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Consider alternatives to spikes in pots

A spike with petunias and sweet potato vine. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

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

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.

Henna coleus, Big Bounce New Guinea White Impatiens and Estella trifolium. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture.

Henna coleus,

Big Bounce New Guinea White Impatiens and

Estella trifolium.

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

Lucious Grape lantana with Royal Velvet petunia and Diamond Frost euphorbia. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Enjoy fresh Asian flavors from your garden

Edamame soy beans in bowls. (C) Studio 2013/Adobe Stock

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.

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.

Commemorate favorite Prince songs in the garden

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. 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

‘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: here and gone

Virginia bluebells enhance the spring scene then totally disappear without a bit of cleanup. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

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.

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Garden tours rich with ideas to try at home

2015 garden walk brendon circle IMG_4804

One of the best ways to get ideas for your landscape is to go on a garden tour. This spring there are several to get the creative juices flowing, whether looking at new plant combinations or how a pathway runs through a landscape.

Garden tours are rain or shine, so be prepared and wear comfortable shoes. They are self-directed. Once you buy a ticket, you get info about the gardens, including their location. Garden tours allow us to peek at some of the most beautiful landscapes in town. Here’s the rundown:

June 3-5, Meridian-Kessler Home & Garden Tour. No information available at publication time on the number of properties on the tour or highlights. Usually, this event is more about the homes than gardens. Ticket: $15.

June 8, Indianapolis Garden Club Garden Walk has five gardens lined up for its daylong event, from a Meridian Revival to Shady Neighbors. Ticket: $35; luncheon at Woodstock Club, $25. Proceeds support several garden club civic activities, including Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, Eskenazi Health Sky Farm and Crown Hill Cemetery

June 11, Eagle Creek Garden Tour. This inaugural tour benefits the Eagle Creek Park Foundation. Highlights include an Eagle Creek Reservoir waterfront with a classic British heritage design; a whimsical Brownsburg hideaway; and an Eagle Creek Nursery designed landscape in Golden Hill. The tour’s centerpiece is Eagle Creek Park’s Earth Discovery Center. Ticket: $20; $15 for foundation members.

June 11-12, Indianapolis Hosta Society Summer Garden Tour. Eleven juried gardens are on this tour, which is preparation for the 2017 American Hosta Society convention in Indianapolis. Ticket: $20; tour limited to 300 people.

June 18, Gardens of Zionsville. Six gardens are on the tour. Ticket: $15 in advance; $20 day of tour. Area vendors prepare containers, which are up for bid.

June 25-26, Shalom Garden Tour. Seven themed, Boone County landscapes are featured: pool garden, railroad garden, cottage garden, fruit and vegetable garden, wedding garden, Japanese maple garden, and country garden. Tour proceeds benefit Shalom House in Lebanon, which provides services and free meals for needy Boone County residents and for its Kids’ Sack Lunch program. Ticket: $10 in advance; $12 days of tour.

June 26, Irvington Garden Club Tour. Benefits the garden club and its work at the historic Benton House and other Irvington-area beautification projects. Usually includes six to eight gardens. Ticket: $10.

The big freeze took a toll

Irvington gardener covered her cherry tree during the recent freezing temps. Photo courtesy Amy Mullen

Irvington gardener Amy Mullen covered her cherry tree during the recent freezing temps. Photo courtesy Amy Mullen/fradulentfarmgirl.com

Mother Nature has not been kind the last couple of weeks.

Warmer-than-normal temperatures teased flowering shrubs, fruit trees, Japanese maples, perennials and other plants out of their winter sleep to create an early spring. Then, colder-than-normal temperatures put a stop to the whole process, but not before taking a toll on some plants.

Perennials that had their newly emerged leaves beaten back by the wind and cold will likely be fine. They have a lot of time to replenish any damaged foliage. The same with Japanese maples and other deciduous trees.

Flowering shrubs, such as viburnum, quince and big-leaf hydrangea, may have had their flowers frozen or damaged. The blooms may be missing this year, but will likely return next spring.

The blooms of fruit trees, such as cherry, likely took a hit during the recent freezing temperatures. If the center of the flower is black, there will be no fruit this year. Photo courtesy Amy Mullen

The blooms of fruit trees, such as cherry, likely took a hit during the recent freezing temperatures. If the center of the flower is black, there will be no fruit this year. If it’s green, there may be hope. Photo courtesy Amy Mullen/fradulentfarmgirl.com

The greatest loss will likely be fruit trees that were flowering and grapes.

Irvington resident Amy Mullen, who blogs at the fraudulentfarmgirl.com, said she’s pretty sure she won’t get cherries this year, even though she covered her trees. She thinks the cover worked the first couple of nights. But she said there were three problems.

  • The coverings really should have reached all the way to the ground to trap radiant heat coming from the ground.
  • We had such strong winds that keeping the covers in place was difficult, and a couple of times the twine I used actually damaged branches. Even if those things hadn’t been issues, the covering-the-tree thing really only buys you 2 to 5 degrees of protection.
  • So, when temperatures dropped to the mid-20s, I gave up on cherries for the year.

