June 2012

Is it a bed or a border? Garden language decoded


Croquet mallets serve as hose guides in an Irvington garden border planted with perennials. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We hear landscape and garden terms bandied about all the time, but do we know what they mean?

I must confess that I only recently learned the difference between a garden bed and garden border. I thought they were interchangeable, but they really aren’t. And what about whether a plant is an annual or perennial?

Here’s a primer:

Annual — goes from seed to flower to seed in one season. Usually killed by cold temperatures. Many tropical or tender plants, such as lantana and impatiens, are called annuals, even though they may be perennials in their natural range.

Biennial — a perennial that has a two-year growth cycle. In year one, it goes from seed to a low-growing cluster of leaves called a rosette. The plant blooms in year two, drops seeds, which form rosettes for next year’s flowers. Hollyhock (Alcea), foxglove (Digitalis) and parsley (Petroselinum) are among the biennials.

Deciduous — trees and shrubs that drop their leaves in fall. Most woody plants fall into this category, including maple, oak, roses, viburnum and hydrangea.

Evergreen — Retains leaves through winter. Needle evergreens include conifers, such as pines, spruces, junipers and yews. Broadleaf evergreens include rhododendrons and some hollies. Some perennials also can be considered evergreen because they retain their foliage in winter. Hellebore (Helleborus), lily turf (Liriope) and coral bells (Heuchera) are examples of evergreen perennials.

Annuals yellow marigolds and blue petunias fill a garden bed surrounded by brick. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Garden bed — usually can be seen from all sides. Can be any shape or size and have any kind of plants.

Garden border — usually backed by a structure, such as a house or fence.

Herbaceous — usually dies back to the ground in winter. Most perennials fall into this category.

Perennial — comes back every year when selected for the proper heat and cold hardiness and planted in the proper place.


When in drought, set priorities for watering the Indiana garden and landscape

Indiana lawns, trees, shrubs and other plants are suffering in the drought. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Whew! It’s hot. Most of Indiana is in a drought. The provisos have been in the newspaper, on television and radio. Still, people water their lawn to make sure their green velvet landscape retains its curb appeal.

Drought conditions do bring Indiana gardening priorities into play, including which plants we want to protect.

Take the lawn, for instance. Grass seed or sod is cheap compared to a tree or shrub. Grass is cheap compared to perennials and annuals, too. What makes grass valuable is all the maintenance to keep it green, mowed and weed free.

In the world of plant priorities, drought and water requirements, here’s a recommended order:

1. Newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials. It is critical to these plants’ overall health, vigor and long-term survival that they get at least an inch of rain or supplemental water every week or 10 days. Water newly planted stock at least the first year, preferably the first three years.

2. Vegetables and fruit need regular watering for the best production. Irregular watering may contribute to blossom end rot in tomatoes and some other vegetables. Vegetables and fruits need about an inch of water every week or 10 days.

3. Annuals and other plants in containers usually need to be watered  every day or every other day. The larger the container, the less you may have to water. Water the annuals in the ground, too. This can be done every week or 10 days.

4. Established perennials (three years or more in the ground) can be kept flowering with a good drink of water every two weeks. Many established perennials will survive a drought without any supplemental water, but flowers will be greatly reduced. Native plants are particularly well suited to environmental challenges.

5. Established shrubs or trees (three years or more in the ground) can be watered deeply about once a month, especially if they are showing signs of stress.

6. Believe it or not, established lawns can withstand several weeks of drought without thinning or death. The length of time varies according to the overall health of the lawn, soil, amount of fertilizer, foot traffic and other factors. Application of about one-half inch of water every two to three weeks will keep the crowns of grass alive, but won’t likely green it up.

Avoid fertilizing plants during drought or when reducing water. When watering, a showerhead nozzle placed at the base of plants is efficient at getting the water where it’s needed. Water the soil, not the plants.

A few gardeners use “gray water” on ornamental plants during drought. Many gardeners, especially those in water restricted areas in the country, rely on gray water all the time.

Gray water is “used” water collected from baths, showers and other kinds of household activities. There is some controversy about using gray water, especially from dishwashing and the laundry because of the potential of contaminates, such as detergent salts, grease or fecal material. Its use is illegal in some states, but not in Indiana.

However, sticking a bucket in the tub when you take a shower or dipping it in the bath water should not be hazardous when poured on ornamental plants. Avoid water that has been softened or which contains a lot of soaps or detergents because they can add salts to the soil, eventually causing plant damage. Most experts say gray water should not be used on vegetables or on plants in containers.

