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Gift suggestions for Mother’s Day

Dogwoods bloom around Mother's Day, making them a perfect gift or remembrance for the special day and person. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dogwoods bloom around Mother’s Day, making them a perfect gift or remembrance for the special day and person. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Every year on this weekend, customers rush into garden centers looking for a Mother’s Day gift. Many have no idea if their mom will put the hanging basket or combo pot in the sun or shade. They say they just “need something.”

Here are some ideas:

  • Begonia Santa Cruz Sunset. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Begonia Santa Cruz Sunset. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Look for hanging baskets or potted arrangements that can go in sun or shade. Dragon or baby wing begonias are good choices. So is ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ begonia (B. boliviensis), which the public voted the best plant in 2012’s American Garden Award program. Because of its growth habit, it works best in a hanging basket or other container.

  • If there’s room in her garden, give mom a small, ornamental tree, such as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), redbud (Cercis canadensis) or serviceberry (Amelanchier). These are native, understory trees, and do well in an east- or north-facing garden or under the canopy and filtered light of larger trees with south or west exposure.
  • If mom likes to cook, pot up a container of her favorite herbs. This planting will work on a sunny patio, balcony, porch stoop or a bright window.
  • Roses (Rosa) can be winners, especially the easy-care landscape or ground cover types, which tend to be pest resistant. But if mom is as bored as I am with Knock Out roses, look for brands Drift, Flower Carpet or Easy Elegance.
Flower Carpet Coral ground cover rose. Photo courtesy Flower Carpet Roses

Flower Carpet Coral ground cover rose. Photo courtesy Flower Carpet Roses

 

  • Avid gardeners go through a lot of gloves. We lose both of them, one half of the pair or wear holes in their fingers or palm. Frankly, gardeners cannot have too many gloves.
  • A small, recirculating fountain adds the relaxing sound of water, attracts birds and enhances the overall ambience in the garden. These fountains are perfect for patios, decks or balconies.
  • Ergonomic or hand friendly tools with padded handles, ratchet gears and other improvements can be a boon for moms with a bit of arthritis.
  • Take mom on the 19th annual Garden Walk, sponsored by the Indianapolis Garden Club. Five gardens are on this year’s tour Wednesday, June 4. Make a day of it and enjoy lunch at Woodstock Club as part of the event.
  • Hardly anything warms the heart of a gardener like a load of manure, planter’s mix or mulch, especially when it comes with willing workers, like a wonderful daughter or son.
  • A bouquet of fresh-cut flowers from the farmers market or florist also is a nice gift.

 

Spring reveals the ravages of winter on plants

New growth appears at the base of a Knock Out rose. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

New growth appears at the base of a Knock Out rose. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Finally, our plants are revealing the ravages of our most brutal winter.

In my yard, the Knock Out red rose (Rosa ‘Radrazz’) has died, which frankly, is all right with me. I was getting bored with it and tired of seeing it planted in every gas station, restaurant and strip mall in the country. Hardy to USDA Zone 5 (minus 20 degrees), our series of record cold blasts likely did this plant in, so it’s coming out.

If there are leaves or green branches emerging from the bottom of your Knock Out, cut the shrub back to the new growth. This fast-growing rose will likely bloom again this summer.

I thought for sure that I’d lost the five variegated Solomon’s seals (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’) that I had planted last summer. These were the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2013. I’d even told people I’d lost them, but there they are, the nice clump I planted, just a bit slower to emerge than expected. Another one of those “gardening teaches us patience moments.”

Little Henry Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Sprich’) also has not leafed out. It looks like there’s one branch that’s green, but this shrub has not thrived in my landscape, so I’m pulling it out. This cultivar of a native plant is hardy to USDA Zone 5.

Gardeners are reporting the browning of arborvitae shrubs (Thuja), broadleaf hollies (Ilex), the yellowing of Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and few to no leaves on azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron). Brown leaves on evergreens will not green up. If the damage is patchy, you can prune out the brown branches. If the browning is extensive, replace the plant.

The one miracle in my landscape is the ever-so-slow, but promising emergence of the delicate maidenhair fern (Adiantum pendatum). This lovely, and a bit hard to find, native fern is hardy to USDA Zone 3 (minus 40 degrees). This one is special because a customer at the garden center where I work dug up part of her clump to share.

Still to be revealed: Winter’s affect on insect populations.

 

Shop local plant sales to add to your garden’s beauty

Perennial Premiere at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Perennial Premiere at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

If you are looking for unusual or hard-to-find plants or just a few good standbys to fill in the garden, check out area plant sales.

