Snip out the spent flower on Agastache and other perennials to encourage the side shoots to develop and bloom. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Even though summer has just arrived, there are a few things we can do in the garden to help extend the season for our plants.
First up, give annuals and vegetables a dose of fertilizer. For annuals in containers or in the ground, apply a water-soluble fertilizer. For the vegetable bed, I prefer a granular fertilizer applied as a side dressing, where it’s lightly worked into the soil. Or, you can ring the plants with the fertilizer. Either way, water it in. Always read and follow the label directions.
Harvest green beans, tomatoes, squash and other vegetables as they ripen. This encourages the plants to keep producing. If there’s no rain, be sure to water vegetable plants about 1 inch a week, which also supports good production. Target the water to soil around the base of the plants rather than applying it overhead.
For herbs, harvest them as they grow. Once an herb starts to flower, it frequently loses flavor. You can eat the blossoms of mint, basil, lavender and several other herbs.
Fertilize tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables on a regular basis, with Espoma Tomato-tone or other natural product. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
For perennials, remove the spent flowers. Called deadheading, it tricks the plants into developing a few more flower buds along side shoots to prolong the show. Remove the seed heads on spring-blooming perennials, such as columbine, iris and peony.
If lilac, viburnum or other spring-blooming shrubs need to be pruned, do so as soon as possible. Pruning any later in summer or fall will remove next year’s blooms. Remember that pruning should always be done for a purpose, such as removing an errant branch, dead stem, to boost fruit or flower production or rein in its size. Remember to keep the top of the shrub slightly more narrow than the base of the plant. If the top is wider, it shades out the base, causing it to look sparse or bare.
As the temps rise, mowing duties are reduced, unless your lawn is irrigated. Mow to keep the lawn about 3 inches tall, which crowds out weeds and keeps grass roots cool.
And, if we go three weeks with no rain, water perennials, shrubs and trees. Healthy lawns can usually go six weeks without supplemental watering.
Many gardeners provide housing for mason bees, a native, solitary, stingless bee that specializes in pollinating fruit trees.
© Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
This coming week, June 20-26, is National Pollinator Week, an effort by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and others to raise awareness of the role of bees, butterflies, birds, wasps, bats and other wildlife critical to the production of our food and flowers.
How to celebrate?
- Eliminate or reduce the use of pesticides. Bug killers are nonselective, which means they kill bees along with Japanese beetles. Fungicides also are deadly to bees, so always read and follow the label directions when using them. Usually the label advises not to apply when bees are present.
- Incorporate native plants in your landscape. Our native pollinators are hard wired to seek out native plants, such as milkweed (Asclepias spp.), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) and white oak (Quercus alba). Select plants that bloom in different seasons, such as columbine (Aquilegia spp.) for spring, coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) for summer, and aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) for fall.
Zinnias are a favorite plant of butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/ngb.org
When buying plants at the garden center, make sure they have not been treated with a systemic insecticide, such as imidacloprid, which has a long residual effect and contaminates all parts of the plant, including pollen and nectar.
- Some of the best plants for pollinators are herbs, especially mint, dill, parsley and fennel. The last three serve as food plants for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Milkweed is a food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars. When we understand that plants are food for desirable wildlife, we get over the notion that our landscapes must be unmarred in any way.
- Provide a water source. Birdbaths for birds. For butterflies, create a shallow mud puddle in a partly sunny area. Place a stone or two there, where butterflies can rest. For bees, put marbles or gravel in a shallow container, such as a plant saucer, and fill with water. The bees slurp up the water while resting on the rocks. Bees frequently drown trying to drink from birdbaths. Butterflies also may visit these shallow containers.
For more information about supporting pollinators, check out these resources:
Many disease and insect problems start at the base of Colorado blue spruce and work their way up the tree, which suffers from environmental stresses in the Midwest.
Photo courtesy Jud Scott/vineandbranch.net
This will probably come as no surprise to property owners with Colorado blue spruce in their landscape, but the tree is in trouble.
