November 2014

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Winter arrives with a vengeance, so pot up amaryllis

These giant bulbs from Longfield Gardens yield beautiful amaryllis. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

These giant bulbs from Longfield Gardens yield beautiful amaryllis. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Over night, winter arrived in Indiana.

Despite my efforts and an assist from a nephew, not everything got planted before the deep freeze. Tulips, daffodils, alliums and about two dozen perennials await their fate.

What to do.

I heeled in some perennials and covered them with finely chopped leaves, appropriated from a neighbor. Other pots of perennials got moved to the unheated garage.

I left several inches of leaves in one bed where most of the 100 alliums will be planted, so I’m hoping the soil has not frozen there. I did get the 100 blue crocus planted in the lawn, so at least I don’t have to worry about that.

In a few other areas where leaves are still on the beds, I’m going to plant some of the tulips and daffodils. I can always move them after they bloom next year, but I know I probably won’t.

Some of these bulbs will also be planted in a couple of big, all-weather pots that held summer annuals. I will plant the tulips and daffodils about 6 inches deep. That way, I can arrange winter greenery in the pots without stabbing the bulbs.

If you plan a winter arrangement for your containers, move them to a garage to keep them from freezing until ready to do the job. Last year, winter came on fast, too, and I had to drag six pots home from my clients’ porches to thaw in my kitchen before I could pot them up with winter greenery.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll plant up some amaryllis (Hippeastrum) from Longfield Gardens. The amaryllis will be potted in a soilless potting mix. Keep amaryllis bulbs moist, but not sopping wet. They can go a bit on the dry side. The long-blooming amaryllis flowers last even longer when cut and put in a vase.

Next, I’ll put the first of two batches of paper white Narcissus from an area garden center in a vase with an inch-deep bed of pebbles covered in water. Last year, once the paper white roots started to develop and growth emerged about 2 inches from the bulb, I replaced the water with a solution of one part alcohol, such as vodka or gin, and seven-parts water. The mix really worked to stunt the growth of paper whites, which can get too tall and fall over.

Keep the bulbs in a bright, cool place for the longest show. No need to fertilizer.

The blooms of these tender bulbs over the holidays and into the New Year warm the spirit on cold winter days.

Plants get their year in the sun

Sunset Candy blanket flower. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/Plant Haven

Sunset Candy blanket flower. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/Plant Haven

The elections are over, so now it’s time to celebrate the winners in the plants- of-the-year categories. Here’s the run down:

The National Garden Bureau has declared 2015 the year of the blanket flower (Gaillardia), one of the longest blooming perennials in the garden. NGB is a trade and education group of seed and plant producers.

The native blanket flower gets its name from the colors found in North American Indian blankets with reds and yellows. It does best in full sun and well-drained soil. Blanket flower is a short-lived perennial, so divide it every two or three years. Remove spent flowers, called deadheading, to encourage more blooms from late spring into fall. Gaillardia can be an annual or a perennial and is easy to grow from seed. Plants can be found in garden centers. Many newer perennial cultivars are propagated by tissue culture.

Alligator Tears coleus holds off blooms until very late in the season. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Alligator Tears coleus holds off blooms until very late in the season. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The NGB also declares 2015 as the year of coleus in the annual category. Indeed, coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) is one of the most versatile plants in the garden. It’s great for containers or in the ground, in sun or shade and everything in-between. Prized for its spectacular foliage color and patterns, many gardeners also appreciate the tall spikes of blue flowers from this plant, while others cut them off. Newer cultivars, such as ColorBlaze Alligator Tears, are bred to delay blooming until late in the season.

Sweet peppers get the 2015 vegetable of the year moniker from NGB. Peppers, in general, are very popular among vegetable gardens and foodies, right now. Grow peppers in full sun. Water and fertilize regularly. There are many new tasty peppers on the market to try. Grow from seed or buy transplants. Don’t plant peppers outdoors until mid-May. They like the air and soil to be quite warm.

Tasty Colorbell Mix sweet pepper. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/Grimes Horticulture

Tasty Colorbell Mix sweet pepper. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/Grimes Horticulture

The International Herb Society has named savory the 2015 Herb of the Year. There are two types: summer savory (Satureja hortensis), an annual, and winter savory (S. montana), which is perennial. Grow in full sun. Winter and summer savory have very fine foliage and are showiest with more than one plant grown clumped together.

