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What’s that plant, insect or disease? There’s an app for that!

 

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You know how it is. You’re on a walk and you see a plant and wonder what it is. Or, one of the plants in the garden starts to look really bad. Is it an insect, disease or something else?

There’s help for these and other questions right on your smart phone. Here’s the rundown.

Purdue University has released a handful of helpful apps, each costing $0.99, available at iTunes or Android stores.

Purdue Perennial Doctor identifies insects and diseases of 100 of the most commonly planted perennials in the Midwest and eastern United States. You plug in the plant name from a list, say it’s a disease of flowers, leaves, stems or crown. The app pulls up what the likely cause might be.

For instance, say you have brown spots on peony leaves. You tell the app that it’s a leaf problem and it will show images of the diseases or insects that affect peony foliage and offer tips on what to do. Purdue Annual Doctor, Tree Doctor and Tomato Doctor work the same way.

Purdue’s Plant Diagnostic Sample Submission allows you to send a photo of the problem to the Pest Diagnostic Laboratory for identification and remedies. There’s an $11 submission fee. Submissions can be digital or you can mail a sample of the plant. For more details: www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/services.html.

Marion County Master Gardener AnswerLine is a free resource. You can call (317) 271-9292 with your questions. Master Gardener volunteers research the problem and call you back within a day or two.

Or, you can email your questions to marionmg@purdue.edu. Emailing gives you the opportunity to include photos to help Master Gardeners solve the problem. Make sure the photos are in focus and show enough of the plant to help identify it, such as leaves, flowers and branching characteristics. The photos also should be large enough, about 500KB so they can be expanded to help with identification.

Garden Compass is a free app to identify plants, pests and diseases. You take a photo of the problem, give as much information as possible, such as locale and what you observe. Provide a close-up image of the foliage, branching or other identifying characteristics. It’s frequently difficult to identify a plant or problem from a photo taken far away. The photo is sent to an expert in your region to help identify the problem and make suggestions on what to do.

Dahlias perk up the late-summer garden

A pink Art Nouveau grabs the center of attention amid Purple Haze dahlias.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A pink Art Nouveau grabs the center of attention amid Purple Haze dahlias.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dahlias have never been a favorite of mine, mainly because they always seemed persnickety — prone to mildew, rot and spider mites to name a few challenges.

But this year, Longfield Gardens offered to send me some samples of these tender tubers, and, well, you can never have too many plants to try.

I was about a month late when I planted them up in containers in June. Even though July was cool, the plants took off and started their season of bloom. And did they ever. Maybe enough to change my mind.

For one thing, they are still going strong, long after other annuals have taken on a tired look. They likely will keep blooming until frost. And no sign of mildew, although a little damage from mites.

Dahlias come in many colors, forms and sizes, as large as dinner plates, which usually need staking, and others more diminutive.

Mine are border anemone dahlias, reaching 18 to 24 inches tall with flowers a bit bigger than a golf ball. Although not long-stemmed, they are tall enough for small cut flower arrangements.

When it comes to fall, we have two options: leave them in the ground and let nature take them, or dig the tubers for winter storage.

If digging, wait until the tops of dahlias are killed by frost. Discard any damaged tubers. Rinse the soil from the healthy tubers. Many dahlia experts recommend treating tubers with a fungicide, such as sulfur powder, before storing. Allow to dry, wrap in plastic or place in bags of wood shavings or similar material. Store the tubers out of light, where they won’t freeze or get so warm the they sprout.

In past years, I’ve moved dahlias, pot and all, to my basement for the winter, where they go dormant and require no water. In spring, I move the pot to my enclosed porch to acclimate the plants to more light and begin watering. They go outdoors in mid May.

In early April, take the tubers out of winter storage and plant in pots and place in a bright area indoors. Fertilize with a water-soluble product, according to label directions. In mid May, transplant dahlias outdoors in the garden or in containers. Dahlias do best in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.

For more information about growing dahlias, check out the American Dahlia Society. Elkhart has the only Indiana chapter.

Be on the lookout for risky trees

Ornamental pear trees develop multiple trunks. These large branches are notorious for splitting and falling during storms. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Ornamental pear trees develop multiple trunks. These large branches are notorious for splitting and falling during storms. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Fresh from a meeting of 400 member of Garden Writers Association in Pittsburgh, I thought I’d share what I learned in a class, Recognizing At-Risk Trees by Bob Polomski, a professor of forestry and urban forestry at Clemson University.

“I created this seven-point check up list to teach tree owners how to examine their trees for defects that are likely to lead to failure and possibly cause injury or damage,” he said. In tree talk, failure means a tree or limb falls.