“If this happens again, I’ll try watering around the tree before the frost, which is supposed to give you about 5 degrees of protection, and stitching more sheets onto my patchwork cover, so it will reach the ground and I can peg it in place,” said Mullen, who is a landscape designer at Spotts Garden Service. “These techniques work for frost, but they don’t do much good when there’s really strong wind or temps drop below about 27 degrees,”

Her apple, nectarine, peach and plum trees were not in bloom, so they likely were not damaged, but Mullen and other gardeners won’t really know the extent of freeze damage until trees leaf out and fruit fails to form.

Mother Nature will have her way.

Start now to protect plants from deer and other critters

Deer dined on the leaves of Annabelle hydrangea. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Deer dined on the leaves of Annabelle hydrangea. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If deer like your plants as much or maybe even more than you do, you should be taking the offensive as soon as plants start to grow.

There are two basic ways to keep deer, rabbits and other critters away from our tulips and tomatoes: exclusion and repellents.

Exclusion is a fence, which can be effective, but unsightly. It needs to be about 8 feet high to keep deer out. There are metal and plastic fence materials. With plastic, make sure the grid is small or large enough so that birds don’t get trapped.

Repellents can be a granular or liquid. Animals are repelled by the scent or by the way plants taste. With the taste one, the animal has to take a lick or bite before the repellent works.

Most of the liquid repellents smell gross to humans, and like granular products, may need to be reapplied after a rain, so be sure to read and follow the label directions to ensure the best protection of your plants.

Wireless Deer Fence is made by a veterinarian and engineer in Indiana. Photo courtesy wirelessdeerfence.com

Wireless Deer Fence is made by a veterinarian and engineer in Indiana. Photo courtesy wirelessdeerfence.com

A third option is Indiana-designed and made, Wireless Deer Fence (wirelessdeerfence.com). Each kit contains three, dark green 19-inch posts, each fitted with an attractant. The posts are place strategically in the landscape, the attractants draw in the deer and the batteries provide a shock to its nose, encouraging it to find another route.

“You need to be proactive,” said Julia Hofley, a Michigan garden writer and speaker. I heard her speak about “Taking Back Your Garden” last year at a Michigan event.

You need to start using repellents early in the season. Spray the base of emerging plants, especially tulips, hosta, hydrangeas and daylilies, Hofley said. Plants also need to be treated as they grow. She recommends Plantskydd, which was developed in Sweden to protect plants from moose and elk.

Plantskydd biocontrolnetwork.com

Granted, moose and elk are not a problem in Indiana, but deer, rabbits, squirrels, voles and opossums may be. Plantskydd, which means plant protection, does not work on skunks, raccoons, woodchucks or moles.

plantskydd jems IMG_5793 copyI have been using the granular Plantskydd to control the chipmunks, which had started to burrow under my garage. I’ve seen no chippers around the garage, and fewer of them in my yard in general, which is fine with me.

Plantskydd carries the Organic Material Review Institute, or OMRI logo, which means it’s approved for use in growing organic food and fiber. It’s also safe for use around pets. The product emits an odor that animals associate with predators, prompting a fear response, causing them to avoid the area.

Tips for starting seeds indoors

An overhead light ensures tomato and other seedlings will stay squatty and fat. © Carol Michel/maydreamsgardens.com

An overhead light ensures tomato and other seedlings will stay squatty and fat. © Carol Michel/maydreamsgardens.com

April is prime season for starting seeds indoors, especially tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. On the herb list, there’s basil, cilantro and parsley.

For the exact starting times, review the seed packet instructions. The seeds for these plants are sown usually in early to mid April. Starting too early means you’ll have to support the plants with the appropriate light, water and fertilizer until the vegetables or herbs can be planted outdoors, which is usually mid May. The packet also tells us how long it takes for the seeds to germinate.
20-30 something 2When first-timers start out sowing seeds indoors, they don’t always realize the supplies they need. “Study up on what you need and then jump in. Gardening is a craft, and you need supplies,” said Dee Nash, author of The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

The seeds are primed to germinate, so sprouting them is usually not a problem. The greatest challenge is having enough light once seeds have germinated, she said in an interview. Seedlings that don’t get enough ambient light will stretch and in general, be weak plants.

“You definitely need a light table and heated mats to be very successful, especially with certain vegetables, such as eggplants. They like heat mats. Trying to just start seeds in the window is harder. You can do it, but you might as well invest in a few lights and heat mats,” said Nash, who blogs at reddirtramblings.com.

Seedlings, such as these tomatoes, that do not have enough light will stretch, causing weak stems. © Pencho Tihov/Dreamstime.com

Seedlings, such as these tomatoes, which do not have enough light, will stretch, causing weak stems. © Pencho Tihov/Dreamstime.com

To solve the light issue, Nash built a light table with a metal shelving unit, fluorescent ultraviolet grow lights and heat mats. “Once I did that, I’ve had no trouble starting seeds. However, if you don’t want to go that big, you can start with one light, one heat mat and a grounded plug in. We use a grounded power strip to plug in all of our lights. Mine is four tiers, but you can start smaller,” she said.

