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story.lead_photo.caption Spring-blooming bulbs usually tolerate cold, but extra mulch will help them in late-season freezes. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Q Is there anything I can do to protect my daffodils from the cold weather? They are about an inch tall now. I would hate for the cold weather to kill them.

A Spring-blooming bulbs are pretty cold tolerant, especially before their blooms open. Foliage normally starts appearing in January, but this year, a few people had daffodils in full bloom in early January. Many more had open blooms when the last cold snap hit, and most came through unscathed. Some of the plants may have a little tip burn on the foliage, and a few flower stalks bent and did not stand back up, but most were OK. We can hope that the last of the cold is over but pay attention. If your bulbs are in full bloom and temperatures are predicted below 25, you might want to pile some extra leaves around them for protection. Some people cut an early bouquet of flowers to enjoy indoors. Whatever you do, don't cut the foliage off, as that is the way the plants manufacture food for another bloom next year.

Q I have pecan and apple trees that have trunks covered in holes. I thought I had insects boring into them, but recently I saw a small woodpecker having a go at a tree. I thought it was looking for boring insects. I asked someone who knows and they said borers do not make patterned holes like I have, that the woodpeckers are making them all. How do I stop them?

A More than likely the culprit is a sapsucker. They drill hundreds of holes in trees to drink the sugary sap. They often have a favorite host and revisit it every year, normally in the winter. The result is a tree trunk riddled with holes. While it usually doesn't harm an established tree, aesthetically it isn't too pleasing. Long-term, repeated attacks on a young tree can girdle the tree. There are a few things you can try to discourage drilling. One is to buy a brown tree wrap and lightly wrap the trunks during the winter. You can just use it plain or coat it with a sticky substance called Tanglefoot. The birds won't light on it because of its stickiness. Remove it in the spring. You can also try hanging shiny objects on the lower limbs or a large inflatable owl to try to scare them away. Some gardeners have great success with this, while others don't. Whenever we deal with birds or animals, a variety of approaches is your best bet.

Sapsuckers leave this sort of damage on trunks. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Q We have a 5-foot Japanese maple tree planted in our front yard. Normally, all the leaves fall off before winter sets in, but this year the leaves tenaciously held on. By now, over half have fallen, but some still remain firmly attached. I was out looking at it on a warm day last week, and I see some cracks in the trunk that I don't remember seeing before. Is there a problem with my tree and is there anything we need to do for it?

A I think two things are at work here, both caused by the same event. Many deciduous plants, including many Japanese maples, had not completely finished their growing season when the first hard cold snap occurred in November. The abscission layer did not form all the way, which is what allows the leaves to fall. Some leaves have fallen with winter winds and rains, while others might not shed until spring leaves push them off. I am not worried about the retained foliage, but I am concerned about the bark splits. Just as the leaves hadn't fallen, trees were still actively growing. Japanese maples have thin outer bark. A sudden drop in temperature causes the outer layer of bark to contract more quickly than the inner layer, which produces this crack, called a frost crack. I wouldn't do anything until spring. See how the tree leafs out and then prune out any dead growth. A light frost crack will cause minimal damage to the tree, but deep fissures can be an entry point for insects and diseases. Small branches can die. Time will tell. For now, keep your fingers crossed.

The key to successful pansies is to buy good-quality plants once it cools off, plant them in well amended soil and fertilize periodically throughout the winter. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Q My question is about pansies. Some people grow beautiful pansies on healthy strong plants, while mine have few if any flowers, and the plants are weak and spindly. I have not amended my soil with anything, but I do fertilize when I plant. What is my problem and should I just give up?

A Soil does play a role in plant health — it is the foundation for the root system, which can determine the top growth. Equally important with pansies are plant selection and timing. If pansies are planted too early in the fall and the plants are exposed to high temperatures, they grow leggy. If you start off with leggy plants, they often continue that pattern throughout the season. I prefer to plant pansies in October or later, to let the soil and air cool off a bit. Buy strong, sturdy plants with good flower buds or flowers. Pansies also respond well to fertilization. Fertilize at planting and then periodically on one of our warm days throughout the winter. If you do plant later than early November, you need to be sure to buy larger plants that already are blooming. If you start off with small green plants in late fall to early winter, they usually won't begin to bloom until spring. The key to successful pansies is to buy good-quality plants once it cools off, plant them in well-amended soil and fertilize periodically throughout the winter.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email

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HomeStyle on 02/08/2020

Print Headline: IN THE GARDEN

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