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August 2015
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Ball takes the guess work out of container planting

Eye Caramba, Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Eye Caramba, Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

A common dilemma among some gardeners is trying to figure out what plants go with which ones and what colors look good together, especially combos for pots.

Besides a container of colorful flowers and interesting textures, you want the plants to play nice together and require the same light and water requirements. When we buy hanging baskets and combo pots in the garden centers, those concerns are usually reduced.

Ball Horticulture Co., has developed Mix Masters, a program that takes the guesswork out of combining plants in containers. Marketed as Drop ’N Bloom in Home Depot and Ready Refill at Lowes, Ball premixes the combos so all you have to do is plop them in the pot.

Playdate. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Playdate. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

“One of the themes driving (our) breeding efforts is reaching the modern gardener,” said Katie Rotella, a marketing communicator at Ball Horticultural Co.

“And we’ve found that today’s gardener is oftentimes a decorator, not necessarily a digger.

“So, by bringing pre-mixes to the industry, we’re reaching new gardeners who love to add flowers to their outdoor living spaces, but may shop by color, and not really by specific plant variety,” she said.

This year, Ball sent me three combos to trial and they all did really well. These combos will not be available until next year.

Playdate has Cabaret Deep Yellow, Rose and Purple calibrachoas, sometimes called million bells.

Sweet Escape has Sun Spun Yellow petunia, Aztec Burgundy Wink verbena and Cabaret Light Pink calibrachoa.

Eye Caramba has Flash Mob Bluerific petunia, Aztec Violet Wink verbena and Cabaret White petunia, which is my favorite.

Sweet Escape. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Sweet Escape. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Most of the plants have been trialed throughout the country, so their success is all but assured.

“These new programs at Home Depot and Lowe’s put much of the growing into the hands of the consumer, however that initial roadblock of ‘what works with what’ is removed, since the combos are proven to perform,” Rotella said.

All-America Selections on display at demonstration garden

A giant swallowtail gathers nectar on Interspecific Jolt Pink dianthus in the All-America Selections Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A giant swallowtail gathers nectar on Interspecific Jolt Pink dianthus in the All-America Selections Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I hope you get a chance to visit the All-America Selections Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fair, which runs through Aug. 23.

Despite the record rainfall, the plants look pretty good, even the tomatoes and peppers, which have not done well in many gardens this year because of how wet everything has been.

All-America Selections are award-winning plants that have been grown in trial gardens throughout the United States and judged to be superior to similar ones on the market. They may produce more fruit with improved taste, grow larger flowers, have a better form, be resistant to disease or insects, or exhibit other desirable attributes.

Volunteers tend the Purdue Extension Marion County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, which features All-America Selections from several years along with 2015 winners. It’s a great opportunity to view some of the best selections for you try. Here’s a sampler:

Bounce Pink Flame New Guinea impatiens (I. hybrida ‘Balboufink’) has a spreading habit that is similar to bedding impatiens (I. walleriana), which suffers from impatiens downy mildew, a deadly fungus disease. Shade tolerant New Guineas are resistant to this disease.

Bounce Pink Flame New Guinea impatiens has a similar growth habit as bedding impatiens. Photo courtesy All-America Selections

Bounce Pink Flame New Guinea impatiens has a similar growth habit as bedding impatiens. Photo courtesy All-America Selections

If you’ve grown annual dianthus, you know that it frequently fades when it gets hot. Interspecific Jolt Pink Dianthus is extremely heat tolerant and does well in pots or as a bedding plant in sun.

Tidal Wave Red Velour Petunia. Photo courtesy All-America Selections and Park Seed

Tidal Wave Red Velour Petunia. Photo courtesy All-America Selections and Park Seed

Breeders keep improving the Wave brand of petunias, both in color and form, and Tidal Wave Red Velour (Petunia x hybrida) is a huge jump forward. True to its name, it has deep red, velour-like textured flowers that cover the ground. The color does not fade and the plants are pretty much carefree in a sunny spot.

Dolce Fresca basil (Ocimum basilicum) has lovely ornamental value and great taste. It does well in the ground or in a container in a sunny spot. It quickly recovers after harvesting the leaves for pesto or other dishes.

Pretty N Sweet ornamental pepper that tastes as good as it looks. Photo courtesy Park Seed and All-America Selections

Pretty N Sweet ornamental pepper that tastes as good as it looks. Photo courtesy Park Seed and All-America Selections

Pretty N Sweet pepper (Capsicum annumm) is an apt name for this attractive and edible pepper. Although it may look like a hot pepper, it isn’t. It only gets about 18 inches tall, but is very prolific, making it a perfect pick for a container in full sun.