American Nurseryman, which covers the nursery trade, posted a piece recently about an increase in the rate of decline of Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) in the Midwest.
The beautiful trees are popular, especially here in the lower Midwest, where we have few native conifers, said Nate Faris, a certified consulting arborist and owner of Faris Tree Consulting in Indianapolis. But because they are from the Rocky Mountains, Colorado blue spruce does not do well here. “They are stressed in our environment.”
Heavy clay soil, high humidity and summer heat are different than the cool temperatures and fast-draining soil in the higher elevations of the Rockies, their native habitat.
Signs of the most common spruce disease in Indiana, a fungus called Rhizosphaera, are yellow needles in mid to late summer and needle drop, usually from the lowest part of the tree. Another common problem is spruce spider mite. Needles develop a splotchy yellow or rusty cast. The mites start toward the center of the tree’s lower branches.
“I would say we’ve seen record levels of spruce complaints for the last three years,” said Jud Scott, a certified consulting arborists and owner of Vine and Branch Inc., in Carmel. Scott cites drought periods in 2012 and 2013, cool, wet springs, hot dry summers, radiant heat from pavement and planting areas that are too small as contributing factors.
“The most common significant problems found on samples are Rhizosphaera needle cast and spruce spider mite,” said Tom Creswell, director of the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab at Purdue University. “We also see stress from drought, deep planting, crowding and poorly drained sites.”
His lab has not seen an uptick in Phomopsis canker, another fungus disease, which is bad in Michigan and Illinois. It’s a harder problem to sample because it tends to affect trunks, rather than branches.
“Blue spruce is just not the right plant for many Midwestern landscapes, but even knowing all those problems, I still enjoy seeing the healthy ones,” Creswell said. “I just would never consider planting one in my own yard. Pampering my arborvitae to keep them healthy is enough work for me.”
What can the gardener do? Make sure Colorado blue spruce and all conifers are watered during drought. Spider mites can be detected by shaking a branch above a white piece of paper. If there are spots that smear, they’re likely spider mites. It’s always best to consult with a certified arborist for the best diagnosis and possible treatment.
May Night Salvia (S. nemorosa ‘Mainacht’). Photo courtesy perennialresource.com
A lot of us love salvias, but unfortunately none of the hardy perennial types blooms all summer. That includes May Night, Caradonna, East Friesland, Color Spires Crystal Blue, Purple Rain and other popular perennial salvias.
These are the ones with the gorgeous stalks of intense blue blooms this time of year. The New Dimension salvia series has a beautiful rose one that calls to me every time I’m at the garden center. There are white varieties, too. But these beauties are done, usually by mid to late June. Even if you deadhead them, they just don’t bloom all summer, which is what most of us want.
Annual salvias are the answer.
Victoria Blue, Blue Bedder, Blue Frost and Mystic Spires Blue (Salvia farinacea) are just a few of the annuals or tender perennials that provide flower spikes similar to their hardy perennial siblings. These beautiful annuals bloom all summer and well into fall because they tolerate cool temperatures. As an added bonus, sometimes these plants self sow or die back to the ground to return the next summer.
Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects enjoy these plants during the summer and finches snack on the seed heads that are left up in winter.
These annual salvias do best in full sun, but they tolerate light shade and are somewhat drought tolerant. Plant them in the ground as a summer annual, mix them in with perennials or use them in containers. I frequently use them as the centerpiece in pots as an alternative to spikes.
Black & Bloom salvia. Photo courtesy ballhort.com
Another tender perennial salvia that we grow as an annual is the popular Black and Blue, sometimes called hummingbird sage (S. guaranitica). Black and Blue, and a newer introduction, Black & Bloom (S. coerulea), have a completely different form than the ones mentioned above. They get their name from their dark black calyx and vivid, cobalt blue blooms.
