November 2017

Trial tomatoes provide tasty treats from the garden

‘Gladiator’ tomato is a large, meaty, Roma-type that was very prolific. Photo courtesy

I only grew trial tomato plants this year and the results were fantastic. This was probably one of the best tomato years I’ve had.

By far, the top performer was Gladiator, a large, meaty, paste tomato that makes a lot of other Roma types look wimpy. This oval fruit, which weighs about 8 ounces and easily fills the hand, is delicious in soups, salsas, sauces or sliced onto homemade pizza.

The prolific Gladiator started producing in midsummer and kept on into October. I had so many that I had to give them away. I’d already frozen all that my freezer would hold. Look for Gladiator seedlings next spring at garden centers and through Burpee, which also has seeds.

In late June, Red Racer tomatoes were sent to trial along with the promise that I’d have tomatoes by Labor Day. Indeed there were, juicy red fruits right on time. Red Racer has been named a 2018 All-America Selections winner, so seeds and plants should be available next spring. Seeds can be found at High Mowing Seeds.

‘Red Racer’ was late to arrive for its trial in the garden this summer, but it produced quite well. Photo courtesy

Called a cocktail tomato, Red Racer’s fruit measures about 1½ inch diameter and weighs 2-ounces, making it larger than a grape or cherry tomato. Stuff it with cheese or other filling for cocktail treats.

With an average of 68 tomatoes per plant, Red Racer is a prolific producer, and at only 3 feet tall, does not require staking, making it a good candidate for growing in a pot on the patio, balcony or deck. Or, use as an edible-ornamental in a flowerbed. It had a low acid, sweet flavor.

Little Bing cherry tomato produced all aummer. Photo courtesy

In the cherry tomato category, Little Bing was the earliest to give me a tomato, and it continued producing all summer. It was sweet and a nice size for snacking with ½ to 1-ounce size fruits. At only 2 feet tall, Little Bing also is perfect for a pot. Seeds are available at Totally Tomatoes.

Don’t be afraid to try new things in the garden, even tomatoes. You might just find some new tasty treats.

































Indy’s All-America Selections Display Garden wins 1st place

The Purdue Extension Marion County All-America Selections Display Garden won first place in its category in 2017. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

Since 2013, Marion County Master Gardeners and other volunteers have designed, planted, tended and harvested the All-America Selections Display Garden on the grounds of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Last year alone, they contributed nearly 2,000 hours working in the garden or interacting with visitors.

Their hard work has paid off. The garden garnered AAS’ first place award in the Foodscaping Landscape Design Challenge in the 10,000 to 100,000 visitors per year category for 2017.

Dozens of All-America Selections award-winning flowers, vegetables and herbs are grown in the garden. The garden also demonstrates various techniques, such as tomato supports, vertical gardening methods, cover crops, types of raised beds and ways to keep insects off of plants. It’s the perfect place to see and appreciate beauty and learn about plants and practices we can use in our gardens.

This year’s garden featured 110 AAS winners, about 30 more than previous years, primarily because there were more early, cool-season plants. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

This year’s theme illustrated the foodscaping trend of mixing ornamental and edible plants in garden beds. Master Gardeners volunteered 1,058 hours in the garden in 2016. This year’s hours are still being counted.

The 2017 design featured edibles used in landscape beds and flowers with vegetables in raised beds, said Steve Mayer, Purdue Extension-Marion County horticulture educator and coordinator of the AAS Display Garden.

Among the judges’ comments: “Fantastic job for a new garden entry. Flower and veg integration were great. Good use of incorporating edibles into a landscape. Real life application for the end user.”

Among the ornamental-edible plants featured were Candle Fire okra and Hot Sunset pepper. Three pumpkin vines did double-duty as a ground cover under a newly planted tree. All the plants are labeled. One tip: Whenever you visit a garden, take a photo of the plant and its label with the camera on your phone for future reference.

