October 2011

Wicked Bugs chronicles bites, stings, disease and other insect infractions that changed the world

As if Halloween is not scary enough, author Amy Stewart gives us a few million more reasons.

Stewart’s Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects (2011 Algonquin Books, $18.95 hardbound) introduces us to some of the scariest multi-legged creatures on earth.

At least 1 million species of insects have been identified worldwide with a population of about 10 quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros), or roughly 200 million for each of one us, she said.

Stewart, who also wrote the best-seller Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, applies a broad definition to wicked bugs.

Painful and destructive insects, crop destroyers and those that carry diseases make the list, including what she calls the Gardener’s Dirty Dozen: aphids, whitefly, slugs and snails, cutworm, earwig, Japanese beetle, cucumber beetle, tomato hornworm, flea beetle, coddling moth, scale and tent caterpillar.

“They may not change the course of civilization. They might not spread the plague or send villagers fleeing for the hills. And they’ve probably never been implicated in a murder — although they do inspire murderous rages. These are just some of the pests that drive gardeners mad,” she writes.

Of course, more devastating bugs did alter civilization, including the oriental rat flea, which brought on the plague, or the Black Death of the Middle Ages, which killed one-third to one-half of Europe’s population.

The book also describes various bug-related phobias. Entomophobia is fear of insects, aniphobia is fear of bees and scoleciphobi is fear of parasitic worms.

One beautiful aspect of the book is Briony Morrow-Cribbs intricate illustrations, which practically crawl off the page.

The book is not meant to be a field guide or prescription for various bites and stings. Rather, it’s a fascinating look at a world we seldom notice.

Yearlong Digging Deeper film and book series begins at Fall Creek Gardens

Fall Creek Gardens, a resource center for urban growers in Indianapolis, has launched Digging Deeper, a book and film series that illustrates what other communities are doing to promote urban food production.

The series will alternate between books and films. You can anticipate lively conversations with the neighbors in and around Mapleton-Fall Creek and others in Central Indiana who would like to spend time talking and dreaming about urban gardening and farming. Organic, home-popped corn will be served.

For more information about the series or about Fall Creek Gardens, contact Maggie Goeglein or Angela Herrmann at (317) 644-8286, or To obtain books, please contact the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library or a locally-owned bookstore.

The Digging Deeper Series, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Mapleton Fall Creek Community Development Corp., 130 E. 30th St., Indianapolis

Nov. 3, 2011, The Garden — Nominated for Best Documentary Feature Oscar in 2009, this film tells the story of a 14-acre garden in South Central Los Angeles. Some of the city’s poorest farm the land, which is threatened by developers. The film raises universal questions about liberty, equality and justice in the garden.

Dec. 1, 2011, Food not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by H.C. Flores, is an engaging book that combines practical wisdom on edible garden design and community-building. It presents a fresh perspective and shows how to reconnect to the earth and to our communities one garden at a time.

Jan. 5, 2012, Urban Roots — A timely, moving and inspiring film that follows the urban farming phenomenon in Detroit. The film speaks to a nation grappling with collapsed industrial towns and the need to forge a sustainable and prosperous future.

Feb. 2, 2012,  Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture by Mark Winne looks at a rapidly growing alternative food system. The book introduces readers to innovative people reclaiming their connections to their food and their health and embracing the great American tradition of self-reliance.

March 1, 2012, City Farmer: Survival in the Urban Landscape is an award-winning film that depicts one of the most successful community garden movements ever—one that grows more than $1 million in produce annually, which in turn is shared with those in need.

April 5, 2012, Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew prepares gardeners for spring planting. Revisit this classic guide to laying out, planting and maintaining a productive, attractive garden in any amount of space. Learn to make the most of your garden while conserving the resources and labor required.

The vision of Fall Creek Gardens is to provide support to home and urban food production by practicing and teaching organic and sustainable methods of growing food, encouraging community garden space (virtual and physical) and by providing access to tools, supplies and information.

2011 Indiana native plants conference focuses on corridors and connections

November 12, 2011
7:30 AMto5:00 PM

The 2011 Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s 2011 conference Connectivity & Corridors covers the science and issue beghind interest in corridors. Habitats are fragmented and wild places are few and far between. We can create landscape corridors between disconnected fragments of plant and animal habitats. Leave with ideas about specific plants tht can create a functioning corridor in your own backyard or neighborhood.

When: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 12, 2011

Where: Schwitzer Student Center, University of Indianapolis, 1400 E. Hanna Ave., Indianapolis

Admission: $60 INPAWS member; $75 non-member, $35 student

Registration form


Raking, mowing fall leaves

Remove large leaves from the lawn or chop them into tiny bits.

Remove large leaves from the lawn or chop them into tiny bits.