This weekend is Perennial Premiere, the annual plant sale at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which ends at 5 p.m. Sunday. Here, you’ll find plants, art and garden accessories from area growers, merchants and artists.

Even for plant geeks like Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the IMA, Perennial Premiere has tempting treats.

'Forever Pink' Phlox. Photo courtesy Jim Ault/Chicagolandgrows.com

‘Forever Pink’ Phlox. Photo courtesy Jim Ault/Chicagolandgrows.com

Intriguing Etienne is ‘Forever Pink’ Phlox, which is said to start blooming in spring and go into October. This sun-loving hybrid was developed at the Chicago Botanic Garden and is marketed through Chicagoland Grows. An upright, clump grower, it is a sterile, so it doesn’t need to stop blooming to produce seed, Etienne said. It’s about 1 foot tall and is mildew free. It should have good drainage. “A perennial with this length of bloom has a place in any garden,” he said.

He also is tempted by ‘Wesuwe’ salvia (S. nemorosa), which promises to rebloom. If you’ve grown East Friesland salvia (S. nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’) or Blue Hill (S. x sylvestris ‘Blauhugel’), you know like other perennial salvias, it’s pretty much one and done, even with deadheading. Even the popular May Night (S. x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’) is only good for one really strong bloom.

This sun-loving salvia, with deep purple flowers, is one of three used in Salvia River in the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Eitenne recommends cutting it back by at least half after the first bloom.

Salvia River at Lurie Gardens in Chicago. Photo courtesy Millennium Park/Lurie Gardens

Salvia River at Lurie Gardens in Chicago. Photo courtesy Millennium Park/Lurie Gardens

One he’s grown is Agastache ‘Cotton Candy’, which he calls “a blooming machine.” It is loaded with soft pink flowers with darker pink calyces, or seedpods. “The calyces keep them colorful even after the flowers drop,” he said.

Agastache Cotton Candy. Photo courtesy TerraNovaNurseries.com

Agastache Cotton Candy. Photo courtesy TerraNovaNurseries.com

This sun-loving perennial gets 2 feet tall and blooms all season. Sometimes called hummingbird mint, agastache is a bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnet. Give it good drainage, especially in winter, Etienne said. Introduced by Terra Nova Nurseries, ‘Cotton Candy’ is listed as hardy to USDA Zone 6, “but it is coming back after our for-sure Zone 5 winter,” he said.

Other plant sales on the calendar:

• Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s Plant Sale and Auction, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May 10 at Park Tudor School, Upper Gymnasium, 7200 N. College Ave., www.inpaws.org.

• Garfield Park Master Gardeners Plant Sale, 9 a.m. to noon, May 17 at the Conservatory, www.garfieldgardensconservatory.org.

 

Timely snips keep summer pots neat, tidy and full

Easy Wave Gelato Mix petunia can be kept neat, tidy and full with a few snips now and then. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/ngb.org

Easy Wave Gelato Mix petunia can be kept neat, tidy and full with a few snips now and then. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/ngb.org

 

As we move into the high season for planting, here are some tips and reminders for how to get the most out of our summer containers.

1. The larger the container, the better. Larger pots tend not to dry out as fast. It’s best to use containers that have drainage holes.

If you have a fancy container without drainage holes, plant your arrangement in a pot with holes that will fit inside the ornamental one. Place a brick, gravel, mulch or other material in the bottom of the ornamental container to keep the planted pot elevated so that it won’t be sitting in water.

2. Make sure plants in the same pot have the same horticultural requirements, such as sun or shade.

3. If planting a large ceramic, terra cotta or other heavy pot, place it where you want it before filling it with dirt and plants. Leave at least 1 inch between the soil line and the top of the pot. This space allows containers to be watered without displacing the soil.

Here are some more tips from the plant breeder Suntory, which includes brands Sun Parasol mandevillas, Million Bells calibrachoas and Surfinia petunias.

• Boost the number of shoots by trimming the branches that overflow the pot. Use scissors or pruners. This can be done two or three times during the growing season.

• Make sure the soil feels dry before watering. Overwatering leads to root rot or other fungal problems. Water the soil, not the plants. Water until the liquid runs out the bottom of the container.

• Fertilizer containers regularly, even if using a potting mix with fertilizer added or a slow-release fertilizer at planting time. Water-soluble products work well in containers. Always read and follow the label directions.

• Snip off spent flowers, called deadheading, to encourage plants to keep blooming.