A silver maple with cracks and crevices threatens two houses. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/vine and Branch

A silver maple with cracks and crevices threatens two houses. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch

First, stand far enough away from your trees so you can look up into the canopies.

1. Dead or hanging branches larger than 2-inch diameter should be removed immediately to prevent them from falling and damage objects and people below.

A tree limb threatens a home. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

A tree limb threatens a home. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

2. Is the tree leaning? “If you see exposed roots or a mound of soil near its base, the tree may be an imminent hazard that requires immediate action,” Polomski said.

Second, walk up to the tree and closely examine the branches and trunk.

3. Are there multiple trunks and leaders? Look for cracks or splits in branches that are co-dominant. Wishbone-like trunks of equal diameter may separate during wind and ice storms. Ornamental pears are prime examples of multiple trunks that split during storms.

4. Inspect where large branches meet the trunk. Look for cracks or splits. Remove the branches before a storm does, Polomski said.

Deep cracks in the trunk indicate serious risks and should be check by a certified arborist. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Deep cracks in the trunk indicate serious risks and should be check by a certified arborist. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

5. Use a pencil or stick to measure the depth of cracks or splits. If the crack extends into the wood beyond the bark, call a certified arborist to inspect the tree.

6. Look for cavities, cankers, mushrooms and other malformations of the trunk. These indicate dead and decaying wood. Call a certified arborist to assess the condition and potential risk of the tree.

Be on the look out for cavities and the formation of fungus, which indicates dead or dying wood. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch

Be on the look out for cavities and the formation of fungus, which indicates dead or dying wood. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch

Third, inspect the base of the tree.

7. Look for damage from rodents, trimmers or mowers at the base of the tree. Is there a mound of soil or cracked dirt near the main root? Do roots encircle the tree? Consult with a certified arborist to help solve the problem.

Landscape work severed the roots on one side of a pine tree, causing it to lift out of the ground and threaten the nearby house. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Landscape work severed the roots on one side of a pine tree, causing it to lift out of the ground and threaten the nearby house. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Why does this matter?

The last thing you want is for a tree to fall on your house, the neighbor’s or crash into cars on the street. A common argument for putting off tree work is the expense. It’s a balance, that’s for sure, but it’s likely more expensive to repair the house, replace the car, pay hospital bills or worse, than regular basic tree care.

Lastly, always work with a certified arborist.

 

Hibiscus sawfly appears in Indiana gardens

The larva of hibiscus sawfly turns hibiscus leaves into lace. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The larva of hibiscus sawfly turns hibiscus leaves into lace. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

In some Hoosier gardens, hibiscus leaves look like green lace.

Don’t blame the damage on Japanese beetles. The real culprit is the hibiscus sawfly larva, which has an appetite for other members of the mallow family, including hollyhock, okra and cotton. It does not seem to bother tropical hibiscus (H. rosa sinensis) or rose of Sharon (H. syriacus)

Research on this pest began with a question from a reader. She’d already identified the problem on her ‘Lord Baltimore’, ‘Anne Arundel’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ perennial hybrid hibiscus, and a native species (H. moscheutos). “Is there any treatment at this late date or should I just remove the plants? I am getting tired of them so removal would be no big loss,” said E.A. of Indianapolis.

That sent me to my go-to bug guy, Cliff Sadof, a professor of entomology at Purdue University Extension. Hibiscus sawflies repeatedly attack his hollyhocks, Sadof said. “They can kill a hollyhock and make hibiscus look awful,” eventually weakening the plant.

The tiny hibiscus sawfly deposits eggs inside leaf tissue. The larva emerges and devours leaf tissue, leaving only the veins. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The tiny hibiscus sawfly deposits eggs inside leaf tissue. The larva emerges and devours leaf tissue, leaving only the veins. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The 3/16-inch long black hibiscus sawfly burrows eggs just under the leaf tissue. Barely visible at first, well camouflaged baby larvae hatch and begin devouring leaf tissue. By the time the green larvae reach maturity at about ½ inch long, you’ve got lacy leaves.

With a 28-day life cycle, we get four generations of the pest. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant to catch the first generation. Knocking down the first group goes a long way at controlling hibiscus sawfly the rest of the summer, he said.

The professor recommends an insecticide that contains Spinosad. To protect bees and other pollinators, “do not spray it on the flowers and be sure to hit both sides of the leaves.”