Winter savory imparts a bit of spicy flavor to vegetables, meats and other dishes. © Iluzia/

Winter savory imparts a bit of spicy flavor to vegetables, meats and other dishes. © Iluzia/

Savory wards off bean beetles and is a worthy companion plant with beans to improve their growth and production. Sow seeds of summer savory directly in the soil in mid May, or start indoors in April. Sow seeds for winter savory indoors in April. It also can be grown from cuttings. Usually summer savory can be found in the herb section of garden centers.

Nearing the end of planting season


Crocus is a great plant to naturalize in the lawn. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Crocus is a great plant to naturalize in the lawn. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We’re closing in on the end of the planting season for spring-blooming bulbs.

As I write this, there are eight bags of bulbs that need to be planted, including 100 blue crocus; about 30 perennials to get heeled in and the raised bed built for my blueberries, but I digress.

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, snowdrops, crocus and others should already be snug underground or will be in the next couple of weeks. The bulbs need about six weeks to develop roots before the ground freezes.

Probably the most important follow up to planting the bulbs is watering them well. Remember the bulbs are 4-6 inches or more deep. If you’re like me, and planting the bulbs late, apply a layer of shredded mulch or chopped leaves over the planting area to slow the soil-freezing process and help retain moisture.

One trend is naturalizing the lawn with what are called minor or special spring bulbs. This is what’s planned for the 100 blue Crocus. As much as I like yellow crocuses, when planted in the lawn, they look more like dandelions. I like blue the best, and have also naturalized with squill (Scilla siberica) and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae).

There are several ways to plant these special bulbs in the lawn.

  • Lay out the bulbs in the pattern you want, or toss them and plant them where they land.
  • Dig or drill with an auger individual holes about 4 inches deep. Drop in the bulb and fill the hole with soil and tamp down.
  • Plunge a garden knife, trowel or tool called a rockery about 4-inches deep into the lawn and push it forward, but leave it in the soil. Drop in a bulb behind the tool. Pull out the tool and tamp down the soil.
  • Use a shovel to dig up a section of the lawn about 3-4 inches deep. Place the bulbs on the bare soil and replace the section of turf. Gently tamp it down.

These tiny bulbs bloom early enough that their foliage ripens before we have to mow the lawn. When deciding where to plant the bulbs, place them fairly close together for a showier display. One friend, Carol Michel at on Indianapolis’ south side, has planted thousands of these minor bulbs in her lawn over the last few years. So, phase in the plantings rather than feeling compelled to do it all at once. However, you’ll love the result so much that you might want to plant by the thousands, too.

Death to DST. Long live morning!


I’m so glad we’ve seen the end of Daylight Saving Time in Indiana for a few months. It’s light at 7 a.m. What a concept!

I guess it’s really not DST and changing the clocks back and forth as much as the time zone we are in. Indiana lies west of the line of demarcation between Eastern and Central time zones. The dividing line is in Ohio. Because we are beyond the western edge of this line, daylight doesn’t really take hold until about 8 a.m. when it’s DST, and night stays lit up until 9:30 or 10 p.m. We lose our mornings, which is terrible for an a.m. person.

Originally posted Nov. 1, 2009.

See previous posts about this topic:

Disruptions with Daylight Saving Time

I Hate Daylight Saving Time

Emerald ash borer detected on native fringe tree

White fringe tree. Photo courtesy

White fringe tree. Photo courtesy

A researcher at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has found evidence of emerald ash borer on the native white fringe tree in at least four locations in the Buckeye state.

White fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a small, fragrant, understory tree in the southeast and Midwest United States and is used as a late-spring blooming ornamental in landscapes.

Emerald ash borer. Photo courtesy Purdue University

Emerald ash borer. Photo courtesy Purdue University

The thin, metallic, emerald ash borer, which has no natural control, already is responsible for killing at least 50 million ash trees (Fraxinus spp.), including thousands in Indiana. The Asian insect, first detected in the Detroit area in 2002, is predicted to kill the continent’s nearly 9 billion ash trees, causing an estimated $10 billion in damage by 2019.

Frequently called EAB, it “may have a wider host range than we ever thought in the first place, or it is adapting to utilize new hosts,” said Don Cipollini, a biology professor who has been researching this bug for nearly 10 years. “This biological invasion (of EAB) is really something to worry about. It’s having drastic ecological and economic consequences, and you can’t always predict what’s going to happen.”

Although different species, ash and fringe trees are in the Oleacaeae family, which also includes olive, lilac, forsythia and privet.

The detections on fringe trees were in areas with high density of emerald ash borers, said Cliff Sadof, a professor of entomology and EAB expert at Purdue University. Sadof heard Cipollini’s report at the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service conference in Wooster, Ohio.

