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story.lead_photo.caption Pecans are good shade trees, but don’t count on a bounty of nuts. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

DECEMBER

The saying "if you don't like the weather today, just wait until tomorrow" could not be more applicable these days. While the entire state has had light freezes, and some parts have had a hard, killing frost, most of the state is still seeing blooms on summer-blooming annuals and tropical flowers.

We go through all four seasons in 24 hours some days. This is tough on people but even harder on the plants, which must decide what season it is.

• Many plants are wilting. The weather has been really dry. Cooler weather often misleads people to imagine that their watering days are over. Monitor the rainfall, or lack thereof, and water when needed. Dry plants will be more sensitive to winter damage. Pay particular attention to newly planted trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Plants in containers dry out faster than those in the ground -- so water. We may not have to water daily, as we do in the summer, but water is still essential.

• If you haven't planted your winter annuals, there is still time. The key is to look for blooming pansies and violas, and larger starts of flowering kale, Swiss chard and purple mustard. Small, nonblooming plants will not have time to grow enough to give you much in the way of color until spring, so buy more established plants. Plant them in the ground, fertilize and water, and they should give you instant color and also last all winter. If you have already planted annuals, fertilize them monthly while they are growing.

• Raking is definitely needed in most yards. Leaves fell early, and high winds in November felled most of the foliage, but there are still some leaves left on our trees. If a heavy layer of whole leaves lies on your lawn all winter, it can damage the lawn. Rake them and, if possible, shred and add them to the compost pile, or use the shredded leaves as mulch in the garden.

• It is bulb-planting time. Plant daffodils, tulips, crocuses and more through the end of December.

• Speaking of bulbs, a popular indoor flowering bulb is the amaryllis, and the bulbs are readily available. These large bulbs produce huge, showy blooms in shades of red, pink and white. With proper care, they can live for years, giving you larger and longer blooming flowers each season. The plants do get quite tall and can be top-heavy, so weight the pots you plant them in or use larger, heavier pots. Turn the plants periodically to keep them from leaning. Once they begin to grow, you should see a bloom in six to eight weeks.

• Poinsettias are still the No. 1 holiday plant, and they are everywhere. From the orange colored ones available at Thanksgiving to red, white, pink and multicolored plants, there is a poinsettia for every home. With plenty of sunlight and even moisture, the plants can stay showy for months.

• If you planted a late fall or winter garden, the vegetables are doing nicely. Continue to water when it's dry and fertilize periodically, too. Most cool-season vegetables thrive in cool weather but may need a bit of extra covering when temperatures fall below 26 or 28 degrees. Frost damage is always worse on a still night. Overcast or windy nights help prevent heavy frost accumulations.

PLANT OF THE MONTH

Pecans are synonymous with the holidays in the South.

They are native to North America, from Texas to Illinois. Long before European settlers came, American Indians were using pecans extensively. They pressed the oils for seasoning, ground them into meal to thicken stews, cooked them with beans and roasted them to carry on long hunting trips.

While Americans still harvest and use native pecans, through plant breeding, the size and quality of the nut has grown substantially over the years.

Pecan trees grow best in a long warm season without much of a temperature drop at night, which is why they are a Southern crop. Farther north the hican, a cross between a pecan and a hickory tree, is grown. Hicans are more tolerant of cold weather.

To produce nuts, you need at least two varieties for cross-pollination. Pecan trees produce separate male and female flowers on the same tree. However, they are usually not in bloom at the same time on the same tree. Some varieties shed their pollen before the female flowers are receptive. Therefore they need pollen from another variety that matures its pollen a little later.

Nut size will vary with the variety, age of tree, size of the crop and moisture conditions during the growing season until shell-hardening time. Most trees will start to produce pecans within five to eight years, depending on variety, growth rate and location.

Harvesting pecans occurs from mid-October through November, and occasionally into December. Homeowners can gather nuts as they fall, but you usually have to fight the squirrels, who are master nut gatherers.

Unlike smaller growing apple and pear trees, pecan trees are quite large at maturity, growing up to 150 feet tall with a wide spreading canopy. Since at least two trees are needed, one set of pecans can quickly fill up a standard home landscape.

Although they do serve as a good shade tree, getting a good quality nut harvest in a home situation can be tricky. Pecans are subject to several diseases and insects , and commercial growers are better equipped to spray for these problems. Due to the trees' large size, it is difficult if not impossible for home gardeners to spray for control.

For this reason, consider the pecan a shade tree, and if you get edible nuts, that is a bonus.

Janet B. Carson is a horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/ JANET B. CARSON
Insects, squirrels and diseases make it unlikely homeowners can count on high quality pecans.

HomeStyle on 12/02/2017

Print Headline: Breaking Ground

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