Leaves that fall this time of year are either a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view. A couple of years ago, we talked about fall leaves on Fox 59’s Hoosier Gardener.

Sure, the leaves are usually a bit of a chore, but how much of one depends on the method you use to dispose of the leaves. Leaves, especially large ones like maple and sycamore, left on the lawn will smother and kill the grass, or contribute to fungus and insects, so it’s recommended that something be done.

The best way to get rid of leaves is to chop them up into tiny bits and pieces with a mulching mower and leave them on the ground. As the leaves decompose, they add organic matter,  improving the quality of the soil and adding trace amounts of nutrients. Sometimes it may take a couple of passes with the mower to chop up large leaves.

Lawn on left has had leaves mulched with mower. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Lawn on left has had leaves mulched with mower. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The second best way is to use a bagger with the mower. The mower will chop up the leaves into tiny bits, which can be added to the compost pile, mixed into the soil when making new beds this fall or added as a mulch around plants. This method improves the soil and keeps the leaves out of the waste stream. Leaves chopped and bagged by the mower also can be dumped into bags for pick up if your municipality composts them.

Another methods is to rake the leaves close to a garden bed, then run the mower so that the chopped leaves blow into the bed, adding instant organic matter and mulch.

Bag leaves when municipalities pick up for composting. (C) Fotolia

Bag leaves when municipalities pick up for composting. (C) Fotolia

Another way is to rake the leaves for composting, or bagging for pick up, only if your municipality collects and composts them. By the way, raking leaves burns about 240 calories per hour.

Windrow composting. Photo courtesy Washington State University

Windrow composting. Photo courtesy Washington State University

In Indianapolis, the Department of Public Works collects about 9 million tons of leaves in fall and composts them in large windrows. The following spring, the compost is given away free to citizens.

Here’s the schedule for Indianapolis DPW’s fall leaf collection. Each household can place 40 bags a week for pick up, including leaves and regular household trash. The latter is limited to 10 bags. Bags of leaves should be set apart from regular trash items.

Compost can be picked up next spring at the Southside Landfill, 2577 S. Kentucky Ave., (317) 247-6808.

It is against the law to burn leaves in Marion County.

‘Shortwood’ rated best garden phlox in Chicago Botanic Garden’s perennial plant trials

'Shortwood' garden phlox got the highest marks in Chicago Botanic Garden trials. Photo courtesy Bloom of Bressingham North America

One of the longest blooming perennials in the garden is phlox, frequently called garden or border phlox. This phlox (P. paniculata) is an Eastern United States’ native plant. Large flower heads attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinating insects. It’s also an excellent cut flower. Many are fragrant.

A Comparative Study of Phlox paniculata Cultivars by the Chicago Botanic Garden is the second evaluation of this popular perennial in 20 years. In the first trial, 20 varieties were evaluated from 1993 to 1996. Since then, many new cultivars have been introduced. From 2001 to 2009, researchers evaluated 78 varieties of garden phlox.

The perennials were grown in full sun in soil that was amended with compost. Plants were mulched with composted leaves, but not fertilized or treated for insect or disease. Plants were watered as needed with overhead sprinklers. Planting beds were fenced to keep out deer.

Researchers evaluated all aspects of the phlox, such as flowering time, size and number of blooms, strength of stems and overall plant health. As most gardeners know, powdery mildew on the phlox was the biggest problem researchers noted. The second biggest problem was mites.

‘Shortwood’ was the only phlox that garnered excellence with five stars “for its exceptional overall performance and superior resistance to powdery mildew and spider mites,” wrote Richard G. Hawke, the CBG’s plant evaluation manager.

Introduced by Blooms of Bressingham, ‘Shortwood’ was a chance seedling of ‘David’, discovered in Pennsylvania and named for the garden of Stephanie Cohen, a noted expert on perennials and author of many books.

The award-winning phlox has rosy pink flowers on plants that get about 4 feet tall.

To fight powdery mildew, the CBG recommends selecting resistant varieties, providing adequate ventilation by removing 25 percent of the stems, avoiding overhead watering and removing any plant debris.

Other highly rated phlox

These phlox (Phlox paniculata, P. x arendsii) displayed the greatest resistance to powdery mildew in all years of the trial at the Chicago Botanic Garden:

  • ‘Candy Floss’
  • ‘Sherbert Cocktail’
  • ‘Flower Power’
  • ‘Bartwelve’
  • ‘Becky Towe’
  • ‘Frosted Elegance’
  • ‘Giltmine’
  • ‘Goldmine’
  • ‘John Fanick’
  • ‘Lichtspel’
  • ‘Natural Feelings’
  • ‘Peppermint Twist’
  • ‘Pleasant Feelings’
  • ‘Rainbow’
  • ‘Rubymine’
  • ‘Shortwood’
  • ‘Swirly Burly’
  • ‘Wendy House’

Powdery mildew

Symptoms of this disease are observed in summer and autumn when the development of the fungus is promoted by high temperatures and high night-time humidity. The reproductive spores are carried by wind and germinate under humid conditions. Selecting mildew-resistant cultivars is the first line of defense against the disease. Unfortunately, the re­sistance or susceptibility of specific garden phlox cultivars to powdery mildew varies by geographic location.