High populations of EAB are where more than 50 percent of untreated ash trees are dying. “This includes most of the Indianapolis area,” he said. “I don’t think we need to panic at this point. It is real, but we don’t know if it reproduces on this (fringe) tree.”

A federal working group will be discussing this issue to determine implications of this new information to the regulatory and detection aspects of the EAB program, Sadof said.

Emerald ash borer exit hole. Photo courtesy Purdue University.

Emerald ash borer exit hole. Photo courtesy Purdue University.

Meantime, he recommends keeping an eye open for sickly looking native fringe trees where emerald ash borer activity is high. One distinctive sign is the tiny D exit hole, which may be easier to spot on smaller trees and shrubs than on large ash trees. Report findings to 866-NOEXOTIC (866-663-9684). Here’s more info on EAB.

Flowers on trial get their verdict

Yellow Improved Zahara zinnia fronts Marquee Red Carpet (left) and Marquee Blonde Bombshell coleus. Glitz euphorbia airs out the planting.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Yellow Improved Zahara zinnia fronts Marquee Red Carpet (left) and Marquee Blonde Bombshell coleus. Glitz euphorbia airs out the planting.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I just can’t say enough about how really nice the Zahara series of zinnias is. These annuals have no disease issues and just bloom their heads off.

I’ve been happy with all of the zinnias in the Zahara series and this year, I trialed a fairly new one, Yellow Improved, from Burpee. My favorite is Zahara Starlight Rose, a 2010 All-America Selection. Other colors include pink, orange, white and cherry. These are readily available at garden centers and seed merchants.

Great for the in the ground, pots or window boxes, the bright yellow, daisy-like flowers get about 18 inches tall, which is just enough to cut for small bouquets. The Zahara series is drought tolerant, so it can be planted where it’s hard to water.

Two coleus (‎Plectranthus scutellarioides) from Burpee played really nicely together in a pot. The colors and leaf forms of Marquee Red Carpet and Marquee Blonde Bombshell complimented each other and easily filled the 18-inch wide container.

Plant breeders are working to delay the blooms on coleus and these fall into that late-flowering category. In fact, Blonde Bombshell never formed flower stalks.

Proven Winners’ verbena Superbena Royale Cherryburst was lovely planted with petunia Supertunia Black Cherry. The dark, richly colored petunia perfectly paired with the burst of the white and cherry verbena.

Mixed in a couple of pots was Glitz, a new Euphorbia from Burpee. I really could not tell much difference between Glitz and some of the other euphorbias on the market, including Diamond Frost.

American Garden Award Winner

Illumination Flame garnered top honors in the 2014 American Garden Award program.  Photo courtesy Peace Tree Farm

Illumination Flame garnered top honors in the 2014 American Garden Award program.
Photo courtesy Peace Tree Farm

A new species of foxglove garnered the top spot in the 2014 American Garden Award program. The Garfield Park Arts Center is one of about 30 gardens participating in North America, where visitors can vote for their favorite plants.

Illumination Flame Digiplexis was the grand winner. This tender perennial is not winter hardy here, but earns its keep with season-long blooms. Look for more Digiplexis on the market next spring. Shop early, though, because they will be popular.

Second place was Sanguna Radiant Blue petunia, which was my personal favorite. The flower is edged in crisp blue with a white center. Third was Celosia Arrabona Red, which I trialed last year and loved for its stunningly showy flowers.

Peppers earned their space in the garden this year

Sweet Heat pepper. Photo courtesy

Sweet Heat pepper. Photo courtesy

For the first time in a few years, the peppers popped in my garden. This surprises me because it was a cool summer and we all know peppers like it hot.

The three peppers I grew were trial plants: Sweet Heat and Tangerine Dream from Burpee and Wonder Bell, a grafted pepper from Jung Seed.

Wonder Bell and Sweet Heat were the best producers among the three, however Tangerine Dream was still loaded with green fruit in mid October. Tangerine Dream, considered an edible ornamental pepper, was a good producer, but a bit slow to take on its namesake color.

Wonder Bell compares in production and size to California Wonder, a popular sweet pepper. Wonder Bell was completely disease free, a benefit, no doubt, of the grafting process. It also produced very well with a nice size, green fruit with lovely shades of orange red.

Sweet Heat also produced very well, quickly turning from green to red. The heat is mild, but more pronounced when the fruit is green. The heat fades a bit when the fruit turns red and sweetens up.

