September 2012

HortusScope posted for October 2012

HortusScope October 2012 a checklist of garden and nature related things to do in Central Indiana has been posted. This calendar is compiled by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies as a pubic service.



Plant bulbs now for sure-fire blooms in spring

The white Allium nigrum is gorgeous in a shade garden and spectacular when paired with deep purple Allium atropurpureum. Photo courtesy Longfield Gardens

There are not a lot of sure things in the gardening world, but spring blooming bulbs are about as close as you get.

The tulips (Tulipa), daffodils (Narcissus), hyacinths (Hyacinthus), alliums and other bulbs we buy at garden centers, online or mail order retailers are programmed to bloom next spring. All we need to do is plant them in fall.

Between now and early November is the planting window for spring bulbs. They usually need about six weeks to develop roots before the ground freezes.

Daffodils are the most reliable bulbs. They are poisonous, so squirrels, chipmunks and voles don’t dig up the bulbs and the deer do not eat the flowers. Tulips are like lollipops for deer in spring, and crocus seems to be a favorite of the digging critters in fall and spring. One way to counter the appetite of wildlife is to plant some for the animals and some for you.

If you have a lot of shade in your landscape, concentrate on early bloomers, which give their show before trees and shrubs leaf out.

Special bulbs are great for naturalizing in the lawn because they bloom and fade before you have to mow. Scilla and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) are two popular choices. Crocuses favored for naturalizing are called “Tommies,” the nickname for Crocus tommasinianus, which also tend to be resistant to chipmunks.

Just like you do in summer, experiment with bulbs you haven’t tried before, such as alliums, fritillaries or Grecian windflowers (Anemone blanda).

Most garden centers have good selections of the more popular spring blooming bulbs. Many online and mail order retailers have blends or mixes of colors that make planting easy. Here are some favorites:

* Old House Gardens, which is celebrating 20 years of specializing in heirloom bulbs.

* Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, which offers Bloomin’ Bucks, a program that donates a portion of your order total to your favorite charity.

* Longfield Gardens, which has beautiful pairings of bulbs.



Orchid class at Garfield Park

October 7, 2012
2:00 PMto3:00 PM

Paphyipedilum orchid. Photo courtesy Fritz Nerding

Learn more about growing orchids at home at Orchids 101. Beginners will learn the basics of watering, repotting and what orchids make the best houseplants. Registration is required.

What: Orchids 101

When: 2 to 3 p.m., Sunday. Oct. 7, 2012

Where: Garfield Park Conservatory, 2502 Conservatory Drive, Indianapolis

Admission: $6. Registration is required and includes admission to Orchid Fest.

Info: (317) 327-7184

Orchid Fest through Oct. 7 at Garfield Park

September 29, 2012 10:00 AMtoOctober 7, 2012 5:00 PM

White Phalaenopsis Orchid. Photo courtesy Fritz Nerding

Hundreds of blooming orchids  are set against the backdrop of the tropical plantings in the Garfield Park Conservatory.

What: Orchid Fest at Garfield Park Conservatory

When: Sept. 29 through Oct. 7, 2012, regular hours

Where: Garfield Park Conservatory, 25o5 Conservatory Drive, Indianapolis

Admission: $3/person; $8/family with two adults

Info: (317) 327-7184


Time to bring the houseplants indoors from their summer vacation

Jade plant. (C)

If you haven’t done so already, start moving houseplants that spent the summer outdoors back inside. Night temperatures in the 50s are the signal.

First, though, examine the plants for insects. Be sure to check under the leaves and along stems.

Next, give the plants a good shower with the hose to wash off any dirt and insects. Be sure to spray the under sides of leaves. If a hose is not convenient, give plants a shower in the tub or kitchen sink.

Be prepared for some possible leaf drop when your plants are moved indoors, where they will get less ambient light. You can minimize this by acclimating the plants in the brightest windows of your home for a week or two before placing them about. Some plants, such as weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), are going to drop their leaves no matter what. They usually grow new ones pretty quickly.

J.O.B of Indianapolis says her four-year-old jade plant (Crassula ovata) usually spends summers outdoors, but this year, it “has lost lots of leaves and has developed silver patching on existing leaves. I did repot it this summer, as I believed it had become pot bound. And just this week, I lost a large arm of the plant. What am I doing wrong?”

The excessive Indiana heat likely stressed the plant, opening it up for problems, so the silver patches could be thrips, says Julie Bawden Davis, a garden-writing colleague at the Healthy Houseplants Web site.

