July 2012

African lily’s flowers are the reason to grow this tropical plant

Summer Sky agapanthus. Photo courtesy Hines Growers

A tropical plant that is showing up more and more in the Indiana garden is Agapanthus, commonly called African lily or lily of the Nile. Agapanthus has densely packed balls of blue, white or purple flowers atop tall stems. It makes an excellent cut flower.

Snowstorm, Bluestorm, Summer Skies and Storm Cloud have been on the market for a few years. A new one, Summer Sky, one of Hines Growers’ Bloomstastic line of plants sent to me to trial this summer, has beautiful green and white strap like foliage. The plants bloom for about a month to six weeks in early to mid summer.

In the Midwest, we usually grow agapanthus in pots, so it can be moved indoors in winter. Depending on the cultivar, however, agapanthus may be winter hardy in USDA Zone 6. Some have been planted in the ground at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where they have over wintered for two years, says Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator.

Joe Gray of Hines suggests moving the agapanthus indoors in fall and growing it as a houseplant in a sunny window, moving it back outdoors in spring. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, he says.

If sunny window space is at a premium, agapanthus can be wintered over in a dormant state, either in the pot it was growing in or dug from the ground, leaving soil attached to the roots, says Etienne. Remove any foliage and stow the pots or dug plants in a cool, dry place where they won’t freeze or get too warm and grow.

Do not water or fertilize dormant plants until moving them to a sunny location in spring to start the growing process. Most other tropical bulb and rhizome plants can be treated the same way.

Why should we go to all this trouble?

“You want agapanthus for those blue flowers, which can be large and rise 3 feet into the air,” Etienne says.

Black, leathery spot on tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables is blossom end rot

A calcium deficiency causes blossom end rot on tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Photo courtesy Tim Coolong, University of Kentucky

“I am having a little problem with my tomatoes,” writes L.B. of Indianapolis.

“The ones that are turning red the earliest have black spots on the bottom end of them, mostly on the Romas. I have been watering them by hand because of the drought. Is it because I am over watering or not enough water? Please help me.”

And the answer is: Yes!

What the reader’s tomatoes have is blossom end rot, a condition caused by a calcium deficiency. The dark spot is not a disease. It is a scar where the tomato was attached to the blossom. Irregular watering is the number one cause of blossom end rot. Fluctuations in soil moisture also contribute to the disorder. As hot as it has been, soil can dry out quickly, even if gardeners are watering.

Blossom end rot also may appear on peppers, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and a few other vegetables. It is all right to eat the vegetables if the affected area is not too large and can be removed easily.

The best way to avoid this is to water these plants regularly, but especially in hot, dry weather. Each vegetable plant needs about 1 inch of water a week. Mulching the vegetable garden helps moderate soil temperatures and moisture.

It’s also likely that the excessively hot weather reduced bee activity, which reduces the pollination and production of vegetables. Be sure to pick the veggies as they ripen to encourage plants to keep producing.

Birds, squirrels and other wildlife need water during times of drought and escessive heat. (C) Laura Young/iStockphoto

Wildlife and drought

Of course, the hot, dry weather has sparked lots of concern about our vegetables and other plants, but gardeners also may want to lend a helping hand to birds and other wildlife.

With the excessive heat and drought, birds, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, bees, butterflies and other wildlife would love to take a drink or dip in a birdbath or saucer of fresh water. Empty every day (on a thirsty plant, of course) and replenish with fresh water.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day July 2012

Honeysuckle (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I hate to sound like a broken record, but, well, I’m living where all the weather records have been broken, making this the driest June/July in more than 100 years.

Summer Sky agapanthus. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Because of that, flowering plants are at a minimum because I’ve been watering to keep things alive, not just flowering. Plus, in weeks of 100 and 90-degree days, the flowers are not here very long.

But here’s what we’ve got:

Sikes Dwarf oakleaf hydrangea (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The flowers on the oakleaf hydrangea Sikes Dwarf (H. quercifolia) are beginning to turn pink. Amazingly, this plant has not had any leaf spots, a frequent problem for these hydrangeas.

The containers of annuals are doing all right, including the Mahogany Splendor hibiscus (H. acetosella), Shock Wave Rose Improved and Debonair Black Cherry petunias.

I’ve also been somewhat impressed with a red trailing vinca (Catharanthus roseus) I have in a hanging basket. These guys can sure take the heat.