Tangerine Dream pepper. Photo courtesy

Tangerine Dream pepper. Photo courtesy

Each of these peppers was grown in 10-gallon Smart Pots and fertilized every two to three weeks with Authentic Haven Brand compost tea. The tea is made with dehydrated livestock manure, which steeps in a bucket of water for a few hours before use. I probably could have been more faithful with watering and fertilizing.

This is the year I realized that I have a lot more shade in my back yard. A neighbor’s redbud has grown significantly, casting deeper shadows in my sunny growing spots. But it is not doing well, showing symptoms of verticillium wilt disease, so it probably won’t be standing much longer.

And there’s a weedy mulberry that shades the garden from mid to late afternoon sun, so when the tree comes down this spring, the yard should have a lot more light.

Still, I’ll probably move some things around in the garden next year. I’ve already started by pulling out plants I’m tired of or that have outgrown their space. I tell people all of the time that I’m always rearranging the plants in my garden, but seldom rearrange the furniture in my house.

Wonder Bell pepper. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Wonder Bell pepper. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Shoes are tools, too

Right tools for the job, even for our feet. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Well-shod feet are great tools.  (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Even though I’ve been a gardener for a long time, it’s only been in the last five years or so that I’ve invested in tools for my feet.

A few things got me thinking about shoes and the garden.

  • Foot fatigue and pain from digging because tennis shoes aren’t built for this task. Lack of foot support in shoes.
  • Tracking dirt and mud in the crevices of shoes.
  • Working when conditions are wet or muddy, making wearing tennis shoes unpleasant.

I did some research, talked to gardeners and horticulturists about their preferences and ended up buying waterproof Keen oxfords. I’ve had about five pairs of these shoes and am thrilled with them. I’ve also got a pair of Merrell waterproof oxfords, but they are not as comfortable as the Keens.

Why do I bring this up? Because through gardening, we’ve learned the value of the right equipment for the job. Our feet are one of our greatest digging tools, so having them shod with the right gear only makes the job easier. So, go out there and plant a tree!

Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit

An exhibit of southwestern still life art begins Nov. 2 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The exhibit celebrates early 20th century artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe. Although southwestern landscapes, plants and artifacts are the exhibit’s theme, the museum’s collection includes one of O’Keeffe’s most famous works, “Jimson Weed.”

There are several lovely ornamental cultivars of jimson weed (D. metel), including single and double trumpet-like flowers. Common names for this plant are Devil’s trumpet or horn of plenty flower. A similar plant is Angel’s trumpet or Brugmansia.

Angel trumpet is tropical and must spend the winter indoors. Datura is an annual in our climate and can be grown easily from seed. Datura’s fragrant flowers open in evening.

Native plant seminar

Migrating monarch butterflies rely on late-blooming, native perennials, such as goldenrod. ©lunamama58/

Migrating monarch butterflies rely on late-blooming, native perennials, such as goldenrod.

“Embracing Indiana’s Conservation Challenges” is the theme of this year’s annual conference of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, Nov. 1 in Bloomington at the Monroe County Convention Center.

Early registration discounts apply if you register before Oct. 15. For details,

Among the speakers is Lincoln Brower, a professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and lifelong monarch butterfly researcher, who will speak about his favorite insect.



Freeze tomatoes and peppers, but leave the stinkbugs outdoors

freeze peppers and peppers freezing (2 photos) Slice the peppers, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, move peppers to a plastic bag and return to the freezer. Nothing could be easier. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Slice the peppers, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, move peppers to a plastic bag and return to the freezer. Nothing could be easier. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The last gasps of the growing season yield an onslaught of tomatoes and peppers and these are vegetables that don’t keep very well without some type of preservation.

After reading Minnesota garden writer Rhonda Fleming Hayes‘ column a few weeks ago, I decided to freeze them. Easy peasy.

Frozen pepper slices ready for the freezer. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Frozen pepper slices ready for the freezer. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I placed slices of peppers and tomatoes on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, I slide the slices off of the cookie sheet into plastic bags put them in the freezer. The frozen peppers and tomatoes can be used in chili, soup and sauces.

For more information about preserving your food at home, check out Purdue Extension’s programs,

If you don’t want to mess with freezing, canning or dehydrating your vegetables, you can share your bounty with soup kitchens and food pantries around the city and state. Here are a few:

  • Society of St. Vincent dePaul,
  • Gleaners Food Bank,
  • Second Helpings,
  • Julian Center Food Pantry,
  • Feeding America,
  • Food Pantries,


They’re Back!

