dramatic wilting and dying from one of the vascular wilts. It sounds like your problem is more about fruit set than plants dying. How much sunlight do the plants get? They need at least 6 hours a day. Some varieties quit setting fruit when the temperatures get above 90 degrees during the day or stay above 75 degrees at night, but if the plants look good, they can kick back in and produce well into fall. I think we need to investigate further

September 2010

QuestionCan you identify the attached picture? The bean it produces is over 12 inches in length. Is it edible?


AnswerIt is a Jack bean, Canavalia ensiformis. It does produce large beans which are edible, but if you were to compare it to other beans, the quality is not very good. It is an old plant that often self-seeds around old home sites. It is related to kudzu and was often used as an ornamental because of it’s pretty purple flowers and fast growth. It is not invasive like kudzu, but is a tough plant.

March 2010

QuestionI am planning my summer vegetable garden and trying to figure out what type of irrigation system I want to use. It seems that I remember in one of your past writings you said not to get the plant itself wet when watering tomato plants. Is this true, if so, why? Therefore, would drip irrigation be better than overhead?

Answer Tomatoes are plagued with a whole range of plant diseases. Many of these diseases are soil borne and water splashing from the ground to the stems can help increase their spread. Also, wet foliage, especially late in the day can be a precursor to many disease issues. If you have ever taken a plant pathology course, there are three things in the disease triangle that must be present for a disease to take over—1: a susceptible host plant 2: the disease pathogen and 3: climatic conditions necessary for the disease. Keeping the foliage dry can reduce disease spread if there are pathogens present, and if you are using any type of pesticide sprays, you don’t wash them off as quickly. Drip irrigation is better for several reasons—one is keeping the foliage drier, but secondly, they are much more water efficient than overhead watering—directing water to the root zone where you need it.

April 2008

QuestionI'm looking for organic ways to control weeds around tomato plants. Is it okay to put mulch (i.e., cypress, hardwood, pine bark) around these plants? If so, is one type of mulch better than another?

AnswerI think all gardens should have mulch in them. Not only does it keep weeds down, mulch also maintains soil moisture levels, moderates soil temperature and prevents erosion. When using mulch in a vegetable garden it is preferable to use something that can break down readily. The bark mulches can be used, but you would not want to till them into the soil at the end of the season. Shredded leaves, newspaper or shredded paper, or straw would be a better choice to work in. Some gardeners do use plastic as a mulch in the vegetable garden, laying it down early to help warm the soil in the spring as well. Plastic is ok, but make sure you have a way to get water underneath it and possibly add some organic mulch on top to cool things down in the heat of summer.

June 2006

QuestionI have 14 eggplants and they were all planted at the same time. They are now fairly large and have bushed out, but only two of the plants have had any blooms—one bloom each, and right now I have two beautiful little eggplants. There are no other blooms in sight. Flea beetles and aphids were a real problem early on, but I have killed all of those and now leaf hoppers are attacking.  Many of the older leaves have large holes, like a caterpillar or slug has attacked, but I have seen neither, nor the silvery lines from slugs. I love eggplants, and this is the first year I have attempted to grow them. To have such big plants and no blooms is disappointing. As of now, I have used no fertilizer or manure. I have a pasture full of all ages of cow manures. The rest of my garden has had the same conditions, but seem to be faring well. I have peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, onions, beans, watermelon and cantaloupe. Please help!

AnswerI think you should be patient. Eggplants like heat and unlike other vegetables, don’t slow down when the temperatures heat up so there is still plenty of time to harvest huge quantities of them this season. Water when dry, and fertilize. You could top-dress with some well rotted manure, and use a complete fertilizer. Mulch the plants to conserve moisture. Do monitor for pest problems, and control as needed. Flea beetles are a common problem with eggplants and can leave the plants looking like they were shot through with tiny holes.

May 2008

QuestionEach year I have tiny, black pests on the leaves of vegetables in my garden. They cause damage to my plants and are difficult and expensive to try to control. They are so tiny, they are almost invisible to the naked eye. You almost need a magnifying glass. I can only see them if I cut off some leaves and shake the leaves on a piece of white paper. Then I can see the tiny black dots move around. What are they and how do I control them?

AnswerThe most common insect in the garden is aphids. They can range in color from black, red, green or yellow. They are small and tend to congregate near new growth or in the joints of leaves. Flea beetles are also small, but tend to jump with vigor when disturbed. Spider mites are really tiny but tend to be reddish in color. If aphids are the culprit, they can be controlled with a strong spray of water, insecticidal soap or Malathion. Be sure to follow label directions as to timing and harvesting. For a definitive diagnosis of the insect, take some into your local county extension office.

September 2009

QuestionThis is the first year that I grew asparagus with two year old crowns. I did not harvest any this year as directed. What or how do I take care of them this winter? When I harvest next year how much and how often; I have 10 plants? How do I take care of my garden spot for the winter as I have never had a designated garden spot before?

AnswerAsparagus is a great perennial vegetable. You can begin a small harvest next spring, but don’t overdo it. Harvest until the size of the spears is smaller than a pencil in diameter. If you continue to harvest really small spears, you can wear the plant out, which will impact your harvest for years to come. By the following year, you should be in full production. As to winter care, simply let the ferny fronds grow until a killing frost and then cut them back. Some folks leave the fronds out for the bulk of the winter to cut down on weed issues, but you should remove the spent tops by mid January at the latest, to get the spot ready for spring harvest. For the general garden, fall sanitation—removing spent debris and either mulching or planting a fall cover crop can help keep weeds at bay and start your season cleaner. Some choices for fall cover crops include clovers, vetches, rye, and field peas.

May 2010

QuestionWhat is the safest way to control weeds and grass growing in a vegetable garden? The garden is approximately 30' x 40' - therefore, not easy to apply mulch to all. We till, but weeds and grass will return.

AnswerThe Santa Clause method—hoe, hoe, hoe is actually the safest and most effective way to control weeds in the vegetable garden. While there are some herbicides that are labeled for gardens, they are usually not recommended for all vegetables, and the waiting period may be too long for you to use. Hoeing is actually preferable to the tiller. Tilling is easier, but actually brings up more weed seeds from down below, which leads to more weeds. Cutting the weeds off at the surface and then mulching is the best thing you can do for your garden. There are lots of mulch options. Spread down newspaper, shred your junk mail and lay that down. It doesn't have to be as aesthetically pleasing in the vegetable garden as it does in ornamental beds. Mulching that large of a garden may seem like a lot of work on the front end, but the amount of weeds it will cut down will make it worth the effort.

February 2010

QuestionWe are thinking about creating raised beds for our vegetables this year. Does using treated timber create any unwanted chemical leaching into our vegetables? If so, what would you suggest is the best material for this project.

AnswerThis is a topic that has been hotly debated for awhile now. Studies have shown that chemicals from treated lumber don't leach into the plants, but many are skeptical. One way to build permanent raised beds would be to use the products that are made from recycled materials. There are several brands of this plastic wood, but they look great and last forever. It may cost more on the front end, but it is basically maintenance free. At the Peoples Garden in Washington DC the Urban Forestry Administration provided logs from locust trees, which decay more slowly in soil than most trees, and red oaks. They were not treated.