Calendar

February 2018
S M T W T F S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728EC

Tempting new plants to try this summer. Can you say orange?

Queeny Lime Orange zinnia. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

Some new annuals we might want to try include a zinnia, marigold and gypsophila.

These and a few others are 2018 All-America Selections, plants that have been trialed and evaluated in gardens throughout the country. Judges look for uniformity and flower production, including any improvement over similar plants already on the market. That can be a color, size or other attributes.

First on my list is Queeny Lime Orange zinnia. It just sounds delicious. The flowers range coral-orange to light peach petals with a kiss of lime coloration. Seeds are available at several online retailers, including Burpee, Johnny’s Selected, Jung and others.

Zinnias are very easy to grow from seed, starting them indoors in mid-April or direct sowing in the garden outdoors in late May. Of course, butterflies love zinnias and you’ll like this one, too. Cut a few stems for indoor arrangements. The flowers last about three weeks in a vase with no preservatives. Just change the water every few days.

Marigolds are experiencing a bit of resurgence right now. Adding to mix is Super Hero Spry, a French marigold (Tagetes patula), provides more color and size uniformity. It has maroon lower petals and gold centers tipped in red. It’s a tiny one, only about 10 to 12 inches tall, making it perfect for use in containers. Another benefit: no deadheading required. Easy to grow from seeds, kids might like the Super Hero name. Stokes and Jung has seeds.

Super Hero Spry marigold. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

This year, South Pacific Orange canna joins its sister, South Pacific Scarlet, introduced as a 2013 AAS winner. Each of these pollinator pleasers is fairly easy to grow from seed, but it needs to be started indoors by late February or early March. Seed is available from Jung, Burpee and others. Plants may be available at garden centers in late spring or early summer.

South Pacific Orange canna. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

Gypsy White Improved gypsophila (G. muralis) is a compact baby’s breath-type annual. Seed is available from Stokes, Park and others. Seedlings are ready to transplant about six weeks from sowing. Plant in a pot as flowering filler or in the ground as an edger. This plant does not like to go dry.

Gypsy White Improved gypsophila. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

FloriGlory Diana Mexican heather (Cuphea) is vegetatively propagated rather than grown from seed plant. This is a more expensive propagation process, but yields plants cloned from the parent. This one promises five times the flower power as others on the market. Gardeners already know drought-tolerant Mexican heather can take the heat when planted in a pot or in the ground.

FloriGlory Diana Mexican heather. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Put tu-lips together for Valentine’s Day

 

Spread the love with fresh-cut red tulips in a Valentine’s Day display. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

If a bouquet of flowers is in your future for Valentine’s Day, here are some tips to keep it fresh and long lasting.

Always start with a clean vase. If it is difficult to clean, denture cleanser tablets foam out water rings or other debris. A baby bottle brush also is a useful tool. A dirty vase feeds bacteria, which destroy cut flowers.

Remove any leaves that will be in water in the vase. Submerged leaves rot, create bacteria and speed up the deterioration of flowers.

Use a sharp knife or scissors to remove one-half inch of the stem at a 45-degree angle, under water. This prevents an airlock from forming, which blocks the stem’s ability to take up water. Cut bulb flowers do better with just an inch or two of water in the vase rather than filled.

Roses get limp, bend over or don’t open because an airlock is in their stems. If the time between when roses are cut and they are delivered to the florist is too long without water, the flower heads also will bend. Unfortunately there’s nothing you can do about the latter, and it’s difficult to know whether the rose is suffering from an airlock or poor handling in transportation. The best advice is to give the stem a new cut and hope for the best.

Do not place a vase of flowers in direct sun or expose it to heat sources, such as a register or television. These speed up the deterioration of the bouquet. Flowers will last longer if placed in a cool, bright spot, such as a north window.