The Rescue stink bug trap works, but it won’t catch all of these Asian invaders, which want to get into your house.

The Rescue stink bug trap works, but it won’t catch all of these Asian invaders, which want to get into your house.

The brown marmorated stink bugs are back at this this year, working diligently to get into our homes. This is the second year these Asian imports have shown up in significant numbers in Indiana. They are brown bugs, about the size of a dime. They look like shields with legs and emit a cilantro-like smell when threatened or killed.

“I can’t tell you how many I’ve had in the house since last summer,” Julie Iverson, a Marion County Master Gardener, posted on Facebook. “One scared the living daylights out of me when I was reading in bed the other night. Yikes!”

On Sept. 20, I installed a Rescue brand trap, which works on pheromones to attract the sinkers. The trap covers draws from a 30-foot area. Normally, I’m not very enthused about traps, such as for Japanese beetles, because they are so effective. But bug experts I’ve talked to say the stink bug trap is slightly better because it pulls from a smaller area. Hopefully, it will get the bugs in your yard and not pull them in from the neighborhood. And though effective, the trap will never catch all of the stink bugs. I hate to think how many make it into my house. A while back, there were two sitting on the button to turn on my radio.

October garden checklist


  • Keep poinsettia in dark for 15 hours a day for eight to 10 weeks until red bracts begin to show.
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    Houseplants may drop leaves, especially if they spent the summer outdoors. This a natural reaction to reduced light.

  • Water indoor plants less frequently and discontinue fertilizing as growth slows or stops.

General landscape

  • Continue watering gardens, shrubs and trees if rainfall doesn’t reach an inch or more every week or 10 days. It’s important for plants to go into cold weather with adequate moisture.
  • Erect physical barriers around woody plants and trees if rabbits, rodents or deer are a problem. Metal mesh (1/4-inch) hardware cloth is good for this. Pull mulch away from trunks to discourage rodents from making a winter home there.
  • Spray evergreens, including newly planted ones, with an antidesiccant when temperature is above 40 degrees F. These products protect plants from drying out.
  • Rake or shred tree leaves, especially large ones like maple and sycamore, to prevent them from matting down and smothering grass. Compost leaves and other plant debris.
  • Continue mowing lawn as needed.
  • Remove plant debris from the garden to protect next year’s plantings from insect and disease build up.
  • (C) Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

    (C) Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

    Cut back perennials, such as daylily, iris and peony or other plants that have been damaged by frosts or freezes.

  • Prepare new beds now for planting next spring. The soil is usually easier to work in the falland fall-prepared beds allow for earlier plantings inspring. Beds may be mulched with compost, chopped leaves or other organic material during the winter, if desired. Avoid fall tilling when there’s a chance of soil erosion.
  • Apply a layer of organic materials to garden beds in the fall. This includes rotted or composted manure, compost, chopped leaves or a slow-release organic fertilizer.
  • Plant, divide or transplant perennials.
  • Have soil ready to mound on roses for winter protection. Do not mound or cover roses until after the leaves drop and the soil is near freezing, usually late November or early December.
  • Dig tender garden bulbs for winter storage. Gladiolus corms should be dug when leaves begin to yellow. Caladiums and tuberous begonias should be dug before a killing frost. Dig canna and dahlia roots after a heavy frost. Allow to air dry, pack in dry peat moss or vermiculite and store incool location.
  • Continue planting spring bulbs as long assoil can be worked. Make sure to water well.


Vegetables and fruits

  • Harvest root crops and store in a cold (32 degree) humid location. Storing produce in perforated plastic bags is a convenient and easy way to increase humidity.
  • Harvest Brussels sprouts as they develop in the axils of the leaves from the bottom of the stem. The sprouts will continue to develop up the stem.
  • 'Baby Bear' pumpkin. Photo courtesy Un. of Minnesota Extension

    ‘Baby Bear’ pumpkin. Photo courtesy Un. of Minnesota Extension

    Harvest pumpkins and winter squash before frost, but when the rind is hard and fully colored. Store in a cool location until ready to use.

  • Harvest gourds when stems begin to brown and dry. Cure at 70 to 80 degrees two to four weeks.
  • Harvest mature, green tomatoes before frost and ripen indoors in the dark.
  • Asparagus top growth should not be removed until foliage yellows. Let foliage stand over winter to collect snow for insulation and moisture.
  • Apply mulch to strawberries to prevent winter injury or kill to crowns.
  • Strawberry plants need protection from winter extremes. Apply winter protection when plants are dormantbut before temperatures drop below 20 degrees, usually late November or early December.