Nearly 13,000 people visited the All-America Selections Display Garden during the Indiana State Fair. Photo courtesy Catherine Corbin

“Foodscaping is not a topic we often address,” Mayer said. “However, the All-America Selections theme this year allowed us to show people that gardens can be both beautiful and edible.”

The food grown in the AAS Display Garden doesn’t go to waste. In 2016, 604 pounds of food was donated to area food banks. This year’s donation is still being tallied, Mayer said.

The garden is on the north side of the fairgrounds, near the Department of Natural Resources building. It is open to the public during the growing season. Access to the garden is usually free, except during the fair. Tell the gatekeepers that you are visiting the Marion County Demonstration Garden and they should let you pass. During this year’s fair, 12,980 people visited the garden.






Hardy cyclamen and a tough Bidens brighten the landscape



Cyclamen hederifolium. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


You know how forgetful we can be. Forget what we planted and when, for instance. Mother Nature pulls through for us, though.

A few weeks ago while weeding, I glimpses a patch of small pink flowers barely visible under the White Dome hydrangea.

It took me several minutes to remember the flowers were hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium). I planted the corms a year ago for late summer and fall blooming perennials that thrive in shade. This plant is hardy to USDA Zone 5, which includes northern Indiana to Indianapolis’ northern suburbs.

The foliage of a hardy Cyclamen hederifolium is attractive in its own right. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We’re already familiar with the florist cyclamen (C. persicum), usually found in garden centers and florists around holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. It is sold primarily as a gift plant or short-lived, but long-blooming houseplant. These houseplants have large, showy flowers, but are not winter hardy and they are a challenge to get to rebloom. Some gardeners plant these outdoors in spring and summer to edge a flower bed or they tuck them into containers.

Another cyclamen (C. coum) also is considered winter hardy to USDA Zone 6, which includes central and southern Indiana. This one blooms early to midwinter.

Look for hardy cyclamen in bulb catalogs.

Tough-as-nail annual

Bidens used to be a don’t-bother-to-plant annual, because it was such a weak grower, spindly and just unhappy.

In the last few years, plant breeders have bolstered bidens, improving the flower power and overall toughness.

The annual ‘Blazing Glory’ bidens has blazed right through summer in a touch spot without fail. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The best example this year is ‘Blazing Glory’ bidens, which has bloomed orange-yellow flowers all summer with only periodic attention from the hose. It sits in a newly planted area, a gravel garden of sorts, designed by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies for low-water plants and soil retention.

‘Blazing Glory’ has been holding its own at the tough corner of this bed where it meets the asphalt driveway in blazing hot sun. The trash can has been thrown at it at least twice this summer. ‘Blazing Glory’ has been a trouper and I look forward to growing it again next summer. Other fine varieties to consider: ‘Campfire Fireburst’ and Beedance series.

Give bidens a chance. Experiment with different varieties and I’m sure you’ll find one suited for your landscape or pot.

November garden checklist


  • Houseplant growth will slow so apply less fertilizer and water.
  • Move plants closer to windows or to sunnier exposures if plants are dropping leaves.
  • Potted hyacinth.

    Potted hyacinth.

    Pot up spring-flowering bulbs with tips exposed to force blooms indoors. Moisten soil and refrigerate 10 to 13 weeks. Transfer to a cool sunny location and allow an additional three to four weeks for blooming.

  • Continue to keep poinsettias in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily until early December or until red bracts begin to show. For more information, download Purdue University’s The Poinsettia.

General Landscape

  • Mow lawn as needed.
  • Rake or shred large fallen leaves and compost them with other lawn and garden debris. For more information about creating a compost pile, download the pamphlet: Making Compost From Yard Waste from Virginia Tech.

