The American beautyberry serves as a food source for songbirds. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service
Noted horticulturist and author Stephanie Cohen blew into town a couple of weeks ago to talk about companion shrubs for her favorite plants, perennials.
Shrubs provide the texture and structure for perennials, which fade in and out with the season. Cohen, known affectionately as the Perennial Diva, discussed more than 50 woody plants that work well with perennials. Her talk was sponsored by the Indianapolis Museum of Art Horticultural Society.
Experienced gardeners know that shrubs are less maintenance than most perennials. “We’re a maturing population, so the (plant) choices we make are important,” said Cohen, a retired horticulture professor. Very few people are just doing perennials beds nowadays. Gardeners mix perennials with herbs, shrubs, annuals and containers. “This makes a more interesting garden.”
From Cohen’s list of plants, here are three of my favorites.
Dwarf fothergilla (F. gardenii) has white, lightly honey-scented, bottlebrush-like flowers in spring. In summer, the foliage has a blue green look, and in fall, the leaves turn a brilliant red or orange. This native is hardy throughout Indiana, dwarf fothergilla gets about 3 feet tall and wide. Does fine in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. This is a good companion for spring-blooming bulbs and perennials. “If I had only shrub to pick, this would be the one,” Cohen said.
The Eastern U.S. native fothergilla blooms in spring, making it a perfect companion for tulips, daffodils and other bulbs. © Kongxinzhu/iStockphoto.com
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana or C. dichotoma) sports beautiful clusters of purple berries on nicely arched branches this time of year. In summer, the shrub presents a graceful backdrop to perennials, waiting patiently for its time to shine. Beautyberry does best in full sun, but tolerates part shade. Size ranges from about 4 to 8 feet tall and wide, depending on the cultivar. Works well with summer-blooming and early fall-blooming perennials. The top part is killed by winter temperatures, so I usually cut beautyberry back close to the ground in spring. It quickly bounces back to bloom and berry.
A bumblebee burrows in for the night on a blue mist spirea. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Blue mist spirea or bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) is another late-season bloomer, presenting itself as a companion to asters and the fall-color of ornamental grasses. This is an aromatic shrub that attracts bees and butterflies to its tufts of blue flowers along slightly upright branches. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil. This is another shrub I cut back to the ground in early spring.
Cohen returns to Indiana Oct. 4
Cohen will be back in Indiana for Hendricks County Master Gardeners 2014 Adventures in Gardening. She’ll talk about Native Perennials: Sustainable, Colorful and Wonderful and Perennials from Spring to Fall.
You know how it is. You’re on a walk and you see a plant and wonder what it is. Or, one of the plants in the garden starts to look really bad. Is it an insect, disease or something else?
There’s help for these and other questions right on your smart phone. Here’s the rundown.
Purdue University has released a handful of helpful apps, each costing $0.99, available at iTunes or Android stores.
Purdue Perennial Doctor identifies insects and diseases of 100 of the most commonly planted perennials in the Midwest and eastern United States. You plug in the plant name from a list, say it’s a disease of flowers, leaves, stems or crown. The app pulls up what the likely cause might be.
For instance, say you have brown spots on peony leaves. You tell the app that it’s a leaf problem and it will show images of the diseases or insects that affect peony foliage and offer tips on what to do. Purdue Annual Doctor, Tree Doctor and Tomato Doctor work the same way.
Purdue’s Plant Diagnostic Sample Submission allows you to send a photo of the problem to the Pest Diagnostic Laboratory for identification and remedies. There’s an $11 submission fee. Submissions can be digital or you can mail a sample of the plant. For more details: www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/services.html.
Marion County Master Gardener AnswerLine is a free resource. You can call (317) 271-9292 with your questions. Master Gardener volunteers research the problem and call you back within a day or two.
Or, you can email your questions to email@example.com. Emailing gives you the opportunity to include photos to help Master Gardeners solve the problem. Make sure the photos are in focus and show enough of the plant to help identify it, such as leaves, flowers and branching characteristics. The photos also should be large enough, about 500KB so they can be expanded to help with identification.
