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story.lead_photo.caption Dianthus chinensis "Super Parfait Raspberry" is a type of Dianthus known as China pinks. - Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON / Janet B. Carson

DECEMBER

Here we go again on a roller-coaster of weather. We have seen some early low temperatures -- low 20s or below -- shoot up to 70 in the same week. Everyone is talking about how unusual this weather is, but if you look back over the past few years, maybe this is the new normal for Arkansas. Let's hope not.

One saving grace is that we are not bone dry, as we were last year at this time. We have had ample rainfall, and that can serve as a buffer for our plants. If they are well hydrated heading into a freeze, they are better protected from damage.

• Summer annuals have all frozen back, and most perennials have died back as well. It is time to clean up the garden and replant seasonal color if you haven't already done so. Most nurseries still have pansies and violas available, but make sure that they have open blooms to ensure winter color.

• Cut back perennials and add a fresh layer of mulch. The evergreen perennial hellebore is beginning to put on a show. Some of the early varieties are in bloom, while most are putting on lush foliage in preparation for blooming.

• There is still time to plant spring-blooming bulbs, including daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and more. Depth of planting is determined by bulb size. The larger the bulb, the deeper you plant it. Mass planting can be easier than digging individual holes. Dig up a section of the garden, scatter in a handful of bulbs and then cover it back up. Mass planting makes a bigger statement than a line of individual bulbs. You can plant winter annuals on top of the planting of bulbs to add even more color next spring.

• The poinsettia was introduced to the United States in 1825 by the first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett. He found it growing wild and blooming in the winter in southern Mexico. An amateur botanist with greenhouses at his home in South Carolina, he sent plants home to grow. At first they were used as cut flowers, but by the 1900s full plants were sold. To keep your poinsettia looking its best, keep it evenly moist and in bright light during the day. With proper care they can be as showy in a month as they are today.

• If you planted a late fall or winter garden, the cool-season vegetables are doing nicely. Continue to water if it is dry (especially before a hard freeze) and fertilize periodically. Most cool-season vegetables need a bit of extra covering when temperatures fall below 26-28 degrees. Frost damage is always worse on a still night. Overcast or windy nights tend to prevent heavy frost accumulations. I have seen many "low tunnels" -- wire frames with plastic covering them -- in home gardens, but inverted plant pots, cardboard boxes and other coverings will work.

• If you have a gardener on your holiday gift-giving list, there are plenty of options. It is a great season to plant a new tree, or hardy shrubs. In addition to plants, there are garden gadgets, tools, books, magazine subscriptions and more. A gift certificate to a local nursery is always a welcome gift.

DIANTHUS

Dianthus is a genus of plants that tends to perform better in the cooler months, although a few new introductions are supposed to thrive all summer.

Within the genus you will find annuals, biennials and perennials. The genus Dianthus includes carnations (D. caryophyllus), the biennial and taller growing Sweet William (D. barbatus), the perennial cheddar pinks (D. gratianapolitanus), and the short-lived biennial/annual "pinks" (D. chinensis).

Dianthus can be planted in spring or fall. With fall planting, they will bloom sporadically in mild weather but kick into high gear in early spring.

Many plants have grayish-green leaves with fragrant, toothed (or "pinked") flowers; and they are deer resistant.

Flower color ranges from reds to pink, purple, salmon and white, with bi-colors being common.

They do best in full sun with a well-drained soil. Heavy, wet soils often lead to root rot.

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

HomeStyle on 12/01/2018

Print Headline: Breaking ground

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