We all know the saying, “when in Rome, do what the Romans do.” Well, when gardening in Little Rock, do as the gardeners do. And the best gardeners in the area have looked to Hocott’s Garden Center since 1939. In fact, it was the very first garden center in Little Rock.
For the past 83 years, Hocott’s has been owned by four different families, most recently owned by Erica Schaffer and family since 2015.
“My very own obsession began with houseplants,” says Schaffer. “I didn’t have a green thumb, so I started slowly. I’m an artist and painted plants long before I trusted myself to care for them! I now have more than 60 houseplants and have started exploring the vast landscape of outdoor plants and shrubs, as well as landscape design,” she says.
Specializing in rarer, hard-to-find plants, Hocott’s caters to customers’ special requests and is like everyone’s favorite friendly neighbor down the street. The name is trusted time and time again, so that’s why when it comes to the August heat and watering – as well as preparing for the upcoming fall season – there is nowhere better to look for tips than Hocott’s.
How to Keep Plants Alive in the Sweltering Heat
First thing’s first: Watering is key.
“If you don’t have a sprinkler system, keeping the soil evenly moist is important,” Schaffer says. “Early morning is the best time of day to water, so avoid watering during the hottest part of the day,” she adds. “It’s best to water slowly, to make sure the soil is kept evenly moist. Letting grass grow a little longer can hold more moisture, helping keep the surface soil of the yard cool,” Schaffer explains. “Sprinkler systems make a big difference! Drip systems can also be set up to water containers and trellises.”
More tips for the heat:
• Mulch! Mulch helps keep the root system of plants cool by holding moisture and keeps weeds away.
• Choose plants that can take the heat.
• Weed. Garden weeds have expansive root systems and will compete for water in the soil.
• Shade against direct sunlight. Use shade cloth; plant closer to the center where there’s more shade; plant in containers that can be placed in shadier areas.
• Space plants farther apart so they don’t compete for water.
• Avoid tall, raised beds (if possible) – They warm up and dry out more quickly. Large plants on trellises will also lose moisture more quickly than those growing on the ground.
But what if your garden is already dying from the August heat?
“Determine the source of the problem,” Schaffer says. “The most common cause, especially in this Arkansas heat, is not enough water. This usually begins at the base of plant, where you will see yellowed, brown or even crunchy leaves,” she says. “A deep watering would be necessary, but adding fertilizer could also help.”
Other tips from Hocott’s to revive a garden?
• Prune – This encourages them to put their energy into growing.
One of Schaffer’s tips for garden survival in the heat is choosing plants that can take it. So, what to buy for hot, sunny areas?
• Perennials: Asiatic Lily, Black-Eyed Susan, Bearded Iris, Blanket Flower, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Daylily, Dianthus, Delphinium, Ice Plant, Salvia, Sedum, Shasta Daisies.
• Annuals: Celosia, Cleome, Cosmos Flower, Lantana, Marigolds, Petunias, Verbena, Vinca, Zinnias.
• Shrubs: Aucuba Japonica (Gold Dust), Crape Myrtles, Indian Hawthorne, Junipers, Knock-out Roses, Nandina, Oak Leaf Hydrangeas, Pampas Grass, Rose of Sharon, Yucca.
Despite the heat, what if you have mostly shade instead? Here’s what to look for when shopping:
• Bleeding Heart, Climbing Hydrangeas, Coleus, Coral Bells (Heuchera), Euphorbia, Ferns, Foxglove, Helleborus, Hostas, Japanese Anemone, Oxalis, Polemonium (Jacob’s Ladder).
How to make a thriving August garden. Here’s your garden cheat sheet:
• Bright pops of color, such as marigolds.
• Vegetable gardens – can even be done in several containers strategically placed to cover eye sores or areas that are considered ‘works in progress.’
• When in doubt, add mulch.
• Hanging baskets and containers – “Lush ferns on covered porches are among my favorites!” Schaffer says.
So, What’s Trending Now at Hocott’s?
• Small-space gardening, such as container and balcony gardening.