Green stink bugs show up, too

Green stink bugs lay eggs on the underside of the leaves of weeds. Photo courtesy John Obermeyer, Purdue Extension Entomology

Green stink bugs lay eggs on the underside of the leaves of weeds.
Photo courtesy John Obermeyer, Purdue Extension Entomology

If my email is any indicator, another insect, the native green stink bug, also has shown up in high numbers. The native green stink bug feeds on lots of plants, including tomatoes and soybeans, as well as ornamental trees and shrubs.

Knock green stink bug nymphs from plants to help reduce the numbers of plant-eating adults. Photo courtesy Cliff Sadof, Purdue Extension Entomology

Knock green stink bug nymphs from plants to help reduce the numbers of plant-eating adults. Photo courtesy Cliff Sadof, Purdue Extension Entomology

“Usually green stink bugs show up here and there, 10 to 15 at the most on a plant. But if it’s the brown marmorated stink bug, multiply that by 10,” Sadof said of the exotic pest that showed up in big numbers in 2013.

Cultural controls include removing weeds where green stink bugs hide and lay eggs. A strong spray of the hose will knock them off plants and insecticidal soap also may be effective. Always read and follow label directions.

Fall coverups for the garden

Extend the growing and harvest season by covering cool-season plants with row covers or heavy-duty plastic. The cover also can be used to get a jump-start on the growing season in spring. Photo courtesy Gardener’s Supply/gardeners.com

Extend the growing and harvest season by covering cool-season plants with row covers or heavy-duty plastic. The cover also can be used to get a jump-start on the growing season in spring. Photo courtesy Gardener’s Supply/gardeners.com 

If you’re considering planting a fall crop of lettuce, spinach, broccoli and other cool-season vegetables, now is the time.

Some plants already growing in the garden, such as onions and cabbage, tolerate cold and might keep producing for several more weeks with just a little protection. Chard, lettuce, cauliflower and carrots can take a frost or two. Others, such as tomatoes, melon and pumpkins, will be damaged by light frosts.

Some garden centers will have transplants, but I’ve always had a hard time finding them. Call around to see who might have them.

Northern Indiana gardeners can sow seeds now for beets, carrots, leaf lettuce, turnips, spinach, chard, radish, peas and bush beans. Try to find transplants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, cabbage and cauliflower. Gardeners in the middle and southern part of the state have a few more weeks to sow and transplant.

When planting fall season vegetables, mix a little compost or other organic matter to the soil. A lot of times, the soil is crusted over from the summer, so a little compost can work wonders in helping the new seeds and roots develop roots. The soil is a lot warmer now, too, than it was in spring, so you might need to water more frequently until plants get established.

There are several ways to protect these veggies as we move into cold weather.

Row covers are made out of spun plastic material and can protect plants to about 28 degrees. To increase protection even more, cover the row cover with a 6-mil plastic, which will get you protection to about 15 degrees. For even more, add several gallon jugs of water among the plants. The sun heats up the water during the day and the jugs slowly release the heat at night.

For quick protection when frost threatens, toss sheets, blankets or paper bags over tender crops, such as tomatoes and peppers. Do not use plastic unless you tent it so that it does not touch the plants. Condensation that forms and freezes under the plastic will damage plants.

For more info, download Purdue University’s The Fall Vegetable Garden.

There also are several good books on this topic:

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing)

The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch (Chelsea Green Publishing)

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening by Delilah Smittle and Sheri Ann Richerson (Alpha)

 

Fall Master Gardener classes begin in September

Two Master Gardener programs will be conducted this fall in Marion County with 18 three-hour sessions in each program. This popular program is for adults who would like to learn more about gardening and help others grow.

Both classes begin Sept. 16, 2014. Registration deadline is Sept. 10. Enrollment is limited and classes fill quickly.

Classes meet at the Purdue Extension-Marion County office on the Indiana State Fairgrounds (parking is free), 1202 E. 38th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46205.

Daylilies and irises rebloom for multiple seasons of beauty

‘Primal Scream’ daylily has 7 ½- to 8 ½-inch wide tangerine blooms in late summer and gets about 34 inches tall. Photo courtesy perennialrescource.com

‘Primal Scream’ daylily has 7 ½- to 8 ½-inch wide tangerine blooms in late summer and gets about 34 inches tall. Photo courtesy perennialrescource.com

Daylilies and irises are commonplace in most Hoosier gardens, but gardeners still have questions about these mainstay perennials.

For instance, a lot of gardeners confuse daylilies (Hemerocallis) with true lilies (Lilium), but they are two different species. A lily grows from a bulb and a daylily grows from an underground stem, called a rhizome. Most Iris also grows from a rhizome, which people sometimes call a bulb.