Rosie Lerner, consumer horticulturist at Purdue University, also has some tips for dealing with drought in the landscape, including an advisory that stressed plants may show the effects next season.

“Keep in mind that next year’s growth will be determined by buds that form this summer and early fall. Flower buds for spring flowering and fruiting plants will also be developing during this time,” Lerner says. “The damaged inflicted by drought now may affect next season.”

Even mature shrubs are showing signs of stress from the Indiana drought. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Leaf scorch on trees and shrubs, appearing as a browning along the edges of the leaves, is very common in dry summers. While minor cases of leaf scorch are not very harmful, prolonged lack of moisture can spell disaster for landscape plants. “Young and newly established plants are most susceptible to the dry conditions, but even established plants may reach a critical point during prolonged drought. Branch die back, combined with eventual root death, will make plants more susceptible to winter injury. Plants that were already under stress from other factors may succumb to severely dry soils,” Lerner says.

Purdue launches Website to help Indiana gardeners deal with drought

Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension Consumer Horticulturist. Photo courtesy Purdue University.

As if home gardeners don’t have their hands full just trying to keep their plants healthy in this drought and scorching heat, they also need to know this: environmental stress this year could influence how the plants develop next year, says Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension consumer horticulturist.

Gardeners ultimately may have to decide which plants to try to save and which to let go. (The Hoosier Gardener offers some suggestions on setting watering priorities.)

“Gardeners have a battle on their hands to keep plants healthy when extremely high temperatures are accompanied by lack of rain,” Lerner writes in her June column titled “In Times of Drought” and discusses in the video of the same name. Purdue also has launched a Website to help Indiana gardeners deal with the drought.

“Keep in mind that next year’s growth will be determined by buds that form this summer and early fall. Flower buds for spring flowering and fruiting plants will also be developing during this time. So the damaged inflicted by drought now may affect next season.”

Sandy soil and containerized plants will need more frequent irrigation than a heavier clay soil or a loam that has good organic matter content.

Leaf scorch on trees and shrubs, appearing as a browning along the edges of the leaves, is very common in dry summers. While minor cases of leaf scorch are not very harmful, prolonged lack of moisture can spell disaster for landscape plants. “Young and newly established plants are most susceptible to the dry conditions, but even established plants may reach a critical point during prolonged drought. Branch dieback, combined with eventual root death, will make plants more susceptible to winter injury. Plants that were already under stress from other factors may succumb to severely dry soils,” Lerner says.

Direct watering of landscape and fruit plants to where the roots naturally occur. While woody plants do have some roots that grow very deep, the feeder roots, which are responsible for most-efficient water uptake, occur in the top 12-18 inches of soil. They are concentrated below the drip line of the plant and beyond, rather than up close to the trunk. Apply water at a slow enough rate to allow penetration, rather than wasting water by runoff, and thoroughly soak the target area. Don’t apply the water any faster than one inch per hour. As with annual plants, mulch will help prevent moisture loss due to evaporation.

While many homeowners regularly water their lawns to keep them green throughout the summer, others prefer to allow the cool-season bluegrass to become dormant in the summer by withholding irrigation. In “normal” years, this strategy works just fine. Dormant bluegrass plants can generally last about four to six weeks without water.
But during severe drought, dormant lawns may begin to die if some water is not applied. To avoid grass plant death while minimizing water usage, apply one-half inch of water every two to four weeks. The grass will not green up, but the crowns will stay alive.Green up will occur with the return of natural precipitation and more favorable temperatures. Check out more info on managing lawns during drought.

Compounding the problem are any watering restrictions or a gardener’s limited ability to water larger numbers of plants.

The ideal time to water is during the early morning hours ending by 8 a.m. This makes maximum use of water while allowing foliage to dry. Watering during midday, when temperatures are high, sunshine is strong and winds are brisk, wastes substantial water. Watering in the evening is convenient for many and watering at night may coincide with lower water-use demand; however, it can make plants more susceptible to disease infection by providing the moisture needed by fungi and bacteria. Of course, many communities impose restrictions on water use during times of drought, so ideal practices may not be possible. If your community is under restricted water use, it is certainly better to water when permitted than not water at all.

“You may have to limit watering and prioritize which plants will be rescued — a bit of garden triage, so to speak,” Lerner says.

