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Q I recently retired and am trying to take up flower gardening, so I read your column in the newspaper and find it very helpful. But I am confused about some of the terminology and hope that you can help me. For example, deadheading. Should all flowers be deadheaded, and when and how? Annual vs. perennial: Do annual plants just get thrown away and new ones planted every year? Can annual plants be planted in the ground or only in pots? Does pruning or trimming "after flowering" mean to wait until the blooms are gone (not immediately after blooms flower), then cut it off? What is the difference between foliage and leaves?

A I say this often when I am teaching gardening classes: In any hobby, an understanding of terminology is needed to understand what you are doing. Whether it is gardening, cooking, golf or football, there are terms thrown about that are useless unless you know what they mean. Deadheading is a process of removing the spent flower to prevent it from forming a seed. Not all flowers need deadheading. Some plants -- like camellias and dogwoods -- bloom only once a year and we like the seeds to form, so we don't deadhead them. Annuals and perennial flowers that can bloom all season may need deadheading, but again, not all. Some newer varieties are "self-cleaning," meaning they don't set seeds. The flowers bloom then fall off, and new blooms replace them without deadheading. An example is lantana. Older varieties need deadheading, as every bloom will try to set a seed. If you aren't cutting off the old flowers, pretty soon you have a nonblooming plant with a bunch of seeds. The reason for the blooms is to set the seeds, but we, as gardeners, usually would rather have flowers. The designation of annual or perennial has to do with the climate in which we are growing the plant. Many of the houseplants we grow can be trees or shrubs in tropical climates, but cold weather makes them houseplants here. Again, let's look at lantana -- in northern Arkansas (and farther north) it is an annual. It must be replanted every spring (in the ground or in containers) as it will freeze during the winter. In central Arkansas lantana is hit and miss. Some years it survives the winter, others not. In southern Arkansas it is a perennial, coming back each year. In southern Florida it is evergreen. "Pruning" and "trimming" are synonymous. For spring-blooming shrubs, we want to prune as soon after bloom as possible to allow time for the plants to rebound before they begin setting new blooms. You have from the day after flowering until mid-June to get it done. "Foliage" and "leaves" are also synonyms. I think you should consider becoming a Master Gardener. Arkansas Master Gardeners is a highly educational garden-volunteering program offered through your county extension office.

Q I have some old granular fertilizer that I found in the garage. It is probably several years old. I also have some year-old liquid fertilizer. Should I keep it and use it or discard? Are they harmful to plants?

A As long as they have been stored in a cool, dry place, they should be fine to use. If the granular fertilizer has gotten wet, it will not be as effective, but if it is still dry, I think you are safe to use it. The liquid fertilizer should be fine unless it has been exposed to extreme temperatures. Freezing and thawing or really heating up can change the chemical properties.

Q I have a tulip magnolia tree that has a dozen or more blooms on it. I don't remember it blooming and putting out new leaves last fall. Is that normal? I sure don't remember this tree blooming until early spring.

A We have had some very unusual weather. I would not be surprised to see other errant blooms coming on some spring-blooming plants. We were so hot and dry in September and early October that some plants shut down early. Then we got some rain, cold weather, and then it appeared to be spring again. The plants are confused. A few of the blooms will open, but hopefully just a few, and you will have a normal display next spring.

Q These beautiful roadside shrubs [not shown] are in full bloom along U.S. 65 in southeast Arkansas. There seem to be male and female versions, as you'll see blooming next to nonblooming trees. What are they?

A We get this question almost every fall as the groundsel bushes (Baccharis halimifolia) cover themselves in white flowers. There are separate female and male plants. The female plants have the showy flowers, which are feathery seedpods similar to what a dandelion produces. They are a bit too aggressive to be a shrub in the home landscape.

Janet B. Carson is a horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Write to her at 2301 S. University Ave., Little Rock, Ark. 72204 or email her at

HomeStyle on 11/11/2017

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