December 2016

Buy the book! Indiana Gardener’s Guide



Ten reasons to buy The Indiana Gardener’s Guide:

  1. It’s the perfect gift for gardeners of all skill levels.
  2. It’s the perfect gift for new homeowners, who may be wondering about their lawns, trees, perennials and annuals in their landscape. Written so that beginners can understand.
  3. Solid, practical information about gardening in Indiana. No gimmicks. Information you can trust.
  4. Symbols give tips on a plant’s attributes, such as native, cut flower, low water needs, fragrant, good for bees and butterflies.
  5. Offers suggestions for companion plants.
  6. Easy to use.
  7. Reasonable price.
  8. Limited supply. When the books are gone, they are gone.
  9. Signed copy for no extra charge.
  10. You can pay via PayPal, check, charge or cash.

$15, includes $3 shipping/handling. Order by Dec. 19 to ensure delivery by the holidays. Email Jo Ellen with your phone number for details,

Easy-peasy winter pots

Evergreen boughs cascade over the edges of a winder pot. A white birch log and faux holly berries add spot color. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Evergreen boughs cascade over the edges of a winter pot. A white birch log and faux holly berries add spot color. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

This is my favorite time of year, not because of the holidays or the weather, but because of the plants we have to work with.

Plants include branches, seed heads, ornaments and other elements we snip from the landscape or buy at garden centers, nurseries, farmers markets, grocers and other retailers.

The textures, forms and shades of evergreen branches pair wonderfully with red- or yellow-stem dogwoods, willows, birch branches, boxwood, stems of Russian sage or the dried flowers of hydrangeas.

Poke plants in the soil of an all-weather container on the porch, balcony or patio, by the mailbox, at the end of the driveway, in view of the kitchen window or in a flowerbed. If you’ve already emptied soil from the pot, fill it with mulch and poke away.

Pots with greenery are easy to assembly. You can start in the center and build out or start on the edges and build in. If the pot will be seen from all sides, put the tallest branches in the middle. If seen from one side, but them at the back.

For the edges of the container, use evergreen branches that drape, such as incense cedar, western cedar or other arborvitae. If using branches that naturally bend upward, such as Douglas fir, Fraser fir or pine, invert them so they bend down to cover the edge of the pot. Fir branches tend to be blue on the underside and green on the top, which add another color and texture to the mix.

For the center, branches of curly willow, dogwood and birch do the trick. Spray paint brown branches red, green, silver, gold or other colors to compliment the pot or home. Cut branches of hollies also work nicely as a centerpiece.

Leave dried hydrangea blooms tan or brown for a more natural look, or spray paint them red, gold or other colors and use as filler. Fill in with salal, huckleberry or branches from evergreens. Or use faux branches of hollies, strands of shiny beads, plastic ornaments and other glittery items from craft stores and other retailers. Attach a wired weatherproof ribbon or bow for a festive look.

The nice thing about winter arrangements in containers is you don’t have to actually plant or water anything. Just stick the branches or stems in the soil. It’s easy to pull them out to rearrange and fill in any empty spots.

Once the holidays have passed, remove reds and other colors. Some of the greenery will hold its color well into early spring and some will turn brown. In my mind, the pots still look attractive because of the hues and textures.

December garden checklist


Holidayshuge christmas tree

  • When shopping for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, check for green, flexible, firmly held needles and a sticky trunk base — both indicators of freshness. Make a fresh cut and keep the cut end under water at all times.
  • Evergreens can be trimmed gently for indoor holiday decorations.


  • Houseplants usually require less water and fertilizer during the winter, but they need more light. Move plants closer to windows (but not touching glass) when days are gray.
  • Store lawn and garden products in a cool, dry place, protected from moisture and freezing, but away from heat.