A number of cultural practices may eliminate or reduce mildew in the garden. Management considerations include:

  • thinning out a fourth of the stems to increase air circulation through the plant
  • planting in full sun
  • eliminating or reducing overhead irriga­tion;
  • reducing the overwintering spores through removal of infected leaves and stems each autumn

Fungicides or hor­ticultural oils and soaps can also be helpful in controlling the fungus. Always read and follow the label directions of the products you use.

Research at Cor­nell University determined that a mixture of one tablespoon of baking soda and one tea­spoon of lightweight horticultural oil or in­secticidal soap in a gallon of water applied weekly helps to control powdery mildew.


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day October 2011

Disanthus' red leaves compliment the large blue leaf hostas at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Temperatures have taken a downturn and the threat of some upcoming nights in the 30s means fall has arrived. Many leaves have fallen, seemingly a lot earlier than usual, probably because of the drought. Today’s 30 mph winds just moved things along.

The late-blooming, no-name hostas are still doing their thing and the hydrangeas are taking on their fall hues.

'Gartenmeister' fuchsia adds height and color to a pot of impatiens and coleus. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

There are still several annuals blooming in the garden, including all the impatiens. A favorite combo, made from leftovers, includes Dazzler Mix impatiens and coleus mixed with ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ fuchsia (F. triphylla), one of my favorites.

Dragon wing Red begonia mixes nicely with 'Gryphon' begonia. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I’m quite taken with ‘Gryphon’ begonias, trial plants sent from Ball Horticulture along with Dragon Wing Red begonias. I paired the two and it worked out really well. These are winners in my book.

Summer Wine ninebark can't seem to decide whether to be green or purple. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The Summer Wine ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolious ‘Seward’) has just a few red leaves with most of the foliage still a rich bronzy purple. There are a couple of leaves though that can’t quite decide what color to be — green or purple? Knock on wood, but this plant has never been bothered by powdery mildew, a common pest on ninebarks.

Not so for the ‘Goldflame’ honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii), where the powdery mildew showed up just a few days ago. It went all summer without a spot. The honeysuckle still smells good, too. So does the volunteer flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), which perfumes the night air.

On a recent trip to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, I was drawn to the sun streaming above a lovely planting of heartleaf disanthus (Disanthus cercidifolius) with its fall color complimented by the large blue leaf Hosta ‘Big Daddy’. I’ve never heard of Disanthus, but it sure is a nice looking plants. The leaves resemble a redbud (Cercis canadensis), but it has another common name, the redbud witch hazel, which reflects its family relationship.

In gallon pots, awaiting their ‘forever’ home in my garden, but blooming anyway, are various trial plants of small butterfly bushes (Buddleja) and some very cool St. John’s wort (Hypericum). Even those rose samples have survived with only benign neglect.

My new book is out. The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens (2011, Cool Springs Press, $19.99) is the first national garden tourism book in more than a decade. It includes information on more than 400 gardens in the United States and Canada, including public gardens, arboreta, historic properties and more. In the book, icons are used to indicate each garden’s amenities such as handicap accessible or water feature. The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens is also the first garden title with QR codes, which when used with a smart phone, link to a garden’s Web site for more information.

Please visit the book’s Facebook page to ‘like’ it and to post a garden that is not in the book or an annual event that tourists might like to know about. The book has a listing of some event at the gardens, but certainly not all of them. Also on the Facebook page, I’ll post information and photos from some of the gardens in the book.

I hope you’ll consider the Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens when you are holiday gift shopping for your traveling friends and family or for yourself. I’ve also developed a program around the book: Planes, Trains and Are There Any Gardens Around Here? Amazing Gardens to Visit When on the Road. I’d love to visit a garden near you to talk about the gardens in the book, so please keep me in mind when setting up programs or pass my contact info to those in your community who organize garden programs.


2012 is the Year of Herbs

Rose hips are the seed pods of roses. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The National Garden Bureau and the Herb Society of America have teamed up to name 2012 Year Of the Herbs.

This is the first time the not-for-profits have partnered in their missions to promote gardening and educate people about growing plants.

To guide gardeners in their selection, the herb society offers its top 10 list, which members voted on at their 2011 annual conference.