Among her tips:

  • New plants need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week to maintain optimum flowers foliage, roots and fruits. In times of drought, established plants may tolerate 10 to 14 days between watering, but be aware that problems such as fruit cracking and blossom end-rot will increase, Lerner says
  • The best way to water a garden is by soaking the soil thoroughly — but slowly — in one application. “This slow, deep watering will encourage deeper root growth, which in turn will be better able to withstand drought,” she says. “Frequent shallow water encourages shallow roots, which are more likely to succumb to heat and drying of the topsoil.”
  • Household “gray water” — such as that leftover from a bath or washing dishes — can be used but with caution. “Gray water could have a high level of detergent salts, which can eventually build up to harmful levels in the soil” Lerner says.

Water from a water softener has a high level of sodium that can tighten soil, preventing water from passing through it. “Use gray water only as a last resort, and use it as sparingly as possible to avoid salt buildup.” she says.

Lerner says gray water should never be used to irrigate edible crops or on plants in containers because of health risks associated with it.

By Rosie Lerner, Purdue University Consumer Horticulturist

Third year of dry, hot weather threatens trees and shrubs

Watering large shade trees will be an important task to help them weather a third year of lwoer-than-normal rainfall. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

What we need now, and I mean now, is for the skies to open up with the rain…a long, slow soaking rain.

Indianapolis has had only one-half inch of rain since early June. During that period, Indiana had lots of 90-degree days.

For most Hoosiers, this is year three of hot, dry conditions and more plants will reveal these stresses in their lives.

Powdery mildew was common this spring on peonies. Photo courtesy Purdue University

In a weakened condition, plants may be more susceptible to insect or disease. Peonies were hit hard with powdery mildew this spring and sawflies (sometimes called rose slugs) have been making holey messes of rose leaves.

Leaves on maples and other shade trees may be smaller this year and some ornamental trees, such as dogwoods, did not bloom, reflecting two years of lower than normal rainfall.

Gardeners need to focus more on larger, woody plants, such as trees and shrubs, which usually demand little attention. These plants are the most expensive to replace in the landscape, and they add value to real estate property. With what’s predicted to be the third year of little to no rain, they will need some TLC for their survival.

Sawfly damage on roses. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We hear all the time to give plants an inch of water a week. How much is that? Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc., says three 5-gallon buckets of water dumped at the base of small trees and shrubs once a week equals about 1-inch of water. KIB Arborist Nate Faris suggests doubling that amount during hot, dry spells.

The 1-inch can be delivered all at once or in two applications in a seven-day period.

For mature trees, a sprinkler should deliver water under the canopy to 3 to 4 feet outside the drip line. Place several straight edge cans throughout the area to be watered and when there’s an inch (or half-inch) of water, you know how much has been applied.

The turtle better live

(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

UPDATE: The turtle, named Keystone, is a mature, male, red-eared slider. It has a new home at Garfield Park.

Nature has come front and center this week with the Hoosier Gardener.

While watering — which we get do to a lot of right now — a mouse or a vole disappeared at the basement window. It was there, then it wasn’t. I saw it go through the window frame. When I first moved here, a mouse got in the same way and I plugged the hole with aluminum foil and it worked for years. Now, though, I want to replace the windows with glass block. They will look better and do a better job of keeping critters out. Will have to check prices, though.

Yesterday was very windy and in early evening, I was in the yard with Bisque, my dog, and Sadie, a friend’s dog. Within minutes, Bisque brought me a baby blackbird, dead from a broken neck. Just a few seconds later, she brought me another one, in bad shape, but it didn’t die until a few minutes later.

Before I could turn around, Bisque had another baby blackbird in her mouth. “Drop it,” I said, and the bird fluttered its wings, but  crawled between two containers planted with annuals.

At this point, I noticed three adult blackbirds sitting on the garage roof, squawking. I put the dogs indoors, found the third bird and set in one of the containers under some flowers.

The next morning, the bird had moved from the pot to the ground about four feet away. I tried not to notice the slug tracks on the baby bird’s feathers.

I picked up the bird and dropped water into its open mouth. I found s skinny worm in the soil and tucked it in the bird’s beak. I had to leave, so I moved the bird to a container on the enclosed porch.

When I returned three hours later, the bird was out of the container. I had to move a ton of furniture and junk to find the bird in the corner. It was not looking great, but marveled at how much of a fighter it was. I gave it a few more drops of water and set it down in a box. Within a few minutes the bird died. Emily Wood at Garfield Park suggested the birds were blown from their nest, so they may not have been able to fledge. And it’s not like we don’t have enough blackbirds. I did feel bad though.

