October 2012

Get holiday plants ready for their prime time

Easy-to-grow amaryllis brightens late winter days. Photo courtesy

In some stores, Christmas decorations are as prominent as Halloween candy.

We can use retailers’ jump on the holidays as a reminder to begin the process of getting our holiday plants to rebloom. Shorter days and longer nights trigger the bloom cycle in amaryllis, holiday cactus and poinsettia.

Amaryllis and cacti frequently are cherished as gifts or passalong plants from loved ones. These are fairly easy to get to rebloom.

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) — in fall, withhold water and place the potted bulb in a cool place for what’s called a rest period. Remove any brown foliage as it develops. After a couple of months, move to a sunny location and begin watering. In summer, move the potted bulb outdoors and fertilize as you would a container plant until late summer. Move indoors when temperatures drop to the 50s at night and begin the rest cycle again.

Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (S. bridgesii) — Thanksgiving cactus, which has leaves with pointed edges, blooms a little earlier than its Christmas counterpart. Fertilize during the growing season. In fall, reduce water and stop fertilizing for about six weeks to allow the plant to rest in a cool room. You can also place in a closet or under a box from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. for eight to 10 weeks. Move to a sunny window, begin watering.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia) — For about 10 weeks, keep the plant in a dark place between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. You can use a closet or place a box that excludes light over the plant. Remove the box or move the plant from the closet during the day.

One accidental exposure to light during the night will disrupt or delay the coloration.

The plant should be watered and fertilized during this period. Once the plant starts to develop color, the night treatment can stop. Move the plant to a bright area, but out of direct sun and away from drafts.

Christmas cactus. (C) Fotolia

Thanksgiving cactus. (C) Fotolia

Just what are those daffodils with their leaves already above ground?

These fall-emerging daffodils are likely paperwhites. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We know this past summer has been a challenge, but was it enough to lure spring bulbs out of the ground in fall? That’s the question from reader L.C. in Carmel, Ind.

She said she planted daffodils (Narcissus) a year ago, but they did not bloom last spring. This fall, what looks like daffodil leaves are about 12-inch tall in one of her flower beds.

I sent photos of the foliage and a dug-up bulb to bulb merchants to see if they could help solve this garden mystery.

“All spring-blooming bulbs start regrowing roots and foliage in the fall, but the roots come first and the foliage usually stays below ground,” says Scott Kunst, an heirloom bulb specialist at Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I’m sure I’m not the only gardener who has been planting something else in the fall and accidentally dug us some crocus or other bulbs and noticed that they already have a shoot sprouting up and inch or more,” he says.

The challenge was trying to figure out what type of daffodils could send their foliage above ground in fall.

“I think they are paperwhites,” says Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. “They bloom in fall.”

Paperwhites are daffodils that are usually not winter hardy in Indiana, thriving in USDA Zones 8 through 10, which are in the southern United States. Some may be hardy outdoors in USDA Zones 6 and 7 if the microclimate is just right.

In cold zones, many gardeners force paperwhites to bloom for the holidays and early spring. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Here in Indiana, we force paperwhites to bloom indoors, usually around the holidays. They are incredible fragrant and can perfume the room.

Paperwhites can be found in garden centers this time of year or ordered from online or mail order retailers.

As for what L.C., it’s possible her bulbs will bloom outdoors, but not likely. She might want to replace them with hardy daffodils for a spring show.



Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, October 2012

Cole's Select serviceberry in fall color. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I know I’m late filing this Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day report, but I’ve been in the desert and didn’t plan far enough ahead to post this on Oct. 15.

Now that I’m back home again in Indiana, I’m even more appreciative of my landscape, drought-challenged plants and all. Although I enjoyed the architecture of the cactus and the beauty of the mountains, I felt fully broiled in the heat and headachy from the altitude. I think you just have to like the overall look of an otherworldly, barren landscape compared to Indiana’s green hues.

So this month, I celebrate my Hoosier landscape and its rich fall colors and aroma.

There are always surprises in the garden and this fall, it’s the blooming ‘Jackmanii’ clematis. It has weather the drought, clematis wilt and still pops a bud.

'Jackmanii' clematis in October. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aster (Symphyotrichum) is blooming in its new space at the foot of two Hydrangea paniculata and Amsonia hubrichtii. The latter plants have not started to take on their fall hues, however.

I was kind of surprised by the color difference in the two native flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) in the bed outside the living room window. One has an intense wine red, leather color and the other is a more of a dark pink. The wine-colored dogwood gets more sun than the pink one.

Native dogwoods with their fall color. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Native dogwood. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Native dogwood. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp













The ‘Sikes Dwarf’ oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) is probably the most photographed plant in the garden. It’s what I see when I look out the kitchen window above the sink and when I walk out the back door. What you see when you look out the windows of the kitchen, office, living room or bedroom, is as important as what passersby see from the street. People often forget about planting for the views inside-out when they plan their landscape, focusing more on what’s seen from the street to the house.

Street bed awaits a new design. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Speaking of street, while I was in Tucson, a crew pulled all the plants out of the bed, which has become overgrown with bindweed, a truly awful plant. So, the clean bed presents a new opportunity to redo one of the first gardens I planted when I moved here.

Please feel free to join in Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day the 15th of every month. All you have to do is write a bit about what’s going on in your landscape for your blog and post the link at May Dreams Gardens, which created the meme. More than 100 bloggers post every month.