General Landscape

  • Prevent the bark from splitting on young, thin-barked trees, such as fruit and maple, by wrapping them with tree wrap, or paint them with white latex paint, especially the south and south-west sides.
  • Protect broadleaves, evergreens or other tender landscape plants from excessive drying (desiccation) by winter sun and wind with canvas, burlap or polyethylene plastic screens on the south and west sides. Shields also may be used to protect plants from salt spray.
  • Protect weak-stemmed shrubs from extensive snow loads by tying their stems together with twine. Carefully remove heavy snow loads with a broom so limbs don’t break.
Plants have been protected with burlap. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Plants have been protected with burlap. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

  • If needed, protect young plants, broadleaves and needle-bearing evergreens and other tender landscape plants from excessive drying from sun and wind by spraying with an antidesiccant when temperatures are above 40 degrees F. Always read and follow the label direction.
  • Mulch tender plants with organic material when they become dormant.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Harvest root crops. Store in a cold location with high humidity.


The heart of a gardener: Giving Tuesday

Marian University’s Friends of Riverdale wants to raise $1.5 million to restore a portion of Jens Jensen’s landscape at Allison Mansion, including rebuilding the colonnade and arbor. Photo courtesy Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf/Marian University

Marian University’s Friends of Riverdale wants to raise $1.5 million to restore a portion of Jens Jensen’s landscape at Allison Mansion, including rebuilding the colonnade and arbor.
Photo courtesy Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf/Marian University

We all know about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard about Giving Tuesday? This year it’s Nov. 29.

With the holidays coming sooner rather than later, here’s a way to celebrate by giving to non-profit organizations that support gardening, nature, historical landscapes and flowers.

Indiana Landmarks’ Cultural Landscape Committee identifies, catalogues and helps promote the state’s significant landscapes, such as George Kessler’s boulevard, parkways and parks; landscape architect’s Dan Kiley’s designs in Fort Wayne and Columbus, the Olmsted Brothers’-designed gardens on the IUPUI campus and at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Donations can be made to Indiana Landmarks Cultural Landscape Committee, 1201 N. Central Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46202, or online. In the online comments section, write Cultural Landscape Committee.

Native plant enthusiasts can share the love with Letha’s Youth Outdoors Fund, which is part of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, or INPAWS. The fund aims to get school-age children in touch with nature, especially those with the least access to experiences in natural areas. Grants pay transportation and naturalists’ fees for visits to Indiana’s wild places and fund youth-initiated projects that get kids excited about the natural world.

The fund honors Letha Queisser, who died in 2007. For more than 20 years, the trained botanist and avid wildflower fan took neighborhood children on nature walks to a nearby Indianapolis park. Since the fund was founded in 2008, more than $40,000 in grants have been awarded, enabling nearly 12,000 youth to visit environmental education centers, nature preserves and parks under the guidance of trained specialists and enthusiastic volunteers. Donate online, or mail a check to INPAWS, Attention: Letha’s Fund, P.O. Box 501528, Indianapolis, IN 46250.

Marian University’s Friends of Riverdale is raising $1.5 million to restore the Jens Jensen-designed colonnade and arbor near Allison Mansion. The university never had the funds to replace these Riverdale features because the base of the structure needs to be reinforce to support the columns, plus the weight of the arbor and plants.

To donate, go to and click on Give Now. The colonnade is not a listed project, but donors can choose “other” and write in the comments “colonnade.” Or, send a check with colonnade in the memo to Deb Lawrence, Marian University, 3200 Cold Springs Road, Indianapolis, IN 46222,

Random Acts of Flowers opened in October in Indianapolis, one of five centers in the country. It recycles flowers from weddings, funerals and other events. The goal is to improve the emotional health and well being of individuals in health care facilities by delivering recycled flowers, encouragement and personal moments of kindness. For details on donations of vases, flowers or money, visit

Bush clover removal and pruning a shrub

Bush clover has cropped up on lists of invasive plants. (Lespedeza). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Bush clover has cropped up on lists of invasive plants. (Lespedeza). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Thanks to the warmer than normal fall, the end-of-season landscape cleanup is still under way for a lot of us.

As we traipse around, cutting back hosta or pulling tomatoes, it’s a great opportunity to think tough love – what is working and what isn’t.

