With spring in full bloom, gardeners across southeast Arkansas are preparing to plant flowers and vegetables that will add beauty and nourishment well into the summer months. Ronnie Dallari, owner of Shell Ross, a plant nursery company that began in 1920 in Pine Bluff, offered advice to amateur gardeners on Tuesday, many of whom were visiting his store to pick up plants, seeds, mulch and other supplies.
Dallari advises people to follow directions because some plants require high maintenance, whereas others flourish with little attention. He assists customers in finding the right soil type, along with other suggestions.
“The first thing to know is whether they are planting in the sun or shade,” Dallari said. “Then we walk up through what is best for each area.”
Dallari said he sells many zinnias, periwinkles, begonias, impatiens and marigolds.
“Once they plant them, regardless of the weather, fertilize them two weeks later,” Dallari said. “Make sure they keep a fungicide. We have a lot of problems with tomato plants when the rain sets in.”
Dallari advises people not to plant certain plants in the soil until the nighttime temperatures are warm enough. Drainage is more important than any factor. Some plants that grow in containers retain their water.
“When you first plant something, it’s not going to take as much water as it will three weeks later,” Dallari said. “Most people make a mistake of watering too much, especially in the container-grown. You are better off letting the plant tell you when it needs water. It will wilt down a little bit. … Put your finger in the dirt. If it’s moist, don’t water it.”
Popular among Pine Bluff residents are hot peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, watermelon, cantaloupes, and squash, he said.
“I tell people never to fertilize plants when they first apply it in the ground,” Dallari said. “A lot of people have a habit of putting fertilizer in the bottom of the holes, setting the plant atop it, and boom you burn it up. I tell people to plant the plant, let it take root, then come back and side-dress it two weeks later. Most of the time the material they are raised in has a fertilizer.”
Jim Bacon of the Watson Chapel neighborhood of Pine Bluff shopped for eggplants Tuesday at Shell Ross. Bacon is also growing squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and peppers this year. He was also looking for okra.
“Since it quit raining so much, I am putting squash in the ground,” Bacon said. “… You have to use insecticides and fungicides to prevent bugs and insects from taking over your plants.”
Catherine Gorman of Rison was also shopping at Shell Ross on Tuesday — for tomatoes and squash. She said she grows them in pots. Her keys to success revolve around treating her plants with fertilizer, the right amount of water, and “tender loving care.”
Linda Soffer, a Jefferson County Master Gardener, reminds people to follow directions regarding the amount of sunlight a particular species of plant requires, the amount of water, and the type of soil.
“Keep them watered,” Soffer said. “Just about as many people over-water their plants. Azaleas are a shrub. I move them in the yard to get the right amount of sun. Azaleas need acidic soil. You buy soil based in the type of plant. The soil type helps you grow. Blueberries and fig bushes like acidic soil. The leaves will otherwise turn yellow and not flourish.”
She recommends checking plants to make sure they do not have diseases or insects.
“You will see signs on the plants: curled leaves or insects or aphids crawling,” Soffer said. “Some bugs are visible. You shake the plant and the insects fly away. You can tell if something is wrong with your plant. I use insecticidal soap. Spray soap and water on the plant.”
Soffer said she places plants on her deck in the morning so they get sunshine and later shade in the afternoon. She said the majority of vegetables need full sun, whereas herbs do not need much water or fertilizer. She recommends reading the labels and following its directions.
“If you are like me, you pick tomatoes for dinner,” Soffer said. “A plant that grows in Jefferson County may not grow well in Washington County. Not every plant will do well in every part of Arkansas.”