There are early, mid and late season blooming daylilies and irises and those that rebloom. Daylilies and irises do best in full sun, but will tolerate light shade.

Originating in Asia, there are more than 65,000 varieties of daylilies with thousands of colors and variations. There are about 300 species of irises, from the native crested iris to bearded and Siberian types.

“Daylilies thrive on water throughout the season. Irises really don’t need too much water after they bloom,” said John Everitt, president of the Indiana Daylily and Iris Society.

Keep daylily and iris tidy by removing spent flowers and the stems when done blooming. Cut dayliles back to the ground in fall, which is also a good time to divide them. Most irises, too, can be divided and transplanted then. Bearded iris should be cut back in late summer or early fall to reduce infestation from the iris borer, which lays its eggs on the leaves.

Fragrant ‘Feed Back’ bearded iris gets about 3 feet tall when it blooms in late spring to early summer and again in late summer. Photo courtesy perennialresource.com

Fragrant ‘Feed Back’ bearded iris gets about 3 feet tall when it blooms in late spring to early summer and again in late summer. Photo courtesy perennialresource.com

A common practice Everitt would like to see changed is planting daylilies and irises in separate beds. “A whole bed of the sword-leafed iris or a large expanse of grassy daylily foliage can be a bit monotonous,” he said. He recommends planting daylilies and irises among other perennials with similar horticulture requirements to provide different bloom shapes and textures.

Good companions for daylilies include: bee balm (Monarda fistulosa, M. didyma), Shasta daily (Leucanthemum superba), garden phlox (P. paniculata), coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Everitt said.

For bearded iris companions, Everitt recommends: peony (Paeonia), salvia (S. nemerosa, S. sylvestris), beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and catmint (Nepeta faasenii, N. racemosa).

To talk first hand about these beautiful plants, visit the Indiana Daylily and Iris Society’s annual sale, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Sullivan Hardware and Garden, 6955 N. Keystone Ave. “Our sales typically offer 20 to 25 different iris cultivars and up to 50 different daylily cultivars,” Everitt said.

Worthy garden plants grow in city demonstration plots

 

At Garfield Park, vote until Sept. 30 for your favorite plant for the American Garden Award: Celosia Arrabona Red (front), Cuphea Sriracha Violet (rear) and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue (right). Not pictured is Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

At Garfield Park, vote until Sept. 30 for your favorite plant for the American Garden Award: Celosia Arrabona Red (front), Cuphea Sriracha Violet (rear) and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue (right). Not pictured is Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you are going to the Indiana State Fair this month, hop the shuttle or hike over to the north side of the fairgrounds to see the All-America Selections Display Garden.

This is the third year for the garden, which is redesigned and replanted each year by Marion County Master Gardeners to keep it fresh and interesting. The garden is slightly northeast of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources area.

You’ll see the newest All-America Selections flowers, vegetables and herbs, along with a collection of AAS winners from previous years.

“This year I don’t have all of the plants totaled, but the years of AAS range from 1935’s Straight 8 cucumber to the latest in 2014 for this year,” such as Mascotte, a dwarf French bean, said Steve Mayer, Purdue Marion County Extension horticulture educator.

Last year, Master Gardeners volunteered 1,601 hours in the display garden. Each week, volunteers weed, water, deadhead, mulch and tidy the garden. And, they harvest. Last year, 855 pounds of produce were donated to a local food bank, he said.

The All-America Selections Display Garden includes vegetables, flowers and herbs that should grow well in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

The All-America Selections Display Garden includes vegetables, flowers and herbs that should grow well in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

Beside the plants, visitors will see various examples of raised and accessible planting beds, ways to cage or trellis tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and other vegetables, examples of how to protect plants from insects, such as squash bugs, and other techniques you can use at home.

Master Gardeners will be in the garden during the fair, too, ready to answer questions and give advice. In 2013, 13,778 people visited the garden during the fair.

On the other side of town at Garfield Park, visitors have a chance to vote for their favorite plants on display as part of the American Garden Award program. Designed to instill interest and excitement for gardening and new plants, it gives the public a chance to have their say. Garfield is one of 32 public gardens in North American participating in the six-year-old program.

Thomas Graham, a Garfield Park Master Garden, plants and maintains the beds, which this year, are on the west side of the Arts Center. Four plants are in the running: Cuphea Sriracha Violet, Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame, Celosia Arrabona Red, and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue. Vote for your favorites with your smartphone or online. Voting ends Sept. 30.