If floral food comes with the bouquet, use it. With or without floral food, change the water every two or three days. Re-cut the stems, as needed, by about one-half inch when you change the water. Do not use floral food with cut bulbs, such as tulips, lilies and daffodils.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Tasty plants for small spaces

Bonnie Plants purple basil in a container adds a bit of spice to a garden bed. Photo courtesy bonnieplants.com

Maybe you want to grow some of your own food, but you live in an apartment or a condo and with only a balcony or patio with limited space. Or maybe you only have a sunny front porch stoop, or your landscape has a lot of shade except for a few sunny spots among perennials or shrubs. Containers are the answer for growing food in these special spaces.

Almost all herbs thrive in containers, especially the summer flavors of basil, rosemary, parsley, stevia, chives, mints and lavender. Enjoy the herbs for the season and don’t worry about wintering them.

But for other edibles, not just any plant does well in a pot. Many will get too tall and required elaborate staking schemes to keep them from toppling over. Tomatoes and peppers fall into this group. Here are some varieties developed for container growing.

Patio Baby eggplant. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

Patio Baby eggplant, a 2014 All-America Selections, is an early and highly productive variety with a compact habit. Harvest the deep purple, egg-shaped fruit at baby size, 2 to 3 inches. Roast them or use in dips and salads. Thornless leaves and calyxes allow for painless harvesting and make Patio Baby child-friendly, too. Plant produces fruit throughout the season.

Asian Delight pak choi. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

Asian Delight pak choi or bok choy is perfect for the foodies looking for a highly rated Chinese cabbage. A 2018 All-America Selections was praised by judges for its tasty, tender white rib and dark green, textured leaves. Asian Delight forms 5 to 7 inch heads that are slow to go to seed, called bolting. That means the yield can be double or even higher than that of other pak choi varieties on the market.

Red Ember cayenne pepper is great for drying to produce the powder form. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org

Red Ember cayenne pepper is earlier to mature than some other varieties. Another 2018 AAS Winner, Red Ember produces a large number of rounded-end fruits on durable, medium-sized plants. Judges described the thick-walled fruits as spicy, but tastier than the traditional cayenne, with just enough pungency for interest.

Little Bing Cherry Tomato. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Little Bing cherry tomato was very productive in a Smart Pot in my trial garden last year. It provided many tasty, 1-inch size tomatoes throughout most of the summer. It only gets about 2 feet tall, does not need supports and has good disease resistance.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Seeds hold a lot of promise

Photo courtesy Carol Michel/maydreamsgardens.com

I know as soon as I write seed, some readers will roll their eyes and immediately tell themselves they can’t grow anything from seeds.

Yes. You. Can.

For some seeds, you just barely have to say dirt for them to break open to grow lettuce, basil, green beans and peas. These can be sown directly in the garden, window box or other container.

Think about this. One green bean transplant cost $1 to $2 when purchased at a garden center. One green bean plant produces 40 to 60 pods. A packet costs $1 to $4, and contains many seeds. A few seeds can be planted every few weeks so you can have green beans all summer long.

Go with the easy just once, just for fun and see what happens.

Ready for something slightly more challenging, but not too difficult? Try tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. These are usually started indoors. Growing these plants from seed gives you dozens of varieties to try with different flavors, forms and colors, many more than you’ll find as transplants at garden centers.

Japanese style eggplant transplants, for instance, can be hard to find, but the seeds are readily available. Sometimes, hot peppers, including habanero, ancho and jalapeno, can be hard to find in garden centers. Seeds greatly expand the options.

What to try? Check out All-AmericaSelections.org, which oversees mostly seed-grown plants in trial gardens all over the country. The plants are evaluated and improvements over similar ones on the market are noted and rewarded.

Where to get seed? Garden centers carry several brands, including Botanical Interests, Burpee and Renee’s Garden, each of which offers organic selections. Online seed retailers will have even more choices. For a local source, Urban Farmer (ufseeds.com) is a family owned, Indiana-based organic seed merchant. Fedco, High Mowing Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seeds also have extensive selections of organic seeds.

Check reviews of online seed and plant retailers at davesgarden.com. Members of the Direct Gardening Association, a trade group, promote good customer service and other industry standards.

And don’t worry about GMO seeds. They are not available to home gardeners, so set that concern aside. Enjoy the selections of hybrid and heirloom seeds.