Garden Compass is a free app to identify plants, pests and diseases. You take a photo of the problem, give as much information as possible, such as locale and what you observe. Provide a close-up image of the foliage, branching or other identifying characteristics. It’s frequently difficult to identify a plant or problem from a photo taken far away. The photo is sent to an expert in your region to help identify the problem and make suggestions on what to do.
A pink Art Nouveau grabs the center of attention amid Purple Haze dahlias.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Dahlias have never been a favorite of mine, mainly because they always seemed persnickety — prone to mildew, rot and spider mites to name a few challenges.
But this year, Longfield Gardens offered to send me some samples of these tender tubers, and, well, you can never have too many plants to try.
I was about a month late when I planted them up in containers in June. Even though July was cool, the plants took off and started their season of bloom. And did they ever. Maybe enough to change my mind.
For one thing, they are still going strong, long after other annuals have taken on a tired look. They likely will keep blooming until frost. And no sign of mildew, although a little damage from mites.
Dahlias come in many colors, forms and sizes, as large as dinner plates, which usually need staking, and others more diminutive.
Mine are border anemone dahlias, reaching 18 to 24 inches tall with flowers a bit bigger than a golf ball. Although not long-stemmed, they are tall enough for small cut flower arrangements.
When it comes to fall, we have two options: leave them in the ground and let nature take them, or dig the tubers for winter storage.
If digging, wait until the tops of dahlias are killed by frost. Discard any damaged tubers. Rinse the soil from the healthy tubers. Many dahlia experts recommend treating tubers with a fungicide, such as sulfur powder, before storing. Allow to dry, wrap in plastic or place in bags of wood shavings or similar material. Store the tubers out of light, where they won’t freeze or get so warm the they sprout.
In past years, I’ve moved dahlias, pot and all, to my basement for the winter, where they go dormant and require no water. In spring, I move the pot to my enclosed porch to acclimate the plants to more light and begin watering. They go outdoors in mid May.
In early April, take the tubers out of winter storage and plant in pots and place in a bright area indoors. Fertilize with a water-soluble product, according to label directions. In mid May, transplant dahlias outdoors in the garden or in containers. Dahlias do best in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.
For more information about growing dahlias, check out the American Dahlia Society. Elkhart has the only Indiana chapter.
Evergreen needle drop. Photo courtesy Un. of Nebraska Extension
Don’t be alarmed if evergreens, especially white pine and arborvitae, drop needles. All evergreens shed needles at some time, but not all at once like deciduous plants do.
- Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer to lawns at the rate of 1 pound actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Here’s more info on taking care of established lawns.
- Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlapped nursery stock. Mulch well and keep newly planted stock well watered until the ground freezes.
- Reseed bare spots or put in new lawns using a good quality seed mixture. Fall is the best time to do lawn repairs or put in a new one.
- Early fall is a good time to apply broadleaf weed killers. Follow label directions and spray on a calm day to prevent drift.
- 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.
- 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, transplant or divide peonies, daylilies, poppies, iris, phlox and other perennials.
- Order spring-flowering bulbs or purchase locally. Begin planting them at the end of the month. Planting too early can cause top growth to sprout before winter; allow four to six weeks for good root formation before ground freezes.
- Dig tender bulbs, such as cannas, caladiums, tuberous begonias and gladiolus, before frost. Air dry and store in dry peat moss or vermiculite.
- Cut flowers in the garden for drying and use in everlasting arrangements. Strawflower, statice, baby’s breath, celosia and other plants can be hung upside down in a well-ventilated dry area.
Vegetables and fruits
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Ornamental pear trees develop multiple trunks. These large branches are notorious for splitting and falling during storms. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
Fresh from a meeting of 400 member of Garden Writers Association in Pittsburgh, I thought I’d share what I learned in a class, Recognizing At-Risk Trees by Bob Polomski, a professor of forestry and urban forestry at Clemson University.