Dianthus: A flower of the gods for everyone

Dash Crimson and Dash Magician sweet William have provided a small bouquet of flowers about every two weeks since May. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dash Crimson and Dash Magician sweet William have provided a small bouquet of flowers about every two weeks since May. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Since early May, I’ve been able to cut a small bouquet of sweet William about every two weeks. This is a plant I don’t grow very often because it does not like hot summers.

Two of the Dash series sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) from Ball Seed, came as trial plants early this spring. I potted up Dash Crimson and Dash Magician in a container and hoped for the best. Unlike a lot of times with trial plants, the best happened.

A 2014 introduction in the series is Dash Magician. Its flowers open white but age to various pinks. I have it planted with Dash Crimson, which is a deep blue-red.

Mildly fragrant, this sweet William gets about 15 inches tall, and unlike a lot of dianthus, the stems are able to hold the flowers upright. Dianthus, which includes carnation, generally has weak stems.

There are several types of dianthus, which means flower of the gods. The perennials include carnations and Cheddar pinks, such as Bath’s Pink and the 2006 Perennial Plant of the Year, Firewitch. Annuals include China pinks, such All-America Selections Corona Cherry, Melody Pink and Supra Purple. Then there is the biennial sweet William. Biennial seed germinates the first year to form a rosette, a cluster of leaves close to the ground. These rosettes are what bloom in year two. Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is another example of a biennial.

A distinct advantage of the two I have from the Dash series is their long-flowering period. Usually by this time in a normal summer, the sweet Williams would be done, possibly returning a little later along with the cooler temps. Another advantage is that the plants bloom the first year when grown from seeds. No vernalization, or cold period, is needed. Seeds are available from Burpee.

Dianthus does best in full sun and well-drained soil. The incredibly fragrant, perennial Cheddar pinks are evergreen, holding on to their blue-green foliage all winter. These are tough plants. So tough you can walk on them.

Because the annual dianthus is very cold tolerant, it is not uncommon for it to winter over. This is not 100 percent reliable, so don’t plan your whole color scheme around this happening. Most of these annuals are sold as bedding plants, so they are inexpensive to replace.

Weeds offer architectural interest

mullein flower a morguefile0001452827250An Indianapolis reader wants to now the name of a plant that she’s sure is a weed. “I enjoyed watching this all summer last year. Could you provide me with the same of the weed? The middle stem grew so tall, I couldn’t believe it stayed upright,” wrote D.E.

She sent along a postage-stamp size photo of the plant, which even though a small image, was easy to identify.

The tall plant with greenish-blue, fuzzy leaves is common mullein (Verbascum thapsus). It is listed as an introduced biennial wildflower with an interesting lore. Some people call it a weed. Some say it’s an herbal medicine. And in the past, it served as a shoe insert and tobacco substitute. The incredibly soft leaves can get up 10 inches long and 5 inches wide.

 

The leaves of common mullein are extremely soft and have been used as inserts for shoes with holes in their soles. © Spiff/dollarphotoclub.com

The leaves of common mullein are extremely soft and have been used as inserts for shoes with holes in their soles. © Spiff/dollarphotoclub.com

It prefers a sunny location and generally roots along roadside, fields and areas of our garden where the soil has been disturbed.

The flowers are processed for an herbal cure-all for everything from respiratory problems to joint pain. The leaves have been used as bandages. Decades ago, poor people used the leaves to line their shoes that had holes in the soles.

Originally from Europe and Asia, the texture and form of mullein make it an interesting natural, architectural element in the garden.

There are hybrid ornamental verbascums that are grown here as a long-blooming tender perennial that’s terrific as a cut flower. Although some, such as the Southern Charm or Christo’s Yellow Lightning, are rated hardy to USDA Zone 5, they rarely winter over.

Beautiful purple fruit forms on pokeweed in late summer. Robins love it and act a little drunk as they imbibe. © Jennifer Handy/123rf.com

Beautiful purple fruit forms on pokeweed in late summer. Robins love it and act a little drunk as they imbibe.
© Jennifer Handy/123rf.com

Another weed with stunning architectural stature is pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which also can reach 10 feet high. An native perennial in the Eastern United States, young leaves are considered a delicacy in some cultures. Mature plants are poisonous to humans.

Birds, especially robins, love the purple fruit that forms as clumps along the plant in mid to late summer. As the season progresses, the hollow stem turns purple, adding even more interest in the garden.

Pokeweed prefers full sun and moist, rich soil, but is quite tolerant of part shade. Birds frequently deposit seeds in our garden beds. ‘Silverstein’ is a variegated cultivar of pokeweed, with creamy-green leaves on 4 to 6 foot tall plants with violet pink fruit.