Everything you need to know about the seeds – when and where to sow, how deep, soil requirement, light exposure, water needs, distance apart, whether to direct sow or start indoors – can be found on the seed packet. Many times, more detailed information can be found on the seed merchant’s website, too. Purdue Extension’s Indiana Vegetable Planting Calendar also may be of help.

Go ahead and give seed sowing a try. Pick something that suits your interest. Consider getting kids involved in the process. We are never too young or too old to appreciate the wonder that comes from such a tiny promise.

SaveSave

February garden checklist

Indoors

  • Keep houseplants close to bright windows. Check soil for dryness before watering.
  • Examine produce, tender flower bulbs and roots stored for the winter for rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Remove and discard damaged material.
  • Sketch garden plans, including what to grow, spacing, arrangement and number of plants needed.
  • Order seeds and plants as early as possible for best selection.
  • Renees Garden SeedTest left over garden seed for germination. Place 10 seeds between moist paper toweling, or cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep seeds warm and moist. If fewer than six seeds germinate, buy fresh seed.
  • Wash pots and trays that will be used for seed sowing and transplants.
  • Start seeds for cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, five to seven weeks before transplanting outdoors.
  • Start seeds for impatiens, begonia, geranium and other slow growing annuals.

General Landscape

  • Prune landscape plants except early spring bloomers, which should be pruned within a month after the have finished blooming. Birches, maples, dogwoods and other heavy sap bleeders can be pruned in early summer.
  • Repair or build trellis for roses, grapes and other vining plants as needed.
  • Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs as they break ground.
  • Prepare lawn and garden equipment for the upcoming growing season. Sharpen blades and have equipment serviced before the spring rush.

Vegetables and Fruits

SaveSave

Phlox retains historic popularity in the garden

‘David’ garden phlox is resistant to powdery mildew. Photo courtesy BallHort.com

Phlox was among the first North American native plants discovered and cultivated by European naturalists, dating back to the 1700s.

Like a lot of our native plants, garden phlox (P. paniculata) has enjoyed centuries of popularity in Europe and has been slow to get firmly rooted in American gardens, according to a recent report from Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware.

That is changing. Plant breeders have been working with pollinator-attracting garden phlox to improve the perennial’s disease resistance, flower size and colors. Frequently fragrant, garden phlox is a great cut flowers.

Garden phlox gets powdery mildew, a fungus disease that turns the leaves gray, brown and black. The disease is not usually fatal, but it is unattractive. However, we gardeners live with it, since so many fungicides are deadly to bees. And we try to plant garden phlox that is resistant to this disease. There are several varieties available in late spring and summer at garden centers.

‘Jeana’, found growing along the banks of a Tennessee river, performed the best for its disease resistance, but also because it was highly attractive to butterflies, wrote George Coombs, Mt. Cuba research manager, in the report.

‘David’, a large white-flowering garden phlox, was one of the first to hit the market as a disease-resistant variety. Also highly rated in the Mt. Cuba Center study, it earns good marks from Ann Hathaway, president of the Horticultural Society at Newfields, formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

“I love the brightness of the white, the full bloom, the sturdy stems, length of bloom time and relative disease resistance of the plant. It always looks good,” she said.

Woodland phlox. (C) Photo Chris Evans, bugwood.org

Two other Indiana gardeners – Michael Dana, a horticulture professor at Purdue University, and Rob Chambon in Bicknell – picked the native woodland phlox (P. divaricata) as their favorite. Look for this plant in garden centers in spring.

In the Mt. Cuba study, the species woodland phlox and ‘Blue Moon’ performed the best.

“I like it because it blooms when we’re all looking for confirmation that spring has truly sprung,” Dana said. “And in a woodland or woodland garden setting, it is low maintenance, which always appeals to me, the lazy gardener. The subtle color range of the blues in a wild population is nice too.”

Mildly fragrant, it’s one of our finest shade natives, very low maintenance and drought tolerant, too, said Chambon of Rob’s Secret Garden. “Plus, I really like the way it seeds itself around other areas of the garden without being a bully or thug.”