Black and Blue salvia. Photo courtesy Monrovia.com
They are a much larger, open plant, more shrub-like at 3 feet tall and wide. Indeed, hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects enjoy these salvias, too. For the best performance, grow these in full sun. Although large, these salvias could also be grown in a large pot for the summer.
All of the salvias can be cut for indoor flower arrangements. And yes, sage is the common name for this plant family, which includes the herb sage (S. officinalis).
Indianapolis floral designer Jasmine Farris won first place at Art in Bloom at the David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University for her interpretation of “Invocation, Variation #3.” © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Muncie, Ind. – A couple of weeks ago, six Indiana florists used their flower-arranging skills to interpret six pieces of art at the David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University.
Museum curators selected sculptures, paintings, textiles and architectural remnants and charged the florists with presenting the art in flower form. This was the second year for Art in Bloom at the Muncie museum, named for an active donor and member of the local family known for Ball jars.
The event was created to highlight the museum and its collections in the local community and throughout the region, said Barbara Alvarez Bohanon, a retired music teacher and member of the museum’s friends’ group.
The art pieces also were carefully selected to draw visitors throughout the museum’s collection, said Bohanon, a docent at the museum and coordinator of Art in Bloom.
I was privileged to judge this competition with Kari Geary, lead designer of Be Married, the floral division of Bruce Ewing Landscaping in Fort Wayne. Geary won the competition in 2015 with her interpretation of “In Poppyland,” a painting by John Ottis Adams (1851-1927), a member of the Hoosier Group.
First place went to Jasmine Farris, a floral designer with JP Parker Flowers in Indianapolis, for her interpretation of “Invocation, Variation #3,” a copper alloy and steel sculpture by Theodore Roszak (1907-1981).
“During the tour of the museum to see he various artwork I was unexpectedly drawn to one very tall, contemporary piece,” Farris wrote for Art in Bloom’s program.
A native of Thailand, Farris crafted willow, allium, heliconia, antherium, scabiosa pads, dianthus, protea, flax and palm leaves into a piece that strongly resembled the sculpture.
“I had absolutely no idea what it represented, but the moon shaped piece at the top make me think of outer space,” she wrote. “It was later that I discovered that this amazing piece of art did indeed represent space, in the fact that its theme was the Russian satellite Sputnik and the race to space.”
Second place went to floral designer Lisa Pritchett of Dandelions Flowers and Gifts in Muncie. She interpreted “Seated Buddha,” a carved limestone statue from the Wei Dynasty (534-549 CE). She used horsetail, calla lilies, carnations, orchids, roses, hydrangea, moss and mums to create a green and white, undulating design that evoked calm and rest.
The event is expected to continue in 2017. For more information about the museum’s Art in Bloom, please visit: http://bit.ly/1s6XwlV.
A customer selects maroon coral bell, yellow and maroon foamy bell and gold and green variegated Japanese forest grass to create a colorful vignette of shade-tolerant perennials that will do well together. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Some customers walk through the garden center and make a beeline for the perennials, on the hunt for a new daisy. Some wander aisle to aisle, checking out this plant then that one, reading the labels as they think through a design.
Others, however, stop in their tracks, eyes wide as they take in what many call an overwhelming scene. Thousands of annuals, perennials, herb, vegetables, roses, hydrangeas, evergreens, trees and more stand ready to feed your family or decorate your landscape, deck or porch.
Let’s take a deep breath and run through some tips to make your quest for plants as easy as shopping for groceries. You know what your family likes to eat. If no one likes okra, you don’t buy it. This concept holds true when deciding what to grow in the vegetable garden or in a pot on the patio.
In general, vegetables that produce fruit, such as peppers, tomatoes and beans, need a minimum of six hours of direct sun a day. Leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, and root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, tolerate light shade or filtered sun.
Just like you have a list when you grocery shop, make a few notes to take with you to the garden center. The list should include the dimensions of the area you want to plant, and the width and depth of containers you want to fill. Note how much direct sun you have where you want to plant or place pots. This information guides in the selection of a plant, taking into account its size, soil and light requirements and your site.