Although I really like that ‘Pink Fountain’ bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii) blooms in late summer, it’s just too big. It is totally out of scale, dwarfing its neighboring perennials. This perennial is more like a shrub at about 4 foot tall and wide. It takes up a lot of space in my small yard for a late-season bloom. Bush clover is in the pea family, which that really puts down roots, so getting it out will be laborious.

Add to that, bush clover has crept up on several lists of invasive species. Ellen Jacquart of the Nature Conservancy and chairwoman of Indiana’s Invasive Plant Species Assessment Working Group. It’s planted along I-69, Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area near Howe, Indiana, other places and is spreading, she said.

The plant was heavily promoted by Division of Fish and Wildlife as good for upland birds, but now it’s considered invasive. Sterile varieties of bush clover may not be a problem, she said.

I’ve also decided to pull out some no-name ordinary hostas and replace them with some new, variegated yellow-green varieties to trial. While I’m at it, I’m mixing in some snowdrops (Galanthus spp.). I’ve also marked three ‘Halcyon’ hostas to move, because they have outgrown their space. I really need to learn to believe the plant tags.

The Judd viburnum (V. x ‘Juddii’), which I planted 20 years ago, is fully grown and with a beautiful form, fragrance and fall color. I’m wrestling with beginning a rejuvenation pruning in spring or pulling it out. Rejuvenation pruning removes one-third of the oldest and largest branches from the base of the shrub in year one, another third in year two and the final third in year three.

The process opens up the plants and reins in the size a bit. For more information about this, check out Purdue University Extension’s free download, “Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs”

Winter is for the birds

Goldfinches and many other birds appreciate a bird bath even in winter. (C) Al Mueller/Fotolia

Goldfinches and many other birds appreciate a bird bath even in winter. (C) Al Mueller/Fotolia

Although I leave my bird feeders up year-round, some people only put them out for winter.

And like a lot of us, perhaps you’ve noticed some birds have turned up their beaks at Niger thistle, that expensive black seed, long the must-have for sparrows, chickadees, finches, siskins, nut hatches and other small birds.

Initially, I thought perhaps the thistle seed was stale, so I’d purchase new. Still the seed was barely touched.

John Schaust, chief naturalist at the Indianapolis-based Wild Birds Unlimited Inc., credits better selections in our landscapes. The more we plant native plants, such as coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), salvia, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) and viburnums, the less interest the birds have in bird feeder fodder.

Niger thistle has very little oil compared to sunflower, safflower and other seeds, he said.

Bird feeding is a $3 billion-plus industry, and I contribute my share. I have two feeders for sunflower, one for safflower, one for thistle, one each for peanuts (in shells and out), one for dried fruits and nuts, and two for suet. For the two finch feeders, I’ve switched to mixed finch food, which the birds seem to eat. I have four bird baths in summer and two in winter, which are heated. A water source is the best way to attract birds to your yard, regardless of whether you feed them.

There are all kinds of rules about where to put feeders, such as about 3 feet away from a window, and 10 feet from trees so squirrels and chipmunks can’t jump to get the food. There also are recommendations for baffles to keep squirrels, chipmunks and other wildlife from climbing the poles to get to the food. It actually takes an arsenal of several impediments to ensure birds get their due. Some of these are difficult to accomplish in many urban landscapes, and in suburban areas, deer regularly nibble at feeders. I just keep yelling “all things in moderation.”



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

Hardy cyclamen: Trying something new

Wild, hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) does well in a shady to partly sunny area. (C) Elizabeth Bakusov/

Wild, hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) does well in a shady to partly sunny area. (C) Elizabeth Bakusov/

The trees have finally started to drop their leaves for fall and much of the color of the season now lays on the ground.

The best tool for dealing with leaves is a mulching mower. Mulched leaves are about the best soil amendment you can have and its free. All you have to do is mow the leaves, leaving the little bits on the lawn. The bits decompose and add trace amounts of nutrients to the soil.