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Totally Tangerine deserves space in your garden

Totally Tangerine geum blooms for several weeks in late spring and early summer. Here’s it’s planted under a paperbark maple at Newfields. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A really good guide for what Hoosiers can grow in our gardens comes from the Plant Evaluation Program at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Over the years, the program has issued 41 reports, covering many plants, mostly perennials, but a few shrubs and other woody plants. Some of the plants evaluated include shrub roses (Rosa), coral bells (Heuchera), lungwort (Pulmonaria), goldenrod (Solidago or Euthamia) and hydrangea, most of which have been written about in this column.

Recently CBG released its study of Geum, commonly called avens, an under-used perennial, primarily because most of the varieties on the market are wimpy. Our reluctance to plant this perennial is linked to the weak, seed-sown varieties, such as ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’ and ‘Lady Stratheden’.

“Avens in Great Britain far surpass what’s commercially available in the United States,” wrote Richard Hawke, who heads up the plant evaluation program.

Breeders have been paying attention and over the last few years, have introduced avens worthy of space in our gardens.

Totally Tangerine flower. Photo courtesy PerennialResource.com

Two of them, ‘Sangria’ and Totally Tangerine garnered the highest ranking of five-star ratings in CBG’s evaluation. So did the North American native, Geum triflorum, commonly called prairie smoke because of its plumes.

A thick swath of Totally Tangerine colors the landscape near the museum entrance at Newfields under a paperbark maple (Acer griseum).

Hawke praises the Cocktail Series of geums introduced by Brent Horvath, an Illinois plant breeder, and its red-flowering ‘Sangria’ earned top marks. Others include ‘Mai Tai’ (four stars), which blooms late April to early June.

The only one of these newer ones I’ve seen at garden centers is Totally Tangerine. Some of the Cocktail Series are available at Bluestone Perennials.

Grow avens in full sun or part shade and in an area that does not stay wet in winter. That’s a killer for this plant. Good companions are annual or perennial blue salvias, blue veronicas, amsonia or Japanese aster (Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’). Totally Tangerine blooms from mid to late May into mid July. ‘Sangria’ blooms in June and July. The stems range 18 to 30 inches, making them perfect for cutting for indoor arrangements.

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum). (C) K. Chayka/Minnesota Wildflowers

Prairie smoke may not be available at garden centers, but there are several online retailers that carry it. It is a prairie plant and may not thrive in our gardens.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Is your garden ready for ultra violet, Pantone’s 2018 Color of Year?

Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are frequent visitors to ‘Millenium’ allium, the 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year. Photo courtesy Perennial Resource.com

The 2018 Color of the Year conjures up memories and science.

Pantone, the world’s arbiter of fashionable color, designated ultra violet as this year’s special hue.

I immediately thought of Ultra Violet, a writer, actress, artist and pal of Andy Warhol. French-born and reportedly a muse of Salvador Dali, her real name was Isabelle Collin Dufresne (1935-2014), but she regularly donned her namesake color and dyed her hair to match.

Then there’s ultra violet light, which we humans can’t see. In the rest of the animal world, birds, bees, butterflies, salmon, reindeer and other critters have the ability to see ultra violet light waves. This aids their ability to distinguish types of seeds and foods, male and female counterparts and other survival skills.

For instance, humans see yellow petals on a black-eyed Susan, but the colorful rays registers as ultra violet wavelengths to form a bull’s eye, drawing bees to the nectar- and pollen-laden center.

Fortunately for our gardens and containers, ultra violet is an easy color to incorporate, especially if we embrace a wide palette. Petunia, calibrachoa, tuberous begonia, the herb lavender, gladiolas and lilacs are among plants with violet tones.

‘Ultra Violet’ salvia. Photo courtesy HighCountryGardens.com

For the purists, there’s ‘Ultra Violet’ salvia (S. lycioides x greggii), from High Country Gardens, a perennial selection from the garden of author Lauren Springer Ogden (Plant-Driven Design and Passionate Gardening) in Colorado.