“Examine the leaves with a hand lens or magnifying glass, looking for thrips. They’re small, long-bodied insects with wings. Isopropyl alcohol, insecticidal soap and neem are good treatments,” says Davis, author of Indoor Gardening the Organic Way.

Jade plants like to be pot bound, she said. When transplanting any houseplant, the new pot should only be one or two inches larger, such as from a six-inch pot to an eight-inch pot.


Tips for repairing, renovating or replacing drought-damaged lawns


(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

All over Indianapolis, homeowners are looking at their scorched brown grass and asking — can this lawn be saved? The area’s excessive heat, drought and subsequent water ban have taken a terrible a toll on all landscape plants, including the lawn.

Replacement of dead trees, shrubs and perennials can be done about anytime this fall, but between now and Oct. 10 is an ideal time for lawn repairs, renovation or replacement.

Lawn and landscaping companies are thrilled to have the water ban lifted.

“We’ve been in limbo for weeks” on many projects, including lawn maintenance and seeding because of the water ban, says Kevin McCart, landscape designer at Becker Landscape on the city’s east side.

“How much work to be done depends on how far gone the lawn is,” McCart says. If a new lawn needs to be installed, that means removing the old grass and weeds, tilling, grading and seeding. Over seeding may be all that’s needed for a moderately damaged lawn that is fairly weed free.

“All the dead places in my yard are where the lawn got direct sun all day this summer,” says Steve Kelly, owner of Bob Block Fitness Equipment. “Anything that was in partial sun has come back and come back pretty well.” Kelly’s lawn care company will aerate the soil and sow seed to patch the brown places.

In other landscapes, shady areas present the greatest challenge in any year, but one made worse this year because of the weather.

“This spring I worked really hard at it getting grass to grow in some bald spots next to the driveway, even moving divots from spots where I expanded ornamental plantings,” says Debra Denslaw, a librarian. She says the drought did her in and she has hired a lawn company to rescue the turf this fall.

Master Gardener Rita Hupp says over seeding in fall in the shady areas of her lawn is an annual task. Again, the drought has made it worse than normal, she says. Hupp gently rakes up the dead grass and sets it aside, sows the seed and then covers the freshly sown area with the dead grass.

The raked-up dead grass is a great alternative to straw when seeding a lawn, says Paul Schnieders, manager of Sullivan Hardware & Garden at 71st Street and Keystone Avenue. The dead grass helps the soil retain moisture, moderates the soil temperature and helps reduce the number of seeds eaten by birds and other critters.

Schnieders says traffic has been normal for this time of year, when there is high interest in rental equipment, such as slit seeders, drop spreaders, sod removers, tillers and aerators.

“This stuff gets real popular. You have to remember that this is the third year in a row where we’ve had excessive heat in the summer,” he says.

Garden centers should be well stocked with grass seed and specialized, starter fertilizers. Turf specialists recommend you buy the best grass you can afford. Some seed is rated with a maximum germination rate of 85 percent, but you want to look for a minimum germination rate of 85 percent or better. The seed also should be 99 percent weed free, Schnieders says.

At Dammann’s Lawn, Garden & Landscaping Center, “we’ve been doing a landmark business in grass seed right now,” says Phil Meckel, nursery co-manager at the Emerson Avenue store.

“Each customer is a case-by-case basis in what we recommend,” taking into account specific lawn needs, such as sunny, shade or high traffic. “At the least, we usually recommend aerating and over seeding,” Meckel says.

Depending on how much lawn loss there is, you may not have to over seed, says Steve Mayer, horticulture educator in the Purdue-Marion County Extension office.

Patches the size of a hand may not need anything but time and a little fertilizer, he says. He suggests getting down on your hands and knees and looking at the grass at ground level. If you see sprigs of green grass showing through the dead stuff, that part of the lawn is likely to renew itself without over seeding.

In fall, homeowners should apply a high quality fertilizer that includes slow-release and quick-release nitrogen. The quick release feeds the grass immediately and the slow-release dissolves over time. Unless seeding a new lawn, the fertilizer does not need potassium or phosphorus.

Experts say that if a lawn is 50 percent or more weeds, then it should be replaced. If over seeding is planned, so not apply any type of weed killer to the lawn.

If over seeding is necessary, remove any dead grass and weeds. Roughen up the soil with a garden rake and apply grass seed at the recommended rate. Using a crisscross pattern usually results in an even application. Wet in the seed, Mayer says.

The voluntary water restriction of every other day should be sufficient for seed-sown lawns, but not sod, Mayer says. Sod needs more water and is much more expensive than grass seed.

