December 2016

Mums for the season

Use mums as a centerpiece in a pot and enjoy them for the seasons. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Use mums as a centerpiece in a pot and enjoy them for the seasons. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A common question in garden centers this time of year is “will this mum come back next year?”

As with a lot in Mother Nature, the answer is “that depends.”

The mums we buy this time of year are grown as a seasonal plant, just like pansies are in spring.

If planted in a pot, just enjoy the for the season, then compost it. If the mum is newly planted in the ground, don’t cut it back until spring when you see new growth developing at the base of the plant. Cut back again a time or two between then and early July to keep the mum from getting too tall and lanky.

The best time to buy mums as perennials is spring, which is when they are hard to find at garden centers. You might consider buy mums in spring through online retailers.

Summer bulbs

October is the month we dig up the tender or tropical bulbs, such as dahlia, canna and eucomis. All of my tender bulbs are in pots, so I usually cart them – pots and all – to the basement for the winter.

Or you can remove the bulbs and tubers from the soil, brush them off and allow them to dry. Store in a cool dry place where they won’t freeze or get too warm and sprout. You can store them in mesh bags or a box with peat moss, wood shavings or shredded newspaper. Check them periodically and remove any bulb or tuber that is soft or damaged.

Fall cleanup

I’m ready to pull all of the vegetable plants out of the garden. I’ll pick any tomatoes with color or green, allow them to ripen at room temperature, slice, then freeze them. Leave the stem on the tomato during the indoor ripening process.

Unplanted hardy plants

I confess to having several perennials and shrubs that spent the summer – some of them, their second summer – in a nursery pot. My goal yet this fall is to get them planted in the bed where I pulled out the vegetables, and mulch them with shredded leaves. I will plant as many of them as possible in a more permanent location and the rest will go in the ground in spring. I remind myself the road to you know where is paved with good intentions.

Cross-striped cabbage worm makes presence known

Cross-stripped cabbage worm dines on kale. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Cross-stripped cabbage worm dines on kale. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A caterpillar I didn’t recognize decided my kale was mighty tasty. In a matter of a couple of weeks a bluish-yellow worm devoured everything but the stems and ribs of the leaves.

So I did what a lot of people do. Googled it. I typed in kale blue yellow worm and up came cross-striped cabbageworm, technically a larva. Amazing how that works!

I clicked on several links and most of what I found were southern references to this cabbageworm, such as info from Clemson University. Made me wonder if it was a newer pest in the Midwest, so I sent a few photos to Purdue University’s Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory to confirm the identification. I also asked about rice-like items that adhered to the leaves, wondering if they were the eggs of parasitic wasps, natural predators of certain caterpillars.

“These are indeed the cross-striped cabbageworm. We see them fairly commonly,” said Purdue entomologist Rick Foster.

The more familiar white cabbage moth flits from cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, mustards and other members of the Brassica family depositing a few eggs at each stop. The brown cabbage moth of the cross-striped cabbageworm lays its eggs on a single plant. The result is a plant being devastated, such as the one in the photo I submitted, he said.

The cross-striped cabbage worm moth deposits eggs on one plant. When the larvae hatch, they devour the plant. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The cross-striped cabbage worm moth deposits eggs on one plant. When the larvae hatch, they devour the plant. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

“The cocoons are wasp parasites, (which) probably have dropped off the larvae,” Foster said. The wasp eggs hatch and the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out.

I donned gloves and picked off the cross-striped cabbageworms and squished them. The hope was to reduce their numbers before I planted up fall pots with ornamental cabbage and kale.

The Purdue lab is a tremendous resource for Indiana gardeners. You can mail whole plants, roots, leaves, buds or flowers to the lab for identification of insect or disease problems. You can also send insects. The PPDL website provides instructions on how to submit samples. The fee is $11.

A little closer to home is the Marion County Master Gardener lab in the Purdue-Marion County Extension office in Discovery Hall at the north end of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. People can drop off plant or insect samples, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekdays. Forms are on site for this free service.