It is hardy to USDA Zone 6, which includes central Indiana, however if we have a winter like this year’s where it gets below minus 10F, it may not be reliable. Leave the plant upright through winter and cut back when new growth appears in spring. Grow in full sun in average soil that doesn’t stay wet. It is available at HighCountryGardens and BluestonePerennials among other online plant retailers. Or ask at your favorite garden center if it carries the perennial.

Perennial Plant of the Year

Seemingly right on color cue, the Perennial Plant Association has named ‘Millenium’ ornamental onion (Allium hybrid) as its plant for 2018. Fairly new on the market, ‘Millenium’ is a powerhouse of violet balls that draw in butterflies, bees and other pollinators. It blooms mid- to late summer. Consider snipping a few stems for indoor enjoyment. It is easy to grow in full sun in about any kind of soil except wet.

In case you were wondering, it is spelled ‘Millenium’ with one n because the patent for the plant was submitted with the misspelling. The plant is readily available all ready growing in pots at garden centers, and as bulbs from online merchants, including BrentandBeckysBulbs, McClure & Zimmerman and Bluestone Perennials. Order bulbs now for spring planting and a summer show.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Sowing our future one student at a time

Susan Yoder, executive director of Seed Your Future. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Every once in a while, you meet someone or hear about an organization that feeds your hope for the future.

Such is Seed Your Future, not exactly an organization, but more of an effort to encourage young people to explore horticulture as a career. The national initiative is spearheaded by Executive Director Susan E. Yoder of Martinsville, Indiana. Yoder has a career working with and for youth, from The American Camp Association to the Boy Scouts of America.

Why is this initiative important? Because horticulturists are the future plant scientists. Horticulturists develop foods, grow them along with other beneficial plants. They research plants for medicinal uses. They design and care for landscapes. They use plants to control environmental problems, such as erosion. They select plants to mitigate hazardous materials in soil or water.

This is not some fly-by-night initiative. Its mission is “to promote horticulture and inspire people to pursue careers working with plants.” Seed Your Future’s vision lays it out: “We envision a U.S. where everyone understands and values the importance of plants and the people who work in the art, science, technology and business of horticulture,” and it speaks to me personally.

Some of the biggest names in horticulture comprise the board of directors and advisory panels. Representatives from organizations like Ball Horticulture, Longwood Gardens, Scotts-Miracle-Gro, Proven Winners, Bailey Nurseries and Dummen Orange. National FFA, Association of Zoological Horticulture, Chicago Botanic Garden, Scholastic Corp., American Association of Horticultural Science, American Public Gardens Association and several universities also are in the mix.

“Their number one issue is a lack of qualified workers,” Yoder said. Of the horticulture jobs open in 2014, 61 percent were unfilled, and the experts don’t expect more current results to be any different, she said.

Lack of public awareness of horticulture is the greatest challenge, especially among 18 to 34 year olds, according to the organization’s research. That indicates the need to expose children in middle school and high school to horticulture. Seed Your Future is working with FleishmannHilliard to develop a marketing plan that puts a face on horticulture and promotes the important role it has in our future, Yoder said.

What can we do? Learn more about the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) of horticulture. Encourage youngsters to be curious about and enjoy nature. Explore hort careers, such as researchers discovering a control of a dreaded fungus disease to growers of plants for pollinators. Check out other volunteer opportunities at Seed Your Future’s website. And spread the word: ILoveMyPlantJob.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

January garden checklist

 

Waiting for the beautiful red amaryllis to bloom. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Indoors

General Landscape

  • Keep road and sidewalk salt away from plants. If necessary, screen the plants with burlap to keep off spray. Calcium chloride products are recommended over sodium chloride to melt ice. Sand, cinders, ash and fresh kitty litter also may be used instead of ice-melting salts.
  • Prune summer and fall blooming woody plants, including vines, shrubs and trees.
  • Use hand or a broom to gently brush away heavy snow that may accumulate on shrubs before it freezes.
  • new growthApply an all-purpose natural fertilizer or a dusting of compost around spring-flowering bulbs as they break ground.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Examine produce, tender flower bulbs and roots stored for the winter to make sure there is no rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Remove and discard damaged material.

SaveSave