Purdue University has a lot of information to help homeowners contending with drought problems in the lawn and video to show how. There’s also a video that shows how.



Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, September 2012

State Fair zinnias

When I think of my friend Sue’s yard, I see zinnias, ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea and Rocky Mountain Red geraniums. These were her favorite plants.

She loved State Fair Mix. Every year, she’d buy a flat to plant the annuals in the sunny back corner of her yard around the false indigo (Baptisia). Not too long after she moved into her house, I got a start of the baptisia, which has grown into a large healthy plant in my yard.

We met nearly 40 years ago, each of us married with young sons. We were in a group with several other couples and we’d get together every few weeks or so for dinners on Saturday nights. We’d play group Jeopardy! or charade.

We had a lot in common. Sue worked at a garden center in Broad Ripple called the Hoosier Gardener, and I worked in my uncle’s garden center, Heidenreich Greenhouses, on the southside. We went to Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, each of us on a multiyear study plan, which meant we didn’t graduate until our thirties, her with a degree in religious studies and me in education and journalism.

We had many weekly dinners and watched dozens of movies together. She got me watching Law & Order, taught me about Umberto Eco and read Tarot cards. She also read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. She turned me onto Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series of detective novels one day when I called her from an airport, asking her to recommend something for me to take on the plane.

Sue died Sept. 11, 2012 and while I’m rich with memories, it will be the baptisia and zinnias that will always remind me of her.

Mock orange. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

My friend Linda gave me a clump of no-name mock orange (Philadelphus) when I moved here. It came from her late grandmother’s century-old farm in Illinois. Every time I smell the mock orange, I think of Linda’s generosity. I also think of my late mother, who loved mock orange and had a few worked into her wedding bouquet.

Jim Story was the very first person to send me a letter when I started writing my weekly gardening column in The Indianapolis Star in 1989. He gave me a prairie trillium (T. recurvatum), which blooms every spring, and a tiny, no-name hosta. Jim died in 2005 and when I see these plants, I am reminded of Jim’s generosity and all the lessons I learned from him, especially about gourds.

Cathy Peachey gave me a Clivia miniata a short time before she died of breast cancer in 1994. Cathy owned a couple of CATH Inc., coffee shops, where they served pecan sticky buns that rivaled the memory of my German great grandmother’s. The lemon bars weren’t bad, either.

Clivia miniata. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I divided the clivia and gave it to Sue. Not too long ago, I divided it again and gave it to Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens, where Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day was born.

These stories about plants and the memories they hold offer comfort when I walk through the garden. And though none of these is in its prime on this Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, they are blooming in my heart.


Take Mike Homoya’s new book with you the next time you hike in the woods

Maidenhair fern retains its graceful beauty well into fall. © Photo Michael A. Homoya

For those of us who trek woodlands in search of flora, Michael Homoya has written the perfect book companion.

Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests (Indiana University Press, 2012, paperback, $22.95) covers nearly 300 native species, their attributes, habitats and snippets of natural history.

“I’ve traveled around our country a bit, even to other continents, but nowhere have I seen anything to compare to the springtime in our state’s forests,” Homoya wrote in the field guide’s introduction.

The Illinois native is a botanist and plant ecologist who has been with the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Nature Preserves since 1982. All of the book’s royalties will go to the DNR Heritage Trust for land acquisition. Homoya also is the author of Orchids of Indiana, published in 1993 by IU Press.

Just like his orchid book, which revealed that Indiana has 42 native orchids compared to three species that call Hawaii home, Homoya’s new offering is full of surprises, just like the state’s landscape.

“Throughout the growing season, there are plants of almost every size, shape and color. Look and you will see,” he wrote.

Homoya tired to hedge a bit when asked to name some fall favorites.

Jewelweed. Photo courtesy

“There are so many favorites,” he said, finally naming jewelweed or the spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis), Short’s aster (Aster shortii) and maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum).

Short's aster. Photo courtesy

“Short’s aster, named after the great Kentucky pioneer botanist Charles Short, is a stunningly attractive aster. The touch-me-not is a fun plant in many ways, especially setting off the exploding seed pods. And maidenhair fern is grace epitomized,” he said.

Homoya will be one of the speakers at the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s annual conference Nov. 3 ( at the University of Indianapolis. He also will speak at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 15 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Sponsored by the IMA Horticultural Society, Homoya’s talk is free in The Toby.