The demonstration garden in on the north side of the fairgrounds, near the Department of Natural Resources building. It is open to the public throughout the growing season. Learn more at on the garden’s Facebook page.

Tips for outdoor living with skeeters

Indianapolis has three times as many  mosquitoes as normal. (C) Benhammad/iStockphoto

Indianapolis has three times as many mosquitoes as normal. (C) Benhammad/iStockphoto

The mosquitos have been particularly bad this summer. Normally a pest early in the morning or at dusk, mosquitoes seem to be everywhere all the time.

Some people think they can ward off pesky skeeters by surrounding their seating area with plants, such as lavender, basil or lemon grass, and of course, citronella-scented geraniums. In reality, the oils may be repellents, but not the plants themselves. Of course, there are tiki torches, stakes, citronella candles, foggers and other devices to keep bugs at bay.

It pays to be serious when combating mosquitoes because they carry disease, including West Nile virus, which is bad for people and birds. Dogs can get heartworm disease from mosquitoes.

We all know it’s the female mosquitoes that bite, drawn to us by the carbon dioxide and other gases we emit. Some people are more susceptible than others. Mosquitoes can sometimes bite through clothing, but it doesn’t hurt to add the extra protection of long sleeves and pants, socks and a hat. There is also clothing you can buy that has been treated with repellents (and sunscreen).

The National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine examined 11 studies that looked at the effectiveness of citronella oil as a mosquito repellent, in laboratory settings. The researchers found “citronella products are less effective than DEET (diethyltolumide) products in terms of duration of protection. Adding vanillin (an artificial vanilla) to citronella oil products could prolong the protection time.”

There are several natural and synthetic repellents on the market. DEET is commonly found in many spray-on repellents, but some people are concerned about applying the chemical to their skin or on their children. Some repellents are sprayed on clothing, rather than the body. There are citrus oil wipes, bracelets and pins laced insect repellents and clip-on devices. Which ever product you use, be sure to read and follow the label directions.

People with ponds, water gardens or areas where water pools know to use Mosquito Dunks, which contain a bacteria that is toxic only to mosquito larva. It’s always a good idea not to let water stand in plant saucers or other items. It’s a good practice to put fresh water in the birdbath every day or two to eliminate any mosquito larva that might be living there.

There are companies that will come and spray your landscape periodically to control mosquitoes. Several use organic or natural compounds, such as garlic oil. Ask the company rep what products are used and what potential harm might come to ornamental and edible plants, furniture and desirable wildlife, such as bees, butterflies and birds.

Get the garden ready for the second season

Sow a mix of lettuces in a container for a colorful, edible display. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Sow a mix of lettuces in a container for a colorful, edible display. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Go for it! A second growing season begins now! Many seeds will sprout very quickly because the ground is warm and well, we’ve had plenty of rain. What are the second season-crops to grow? Here are some suggestions. Read the seed packets for even more information.

Arugula. This leafy lettuce-like plant is pretty and adds a nice bite to salads.

Basil. Sowing seeds now will result in succulent, green leaves until frost kills the plants.

Broccoli. Some garden centers will have transplants of broccoli ready for the garden. Broccoli can take several hits of cold temperatures, which just sweetens the taste.

Carrots. Sow seeds now for late fall and winter harvest. For a harvest well into winter, cover the plants with a thick mulch of straw.

Chard. Rainbow-colored varieties are very pretty. The fact that you can eat the chard is sort of a bonus.

Cilantro. This herb goes to seed very quickly and savvy foodies know to sow cilantro seeds every few weeks for a season-long harvest. Remember the seeds are coriander and can be used in pickling.

The caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies feed on the leaves of fennel (pictured), parsley, fennel and other members of the carrot family © blackboard1965/Dollarphotoclub.com

The caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies feed on the leaves of fennel (pictured), parsley, fennel and other members of the carrot family © blackboard1965/Dollarphotoclub.com

Dill. The swallowtails will thank you for planting more dill or ferny fennel. Late-season caterpillars devour the leaves on these herbs and parsley. By planting more, you’ll have enough for you and enough for the caterpillars.

Greens. Just about any of them: Romaine, mesclun, leaf, mache, baby mixes, mustard, spinach and Asian greens. Harvest until a freeze kills the lettuces. You can extend the harvest by covering most greens with a tent of spun plastic row cover or cotton sheet.