• When plants start to look scraggly, give them a haircut. Cut the plants back to about 6 inches from the soil line. Plants will rebound in about two weeks. A lot of gardeners do this mid summer, when they leave for vacation.

 

Compost: does your soil good

Digging the GardenWhen people ask about the best way to improve their gardens, I tell them to look down at the ground. The best gardens have great soil – soil that is a good blend of organic matter, microorganisms, air and clay, silt or loam.

The miracle ingredient is organic matter, such as compost, finely chopped leaves or well-rotted manure. Organic matter helps all kinds of soil, whether it’s clay, sand or loam. It improves drainage, yet helps with moisture retention. Organic matter feeds the soil’s microorganisms, which create the right environment for roots to thrive. Strong and healthy roots yield strong and healthy plants. The plants are better able to withstand stressful weather conditions, such as drought, and survive minor infestations of insects of diseases.

If you don’t make your own compost, you can buy it in bags at a garden center or you can get it by the yard, in bulk, from landscape suppliers. Between us, the stuff you get bulk is a much higher quality of compost than what you can get in a bag, which may be more convenient.

For existing plants, pull mulch aside, ring plants with compost and replace mulch. If there’s no mulch, add about an inch of compost across the bed.

When making a new garden bed, mix several inches of compost in the top layer. A 3-inch thick layer of compost also can be used as mulch around plants and over beds instead of bark or other materials.

Other tips:

• Avoid landscape cloth. Yes, I know it promises to reduce weeds. But once soil and other debris accumulates on top of the cloth, weeds can blow in and take root. I have pulled landscape cloth from many jobs and underneath, the soil is dry, compacted and without worms or microorganisms. Essentially, the soil looks and feels dead.

• Avoid synthetic fertilizers. They feed the plant, but do nothing for the soil. There also is some research that suggests synthetic fertilizers reduce worms and microorganisms in the soil. Instead, use fertilizers labeled as natural or organic.

• When making new beds, consider buying bulk planter’s mix from landscape suppliers. This is a mix of organic matter, topsoil, a little sand and other elements. Planter’s mix also can be used in raised beds.

• Avoid walking on garden beds. Compacted soil restricts root development and the movement of air and water.

 

Spring tasks, when weather permits

For a full pot of shade-loving caladiums, plant several bulbs in a pot. Remove one or two node or eyes to encourage more stem and leaf growth. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

For a full pot of shade-loving caladiums, plant several bulbs in a pot. Remove one or two node or eyes to encourage more stem and leaf growth. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Finally, the weather might be cooperating enough that Hoosiers can begin some of the tasks of the season.

Fertilize trees and shrubs before they fully leaf out. Use an all-purpose fertilizer, such as Espoma Plant-Tone, Milorganite or other natural product. Read and follow the label directions, but usually the product is sprinkled around the base of the plant and watered in. Save a step by applying before a rain to let Mother Nature do the watering.

If you are fighting lawn weeds, apply a pre-emergent herbicide, such as corn gluten, when the forsythia blooms. A pre-emergent does not kill existing weeds. It keeps weed seeds from sprouting. However, if planning to sow grass seed, hold off on the pre-emergent because it does not distinguish between grass seed and weed seed.

Even though you’d like to kill dandelions and other perennial weeds in the lawn, the best time to do that is in late summer. Applying an herbicide now will cause plants to curl, which might make you feel better, but it’s only a temporary set back for the weeds. The reason to treat perennial lawn weeds later in the season is because the plants are bulking up for winter survival, which makes the herbicide more effective.

Want more perennials? Divide them, especially if their flower power has diminished over the last few years. Dig up the plant and use a bread knife, Japanese soil knife or a sharp spade to divide the clump into a few sections. Plant the divisions. Dividing summer-blooming perennials now allows them to get well rooted for their seasonal show. You can also fertilize perennials as they emerge from their winter sleep, or apply a light layer of compost around the plants.

This is the time to pot up cannas, caladiums and tuberous begonias indoors so they will have some size and be ready for planting outdoors once the air and soil temperatures warm up in mid May. To boost the fullness of caladium, dig out one or two nodes or eyes on the bulb before planting.

Sow seeds for warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, indoors. You will likely need to use supplemental lighting for these seedlings. Keep the lights a couple of inches above the seedlings, raising the lights as the plants grow.

It’s time for ready, set grow!