All over my neighborhood, the leaf blowers are in full force. A leaf blower is a great tool for moving leaves into the flower beds as natural mulch and nature’s No. 1 soil amendment. The leaves help insulate perennials and as they decompose, add nutrients to the soil.

Volunteers are planting 150,000 spring bulbs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the largest bulb displays in the IMA history. Photo courtesy Irvin Etienne

Volunteers and members of the hort department are planting 150,000 spring bulbs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the largest bulb display in IMA history. Photo courtesy Irvin Etienne

And, there’s still plenty of time to get spring-blooming bulbs planted. Over the last few weeks, hundreds of volunteers have been planting 150,000 tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari and other spring bulbs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s called Bulbapalooza and is the largest planting of spring bulbs in the history of the IMA. Just think how gorgeous the grounds will be next spring.

Volunteers will get a pass that allows free entry to visit the grounds next spring so they can see their handiwork.

This year, I’m planting something new in my yard, a hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium). We’re probably all familiar with the florist cyclamen (C. persicum), a seed-grown plant found around Easter.

The flowers of hardy and florist cyclamen look similar as do the leaves. But where one is grown as a houseplant, the hardy cyclamen is a late summer bloomer in the garden. It will spread and naturalize a bit and with its mottled leaves, act as a little ground cover throughout the summer.

These are small plants, only about 6 inches tall, with about a 12 inch spread, so they will have to go someplace where they won’t get overshadowed by their companions. Grow hardy cyclamen in part shade. Mine are going along the edge of some hosta.

The cyclamen fulfills my mission to try something new, so I’m looking forward to

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. For more information, visit
  • 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.


Persimmons predict winter and make delicious cocktails


Some people use persimmon seeds to predict the winter. Photo courtesy Chris Wilhoite/

Some people use persimmon seeds to predict the winter. Photo courtesy Chris Wilhoite/

Some of us look to woolly worms to predict the upcoming winter and some of us rely on persimmon seeds.

Chris Wilhoite, co-owner of Soules Garden on Indianapolis’ south side, has been splitting American persimmon seeds (Diospyros virginiana) for about five years to see what they bode for winter. “I got interested because there are a couple of trees on the property,” he said. “I tried to eat one before it was ripe. I think they get sweeter after a frost or two. I tried one in early fall… super sour and made me pucker up.”

He learned of the folklore associated with the seeds and their prognostication of the type of winter we’ll have. The “Old Farmer’s Almanac” said if the seed is spoon-shaped, it means lots of heavy, wet snow. If it’s fork-shaped, the winter will be mild and the snow will be powdery. If the seeds look like a knife, “expect to be cut by icy, cutting winds,” the magazine reports.

“We actually do not harvest them,” Wilhoite said. “The raccoons eat them—just a guess. It would be nice to harvest and make pudding or whatever, but there is just way too much going on” with closing the nursery for the season. How reliable are the seeds’ predictions? “I sort of forget to look back and see how close they were to predicting. I think I’ll start a journal or something from now on,” he said.

Forager Ellen Zachos, author of the soon-to-be-published Wildcrafted Cocktails, suggests making a frozen persimmon margarita. You can use fresh persimmon pulp or frozen (Tuttle Orchards in Greenfield, Indiana, has frozen pulp). Here is her recipe.

Persimmon margarita. (C) Ellen Zachos

Frozen persimmon margarita. (C) Ellen Zachos

Frozen Persimmon Margarita

To rim the glass, combine 1 tablespoon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon ground, dried spicebush berries in a small bowl, and mix well. Transfer to a saucer. (Skip the spicebush berries if you don’t have on hand.)

Pour a tablespoon of lime juice into another saucer and dip the rim of a chilled glass in the juice. Then dip the rim in the sugar and salt blend, and set the glass aside.


2 ounces smooth persimmon purée

1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon simple syrup

1 cup ice cubes

1 lime wedge, for garnish

Combine the persimmon purée, tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, simple syrup and ice cubes in a blender. Blend until the texture is thick and smooth. Pour into the rimmed glass and garnish with a wedge of lime.