Marion County Master Gardeners staff the Answerline, 317-275-9292, where you can call with questions. Lastly, you can send photos of plants or insects to for Master Gardeners’ help with identification and tips on what to do. These services also are free.

Bicentennial: Indiana’s landscape then and now

The passenger pigeon. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

The passenger pigeon. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

A few days ago, I dialed up the WAYBAC machine and journeyed back 200 years to 1816 Indiana.

From the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center, a group took a visual trek from Kentucky, across the Ohio River to Spencer County, Indiana, with a young Abe Lincoln and his family. Within a year of their move, the Lincolns and other southern Indiana residents witnessed billions of periodical cicadas emerge, mate, lay eggs and die. “They probably thought they encountered a plague of Biblical proportions,” said Mike Homoya, a state botanist and plant ecologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Nature Preserves, who served as the guide.

The progeny of those cicadas emerged in that area again in 2004. “It’s one way of connecting to our past,” said Homoya, author of Orchids of Indiana and Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests, each published by Indiana University Press.

Connecting the audience to our past was what “This Was Indiana: The Historic Hoosier Landscape 1816” was all about. This landscape tour reminds us of what was there, what’s missing and what remains, however altered.

We learned how Indiana was plotted in square townships, which still exist and are used as geographic locators today. (These are not the same areas that we commonly think of as townships.) Corner posts and nearby trees, called witness trees, guided surveyors and travelers. Using an 1804 map of Marion County townships, Homoya found what was the location of our witness tree at Circle Centre mall, just outside Victoria Secret.

There were about 23 million acres in Indiana with 21 million of them forested and 2 million acres of prairies. Some of the trees were huge, with a sycamore measuring 14-foot diameter at chest height in 1819. Today’s sycamore champ measures 8-foot diameter at chest height, he said.

Carolina parakeet, Eastern subspecies. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

Carolina parakeet, Eastern subspecies. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

It’s not just the big trees that are gone. Porcupines, prairie chickens, wolves, Carolina parakeets and passenger pigeons resided here or migrated. Homoya said there were many reports of the noonday sun obscured, as if by an eclipse, by millions of passenger pigeons for three days or more. Despite those numbers, the parakeets and pigeons are extinct. Also no longer in the wild here are buffaloes, which made the famous Vincennes Trace as they hoofed through southern Indiana, Homoya said.

Much of our state’s natural features have changed since then, but the cypress swamps remain in southwest Indiana, the Indiana dunes and lakeshore are part of the National Park Service, forest remnants of older-growth trees are scattered about, including at Crown Hill Cemetery, and slivers of the great prairie can be found in Spinn Prairie in White County. Lots to explore in celebration of our bicentennial.

The strong-stemmed Prince Tut papyrus earns its crown

The strong-stemmed Prince Tut papyrus adds grace and texture to a pot. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The strong-stemmed Prince Tut papyrus adds grace and texture to a pot.
(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

King Tut Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) was a show stopper when it was introduced several years ago, favored for its dramatic height in a large container or in the ground. It really did well along the margins of ponds and in water gardens.

If there was a drawback, it was weak, 5-6 foot tall stems, which bent and broke in the wind or with handing.

Then, along came another papyrus Baby Tut umbrella grass (C. involucratus), which was a much more manageable 18-24 inches tall. Although considerable shorter than King Tut, the stems still were not very sturdy.

This year, Proven Winners sent me Prince Tut Egyptian papyrus to trial and I love it. At 30-48 inches tall, Prince Tut is between King and Baby. The foliage is light and airy and the stems are very strong. So far none has broken, even from the periodic strong winds we’ve had this summer.

The fine, grass-like foliage atop the stems is clean and beautiful, adding just enough height and texture to make any of its companion plants shine.

Cyperus papyrus is the plant that yields papyrus of ancient Egyptian times. They used the plant for lots of things from paper to boats and sandals to rope. Papyrus adapts well to wet areas. Prince Tut has gone dry a few times, but has not suffered one bit.