    Toss plant debris from fall cleanup into the compost heap. (C) Fotolia

    Toss plant debris from fall cleanup into the compost heap. (C) Fotolia

  • 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.
  • Remove dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs.
  • November is the second best month to fertilize the lawn with natural products. Late fall fertilizing with products keeps the lawn green going into winter and boosts encourages it to green up earlier inspring. Always read and follow the label directions of the natural product you use. 
  • 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.
  • Continue planting container grown and balled-and-burlapped plants as long asground can be worked and weather permits. Mulch well. Keep watering new plantings until ground freezes.
  • Protect graft union on rose bushes by mounding soil around the plants and adding mulch on top. Wait until after several killing frosts so that plants will be dormant. Plants covered too early may be smothered. Don’t use soil from around the plant. Instead, buy bags of top soil and use that.
  • live-christmas-tree-istock_000002559385Prepare hole if you plan to use a “live” Christmas tree (one that is balled-and-burlapped). Mulch the area heavily to prevent freezing or dig the hole and put the fill in a protected area that won’t freeze, such as a garage or basement. For details, check out Purdue’s Living Christmas Trees for the Holidays and Beyond.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Continue harvesting vegetables that have not been killed by frost.
  • Clean up and discard fallen leaves and fruit around plants to reduce disease carrier over.


Osage orange fruits can be fun…and hazardous

Osage orange fruits demand creativity. (C) Azazello/

Poison isn’t the only way plants can kill you.

Take the legendary osage orange, aka hedge apple (Maclura pomifera). Orange, apple and pomifera make it sound all fruity doesn’t it? But the 5-inch diameter chartreuse fruit easily weighs a pound, and you don’t want to get beaned by one. Or you don’t want one to fall on your car. Or run over one with your bike.

Used by Native Americans, osage orange’s native range is Oklahoma and Texas, but the species has spread throughout much of the Midwest and New England due to cultivation. The wood of this 50-foot tall tree is prized by archers for arrows – one of its common names is bow wood. Rot resistant, it was used to make wheel rims and mining supports. Like hollies, a male and female plant is needed for fruit production. The fruits are dropping from trees now.

Osage orange “was early introduced into Indiana for use as a fence in the prairie areas,” the state’s first forester Charles C. Deam wrote in 1909 in Trees of Indiana. He found the tree scattered throughout the state, but primarily in southern and central Indiana. The name hedge apple comes from its use as a hedge, in part to define property lines. Inch-long spines along the branches reduced human and animal interference.

Folklore ascribes spider-fighting powers to these chartreuse fruits, prompting some people to put them in their garage or attic to ward off eight- and six-legged critters. The seeds are the only parts edible for humans, but they are mess to get to, fingers in slime and all that. Squirrels, deer, cattle and horses are fond of the fruits.

Although we think of osage orange trees as rural or roadside species, they do show up in urban areas. For instance, there’s one along the edge of a parking lot at the Chase Legacy Building on Indianapolis’ east side, near Tech High School. Remember that part about not wanting an osage orange to hit the car? Of course, I moved mine.

You can sometimes find osage orange fruits at farmers markets or roadside stands. There are a few online sources that sell the tree: in Michigan and in Nebraska. The latter says the tree is out of stock.

Or, you might be able to gather one in the wild and plant it to see what happens.



Whack ’em back or let ’em stand

Hostas are easier to cut back before a hard freeze turns them to mush. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

When it comes to fall tasks with perennials, how and what you do is pretty much up to you.

Unlike the trees and shrubs we talked about last week in this column, perennials are much less picky about whether they get cut back as part of fall cleanup.

First, there are lots of reasons to leave perennials upright: seed heads provide a food source for birds and other wildlife; native bees winter over in hollow stems; and winter interest. Leaving the plants upright also encourages self-sowing, which can be a blessing or a curse.

Second, there are lots of reasons to cut back perennials: it gives the landscape a tidy look; it rids the garden of insect- and disease-ridden plants; and it reduces self-sowing.