Trailing vinca hanging basket (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Vinca (or periwinkle) is one of my favorite hard working annual bedding plants for hot, dry areas.

The honeysuckle Goldflame (Lonicera x heckrottii) and Serotina (L. periclymenum) are blooming again and do provide a lovely fragrance in an otherwise autumn scented landscape.

The pink Suntory Sun Parasol mandevilla also is doing great, although the flowers don’t seem to be as large as the more common variety. The verbena Seabrook Lavender also is doing great. The latter is from Blooms of Bressingham.

Black Beauty lily. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

One of my favorite martagon lilies Black Beauty (Lilium) (an heirloom from Old House Gardens) is blooming, but look terribly stressed even though I have been watering it. The flower petals look contorted and the leaves are yellow…signs for not enough water, I think.

The agapanthus Summer Sky, which I got just last Friday from Hines Growers, is beautiful and I love the variegated foliage. Unfortunately, this and the three other plants: Lavender Veil and Purple Splendor buddleia and Purple Dream crinum were not packed well and arrived and empty pots and balls of dirt and plants.

I got a pink crinum last year at the Garden Writers Association annual meeting and the leaves are growing like crazy, but no flowers yet.

I also have not had any tomatoes, probably because I got them planted in early June. They are finally growing, though, and two green fruits offer me hope.

(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Meantime, the squirrels keep me entertained.

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for being the host of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. She was inspired by the writings of the late Elizabeth Lawrence, whose garden Carol visited recently.

Three easy steps for hand watering plants

Three 5-gallon buckets equals about 1 inch of water. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We hear all the time that plants need an 1 inch of rain every week for their overall health and to produce vegetables and flowers. But how much is that when hand watering?

Three 5-gallon buckets equals about 1 inch of water. Although you can lug the buckets around to water the plants, there’s an easier way to figure out how to hand water thirsty plants.

Time how long it takes to fill a 5-gallon bucket with water. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

1. Fill a 5 gallon bucket and time how long it takes. Be sure to use the hose or nozzle you will use to water the plants. There might be a time difference if the water comes straight from the hose or through a nozzle.

2. You can carry the bucket to the trees, shrubs or perennials that need to be watered and slowing dump the water at the base of the plant. Be sure to dump the water slowly so that the soil can soak it up.

Once you know how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket, you know how long it will take to deliver that amount of water to plants. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

3. If you don’t want to carry the bucket, you can water plants with the hose for the same amount of time it took to fill a 5 gallon bucket. For instance, if it took one minute to fill a bucket, you know that watering from the hose for one minute will deliver about 5 gallons of water. Three minutes will deliver 15 gallons, or the 1 inch needed. The 15 gallons can be delivered all at once within a week, or in two or three applications. In excessive heat and drought, consider doubling the amount of water applied each week to newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials.

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc., also offers more tips on watering, especially mature trees.


Tidy up daylilies and other perennials scorched by Indiana’s excessive heat

Hostas, even those in the shade, have been scorched by the excessive heat and drought. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

In the hopes that the 100-degree days are gone for the summer, there are a few things to do in the landscape to clean up from the historic scorching.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) tend to look a bit ragged this time of year regardless of the weather. The early and mid-season blooming varieties are done and their foliage has started to turn brown. Rebloomers, such as ‘Stella d Oro’ or ‘Happy Returns’, are likely in a resting phase, and their leaves also look a bit tired.

Trim off any ugly daylily leaves. This will make the garden look tidy and less fried. Remove the stalks of spent flowers, too.

Hostas, even those in the shade, may look a bit scorched, especially if they have not been watered. You don’t have to do anything, but if you feel compelled, snip off the worst looking leaves at the base of the plants. Most  hostas bloomed early, so remove spent flower stalks, called scapes.

Cut back perennials by about half. These include coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), garden phlox and bee balm (Monarda). This removes spent flowers and gives plants a chance to rest a bit by reducing the foliage it has to support in hot, dry weather.

Shrubs and trees that have turned brown or lost their leaves likely will leaf out again when given adequate moisture. The leaves will be smaller. Wait until next year to remove any branches from deciduous shrubs and trees to make sure they won’t leaf out again.

Brown branches on needle evergreens can be removed because they are dead.

Hold off on fertilizing the lawn, trees, shrubs and perennials. No need to force growth. It would be better to give these plants adequate water. Continue to fertilizer annuals.