Sow the seeds or plant seedlings in the spaces between plants or the vacancies left when summer-grown, declining vegetables, such as tomatoes, are pulled from the garden. Of course, you can always grow the plants in pots, too.

Plants for the wet areas of your landscape

Cardinal flower thrives in areas that stay moist. Hummingbirds love this late-blooming native perennials. Photo courtesy perennial resource.com

Cardinal flower thrives in areas that stay moist. Hummingbirds love this late-blooming native perennial. Photo courtesy perennial resource.com

What with more than twice our normal rainfall the several weeks, we have probable found places in our landscape where water pools or where the soil stays wet.

I thought about this recently when at Cardno Native Plant Nursery in Walkerton, Indiana, for the annual open house. Among the programs was one on native plants for the landscape, which included those for rain gardens and swales.

We may not have a rain garden or swale, but we may have wetter areas of the landscape where plants struggle. Here are some recommendations from Cardno, along with a few others, for native plants that can handle a moist environment.

For sunny areas:

  • Gayfeather (Liatris spicata) gets 2-4 feet tall and has spikes of purple flowers in mid summer. Butterflies and bees like this plant. Tolerates what’s called dry down, when the area drains the soil dries out. Gayfeather is a lovely addition to cut flower arrangements, too.
  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) has vivid red flowers that hummingbirds love. Gets 1-4 feet tall, and does best in areas that stay moist. Blooms in early summer. Tolerates rabbits and deer.
  • Blue flag iris ( versicolor or I. virginica) has slightly fragrant blooms in late spring and early summer. Gets about 2 feet tall and wide. Prefers rich, organic soil. Tolerates dry down and deer.
  • Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) has fragrant white, mauve or pink flowers atop 4-5 foot tall stems in mid to late summer. Supports monarch butterfly caterpillars and tolerates deer.

For shady areas:

  • Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) tolerates full sun but seems to do better when given a little shade. It gets 2-3 feet tall and has stalks of blue flowers mid summer to fall.
  • False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa or Maianthemum racemosum) has white or cream colored flower on arched stems in spring. In fall, it sports red berries, which are great for use in flower arrangements. The plant gets about 2 feet tall.

 

 

Our summer of rain stresses garden plants

Too much rain is as stressful for garden plants as is drought or extreme heat and cold. Central Indiana has been undergoing an extended rainy period. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Too much rain is as stressful for garden plants as is drought or extreme heat and cold. Central Indiana has been undergoing an extended rainy period. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I don’t know about your garden, but part of mine is thriving and another part is suffering.

All this rain has pushed lush growth on hosta, hydrangea, coneflower and a lot of other plants, including weeds. Other plants are suffering with too much water, such as the dogwoods, even though they generally tend to prefer it more wet than dry.

The National Weather Services says June 2015 was the 7th rainiest on record in Central Indiana, with Indianapolis receiving 8.36 inches, 4.11 inches more than normal. Bloomington received 10.57 inches in June, more than twice its normal amount. July hasn’t been any drier. Before mid July, Indianapolis received 4.43 inches, which is very close to the 4.55 inches we normally receive for the full month.

Plants, including trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, can be as stressed by too much rain as they can by drought. Stressed plants are more susceptible to insects and diseases.

One of the telltale trouble signs of too much water is reddish-streaks on the leaves of trees and shrubs. My native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) shows the early signs of mildew, a leaf fungus. This has never happened before on these trees. Other symptoms include bleached, yellow or discolored leaves and wilting.

Too much rain can cause red streaks in dogwood (shown) and other shrubs and trees. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Too much rain can cause red streaks in plants, including dogwoods, such as ‘Cayenne’ (Cornus amomum) and other shrubs and trees. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

It may be difficult to image, but plants suffocate as heavy rains force oxygen out of the soil. The rain also flushes nitrogen and other elements quickly from the soil. Don’t do any supplemental watering, including the lawn when we’re in rainy periods.

Replenish lost nutrients with fertilizers, especially for vegetable plants. Read and follow label directions. And, as we discussed a few weeks ago amid the June deluge, keep an eye open for fungus disease. Pick off any yellow or splotchy leaves from tomato plants, peppers, herbs and other edibles as soon as you see them. Dispose of the diseased leaves in the trash, not in the compost pile. If watering becomes necessary, avoid overhead sprinklers.

