In the garden: Preparing for spring, winter weeding, fall flowers and an injured tree

Dainty, ephemeral spring beauty brightens late winter lawns, then disappears. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Spring clean-up

Q: I have a couple of related questions about application of pre-emergent herbicide on our lawn. ... Has the recommended timing changed for late winter due to what I would call the shifting seasons? And ... in both our front and backyards, we have lots of the little early blooming flowers (see the attached picture). We love them ... and I think they were mentioned once upon a time in one of your columns but I can't find it. Can you please tell me again what they are? I know that they sprout from little spherical bulbs or corms ... which I replant when I find them when working in the garden. Will pre-emergent herbicide harm them? Deter their spread? I do want to apply pre-emergent in order to control crabgrass.

A: The beginning of spring doesn't always come at the same time in Arkansas. Last year it was a late spring, and this year it started earlier than usual. When I began my career, we would say to apply pre-emergent herbicides when the forsythias began to bloom. The timing for pre-emergent herbicide applications is usually mid-February through mid-March. With our earlier than normal spring, you may have missed some warm-season weeds, but it will still help to prevent crabgrass -- as crabgrass germinates all summer long. The "weed/wildflower" in question is spring beauty, Claytonia virginica. This spring ephemeral plant blooms commonly in many lawns before the grass is actively growing and then disappears until the following spring. I enjoy them, too.

Jonquils or daffodils?

Q: We made a new flower bed in our yard. My wife is wanting to put jonquils at odd spaces in it. Simple questions arise. Are daffodils and jonquils the same? When looking at bulbs, they say, "for fall planting." Can she plant them now or wait until fall? If we should not plant them now, would we be better off to hold off on ordering?

A: If you were a member of the daffodil society, you might say they are different, since there are many classes of daffodils, but for the average gardener, daffodils and jonquils are used as common names for the same spring-blooming bulb. While they do bloom and grow in the spring, they should be planted in the fall -- typically from late October through December. You might be able to place an order online now, but they would not ship you the bulbs until fall. If you go to a daffodil festival, you may find them selling the blooming bulbs with the flowers and bulbs attached. If you buy any of these, plant them immediately and let the foliage stay growing as long as possible. It is the green-growing period after bloom that allows the plants to replenish their bulbs with blooms for next season.

Time for winter weeds to go

Q: I was reading about winter weeds, and my yard is full of them. With all the rain we have been having, is it too wet right now to spray for them?

A: There have been a lot of rainy days lately, but our yards are beginning to really put on new growth. Try to pick a day when you can spray your winter weeds when we will have 24 hours without rain. As long as the herbicide can be applied and not immediately washed off, it should do its job.

Stinky sap a sign of stress

Q: This large oak is in our backyard, near our house [the reader sent a picture]. A couple of years ago, it began to leak sap with a bad smell. Now the woodpeckers are making large holes and the wood appears soft. Can the tree be saved?

A: The condition you are referring to is commonly called slime flux or wetwood. It is caused by a bacterial infection, and while unsightly, usually won't kill a tree. It usually enters the tree through a wound. Gasses and liquid byproducts of the bacteria cause the internal pressure of the sap to increase, forcing the liquid to ooze out any opening along the tree. It tends to have a sour or fermented smell to it and will usually attract a host of insects. It can be dark in color or white and foamy. While it doesn't signal imminent death, it does tell you the tree is stressed. Keep the tree as healthy as possible with regular watering. Try to use your garden hose to remove the sap from the trunk of the tree as the fermented sap can be damaging to the bark of your tree if left there. This problem is usually more common during spring and summer. The woodpeckers or sapsuckers are just being opportunistic and looking for insects or sap. Clean up the wound and hang up a scare device to keep the woodpeckers away.

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 [email protected].

photo It looks bad and has a sour odor, but slime flux doesn't necessarily mean this oak is doomed. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
photo Woodpeckers have been foraging in this oak's disease-softened bark. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
photo Bacterial infection causes slime flux, or wetwood, in which sap ooses from any opening in a tree. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)