 

Two plants become one in grafted tomatoes, other plants

When planting a grafted tomato, keep the graft at least 1 inch above the soil surface. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

When planting a grafted tomato, keep the graft at least 1 inch above the soil surface. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Last year, grafted vegetables, especially tomatoes, showed up on garden center tables. It’s not the term grafted that attracted people’s attention as much as the cost, frequently three times what you’d pay for a regular tomato in the same size pot.

We’ve been planting grafted plants, such a tea roses and apple trees, for centuries. In the 1920s, the Japanese and Koreans started grafting vegetables, especially tomatoes and other plants in the same botanical family. Interest started here in the United States in the 1990s.

The grafting process is pretty much the same, whether it’s an apple tree or a tomato.

A grafted plant has two parts, rootstock and scion. The rootstock is selected because it provides disease resistance, boosts production or has other characteristic that support the top part of the plant, called the scion. The scion is selected for the taste, size of fruit or other attributes it produces.

Under laboratory-like conditions, the two pieces are grafted together and held in place with a clip or other device until the wound heals.

Last year, I grew a grafted Black Krim and a regular Black Krim heirloom tomato side by side. I wish I could report some observation other than last year was a terrible tomato year for me.

The grafting process is of particularly interest with heirloom tomatoes, which lack disease resistance and mature late. A grafted heirloom tomato would have the disease resistance we want and better and earlier production. I’m going to them again this year with Brandywine, another heirloom.

A lot of savvy gardeners remove all but the upper-most leaves and plant their tomato transplants deep in the soil, or to dig a trench and plant them horizontally. This encourages good root development along the stem that is underground.

However, you can’t plant grafted tomatoes this way. The graft, usually marked with a plastic clip, must stay at least 1 inch above the soil surface. If the graft is below the soil grade, stems from the rootstock will emerge and overwhelm the scion, defeating the purpose of graft.

This labor-intensive process is why the cost of grafted vegetable plants is so much higher. But, if production is boosted considerably, you could get by with fewer plants, something that might offset the cost. Or, you can splurge on one grafted tomato and grow it side by side the same type of regular plant and do your own little experiment.

 

Snowdrops, shade and the change of season

Snowdrops are one of the earliest bulbs to bloom. When they emerge in late winter and early spring, they signal the new season. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Snowdrops are one of the earliest bulbs to bloom. When they emerge in late winter and early spring, they signal the new season. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I don’t know about you, but about everything in my garden is flat. Flat, flat, flat. The perennials, some small shrubs and the lawn.

This time of year is always the big reveal — which plants made it through winter and which ones didn’t. But this past winter, which buried plants under snow for months, may delay seasonal signs of life.

There are a few signals, though.

I’m joyous about the common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), which are the first bulbs to emerge in spring. I planted these tiny bulbs last fall and have been rewarded with tiny, bell-shaped green and white flowers dangling from stems just a few inches above the soil this spring.

I trimmed off all the brown, dried leaves on the hellebores (Helleborus). I learned this trick last year when I spoke at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. All the hellebores had their winter-damaged leaves snipped off, which made the flowers much showier.

The coral bells (Heuchera) like to wriggle out of the ground in winter, heaved from the soil by freezing and thawing. I just tamp these perennials back into the ground. This is a good time to trim off winter-damage leaves on these beauties, too.

Last week, I corrected a mistake. A couple of years ago, I’d planted yellow-blooming crocus (Crocus) in the lawn. When they bloomed, from a distance they looked like dandelions. I have enough of those already, so adding similar-looking flowers was not a smart move. I transplanted them from the lawn to under the gingko tree (Gingko biloba).

As with many landscapes, the trees planted years ago have grown to cast a lot of shade in what used to be sunny spots in the landscape. Besides the shade, the river birch (Betula nigra) is just too messy over my neighbor’s driveway, so I’m going to have it removed. I think I’ll transplant a serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Cole’s Select) that I’ve had for about 20 years to the area where the river birch was. Where it is now, the serviceberry is leaning away from the honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) toward the sun.

In the backyard, a weedy mulberry (Morus) shades the vegetable garden, so it is going, too. When it’s gone, the Jim Wilson sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana ‘Moonglow’) will be so much happier with some morning sun. So will the veggies.

The list is long and the time is short, but it gives this gardener’s soul something to look forward to.

 

Hosta needs water at key times of year

Most hybridized fragrant hosta have Hosta plantaginea blood. Photo courtesy of PerennialResource.com

Lack of water at the right time is the primary reason hostas don’t do well in our gardens.