Cut back perennials close to the ground, but avoid cutting into the crown of the plants. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Even with that, some perennials just look better cut back and some can become a nuisance. Hostas, for instance, get really mushy and ugly after a hard freeze. It’s easier to cut them back before this happens. Although birds eat the seeds of black-eyed Susans and fall-blooming asters in winter, these plants self sow like crazy, creating too much of a good thing and a maintenance problem.

Given those considerations, go ahead and cut back lilies, daylilies, garden phlox, iris, geranium, monarda, daisies, coreopsis and any other plants that look bad. Cut them back as close to the base of the plant as possible. I usually leave up sedums, astilbe, Japanese anemone, coneflowers (Echinacea) lungwort (Pulmonaria), hellebores, epimedium, clematis and coral bells (Heuchera).

Before cutting back hosta and other perennials, plop in a few bulbs. Next spring, the perennial’s leaves will camouflage the ripening foliage of the bulbs. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Before whacking back the perennials, plant among them some spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils. As the perennials leaf out next spring, the foliage will camouflage the ripening foliage of the bulbs. Hostas, coral bells, geraniums, lungwort, hellebores and epimedium are good companions with spring bulbs.



What shrubs to cut back and what to leave upright for winter

One of the reasons to leave hydrangeas, such as White Dome, upright is the winter interest. Photo courtesy

The fall hustle has begun… rake leaves, fertilizer the lawn and plant spring bulbs, just to name a few seasonal steps.

People like to prune trees and shrubs now, too, but before you do, make sure you don’t cut off next year’s flowers.

Many spring-blooming trees and shrubs form flower buds on branches or stems that are current year’s growth, or they form on what’s called year-old or previous season’s growth. For instance, the flowers of next spring’s lilacs (Syringa spp.) have already begun developing on the shrub. Big leaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla), oak leaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia), forsythia, crabapples (Malus spp.), blooming dogwood (Cornus florida) and several types of viburnums are a few examples of other spring-blooming plants that form next year’s flowers on this year’s branches.

If you prune these plants now, you’ll cut off next year’s flowers. If they need to be pruned for shape or size, do so within about a month after they are finished blooming.

Beautyberries, including Pearl Glam, comes into its own in the late-summer, early fall garden. Photo courtesy

Summer and fall blooming trees and shrubs, such as rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus); smooth-leaf hydrangeas (H. arborescens), such as ‘Annabelle’; and panicle hydrangeas (H. paniculata), such as Limelight, can be pruned in early spring before they leaf out. The smooth leaf hydrangeas can be cut back to the ground, but only prune the panicles and hibiscus for shape.

Some shrubs are called die-back plants because although winter kills the top growth, the roots usually survive. Beautyberry (Callicarpus spp.), butterfly bush (Buddleia hybrids) and blue mist spirea (Caryopteris spp.) are popular examples of this type of shrub. Because our area is the northern range for these plants, it’s best to leave these upright through winter. The top growth helps insulate the roots. Cut these plants back to about 6 inches from the ground in late winter or early spring. They will grow and bloom just fine come summer.

If you cut back lilacs now, you’ll cut off next year’s flowers. If necessary, prune lilacs within about a month after blooming. (C) Kevin P/

Shrub roses (Rosa hybrids), such as the Knock Outs, Drifts and Flower Carpets, are best left upright through winter. Cut them back to 6 to 12 inches from the ground in late winter before they leaf out.

Don’t prune evergreens now, such as conifers, boxwoods (Buxus), hollies (Ilex), azaleas and rhododendrons. Pruning may prompt new growth that won’t have a chance to harden off before winter hits.

Recent rainfall relieves drought, but concern remains

The drought prompted digging out the sprinkler. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Of course, when I wrote and filed this column, it had not rained for weeks. See what good luck created?

Not that many weeks ago, I wrote at least three columns on how plants were drowning from the rain.

Now, the topic is this long, dry period at a critical time in the lives of trees, shrubs and perennials. Fall is when these plants bulk up for the long winter. In the case of conifers and evergreens, getting adequate moisture going into winter is critical to their survival.