Most independent garden centers will have someone who can give you some ideas about what plants will work with your site or containers. Saturdays are not the best day to seek this help, especially with a complicated or large design. Saturday is a garden center’s busiest day. Some garden centers make appointments for a consult.
Read the tag and take a little time to learn a bit about a plant to make sure it will do what you want or how much care it may need. Pair up plants to see if they make a good color companions and have similar horticulture needs.
Garden center employees usually have favorite combos or plants they can recommend, so ask for suggestions and be open to them. Staff members know which plants are going to do better than others and they can give you tips on growing them successfully.
A spike with petunias and sweet potato vine. Photo courtesy Proven Winners
We’re in prime container planting season and I’m on a one-person campaign to change the gardener’s mind about spikes. Spikes are the go-to centerpiece in many annual container plantings. Sometimes called dracaena (Dracaena indivisa), spikes are green with stiff blades that add height to pots. Spikes are perfectly serviceable, but boring and ordinary.
There are so many other plants that satisfy the center piece-height requirements. Consider using a premium annual for the centerpiece and height. These usually come as a single plant in a 4-inch pot. How to use these plants depends on whether you view the pot from one direction or from all sides. When viewed from all sides, use the plant as the centerpiece. If viewed from one direction, use it as a backdrop. Here’s a sampler of alternatives:
Angleface Blue angelonias add height to a container planted with Dreamsicle calibrachoa, Bordeaux petunia and Lime Time coleus. Photo courtesy ProvenWinners.com
Angelonia is probably the best annuals to be introduced in the last decade. It has 15-18 inch tall spikes of blue, pink, bicolor or white flowers. Sometimes called a summer snapdragon, angelonia looks more like an orchid than a snap. These plants have a slight scent of grapes and can be cut for indoor arrangements. It does best in full sun, but tolerates light shade. Angleface Blue and Serena Purple are my favorites.
Big Bounce New Guinea White Impatiens and
Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture.
Granted coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) is not grown for its bloom as much as its fabulous foliage, form and texture. Breeders have been improving this traditional shade-loving annual to one that thrives there and in full sun. Many of the newer varieties will get 30 inches tall or more, making them perfect for the height requirement of containers. Favorites for this job are Royal Glissade and Henna, each in the 24-30 inch tall range and recommended for sun or shade. These plants bloom tall spikes of blue flowers in mid to late summer.
Lantana takes as much heat and sun as you want to give it. Drought tolerant, this tender perennial is grown as an annual in our climate. The ball-like flowers usually are bicolored, such as yellow and white, pink and yellow or red and orange, but they also can be solid colors. Most lantanas are in the 24-inch tall range and about 1 foot wide. Lantana has an open growth habit, so companion plants are not overwhelmed.
Lucious Grape lantana with Royal Velvet petunia and Diamond Frost euphorbia. Photo courtesy Proven Winners
Edamame soy beans in bowls. (C) Studio 2013/Adobe Stock
If your food tastes veer toward Asian, there are several easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs to try in a pot or garden.
First up is cilantro, a stable in Vietnamese and Thai dishes. It’s very easy to grow from seed. In fact, if you want to have cilantro all summer long, seed is about the only way to go.
Buy a couple of plants now and harvest the leaves as needed. But after the weather starts to heat up, usually by mid to late June, cilantro goes to seed, called bolting. The seeds are called coriander and can be dried for the spice or sown for a new crop of cilantro. You can also buy a packet of seeds and sow those every two to three weeks beginning now to keep a steady flow of cilantro. Grow cilantro in full sun. The soil should be moist but not wet.
Siam Queen basil can be grow in the Indiana garden or in pots. This basil was a 1997 All-America Selections winner. Photo courtesy All-America Selections.
Thai basil not only tastes good, it’s a gorgeous plant in the garden or in a pot. Sow seed or buy transplants. Grow in full sun and moist soil. Harvest stems as needed and pinch off flowers (which are edible) to extend the harvest. All basils are very cold sensitive, so wait until night time temperatures do not drop below 50 degrees.