In particular, water hostas in July, August, September and October and keep watering until the first frost, said Cynthia Miller Wilhoite, who has been growing Hosta for 35 years and has more than 800 cultivars in her collection. An active member of the American Hosta Society, she and her husband, Chris Wilhoite, own Soules Garden on Indianapolis’ southside. She spoke earlier this month at the 20th annual Spring Garden Clinic.

The most common pest of hostas is the slug and the best control for this leaf-munching, land mollusk comes from the sea — crushed oyster shells. This common feed for chickens is usually available at farm stores.

Apply a ¾-inch deep layer of crushed oyster shells in a 6-inch-wide ring around the leaves, called pips, as they emerge in spring. She said this one application of this natural product is all that’s needed to control slugs throughout the growing season.

Variegated hostas tend to grow more slowly and may not always be the toughest. That’s because the white or cream variegation lacks chlorophyll, the pigment that turns sun into plant energy, she said.

“I tend to like hostas with a thicker leaf,” Wilhoite said. Not only are the plants generally tougher, thicker leaves also provide more slug resistance. Always consider the mature size of the plants. Hostas may take up to seven years to reach maturity.

The popularity of mini hostas is fueled by consumer interest in miniature gardens. Miniatures usually are not larger than about 12 inches tall and wide, some with leaves as small as a thumbnail. Minis also are good as an edger in the shade garden.

Wilhoite said medium-size hostas are the workhorses in the garden because they provide a good show without overwhelming the scene. These will be 12 to 18 inches tall and no wider than about 2 ½ feet. Large and gigantic hostas will be at least 4 feet wide or more, she said. Here’s a sampler of her recommendations:

Miniature

  • Blue Mouse Ears
  • Itty Bitty
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Mini Skirt
  • Church Mouse
  • Pure Heart

Medium

  • June
  • Halcyon
  • Autumn Frost
  • Mystic Star
  • First Frost
  • High Society

Large/Gigantic

  • Sum and Substance
  • Blue Angel
  • Earth Angel
  • Elator
  • Blue Mammoth
  • Empress Wu

 Fragrant

  • Plantaginea
  • Guacamole
  • Moonlight Sonata
  • Royal Wedding
  • Stained Glass
  • Cathedral Windows

 

Potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce, oh my!

Ultimate Mixed lettuce. Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau

Since this is the best time to think about what edibles we will grow this year, I reached out to area gardeners about what they are planning. Last week, we talked to gardeners who planted less familiar foods: tomatillo, leeks and celeriac. Today, the gardeners’ menu is more mainstream.

Lettuces and Greens

Marion County Master Gardener and graphic designer Karen Kennedy wishes she had enough sun to grow vegetables successfully.

“I do successfully grow leaf lettuce along the edge of one of my perennial beds,” said Kennedy, who sows packets of seeds of mixed salad greens. “The area gets a nice mix of sun and shade and, depending on how fast we go to high heat, I can sometimes keep it going until mid June, or early July. I’ve also grown rainbow chard in one of my perennial beds.”

Tomatoes

German Johnson heirloom tomato. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Plants.

Like a lot of Hoosiers, Carol Michel, an Indianapolis south sider and award-winning blogger at maydreamsgardens.com, picked tomatoes as her must-have veggie. “They truly do taste better when they are homegrown. I like the variety German Johnson. It’s an heirloom that tastes like a tomato should taste and the fruit is so big, that you just need just one slice to cover an entire piece of toast for a BLT,” she said.

After all, it’s a family tradition.

“The thing about the German Johnson tomato is that my grandfather was German and my grandmother’s maiden name was Johnson, so I always think of them when I grow this tomato,” Michel said. “I am to the point where I have to grow it or my garden feels incomplete.”

She grows them in the ground. “Plant it deeply in a sunny location and water when we don’t get rain. Provide strong staking because it will be big plant.”

Potatoes

Red Norland and Yukon Gold potato harvest. (C) Photo courtesy of Sally Zelonis

The best part of growing potatoes is harvesting them, said Sally Zelonis, major gifts officer at the Indianapolis Zoo. “It’s like panning for gold! When you carefully dig in the ground to see what you have — it is so fun to pull up a beautiful potato,” she said.

She buys seed potatoes at The Garden Center on Indy’s northwest side. She purchased cloth tubs online for growing her potatoes because her Zionsville, Ind., yard is very small. She hand picks any insects from the plants. Periodically, she grows several varieties of potatoes and relishes their many colors. “When I harvested them, I made homemade French fries with each variety to try them out. What fun,” she said.