• Eco-friendly gardening – organic products, reducing waste and plastic usage.
• Bold colors – reds, oranges and purples.
• Houseplants – rarer plants or those that have unusual variegation or color.
• Gardening for well-being – intention to increase mindfulness and improve mental health.
• Zen gardens – creating a sanctuary or sacred space for meditation.
• Water features.
• Bird baths.
• Living walls.
• Edible gardens – growing your own food.
How to Take Your Garden From Drab to Fab
“I love thinking of a yard as a living canvas, adding interesting elements to create its own unique beauty,” Schaffer says.
Quick and easy beautifying tips:
• Broken pots don’t need to be thrown away! They can be repurposed and used in your garden beds – either as pure decoration or creating interesting planters as focal points.
• Mulch really does change everything! It makes it all look fresh and is relatively inexpensive and easy to do on your own.
• Water features – Create Zen-like spaces within the garden. Water features can transform the vibe of a space immediately.
• Add seating (chairs, benches, etc.) – There’s an expansive array of styles, colors and aesthetics (from concrete to metal to plastic) and all price ranges (thrift store finds are amazing!). “I love gardens with an eclectic feel, especially when they reflect the personality of those caring for them,” Schaffer says.
Planting on a Budget
What if you’re strapped for funds this year, but still want a beautiful garden? Combining plants in a container is an affordable way to add some pop to your garden. “Terracotta pots are inexpensive, come in all sizes and can withstand the elements,” suggests Schaffer. “Choose plants with the same soil, water and light requirements. Plant them in odd numbers, including at least one thriller, spiller and filler plant,” she says.
What does that mean?
• Thriller: add height and a bold vertical element.
• Filler: more rounded and serve to make the container look full.
• Spiller: hang over the edge of the container.
How to Weather-Protect Your Plants for Survival
Once again, Schaffer explains mulching is the easiest way to protect plants from the elements, be it heat or winter elements.
More weather tips:
• Pay attention to what’s happening with the weather (i.e. extreme heat waves, heavy rainfall, freezing, frost, etc.)
• If you live in a flood zone, it’s important to select plants that can grow in or tolerate standing water – such as Dogwood, Black gum, Holly, Siberian iris, Sweetspire, Swamp mallow, Viburnum, Willow, to name a few.
• Stake tall plants that might suffer breakage (during big storms).
• Place large buckets weighted with heavy rocks over individual plants during storms.
• Canopies, tarps, sheets and blankets can also be used to protect plants during storms.
Looking ahead, how can gardeners prepare this month for fall gardens?
• Add mulch.
• Check plants for diseases.
• Plant fall vegetables – Kale, Collard Greens, Onions, Shallots, Garlic, Asparagus, Turnips, Carrots, Lettuce, Spinach (monitor regularly and remove heavily diseased or infested plants).
• Leggy annuals should be pinched back and fertilized.
• Deadhead annuals and perennials to keep them blooming.
• Prepare soil in gardening beds – add amendments if needed (compost, fertilizer, nutrient additives).
If someone is just starting out, is gardening possible to learn?
“Absolutely! I think it’s important to start small,” Schaffer says. “I would probably start with some containers before committing to tending to an entire bed or landscape project. Investing in quality outdoor containers (that can withstand all the elements) is well worth it,” she says. “There are plenty of affordable, quality containers (such as terracotta).”
Tips for starting out:
• When planning landscape projects, Hocott’s says water is a big consideration. Installing a sprinkler system could end up being worth the investment if time is an issue.
• August is an excellent time to plan and prep. Fall vegetables will be ready for harvest by spring. Seeds started indoors can be transplanted outdoors.
• Decide what area(s) you want to focus on. If you’re wanting a complete overhaul of your landscape, and budget is a concern, it’s easy to come up with phases to complete the projects, based on planting seasons.
• Vegetable gardens are a great place to start, and it’s easy to get the kids involved! There are so many options (aesthetically speaking) – it’s important to do a little research to see what appeals most to you.
READ ALSO: Preparing Your Garden for the Worst: Easy Steps from Hocott’s to Protect Your Flowers