Mizuna, also known as Japanese mustard, frequently found in seed mixes of lettuce greens and mescluns, also is sold in individual seed packets. Mizuna, which can be green or red, is mild to pungent tasting. The edible flowers have a mustard flavor. Sow seed every few weeks from spring into fall. Grow in full sun to part shade and keep plants evenly moist to bitterness. Use mizuna in stir fry or mix in with a green salad.
Tatsoi is sweeter and milder than other Asian greens. It can be sown from seed in spring or fall for a tasty ingredient for stir fry and salads. Sow seeds in full sun and keep tatsoi well watered. This green benefits from a periodic side dressing of a nitrogen fertilizer or a water-soluble fertilizer.
Edamame, immature soy beans, is still the rage for foodies and can be grown just as you would green beans. Rabbits like edamame as much as humans, so be on guard. Sow seeds beginning mid May every two weeks or so for a season-long harvest. Grow in full sun and water regularly. Harvest the pods, blanch them, then remove the beans. Use in salads or eat the beans fresh.
We were all surprised, shocked and saddened to learn about the April 21 death of Prince at a youthful 57 years. We send our condolences to his family and friends.
We can commemorate some of our favorite Prince songs with a few plants in the garden. The entertainer used a lot of colors in his song titles and we all know that gardeners love color in the garden. Here are the selections.
‘Purple Rain’ Salvia. Photo courtesy willowaynurseries.com
‘Purple Rain’ salvia (S. verticillata) is sometimes called lilac or whorled clary sage. It has long spikes of purple blooms from late spring into summer and beyond, when spent flowers are removed (called deadheading). Plant this clump-grower in average soil in full sun. This perennial is somewhat drought tolerant once established. It gets 18-24 inches tall and wide. Plant in clusters of three or more for a spectacular show.
What makes this different than other perennial salvias are the gray-green leaves, which are broad and fuzzy. ‘Purple Rain’ attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, but is resistant to deer and rabbit damage. Sometimes susceptible to powdery mildew, make sure this plant has good air circulation. Flowers can be cut for indoor arrangements. You should be able to find this salvia in local garden centers or through online retailers. It is hardy in USDA Zones 3-7. Most of Indiana is in Zones 5 and 6.
‘Raspberry Beret’ daylily. Photo courtesy petalpusher.plantfans.com
Although you can’t exactly wear it, ‘Raspberry Beret’ daylily (Hemerocallis) will dress up your flowerbed with 6-inch wide, yellow blooms splashed with raspberry. When this perennial blooms, it will be about 28 inches tall. It is hardy in USDA Zones 5-10.
A mid-summer blooming daylily, plant in average soil in full sun to part shade. ‘Raspberry Beret’ is available at Petal Pusher Daylilies in Fort Wayne, Indiana, (petalpusher.plantfans.com) for $10.
I found a ‘Little Red Corvette’ daylily at catrinasgarden.com in Wisconsin for $15. This daylily blooms in mid-summer with rich, red flowers 5 ½ inches wide on stalks 44 inches tall. Grow in full sun to part shade in average soil. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4-10.
Daylilies are very easy to grow and generally low maintenance. Each flower lasts for a day, but there are several on each stalk, called a scape. Daylily blossoms are edible. Cut the scapes for indoor arrangements. Spent blooms can be snipped off or left until all flowers on the scape have bloomed. Then, remove the scape. The foliage may be evergreen, depending on how severe winter is. Water daylilies during dry spells.
These three perennials could be planted together as a vignette one might call Party Like It’s 1999. RIP, Prince.
Virginia bluebells enhance the spring scene then totally disappear without a bit of cleanup. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
This post was published here originally April 25, 2009.
At the heart of the season are spring ephemerals, plants that are here for a few weeks and then they are gone. One of my favorites is Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica), a native plant in the Eastern United States, which is in bloom now into May.