Besides its size, the form of this plant is an attribute, too. It is fuller than King or Baby Tuts. Like its kin, Prince Tut is very heat tolerant and does fine in full sun to part shade. It is not winter hardy here, so it never reaches the size to harvest for paper. We grow it as an annual. Look for Prince Tut next year in garden centers.

Hold off on pruning shrubs now

Save the date Ellen Zachos, author of “Backyard Foraging,” will give a free talk on that subject at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 29, in DeBoest Lecture Hall at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. © Rob Cardillo

Save the date
Ellen Zachos, author of “Backyard Foraging,” will give a free talk on that subject at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 29, in DeBoest Lecture Hall at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
© Rob Cardillo

The temptation is great this time of year to shape up the shrubs. Don’t.

Pruning forces new growth. The new leaves and branch tips will not have enough time to harden off or prepare for winter. Freezing temperatures will likely kill the new growth and possibly damage the plant.

Evergreens are the most vulnerable to late-season pruning. Keep this in mind this winter when snipping a few branches of holly and other evergreens for indoor holiday decoration or outdoor seasonal arrangements. Cutting off a few branches is fine, but be judicious and selective.

Pruning spring-blooming shrubs now, such as forsythia, weigela, lilac, viburnum and several kinds of hydrangea, removes next year’s flower buds. It’s best to prune these plants within a few weeks after they bloom.

Lastly, remember that pruning is not required. Pruning should always be done for a purpose, such as reining in size or removing an errant or damaged branch. If you’re always pruning for size then consider moving the plant to a better location.

Reduce maintenance by allowing the shrubs and trees to be themselves, embracing their natural form. Plants that are pruned or sheared into certain shapes require regular maintenance. If you do prune, remember to keep the branches at the base of the plant slightly wider than the middle or top. If the top or middle branches are wider, they shade the base of the plant, causing foliage, needles and branches to become sparse and eventually die.

Reblooming shrubs, such as Sonic Bloom weigela, Josee or Bloomerang lilac, Double Play spirea and the Endless Summer group of hydrangeas rarely need pruning, unless it’s to clean out dead branches. Removing spent flowers periodically encourages these shrubs to keep blooming. Most of these will bloom, rest for a few weeks, bloom and rest. A little TLC with a drink of water periodically also help keep the rebloomers happy.


Development threatens 300-year-old forest land at Crown Hill Cemetery

Anne Lake of Indiana Forest Alliance stands by a large burr oak in an area of Crown Hill Cemetery that has been sold for development. Photo courtesy Indiana Forest Alliance.

Anne Laker of Indiana Forest Alliance leans on a large burr oak in an area of Crown Hill Cemetery that has been sold for development. Photo courtesy Indiana Forest Alliance.

For the third time in 11 years, the oldest forested section of Crown Hill Cemetery is under threat of development.

Instead of apartment buildings, condos and retail, this time Crown Hill has sold 14.75 acres to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration. The property will allow for the expansion of Crown Hill National Cemetery and development of a columbarium, a specialized burying ground for cremated remains of about 25,000 veterans.

Crown Hill Woods Organizing Meeting

A community conversation to protect

the North Woods at Crown Hill Cemetery

6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016

40 W. 40th St., Indianapolis

Bids were to be let before the end of the year. An environmental analysis has been done by the federal government, which found no impact on the acreage. The area is the cemetery’s northern border and runs along 42nd Street between Clarendon and Michigan Road.

Area of Crown Hill Cemetery with 300-year-old trees. Photo courtesy Indiana Forest Alliance

Area of Crown Hill Cemetery with 300-year-old trees. Photo courtesy Indiana Forest Alliance

How the government reached a no-impact conclusion is a mystery. The plot, which is surrounded with dense honeysuckle shrubs and other weedy plants, holds dozens of centuries-old trees, including a 300-year-old burr oak.