Let’s talk about how landscape architects, homeowners come up with a plan

Maestro Raymond Leppard’s garden has been 18 years in the making. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Raymond Leppard’s garden will be abuzz next Saturday as the setting for a national conversation about the inspiration, design, budget, plants and other aspects of the creative landscape process.

Leppard, retired music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, has been working with landscape architects Barth Hendrickson and Jonathan Hess for 18 years. Together they have crafted the north side property, called Orchard House, into a lovely arrangement of gardens.

“When people see Orchard House, they will think the large trees developed there, that they just grew in that location, that they were planted as seedlings. Actually the landscape architects moved several large trees” to create the view, said Charles A. Birnbaum, founder and president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

In the first of what Birnbaum hopes will be an annual event, the foundation organized What’s Out There — Garden Dialogues as a national conversation about how property owners and landscape architects work together to create a site.

What’s Out There is the foundation’s database, which allows visitors to search more than a thousand American landscapes by name, style, locale, type and designer.

Garden Dialogues enlivens the database with tours and conversations in about two dozen significant landscapes throughout the country. At Orchard House, Hendrickson and Hess of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects will lead the tour.

Besides opening the landscapes for public discussion, Garden Dialogues elevates well-known regional landscape architects to a national platform, said Birnbaum, one of the country’s foremost experts on cultural and historic landscapes. Prior to creating the foundation in 1998, Birnbaum, a landscape architect, was the coordinator of the National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative for 15 years.

“Indianapolis is a good city for landscape architecture,” he said in a telephone interview, citing the work of George Kessler, who designed the city’s park system. “It also a has great country place era landscape (Oldfields) at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.”

Garden Dialogues is open to the public. Registration is required. The fee is $35.

You Can Grow That! July 2012: Crocosmia

'Lucifer' crocosmia. Photo courtesy

Last year I broke down and brought ‘Lucifer’ home. I brought another one home this year, too.

You just can’t beat the long flowering period and show of this little devil.

‘Lucifer’ (Crocosmia), a summer bulb-like plant, tempts hummingbirds (and humans) with large, arched branches of red tubular flowers.

In the family that includes gladiolus, crocosmia has been a staple of English gardens for decades. However, until recently, the varieties could not survive harsh Indiana winters.

Enter Blooms of Bressingham, a well known British plant breeder, who introduced the American public to ‘Lucifer,’ which by most accounts is rated USDA Zone 5, which makes it winter hardy throughout Indiana.

“You don’t have to do anything to ‘Lucifer’ to have it survive” Indiana’s winters, says Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Crocosmia (pronounced crow-coz’-me-ah) comes from the grasslands of South Africa, and can be grown from corms or seeds. Corms are under ground stems and can usually be found in bulb catalogs. Crocus is another example of a corm. Many garden centers also carry the plant.

Plant crocosmia in full sun and keep it well watered. Spider mites are the biggest pest. They suck the green from the sword like leaves, giving them a rusty hue. ‘Lucifer’ is in the 2- to 3-foot tall range when blooming. Cut back to the ground in fall.

Crocosmia blooms from July into September and makes an excellent cut flower. But be prepared. This plant elicits many ‘what’s that’ queries from passersby. And the hummingbirds, well, they know exactly what it is.

Garden centers usually only have the red ‘Lucifer’. Bulb catalogs offer crocosmia in yellow, gold and amber, but most of them are not hardy here.

'George Davidson' crocosmia. Photo courtesy

Etienne recommends ‘George Davidson’ with an amber gold flower as another crocosmia that has done well for several winter seasons in a raised bed at the IMA and in his Fountain Square landscape.

Celebrate the 4th of July with red, white and blue plants

Red, white and blue are the colors of Independence Day, so here are some suggestions.


Blue angelonia (Angelonia) or blue salvia (S. farinacea), surrounded by red petunias. Use a white fan flower (Scaevola), Snow Princess alyssum (Lobularia) or Diamond Frost (Euphorbia) as a trailer.


Red dragon wing begonia (Begonia) under planted with white impatiens (Impatiens). Use Summer Wave Blue torenia (Torenia) as a trailer.

Here are some other patriotic plant suggestions from Proven Winners. Most of these are still available at area garden centers.

HortusScope for July 2012

Here’s a calendar of garden and nature related activities compiled as a public service by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies. Please click on the link below to download your copy.

HortusScope July 2012