Avoid walking on wet soil. Doing so, compacts the soil, which makes it harder for roots to grow and develop. It undoes all the hard work of working adding organic matter to improve the soil quality.

There’s a new Sweet Summer Love in my life

‘Sweet Summer Love’ clematis blooms throughout most of the summer and into fall. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Sweet Summer Love’ clematis blooms throughout most of the summer and into fall. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A new clematis has stolen my heart.

It’s hard not to be amorous over ‘Sweet Summer Love’, which has been blooming since late June and will continue into September, or maybe October.

This is a new version of the fragrant, sweet autumn clematis (C. terniflora or C. paniculata) without all of its bad habits, such as smothering nearby trees and shrubs and self-slowing, as if there’s no tomorrow. Originally from Asia, this clematis’ overabundance of seedlings and smothering habit landed this white-flowering vine on Indiana’s invasive species list.

‘Sweet Summer Love’ is a fragrant, vigorous vine, and that’s about where the similarities end. It does not self-sow and being true to its name, blooms most of the summer.

'Sweet Summer Love' clematis flowers are about 2-inches wide and fragrant.

‘Sweet Summer Love’ clematis flowers are about 2-inches wide and fragrant.

The flowers are very different, too. Instead of the numerous, but small, 1-inch wide blooms of sweet autumn clematis, ‘Sweet Summer Love’ is flush with 2-inch wide cranberry-maroon flowers. It was introduced by Proven Winners.

This clematis gets 6-10 feet tall and wide, but what I’ve been doing is weaving it back and forth among the arrowwood viburnum branches (V. dentatum) I’m using as a trellis. I removed the viburnum last fall, but saved the nice straight-as-an-arrow branches for reuse in just this manner.

‘Sweet Summer Love’ does not get clematis wilt, a soil-borne fungus disease that affects the larger-flowering clematises, such as ‘Jackmanii’, just as they burst into bloom. (Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about the wilt, except cut the plant back. It will regrow and may possibly rebloom.)

Grow ‘Sweet Summer Love’ in full to part sun with average soil. Give it a good drink of water periodically, especially during dry spells. If needed, cut back in late winter, leaving at least two buds on stems coming out of the ground.

As you can see, there’s a lot to love about this clematis.

Stay safe: Use caution when mowing the lawn

Be sure to dress for the job when moving the lawn. Wear substantial shoes and protect your sight and hearing. ©mBaba760/canstockphoto.com

Be sure to dress for the job when moving the lawn. Wear substantial shoes and protect your sight and hearing. ©mBaba760/canstockphoto.com

The other day, I saw a what appeared to be a father and son mowing the lawn. The dad pushed a gasoline-powered mower. The little boy pushed a toy mower and walked right behind his dad.

There’s a lot wrong with this cute image and I’m not even mentioning that the dad was wearing flip-flops.

About 250,000 people are treated annually for lawn mower related injuries, including about 17,000 children, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Injuries include cuts, maiming or amputations from mower blades and burns from the engine. People are injured by projectiles, such as rocks and sticks, thrown from the mower. About 90 deaths are attributed to riding mowers that overturn. A 17-year-old Kosciusko County boy was killed in April when his clothing got caught up in the mower he was working on.

AAP recommends that children be at least 12 years old before operating a walk-behind mower and 16 years old to operate riding equipment. Of course, the kids (and adults) need to be trained on how to use the equipment. Here are some other tips for lawn mower safety from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute:

  • Don’t mow when the lawn is wet.
  • Make sure children and pets are out of the area. It’s best if they are indoors.
  • Clear the area of any objects that could be thrown by the mower or caught in the blades, such as branches, stones and toys.
  • Make sure the mower is operating properly and that guards and safety devices have not been tampered with.
  • Dress properly. Wear substantial shoes, hearing protection and safety glasses.
  • Allow the engine to cool before refueling.
  • Use caution when mowing hills and slopes. It’s easy to lose your footing, which can cause people to slip and fall into the mower blades or engine. Most deaths from riding mowers are caused when the equipment falls over and crushes or runs over its operator.

 

For more information about operating power equipment safely and tips visit opei.org.

When mowing, remember not to remove more than one-third of the lawn blade at a time. If the grass is 4 inches tall, mow to 3 inches. Keep the lawn at 3 to 4 inches to shade the soil, keeping it cool and reducing opportunities for weeds to take hold. Cutting the lawn too short opens it up for sunscald, drought damage and overall weakened condition.