Crown Hill and the National Cemetery Administration propose pretty much clear cutting the land and replanting 2-inch caliper trees as replacements. The size of those trees is 2-inch diameter at chest height, a far cry from the massive girth of 300-year-old specimens. To add to the irony, the National Cemetery Administration has started a drive to raise funds for the tree replacement.

Environmentalists and neighbors are upset about this whole process, because there was little public notice and no public hearing. A legal notice ran in the newspaper and there was something posted on the National Cemetery Administration’s website, but those are not places where people check regularly, said Jeff Stant, executive director of Indiana Forest Alliance.

This is believed to be the largest stand of older growth forest in the county, he said. When he met with the VA and the cemetery officials, “the drawings were totally different than what we thought they were planning to do,” Stant said.

Crown Hill did talk to some neighbors, said Rebecca Dolan, a professor at Butler University and director of the Friesner Herbarium on campus. But the plan presented did not indicate the trees would be taken down, she said.

What can we do? We can write our representatives in Washington and ask them to intercede on our behalf, said Dolan and Stant. Intervention by U.S. Sens. Joseph Donnelly and Dan Coats and U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks and Andre Carson will be required to hold a public meeting, they said.

Dolan said there is clear, grassy land at 42nd Street and Clarendon, which is primarily used as a parking lot for visitors to Penrod Arts Fair at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The older growth forested land is an indelible link to our past and heritage, and needs to be protected, Stant said.

The high season of lawncare is upon us

A great lawn starts in fall. Photo courtesy

A great lawn starts in fall. Photo courtesy

If you’re like most people, you’re into the lawn big time in spring. Fertilizing. Sowing grass seed. Applying crabgrass and dandelion killers. Interest wans during the summer, except for mowing, watering and worry about this or that patch of dead grass.

Then comes fall, and a lot of people think they are done with the lawn for the season, except for mowing and raking leaves. The reality is fall is for lawns.

Safe-Paws-zoom-0“The best time of year to take care of lawns is fall,” said John Harrison, who works in product support for Espoma, which has been making natural lawn and garden products since 1929. “Give lawns a checkup and keep soil healthy for the year to come. Plus, feeding your lawn with an organic plant food makes for happy and healthy people, pets and planet.”

If you have to sow a new lawn or patch bare spots, fall is the best time of year to do so, said Tim Duffy, Midwest territory manager of Jonathan Green lawn care products, which has been in business since 1881. “In spring, we’re waiting for the soil temperature to warm up so grass can germinate and you have a lot of competition with weed seeds germinating. In fall, the soil has had all summer to warm up, weed pressure isn’t as bad, cooler temperatures and better rain patterns return.”

Each of these companies has launched programs or initiatives to bring a more reasoned approach to lawn care by marketing natural products. Espoma’s campaign is targeted to families, pointing out its products are safe for kids and pets to play on the lawn. Jonathan Green’s New American Lawn program focuses more on soil health rather than chemicals.

Both of these companies give us something to think about. We dump a lot of chemicals on our lawn. In an online article published in May 2015, Consumer Reports found “the average lawn contains 10 times more chemicals per acre than a typical commercial farm.” It’s long been reported that consumers use more lawn chemicals than golf courses.

What can we do?

  • A healthy, actively growing lawn is your best defense against weeds, insects and diseases.
  • Fertilize the lawn in September and November. If you leave your grass clippings on the lawn during the summer, you may be able to do away with an application of spring fertilizer.
  • Know what you have before you treat it. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s a waste of money, time and effort to apply chemicals if you don’t know what you are treating. Unneeded use of chemicals also is not good for the environment.