“I created this seven-point check up list to teach tree owners how to examine their trees for defects that are likely to lead to failure and possibly cause injury or damage,” he said. In tree talk, failure means a tree or limb falls.
A silver maple with cracks and crevices threatens two houses. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch
First, stand far enough away from your trees so you can look up into the canopies.
1. Dead or hanging branches larger than 2-inch diameter should be removed immediately to prevent them from falling and damage objects and people below.
A tree limb threatens a home. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
2. Is the tree leaning? “If you see exposed roots or a mound of soil near its base, the tree may be an imminent hazard that requires immediate action,” Polomski said.
Second, walk up to the tree and closely examine the branches and trunk.
3. Are there multiple trunks and leaders? Look for cracks or splits in branches that are co-dominant. Wishbone-like trunks of equal diameter may separate during wind and ice storms. Ornamental pears are prime examples of multiple trunks that split during storms.
4. Inspect where large branches meet the trunk. Look for cracks or splits. Remove the branches before a storm does, Polomski said.
Deep cracks in the trunk indicate serious risks and should be check by a certified arborist. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
5. Use a pencil or stick to measure the depth of cracks or splits. If the crack extends into the wood beyond the bark, call a certified arborist to inspect the tree.
6. Look for cavities, cankers, mushrooms and other malformations of the trunk. These indicate dead and decaying wood. Call a certified arborist to assess the condition and potential risk of the tree.
Be on the look out for cavities and the formation of fungus, which indicates dead or dying wood. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch
Third, inspect the base of the tree.
7. Look for damage from rodents, trimmers or mowers at the base of the tree. Is there a mound of soil or cracked dirt near the main root? Do roots encircle the tree? Consult with a certified arborist to help solve the problem.
Landscape work severed the roots on one side of a pine tree, causing it to lift out of the ground and threaten the nearby house. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
Why does this matter?
The last thing you want is for a tree to fall on your house, the neighbor’s or crash into cars on the street. A common argument for putting off tree work is the expense. It’s a balance, that’s for sure, but it’s likely more expensive to repair the house, replace the car, pay hospital bills or worse, than regular basic tree care.
Lastly, always work with a certified arborist.
The larva of hibiscus sawfly turns hibiscus leaves into lace. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
In some Hoosier gardens, hibiscus leaves look like green lace.
Don’t blame the damage on Japanese beetles. The real culprit is the hibiscus sawfly larva, which has an appetite for other members of the mallow family, including hollyhock, okra and cotton. It does not seem to bother tropical hibiscus (H. rosa sinensis) or rose of Sharon (H. syriacus)
Research on this pest began with a question from a reader. She’d already identified the problem on her ‘Lord Baltimore’, ‘Anne Arundel’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ perennial hybrid hibiscus, and a native species (H. moscheutos). “Is there any treatment at this late date or should I just remove the plants? I am getting tired of them so removal would be no big loss,” said E.A. of Indianapolis.
That sent me to my go-to bug guy, Cliff Sadof, a professor of entomology at Purdue University Extension. Hibiscus sawflies repeatedly attack his hollyhocks, Sadof said. “They can kill a hollyhock and make hibiscus look awful,” eventually weakening the plant.
The tiny hibiscus sawfly deposits eggs inside leaf tissue. The larva emerges and devours leaf tissue, leaving only the veins. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
The 3/16-inch long black hibiscus sawfly burrows eggs just under the leaf tissue. Barely visible at first, well camouflaged baby larvae hatch and begin devouring leaf tissue. By the time the green larvae reach maturity at about ½ inch long, you’ve got lacy leaves.
With a 28-day life cycle, we get four generations of the pest. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant to catch the first generation. Knocking down the first group goes a long way at controlling hibiscus sawfly the rest of the summer, he said.
The professor recommends an insecticide that contains Spinosad. To protect bees and other pollinators, “do not spray it on the flowers and be sure to hit both sides of the leaves.”