Indiana has more native orchids than Hawaii

This Hoosier Gardener column was published originally May 29, 1994 in The Indianapolis Star

Who says Indiana isn’t paradise?

Certainly not orchid lovers. Hawaii has nothing on Indiana when it comes to native orchids. Would you believe there are three species of orchids that occur naturally in Hawaii, while Indiana is home to 42?

Despite their number, it’s unlikely we’ll be greeted at the airport with a lei of puttyroot or lady’s slipper, however.

We have to work a little harder, almost developing a sixth sense to find these jewels of nature that are every bit as exotic as we think orchids should be.

Michael A. Homoya, a botanist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, has written a beautiful and easy-to-use book that’s a must for wildflowers wanderers (and wonderers). Orchids of Indiana is, as Homoya calls it, a “labor of love.”

He first “met” a native orchid in 1970, when he and his mother, Marcia, wandered into Jackson Hollow, a sandstone gorge in southern Illinois, near where he grew up in Carterville, Ill.

Memorable day

Although it was a foggy day in the silent hollow, Homoya found it an unforgettable experience. At one point, he stumbled onto a rattlesnake plantain orchid. It might as well have been the orchid’s namesake, because the encounter left an indelible mark.

“(The find) illustrated that wild orchids do indeed occur in our temperate soil. Although I saw many other spectacular things that day, including rare ferns and phenomenal rock formations, it was the rattlesnake orchid that so transfixed me. My passion . . .was born,” Homoya writes in the preface.

The 40-year-old naturalist has retained that enthusiasm through the years, as evidenced recently during a trek through Eagle Creek Park. Park ranger Fritz Nerding led the way to two (one surprisingly large) patches of twayblade (Liparis liliifolia). One of the plants was budded up, ready to show its translucent purple flowers. Nerding also saw, and showed to others, the tell-tale leaf of the puttyroot orchid (Aplectrum hyemale).

But do not be deceived. All of these plants are hard to find, primarily because there is so much greenery in the woods. Sometimes it’s easier in winter. The puttyroot, for instance, has a winter leaf (hyemale means winter).

Homoya give hints of where to find Hoosier orchids, but he’s not specific in his book. He and other naturalists fear that revealing exact locations of native plants will encourage people to dig them up.

“They just aren’t easily grown” outside their natural habitats, Homoya said. “The best advice for our native orchids is to let them grow in the wild,” he said.

History and description

The book includes some history and background on orchids in Indiana and how to find them. There are plenty of illustrations and photographs (many by Homoya’s co-worker and fellow naturalist, Lee Casebere) that help identify the orchids.

The book has a chapter on each of the more than 40 Indiana orchids, a little history about each one, a description, blooming period, range and habitat. Each entry has a map of the state with dots in counties where that particular plant has been found, but no exact locations.



New plants get their summer school grades

Bombshell blue fescue sprouts hair for a strawberry pot of a succulent called Chalky Fingers. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

This summer has been a baptism by fire for many of the new annuals under evaluation. Most of the trial plants are in containers, so they have been watered and fertilized regularly.

Here’s are some winners:

Coleus (Solenostemon) — It wasn’t until I went to Dallas in September 2010 that I gained a richer appreciation for coleus, especially the newer varieties that do so well in full sun. Even in late summer, the Dallas coleus looked fresh, clean and colorful and they do in Indiana, too.

Proven Winners’ ColorBlaze Marooned basked in sun all day, grew to 30 inches tall and dwarfed companion plants in the containers. Next year, these coleuses are going to get their own pots.

Hort Couture’s Under the Sea series of coleus spent the summer in the shade with filtered sun and did wonderfully. I think the colors would have been richer if they were in more sun, but I’m not complaining.

Simply Beautiful’s Serena Lavender Pink Angelonia did exactly what we expect from this long-blooming, sun-loving annual — perform. Plant angelonia in the ground, as a centerpiece in containers or a backdrop in a window box. You won’t be disappointed.

Hort Couture’s ‘Chalky Fingers’ (Senecio) have beckoned me to the world of succulents and now I’m trying to figure out how I can winter them over. They are in a strawberry pot in full sun.

Lantana can take as much heat and sun as nature provides. Lantanas are upright, trailing or mounded, so there’s a form for every application. Proven Winners’ Banana Pink did great, attracting butterflies and the occasional hummingbird.

Seabrook’s Lavender Verbena has been a charming trailing plant that has resisted spider mites, one of its pests. Although not winter hardy in Indiana, this Blooms of Bressingham introduction has about a 20-inch spread its first year in a sunny spot in the ground or spilling from a window box.