(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Hopefully, my next encounter will be more rewarding. At 3:30 p.m. today I was driving south on Keystone Avenue, when just south of Woodfield Office Park, there was what looked like a turtle in the road. Rush hour was looming.

I continued south until I could make a u-turn and I drove back to where I saw the turtle. Indeed it was a turtle, looking a bit scuffed, but alive. I picked it up and put it on the floor of the back seat of the car. At home, I put it in a large plastic tub with couple of rocks big enough for the turtle to crawl on and a little water. On Wednesday, I’m going to take it to Garfield Park, where I hope it will find a home in or near one of the creeks.

I don’t know what kind of turtle it is, but it has a lot of coloring on its skin and what looked like red stripes on the side of its head. It’s a bit skittish, but seems to like the strawberries.


Slugs do like their beer

Crushed egg shells control slugs around hostas and other plants. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A lot of people think they have to snip off the flowers on bedding plants and other annuals before planting them.

Not so, says Diane Blazek of the National Garden Bureau, a not-for-profit organization that promotes gardening.

“In many cases pinching is no longer an absolute must because today’s commonly available bedding plants are bred to be more compact with continuous blooms,” she says.

One myth I’ve never heard of is that adding sugar to the planting hole will sweeten tomatoes. Tomato plants can’t absorb sugar in the soil, but makes it own through photosynthesis. “The sugar content of a variety is determined in the plant’s genetics,” Blazek says.

Here are some slug control practices or myths that do work:

Control slugs with crushed egg shells. Slugs do not like to crawl across jagged edges, so place egg shells around hostas or other plants bothered by slugs.

Another tip is to keep mulch away from the base of plants that are bothered by slugs. Keeping the mulch away reduces a slug’s hiding place.

Beer also is a good way to control slugs. Place tuna cans or other shallow dishes filled with beer at ground level. The slugs are attracted to the beer, so they crawl into the cans and drown.

Research shows slugs prefer lighter beers over darker ales and lager, Blazek says. The traps also will have to be replenished after a rain, since slugs have a taste for undiluted, full-bodied beer.

If you buy slug control product at a garden center, be sure to get one that is safe around children and pets. Sluggo is one brand.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day June 2012

(C) Sike's Dwarf oakleaf hydrangea fronts Annabelle hydrangea in the shade garden. Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

June is the height of the blooming season here in Central Indiana, where higher than normal temps in winter has pushed even more flowers into bloom.

As I look out my office window, I see white flowers — ‘Annabelle’ and White Dome hydrangeas (H. arborescens) and ‘Sike’s Dwarf’ oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) are all blooming. ‘Becky’ daisy (Leucanthemum) also is blooming.

From my office view, two volunteer flowering tobacco plants (Nicotiana alata) have hybridized into soft pinks.

Flowering tobacco. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I finally got all of my annual samples in their pots and so far, all is doing well. The Sun Parasol mandevilla also is beginning to put on its show. I bought a red trailing vinca (Catharanthus roseus) in a hanging basket to see how it performs. I first saw these a couple of years ago at OFA, the country’s largest horticulture trade show in Columbus, Ohio.

The front yard is still a mess, but the oakleafs (‘Pee Wee’) are blooming, as are various roses (Rosea).

The daylilies (Hemerocallis) are beginning to bloom, too, along with a huge butterfly bush that is in its full glory, a month before normal. The tags for the All-American daylilies are who knows where, but one I remember is ‘Orange Crush’, which looks just like the color of a soft drink with the same name.

In the vegetable garden, only tomatoes are planted: ‘Early Girl’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’, but they seem to be very slow taking hold. It could be my dog Bisque’s habit of laying in the area could be a problem.

My true joy this summer, though, is ‘Serotina’, a honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), which is in full bloom and fragrance. It perfumes the whole back yard. I have C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening to thank for this plant.

Serotina honeysuckle. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A few years ago, she wondered in her blog about why garden centers continued to stock ‘Goldflame’ honeysuckle (L. x heckrotii), which despite its incredible fragrance and pretty, hummingbird-attracting flowers, is prone to heavy doses powdery mildew. ‘Serotina’ does not seem to be affected by the leaf disease.