September Garden Checklist

At the end of the season harvest tomatoes and peppers to finish ripening indoors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

At the end of the season harvest tomatoes and peppers to finish ripening indoors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


  • Dig and repot herbs growing outdoors, or take cuttings to pot up and grow indoors.
  • Bring houseplants that spent the summer outdoors back indoors before night temperatures fall below 55 degrees. Gradually decrease light to acclimate plants and help reduce leaf drop. Check for insects and disease before putting them with other plants.
  • Plants, such as tuberous and waxed begonias, impatiens, fuschia and geraniums, may be dug from the ground or containers and repotted for indoor enjoyment during the winter. Cuttings also may be taken, rooted in a growing medium and repotted for the winter.
  • Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus can be forced into bloom. Provide plants 15 hours of complete darkness each day for about eight weeks. Keep temperature at about 60 to 65 degrees.
  • Poinsettias should be kept in complete darkness for 15 hours daily from about Oct. 1 to about Dec. 10.
  • Begin stocking up gardening supplies before they are removed for the season from retailers’ shelves. Pots, potting mixes, fertilizers and other products may be harder to find later in the season.

General landscape

  • Don’t be alarmed if evergreens, especially white pine and arborvitae, drop needles. All evergreens shed needles at some time, but not all at once like deciduous plants do.
  • Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer to lawns at the rate of 1 pound actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Here’s more info on taking care of established lawns.
  • Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlapped nursery stock. Mulch well and keep newly planted stock well watered until the ground freezes.
  • Reseed bare spots or put in new lawns using a good quality seed mixture. Fall is the best time to do lawn repairs or put in a new one.
  • Early fall is a good time to apply broadleaf weed killers. Follow label directions and spray on a calm day to prevent drift.
  • Continue watering gardens, shrubs and trees if rainfall doesn’t reach an inch or more every week or 10 days. It’s important for plants to go into cold weather with adequate moisture.
  • Prepare new beds now for planting next spring. The soil is usually easier to work in the fall and fall-prepared beds allow for earlier plantings in spring. Beds may be mulched with compost, chopped leaves or other organic material during the winter, if desired. Avoid fall tilling when there’s a chance of soil erosion.
  • Apply a layer of organic materials to garden beds in the fall. This includes rotted or composted manure, compost, chopped leaves or a slow-release organic fertilizer.
  • Plant, transplant or divide peonies, daylilies, poppies, iris, phlox and other perennials.
  • Order spring-flowering bulbs or purchase locally. Begin planting them at the end of the month. Planting too early can cause top growth to sprout before winter; allow four to six weeks for good root formation before ground freezes.
  • Dig tender bulbs, such as cannas, caladiums, tuberous begonias and gladiolus, before frost. Air dry and store in dry peat moss or vermiculite.
  • Cut flowers in the garden for drying and use in everlasting arrangements. Strawflower, statice, baby’s breath, celosia and other plants can be hung upside down in a well-ventilated dry area.

Vegetables and fruits

  • Dig onions and garlic after tops fall over and necks begin to dry.
  • Plant radishes, sets for green onions, lettuce and spinach for fall harvest.
  • Thin fall crops, such as lettuce and carrots, that were planted earlier.
  • Harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons and sweet potatoes before frost; cover plants with blankets, newspapers (no plastic) to protect from light frost.
  • Harvest winter squash when mature (skin is tough) with deep, solid color, but before hard frost.
  • Harvest apples, pears, grapes, ever-bearing strawberries and raspberries.
  • Remove raspberry canes after they bear fruit.
  • Keep area around apple (including crabapple) and other fruit trees clean of fallen fruit, twigs and leaves to reduce insects and disease carryover.

Prepare to move houseplants back indoors

(C) Tanouchka/AdobeStock

(C) Tanouchka/AdobeStock

Pretty soon, it will be time for our houseplants to leave their outdoor summer setting to return indoors.

It’s best to bring houseplants indoors in early September, before evening temperatures stay in the 50s, and definitely before we have a frost or freeze.

You want to make sure that what you bring indoors are the plants and not unwanted hitchhikers. Before moving plants indoors, give them a good shower. Use the showerhead nozzle on the hose and be sure to spray the undersides and tops of leaves. Pay special attention to where the leaves attach to the stem to make sure no tiny insects are hiding in any crevices. Give the soil a good soaking, too.