Among the winners, these three are easy to grow from seed: sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), chives(Allium schoenoprasum) and dill (Anethum graveolens). Buy these seven plants at the garden center: Greek oregano (Organum vulgare hirtum), bay (Laurus nobilis), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), common sage (Salvia officinalis)and lavender (Lavandula).

For detailed info, download Year of the Herb by the National Garden Bureau and the Herb Society of America developed by the Herb Society of America and the National Garden Bureau.

Another group, the International Herb Association, has named 2012 the Year of the Rose, a plant not frequently thought of in the same category as basil or thyme.

But rose petals are edible and the seed heads, called hips, are a common ingredient in teas, herbal medicines and natural vitamins. Jim Long’s How to Eat a Rose is a helpful guide for any cook (

“Here in America, we tend to look upon the rose as just a flower in a vase,” Long wrote in the 2004 paperback. “Roses are used for lotions and rinses for the body, too, but it their use in foods that is fascinating to me. Rose ice cream, (the sweet beverage) sharbet, rose wine, rose vinegar, rose candies, jams and jellies are all an important part of life in many cultures.”

Florist roses are not a good choice because they have been treated with various pesticides. Long recommends organically grown roses, especially heavily fragrant, old fashion or antique varieties.

Denise Schreiber also has a new flowers-for-food spiral-bound book, Eat Your Roses: …Pansies, Lavender, and 49 Other Delicious Edible Flowers.


Time for the garden’s grading period. What’s a pass? What’s a fail?

Sunshine Blue caryopteris is not the bright yellow with blue flowers it's supposed to be because it is in too much shade. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Taking the time to walk the yard gives us the opportunity to make sure that our plants are thriving and not just surviving. October is a great time for this task because there is still time to take corrective action.

Here are some things to look for:

As trees and shrubs mature, they create more shade than originally in the area where you planted the roses, daisies and other sun-loving plants. If the full sun plants are languishing, move them to a better spot and replace with more shade-tolerant perennials or shrubs, such as hosta or hydrangea.

Are there plants that seem to attract insects or disease? For instance, I used to grow false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), but it was so full of aphids year after year, I pulled it out. Another false sunflower, ‘Sunshine Daydream’ (H. x multiflorus) from Plants Nouveau is thriving despite benign neglect. It has no bug or insect damage and at 6-feet tall, is still in full bloom with rich, yellow double flowers. I must say, though, that the flowers remind me more of a mum than the daisy like blooms on other varieties.

Do the azaleas, rhododendrons and hollies look sparse or weak? These acid loving plants will struggle in Indiana’s alkaline soil without amendments or special fertilizers. Holly-Tone from Espoma is an excellent product for these and other shrubs that prefer a more acidic soil.

Have some shrubs been pruned badly with all of the growth at the top and nothing at the base? Shrubs should be pruned so that the top is slightly more narrow than the base. Wide tops shade the bottom of the shrub, which reduces leave growth. Pull out and replace poorly pruned shrubs.

Have plants outgrown their space? If shrubs or trees are crowding out their neighbors, consider moving them. Perennials can be divided.

October garden checklist posted

The October checklist for the garden has been posted.

Plant tulips, daffodils and other bulbs now for a show in spring

Plant spring bloom bulbs in clusters or swaths for the best show. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

As summer winds down, we’re thinking two seasons ahead. That’s because a lot of spring color comes from bulbs, which are planted this time of year for enjoyment months away.

Just like sports, bulbs are major or minor players. The majors include daffodils, Dutch hyacinths, lilies, tulips, bluebells and Indian hyacinths. Crocus, grape hyacinths, glory of the snow, scilla and wind anemones are some of the minors. (The Dutch call them special bulbs.)

For the best show, buy the largest bulbs you can afford. When selecting daffodils, look for bulbs that have two growing points, called noses. Don’t be alarmed if the tulip’s outer skin, called a tunic, peels off. It won’t hurt anything. For naturalizing, smaller bulbs, including miniature daffodils and species tulips, work well.

Here are some more tips.

  • Plant spring bulbs in fall so that they have at least six weeks to develop roots before the ground freezes.
  • Spring bulbs do not need fertilizer when planted because they are packed with everything they need to grow the first season. Apply an all purpose fertilizer or dusting of compost in spring when their leaves break ground and again after they are done blooming.
  • Plant bulbs three to four times deeper than their height. If a bulb is 2 inches tall, plant it 6 to 8 inches deep.
  • Water the newly planted bulbs and mulch.
  • If squirrels, chipmunks and other critters are a problem, wrap clusters of bulbs in hardware cloth or chicken wire before planting. Animals, including deer, do not seem to bother daffodils, which are poisonous.
  • Dig one hole wide enough to accommodate several bulbs rather than individual holes.
  • In spring, allow the foliage to turn yellow or brown and fall flat. In this process called ripening, the leaves help the bulbs bulk up the nutrients needed for next year’s show.