Mid-season tasks for more flowers and veggies

Annabelle and White Dome hydrangeas, blue larkspur and the seed heads of allium form a July Fourth bouquet of flowers cut fresh from the garden. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Annabelle and White Dome hydrangeas, blue larkspur and the painted seed heads of allium form a July Fourth bouquet of flowers cut fresh from the garden. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Even though the season of summer just arrived last weekend, the growing season has been upon us for three months.

And with all of the rain the last several days, plants have been on steroids, seeming to be ahead of their usual performance.

Weeds, in particular, seem to be thriving in my yard, and with the heat and humidity, the task of getting them under control is not pleasant. Hostas, too, seem to have emerged bigger and more lush this year. Some of us think this may have more to do with the past winter rather than the current season.

Some plants, especially those in pots, have just rotted off because of the humidity and rain. My sweet alyssum has all but disappeared because of the heat and rain.

What to do:

  • Apply a water-soluble fertilizer to pots, window boxes and other containers. Fertilize vegetables, too. For this, I prefer a granular product. Read and follow the label directions.
  • Give annuals a haircut, especially if they’ve grown leggy. Cut back to tidy up and shape the plant. With the dose of fertilizer, the annuals will snap back in no time.
  • Deadhead perennials. Not only does this tidy up the plant, it encourages the development of more blooms from side shoots.
  • Try to keep weeds under control. Weeds rob desirable plants of the nutrients they need to thrive. Fortunately, weeds are easier to pull after a rain.
  • Monitor for fungus diseases on plants. Fungus causes mildew, fuzzy growth and spotted leaves, as well as root and stem rot. Once a fungus is on a plant, there’s not much to do. Most fungus is opportunistic, which means the right conditions have to be in place for it to occur. If you chose to use a fungicide, always read and follow the label directions. Fungicides, even organic ones, are deadly to bees.
  • Be on the look out for aphids and other bugs. With all the rain, aphids may come calling for their favorite meal –bursts of tender plant growth. Also earwigs and millipedes seem to be abundant this year.
  • If your pots can be viewed from all sides, rotate them periodically to ensure good light exposure for the plants.

Lastly, pick a bouquet of red, white and blue flowers for your Fourth of July celebration and enjoy the holiday.

Downy mildew attacks basil

Downy mildew has taken a toll on basil the last few years. One symptom is fuzzy spores on the undersides of leaves. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Downy mildew has taken a toll on basil the last few years. One symptom: fuzzy spores on the undersides of leaves. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Basil has taken a huge hit over the last few years from a downy mildew, which can quickly decimate a crop in the farmers’ fields, growers’ greenhouses and our gardens.

Downy mildew is the common name for this disease, even though the fungus that causes it may be different, depending on the plant. It gets the name from the symptoms, downy-like fuzz on the leaves.

On basil, the culprit is Peronospora balbahrii. Initially, the leaves turn yellow, and then black spots appear. That’s followed by fuzzy spores on the undersides of leaves. The problem starts at the base of the plant and moves up. The fungus is air borne or can be splashed on plants from infested soil. Plants and seeds can be infected, according to the University of Minnesota Extension, which got its first reports of the disease in 2012.

Here in Indiana, Purdue University has seen only a handful of samples since 2009. “A couple each year,” said Tom Creswell, director of Purdue’s Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab.

“Most of our reports from the home garden have been from the home garden of Tom Creswell,” he joked. “It seems that if this is showing up extensively in the home garden, then either no one is paying attention or it comes on so late in the season that they’ve already made pesto, or they don’t know they can send samples to the lab for help.”

What can we do?

  • Remove any infested leaves. It’s all right to eat healthy leaves from infested plants.
  • Plant resistant varieties. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the most susceptible, which includes Genovese, Nufar, Italian Large Leaf, Queenette, Superbo, Poppy Joe’s and others, according to Minnesota extension. Red Rubin and Red Leaf (O. basilicum purpurescens) and lemon basils (O. citriodorum) are considered moderately susceptible. Blue Spice, Spice, and Blue Spice F1 (O. americanum) are less susceptible.
  • Don’t plant basil in the same spot year after year. If you grow basil in a pot, dump the soil each year and scrub the pot with a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water. Use fresh potting mix each year.
  • Give plants plenty of air circulation.
  • Closely examine basil plants at garden centers to make sure they are symptom free.
  • Consider growing basil from seed. It’s easy and plants comes up quickly.