Hot Papaya coneflower at Garfield Park. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Although not in my yard, I have only praise for ‘Hot Papaya’ coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), which is in all its orange-red glory in the Children’s Garden at Garfield Park in Indianapolis. This coneflower is incredibly fragrant. Yesterday, the fragrance stopped a visitor in her tracks and prompted her to call her friend over to take a whiff. ‘Hot Papaya’ was introduced by Plants Nouveau a few years ago.

Thanks to May Dreams Gardens for being the host of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, where garden bloggers post on the 15th every month what is happening in their gardening world.


Beyond the beach in Porter County takes visitors to gardens

Well-used garden sink juts from a wall adorned by Cymbalaria at the Brincka Cross House and Garden in Valparaiso, Ind. . (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A lot of people know about Lake Michigan’s beaches in northwest Indiana, but what about gardens?

One of the youngest arboretums in the country is in Valparaiso, founded in 1997 by Damien and Rita Gabis, whose private property adjoins the 360-acre park.

Taltree Arboretum and Gardens opened with softly rolling hills and several stands of towering oaks and other woodland assets. Since then, Taltree has blossomed with wetlands, formal gardens, prairie plantings and a Monarch Waystation. At least 80 species of birds live at Taltree, including bobolinks and green herons, and where many warblers can be seen during migrations.

Taltree Arboretum and Gardens featues a 2 1/2-acre train garden. Photo courtesy Taltree.

Taltree became firmly rooted on the list of go-to places with its 2 ½-acre Railway Garden, which opened in 2011. The model railroad travels through vignettes depicting mining, forestry, farming and shipping.

Not far from Mount Baldy and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is the Brincka Cross House and Gardens, which is experiencing a renaissance after at least five years of neglect.

New management in Porter County Parks and Recreation has recognized the assets of this property, which was developed in the 1960s by the late William Brincka, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his late partner, Basil Cross

The contemporary home sits amid some of the largest rhododendrons in Indiana. The 25-acre property, five of which are cultivated, also features more than 400 hostas, 40 varieties of magnolias and 40 crabapple trees. Dotting the landscape are small, rectangular houses drilled with holes for mason bees, one of nature’s best pollinators.

Mason bee house at Brincka Cross Gardens in Valparaiso. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A parking lot is being developed across the road and the parks department has applied for a grant to make Brincka Cross part of an Indiana Department of Natural Resources trail, said Matt Brown, the department’s horticulturist who oversees the property.

Brincka Cross is open sunrise to sunset and admission is free.

Red barn at Brincka Cross Gardens. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


Booksigning at Bookmamas at Ellenberger Park’s farmers market

June 10, 2012
12:00 PMto3:00 PM

The Hoosier Gardener will be signing books — The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens and The Indiana Gardener’s Guide — at the monthly farmers market, noon to 3 p.m., June 10, 2012 at Ellenberger Park. Look for me at Bookmamamas’ tent. Hope to see you there!

Some old landcape practices die hard

Building mulch like a volcano around a tree keeps the bark moist, inviting insects, disease and rot. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Here are a few old gardening practices that seem to linger:

  • When planting a tree or shrub, what comes out of the hole should go back into the hole. Do not amend the soil with peat moss, compost and worse, granular fertilizer.

Amending the soil discourages roots from reaching out beyond the peat or compost to find nutrients.

The worst thing you can do is mix granular synthetic fertilizer in the planting hole. The fertilizer can burn the roots of the plant and kill it.

Perennials and annuals benefit from a well-prepared planting bed. If that is not possible, throw a trowelful of compost in the planting hole or mix it with the soil and plant.

If you must fertilize new plantings with a granular product, sprinkle it on the soil surface after planting and water it in. Organic fertilizers usually do not burn plants. Always read and follow the label directions of the product you use.

  • Mulching newly planted trees, shrubs and other plants helps the soil retain moisture, moderates temperatures and reduces weeds. Mulch can cause rot or rob nutrients, such as nitrogen, when touching plants.

With mulch, more is not better. The practice of building mulch like a volcano around trees is damaging and wasteful. Mulch piled around trees keeps the bark moist, an invitation for insects and disease.

Three to four inches of mulch around trees and shrubs (two inches around perennials and annuals) is all that’s needed. Too much mulch around trees also encourages surface roots rather than deep ones. Too much mulch also can suffocate roots.

  • Do not top trees.

The message has been out there for 30 years, yet there are people who continue to provide that “service” and property owners who allow it. Don’t do it. It is a death sentence for your trees.