Green stink bugs show up, too
Green stink bugs lay eggs on the underside of the leaves of weeds.
Photo courtesy John Obermeyer, Purdue Extension Entomology
If my email is any indicator, another insect, the native green stink bug, also has shown up in high numbers. The native green stink bug feeds on lots of plants, including tomatoes and soybeans, as well as ornamental trees and shrubs.
Knock green stink bug nymphs from plants to help reduce the numbers of plant-eating adults. Photo courtesy Cliff Sadof, Purdue Extension Entomology
“Usually green stink bugs show up here and there, 10 to 15 at the most on a plant. But if it’s the brown marmorated stink bug, multiply that by 10,” Sadof said of the exotic pest that showed up in big numbers in 2013.
Cultural controls include removing weeds where green stink bugs hide and lay eggs. A strong spray of the hose will knock them off plants and insecticidal soap also may be effective. Always read and follow label directions.
Extend the growing and harvest season by covering cool-season plants with row covers or heavy-duty plastic. The cover also can be used to get a jump-start on the growing season in spring. Photo courtesy Gardener’s Supply/gardeners.com
If you’re considering planting a fall crop of lettuce, spinach, broccoli and other cool-season vegetables, now is the time.
Some plants already growing in the garden, such as onions and cabbage, tolerate cold and might keep producing for several more weeks with just a little protection. Chard, lettuce, cauliflower and carrots can take a frost or two. Others, such as tomatoes, melon and pumpkins, will be damaged by light frosts.
Some garden centers will have transplants, but I’ve always had a hard time finding them. Call around to see who might have them.
Northern Indiana gardeners can sow seeds now for beets, carrots, leaf lettuce, turnips, spinach, chard, radish, peas and bush beans. Try to find transplants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, cabbage and cauliflower. Gardeners in the middle and southern part of the state have a few more weeks to sow and transplant.
When planting fall season vegetables, mix a little compost or other organic matter to the soil. A lot of times, the soil is crusted over from the summer, so a little compost can work wonders in helping the new seeds and roots develop roots. The soil is a lot warmer now, too, than it was in spring, so you might need to water more frequently until plants get established.
There are several ways to protect these veggies as we move into cold weather.
Row covers are made out of spun plastic material and can protect plants to about 28 degrees. To increase protection even more, cover the row cover with a 6-mil plastic, which will get you protection to about 15 degrees. For even more, add several gallon jugs of water among the plants. The sun heats up the water during the day and the jugs slowly release the heat at night.
For quick protection when frost threatens, toss sheets, blankets or paper bags over tender crops, such as tomatoes and peppers. Do not use plastic unless you tent it so that it does not touch the plants. Condensation that forms and freezes under the plastic will damage plants.
For more info, download Purdue University’s The Fall Vegetable Garden.
There also are several good books on this topic:
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing)
The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch (Chelsea Green Publishing)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening by Delilah Smittle and Sheri Ann Richerson (Alpha)
Two Master Gardener programs will be conducted this fall in Marion County with 18 three-hour sessions in each program. This popular program is for adults who would like to learn more about gardening and help others grow.
Both classes begin Sept. 16, 2014. Registration deadline is Sept. 10. Enrollment is limited and classes fill quickly.
Classes meet at the Purdue Extension-Marion County office on the Indiana State Fairgrounds (parking is free), 1202 E. 38th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46205.
‘Primal Scream’ daylily has 7 ½- to 8 ½-inch wide tangerine blooms in late summer and gets about 34 inches tall. Photo courtesy perennialrescource.com
Daylilies and irises are commonplace in most Hoosier gardens, but gardeners still have questions about these mainstay perennials.
For instance, a lot of gardeners confuse daylilies (Hemerocallis) with true lilies (Lilium), but they are two different species. A lily grows from a bulb and a daylily grows from an underground stem, called a rhizome. Most Iris also grows from a rhizome, which people sometimes call a bulb.