People also need to remember to water the seedlings, she said. “If you miss several days watering, the plants will die.”

Seeds best sown directly in the soil outdoors when the temperature is right: peas, beans, lettuce, spinach, dill, fennel, squash, cucumbers and carrots.

Seeds best started indoors for transplanting outdoors when the temperature is right: tomato, pepper, eggplant, melon, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and basil. Start cilantro indoors, but then sow seeds directly outdoors every few weeks, beginning in mid June. Cilantro goes to seed (called bolting) when it gets hot. The seeds are coriander.

Guiltless way to enjoy potted hydrangea, azalea

Potted hydrangeas are forced into bloom and best appreciated as a short-term spring plant in a pot. © Marina Lohrbach/123rf.com

Potted hydrangeas are forced into bloom and best appreciated as a short-term spring plant in a pot. © Marina Lohrbach/123rf.com

This time of year, potted hydrangea and azalea are popular gifts. Unintentionally, these gifts come with guilt. That’s because a lot of recipients don’t know what to do with these plants and people feel compelled to keep them alive forever.

Allow me to assuage you guilt.

These plants are grown in a greenhouse and forced into bloom for the season. Think of them as a short-lived commodity, like a bouquet of flowers. You would not think about planting the bouquet outdoors. You’d just enjoy it while the flowers looked good, then tossed them in the compost pile (or trash) when they faded.

Florist hydrangea

The potted hydrangea, with its big mophead flowers, is commonly called a florist hydrangea or hortensia (H. macrophylla var. macrophylla). Plant it in a pot by itself or with cool-season annuals, such as pansies or violas. Place the pot on a step or in a flowerbed for the spring season. The blooms may be damaged by long periods of below freezing temperatures. Full sun may speed up the aging of the blooms. Keep the soil moist, but not sopping wet.

Even though it is rated as winter hardy, it suffers the same fate as many other big leaf (macrophylla) hydrangeas in Indiana. The flower buds frequently are killed by spring temperatures, resulting in a lovely green-leafed shrub with no blooms. I’m not saying these can’t be wintered over, but it’s a lot of worry and as an unreliable bloomer, not worthy of space in my garden.

Enjoy the frost tender, potted azalea as a houseplant. © Robert Byron/123rf.com

Enjoy the frost tender, potted azalea as a houseplant. © Robert Byron/123rf.com

Potted azalea

The potted azalea (Rhododendron simsii) is a tender relative of the azaleas and rhododendrons we grow in our gardens. It is bred for its large, long lasting flowers, which may be lavender, peach, pink, red or white. Some are bicolor. Potted azaleas can be found at other times during the year, such as Mother’s Day.

Place the potted azalea in an area with bright light and cool temperatures, and it will bloom for about a month. The soil should be moist, but not wet. If you’re up to the challenge of getting it to rebloom, this azalea needs about 60 days of temperatures in the 40-55 degree range in winter for it to set flower buds.

You might be able to get more information if the plant came with a tag that gave the cultivar name. However, most people enjoy this as a short-term houseplant. It can be moved to a sunny spot outdoors where its glossy, dark green leaves will look nice in a pot with summer annuals, then tossed at the end of the season.

Use caution with Easter lilies if you have cats

Lilies of all types are poisonous to cats, including the beautiful white Eastern lilies we got for the holiday.

Eating just one or two flower petals or leaves can trigger kidney failure and frequently death in cats within a few days. Cats also can be poisoned if they lick pollen-laden paws. If you think your cat has ingested any part of a lily (Lilium), contact your veterinarian immediately.

Beside Easter lily, the family includes tiger lily, rubrum, Asian, Oriental, Martagon and species. Although a different species, daylilies (Hemerocallis) also are poisonous to cats. Calla lilies (Zantedeschia) are not.

City Gardener Program

If you’ve just moved into your first house with a yard and you are unsure of what to do with the lawn, trees and, oh, you might like to have a vegetable or flower garden, then the City Gardener Program is for you.

The Purdue Extension-Marion County City Gardener Program was developed in 2002 for new or inexperienced gardeners. It covers a variety of gardening topics and has a focus on gardening in urban areas.

The 2012 program, which began April 11, offers six Wednesday classes, and you can attend as many as you like. A certificate is awarded to those who attend all six.

Here’s the schedule and topics for the remaining sessions: April 18, Vegetable Gardening Basics; April 25, Pests and Pest Management; May 2, Growing Flowers; May 16, Grass Selection; and May 23, Tree and Shrub Planting. April 11 covered How Plants Grow.

Each class will be 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. at the Marion County Extension office, Discovery Hall, Suite 201, Indiana State Fairgrounds, 1201 E. 38th Street. The fee is $5 per session or $20 for the six classes. You do not have to pay to park to attend these classes.

For more information or to register, visit the Website or contact Debbie Schelske, dschelsk@purdue.edu, (317) 275-9286.