Keep the plants you are moving indoors separated for a week or so from those that stayed inside, if you are worried about possible insect or disease contamination.

Keeping up

Continue to pick tomatoes, peppers, squash and other vegetables as they ripen. Harvesting keeps production strong for the next several week. Preserve what you have too much of, or share it with family, friends, neighbors, soup kitchen or food pantry. Keep watering vegetable plants, too. As you pull out warm-season crops, replace them with lettuce, spinach, chard and other greens.

Tidy up any summer plants in pots to keep them looking good until it’s time to change them out for a fall scheme. Make sure to keep the pots watered and plants fertilized. Pull out what has lost its usefulness.

New okra

Candle Fire okra. Photo courtesy

Candle Fire okra. Photo courtesy

I’m not an okra fan, except for the flowers, which are beautiful and reveal their ties to the hibiscus family. And the fruit is attractive, whether it’s green or red. All-America Selections recently announced Candle Fire okra is a 2017 winner. Judges deemed Candle Fire’s fruit a brighter red than other red fruited varieties on the market, and the pods are rounded without ribs. Harvest is 60 days from sowing seed or 30 days from a transplant. Look for it in spring mail order catalogs and online seed merchants.

A begonia for every situation

Dragon Wing Red begonia with yellow canna. Pink Baby Wing begonia is in the foreground. (Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dragon Wing Red begonia with yellow canna. Pink Baby Wing begonia is in the foreground. (Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Begonias are an under appreciated plant. There are so many types, forms and sizes that there’s one for every pot of annuals or in-ground planting scheme. Some thrive, even flower, in deep shade and others burst into bloom in full sun. Leaves can be glossy, bumpy, variegated, patterned, deeply veined, one color on top and another color on the bottom, smooth and fuzzy.

There’s even one that’s winter hardy in our area. Begonia grandis has pink or white flowers in August, but like most begonias, the real beauty is in the leaves—green with red veins on top and greenish-purple on the bottom.

Santa Cruz begonia. PHoto courtesy National Garden Bureau

Santa Cruz begonia. PHoto courtesy National Garden Bureau

Most of the begonias we grow though are tropical, and there are a bunch of them. Some of the new hybrids, such as Dragon Wing, Baby Wing, Big, Bada Bing and Bada Boom, are extremely showy with large flowers. These plants tend to be more upright with strong stems. Some have large, glossy, bright green leaves and some have smaller, dark green foliage. These hybrids have leaves that are green or bronze with flowers that are red, pink or white. They do well in full sun to part shade.

The Begonia boliviensis species also can take the sun and tolerates shade. It has a more relaxed, cascading habit and trumpet- or star-like flowers. Santa Cruz Sunset and Bonfire are two popular varieties in this group.

Probably the most common are the wax-leaf or bedding begonias, with the Cocktail series the most readily available.

Amstel Rieger begonia. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Amstel Rieger begonia. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

One of my favorites is the Rieger begonia (B. x hiemalis), which has tight, rosette-like flowers in pastels and red. This begonia is very shade tolerant and if deadheaded, retains a clean look throughout the summer. Rieger begonias are also popular houseplants.

Another popular houseplant is the Rex begonia. Over the last few years, these exotic hybrids have escaped their indoor environment to add beauty, texture, unusual blooms and forms in shady outdoor settings. This is the group of plants that has such incredible foliage that flowers are an extra. ‘Escargot’ describes the swirly pattern in the leaves of one Rex begonia.

Escargot Rex begonia. Photo courtesy Annie's Annuals

Escargot Rex begonia. Photo courtesy Annie’s Annuals

My least favorite is tuberous begonia (B. x tuberhybrida), a truly beautiful plant, but one that I find too challenging because the stems are brittle and subject to rotting off.

Tuberous begonias. Photo courtesy Annie's Annuals

Non-stop tuberous begonias. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

The popularity of begonias is on the upswing because they are so versatile, something the National Garden Bureau, a trade association of plant breeders, decided to acknowledge in 2016 as the Year of Begonia.