I have watered my landscape, even the lawn, twice in the last couple of weeks. With the redesign of the front landscape this summer, there was a lot of foot and equipment traffic on the lawn and I wanted to have it aerated. September is the first of two, fall-fertilizer applications and needed to be done after the aeration. It’s best not to fertilizer a lawn that hasn’t been irrigated. The second time to fertilize the lawn is in November.

This practice usually eliminates the early spring application of lawn fertilizer. Heck, it’s spring and the grass is going to grow anyway as the temperatures rise and sun intensifies. Most of the time, that early application just increases mowing duties, anyway.

Plants need roughly 1 inch of water or rainfall every week to 10 days to do well. If you have an automated irrigation system, it should be set to apply that amount either all at once or divided in half for twice-a-week applications.

If you have a sprinkler, spread straight-sided cans on the ground and water until an inch of water accumulates, or one-half inch if watering twice a week.

A watering wand with a showerhead nozzle, such as Dramm, is an efficient way to water plants. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you hand water, time how long it takes to fill a 5-gallon bucket. That’s roughly an inch of water when applied around plants. However long it takes to fill that bucket is how long you should water the plants. I actually like hand watering. I find it peaceful and relaxing. Time to think.

Hand watering also all water to be applied at the base of the plant rather than overhead. I prefer Dramm’s One-Touch Shower nozzles on a wand or at the end of a hose. These provide a gentle, concentrated flow of water, reducing the chance you’ll wash away soil or mulch.

We had good rain this past week in Indianapolis. It was a slow and easy rain that soaked into the soil rather than running off. We’re grateful.





October garden checklist


  • Keep poinsettia in dark for 15 hours a day for eight to 10 weeks until red bracts begin to show.
  • 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.

Trial peppers yield tasty flavors

Trials of peppers has yielded great results and taste. Pictured: Dragon Roll (red); Mad Hatter (green) and Candy Cane (green and red). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

So far, it’s been a pretty good year for growing peppers. Fortunately, the breeders and hybridizers are keeping up with our desire to explore pepper flavors and forms.

This summer, I’ve trialed several peppers, from those dubbed hot to mild to sweet. Why, there’s even a stripped one that grows on a plant with variegated foliage. How much more ornamental can a pepper get?

Candy Cane sweet pepper. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Candy Cane pepper is the one that’s green and red striped with green and white variegated foliage. This is a sweet pepper with an elongated shape. It is crispy and is considered a snacking pepper that can be eaten at any time, no matter what color. Doesn’t really need any staking making it an attractive candidate for a container.

Seemingly overnight, my Dragon Roll peppers went from green to red, a color that’s supposed to signal the development of heat. While green, the peppers are sweet. However, even when red, these peppers are still pretty mild. They have a bit of a different taste, very fruity. The plant is a strong producer of peppers that are 3 to 5 inches long and very narrow.

Candy Cane sweet pepper has variegated green and white foliage and green and red fruit. It’s also the perfect size for containers. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dragon Roll is a shishito pepper, which is favored for Japanese food. A new Burpee introduction, it registers about 200 on the Scoville Scale, which measures the heat units of peppers. To compare, a bell pepper registers zero and an Anaheim’s heat starts at 500 on the Scoville Scale. A pepperoncini is 100 to 500.

Mad Hatter pepper is a 2017 All-America Selection. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The winner in the cute category is Mad Hatter pepper, a 2017 All-America Selection. The squatty pepper has three lopes, which gives it a hat-like appearance. Mad Hatter is a member of the Capsicum baccatum family, grown in South America and commonly used in Bolivia and Peru. Although a bit of a novelty, the pepper is crisp, tasty and sweet.

This pepper is a high producer and I have it growing in a tomato cage. The fruits will turn red as they mature on the plant. The Mad Hatter peppers look like lanterns dangling from the plant.

I’m going to chalk this up under grow something different each year. It’s been very rewarding. I’ve harvested many peppers and frozen them for use through winter months.