There are early, mid and late season blooming daylilies and irises and those that rebloom. Daylilies and irises do best in full sun, but will tolerate light shade.
Originating in Asia, there are more than 65,000 varieties of daylilies with thousands of colors and variations. There are about 300 species of irises, from the native crested iris to bearded and Siberian types.
“Daylilies thrive on water throughout the season. Irises really don’t need too much water after they bloom,” said John Everitt, president of the Indiana Daylily and Iris Society.
Keep daylily and iris tidy by removing spent flowers and the stems when done blooming. Cut dayliles back to the ground in fall, which is also a good time to divide them. Most irises, too, can be divided and transplanted then. Bearded iris should be cut back in late summer or early fall to reduce infestation from the iris borer, which lays its eggs on the leaves.
Fragrant ‘Feed Back’ bearded iris gets about 3 feet tall when it blooms in late spring to early summer and again in late summer. Photo courtesy perennialresource.com
A common practice Everitt would like to see changed is planting daylilies and irises in separate beds. “A whole bed of the sword-leafed iris or a large expanse of grassy daylily foliage can be a bit monotonous,” he said. He recommends planting daylilies and irises among other perennials with similar horticulture requirements to provide different bloom shapes and textures.
Good companions for daylilies include: bee balm (Monarda fistulosa, M. didyma), Shasta daily (Leucanthemum superba), garden phlox (P. paniculata), coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Everitt said.
For bearded iris companions, Everitt recommends: peony (Paeonia), salvia (S. nemerosa, S. sylvestris), beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and catmint (Nepeta faasenii, N. racemosa).
To talk first hand about these beautiful plants, visit the Indiana Daylily and Iris Society’s annual sale, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Sullivan Hardware and Garden, 6955 N. Keystone Ave. “Our sales typically offer 20 to 25 different iris cultivars and up to 50 different daylily cultivars,” Everitt said.
At Garfield Park, vote until Sept. 30 for your favorite plant for the American Garden Award: Celosia Arrabona Red (front), Cuphea Sriracha Violet (rear) and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue (right). Not pictured is Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
If you are going to the Indiana State Fair this month, hop the shuttle or hike over to the north side of the fairgrounds to see the All-America Selections Display Garden.
This is the third year for the garden, which is redesigned and replanted each year by Marion County Master Gardeners to keep it fresh and interesting. The garden is slightly northeast of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources area.
You’ll see the newest All-America Selections flowers, vegetables and herbs, along with a collection of AAS winners from previous years.
“This year I don’t have all of the plants totaled, but the years of AAS range from 1935’s Straight 8 cucumber to the latest in 2014 for this year,” such as Mascotte, a dwarf French bean, said Steve Mayer, Purdue Marion County Extension horticulture educator.
Last year, Master Gardeners volunteered 1,601 hours in the display garden. Each week, volunteers weed, water, deadhead, mulch and tidy the garden. And, they harvest. Last year, 855 pounds of produce were donated to a local food bank, he said.
The All-America Selections Display Garden includes vegetables, flowers and herbs that should grow well in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer
Beside the plants, visitors will see various examples of raised and accessible planting beds, ways to cage or trellis tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and other vegetables, examples of how to protect plants from insects, such as squash bugs, and other techniques you can use at home.
Master Gardeners will be in the garden during the fair, too, ready to answer questions and give advice. In 2013, 13,778 people visited the garden during the fair.
On the other side of town at Garfield Park, visitors have a chance to vote for their favorite plants on display as part of the American Garden Award program. Designed to instill interest and excitement for gardening and new plants, it gives the public a chance to have their say. Garfield is one of 32 public gardens in North American participating in the six-year-old program.
Thomas Graham, a Garfield Park Master Garden, plants and maintains the beds, which this year, are on the west side of the Arts Center. Four plants are in the running: Cuphea Sriracha Violet, Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame, Celosia Arrabona Red, and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue. Vote for your favorites with your smartphone or online. Voting ends Sept. 30.