Time for fall cleanup


Leaves started falling early this year because of the hot dry weather. And, recent freezing temperatures turned many perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs to mush.

Must be time for fall cleanup.

Start with the worst looking annuals and herbs — impatiens, coleus, sweet potato vine and basil are among the most susceptible to cold temperatures. In the perennial group, hostas most likely took a hit.

It’s best to get these mushy plants cleaned up pretty quickly. A quick cleanup reduces the chance insects and diseases will find save harbor in the soil.

Downy mildew on impatiens leaf. Photo courtesy Purdue University Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory.

This year, gardeners and growers throughout the country battled a fungus called impatiens downy mildew, which turns the underside of the plant’s leaves white or gray.

If this happened to you, do not plant bedding impatiens (I. walleriana) in the same place next year. This disease only affects bedding impatiens. New Guinea and SunPatiens are not bothered by the disease.

Trade off with begonia, torenia, coleus or another annual that tolerates the same low light condition that impatiens loves. Many tropicals, including some gingers, also make good shade plants.

Besides a white mildew on the undersides of leaves, other symptoms include collapsed centers on the impatiens or all of the flowers will be on the tips of the plants. Avoid planting impatiens where there was disease for at least five years. Don’t compost any diseased impatiens.

Next, clean out the frost-damaged tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. Some veggies, such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, can usually handle pretty low temperatures. To protect fall vegetables, cover them with a cloth sheet when frost is predicted at night and remove the covering in the morning.

To cut or not to cut

Whether to cut back perennials in fall is a matter of personal preference. Many of them, such as the seed heads of coneflowers and salvias, serve as a food source for birds in winter. Many seed heads also are attractive in the winter landscape.

If the perennials have been diseased or infested with bugs, cut them back and dispose or compost the trimmings. If you are concerned about perennials self-sowing, cut them back.

This is also a good time to apply a 2- to 3-inch layer compost or rotted manure to the vegetable bed and other gardens.



At INPAWS conference: It’s All About the Plants

November 3, 2012
8:00 AMto5:00 PM

The Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society announces its 19th annual conference providing the know-how to help Hoosiers appreciate, grow and conserve Indiana’s rich heritage of native plants.

Set for Nov. 3, 2012 on the University of Indianapolis campus, the daylong conference will focus on two basics of botany: the identification of plants and their occurrence in nature.

“The better we can identify native plants, the better we can be advocates for them,” says Mike Homoya, state botanist/plant ecologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, who had a hand in developing this year’s conference theme.

Among the featured speakers is Rob Naczi, one of the leading botanists in the world. Naczi is the Arthur J. Cronquist Curator of North American Botany at The New York Botanical Garden and is revising one of the most commonly used guides to our North American flora, Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada.

Also on the program are James Locklear, Director of Conservation at Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska, who has just written the book Phlox: A Natural History and Gardener’s Guide; Paul Rothrock, an expert on sedges and chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Taylor University; Sally Weeks, author of Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest; Kay Yatskievych of the Missouri Botanical Garden, who is coauthoring the Indiana Vascular Plants Catalogue; and Mike Homoya, author of Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests and Orchids of Indiana.

The conference will include a book signing and sale, vendor and youth education displays, and information on the Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society. Also rumored to be possible is a visit by the renowned Charles Deam, Indiana’s first state forester.

What: It’s All About the Plants, 19th annual Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society conference.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012

Where: Schwitzer Student Center, University of Indianapolis

Admission/registration: open to the public. Non-members, $75 ($65 before Oct. 25, 2012); students, $35; INPAWS members, $60 ($50 before Oct. 25, 2012).

For more info: Indiana Native Plant & Wildflower Society,

Cool Wave pansies are, well, cool

Mix Cool Wave pansies with a blue ornamental grass for a colorful pot all winter. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The Wave brand of plants — known for petunias — has introduced a new pansy called Cool Wave, which holds its own from fall through winter and into spring.

The colors are not as intense as other series of pansies and the flowers are not as large, but Cool Wave’s ability to bloom even in snow makes them worth considering.

Plant the pansies (Viola wittrockiana) in a pot made of material that can stay outdoors through winter, such as fiberglass or heavy plastic. Ceramic and terra cotta will crack or disintegrate in winter’s freezing and thawing. Place the pot where you will be able to see and enjoy the plants.

Cool Wave pansies have a 3-foot spread, making them adaptable for hanging baskets and window boxes, too.

Mix pansies with an ornamental grass, such as ‘Blue Dart’ or ‘Blue Arrow’ rush (Juncus), both of which are winter hardy and hold their blue color year-round.

Annual snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) also are quite tolerant of cold temperatures. The volunteers that sprout in my garden can frequently be seen blooming on a mild December day. Other cool-season annuals that sometimes can be found at garden centers are wallflowers (Erysimum) and cape daisies (Osteospermum).

Cool Wave pansy in snow. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Of course, there are mums (Chrysanthemum) and asters at the garden centers, and these also do well in cooler temps. If you want to have these perennials come back next year, plant in the ground as soon as possible. The sunny spot should have well-drained soil. Remove the spent blooms, called deadheading, to keep the plants tidy looking.

Don’t cut back the mums or asters until spring when new growth can be seen at the base of the plants. Spring also is the best time to divide these perennials.

There’s no need to fertilize mums or asters this fall. However, pansies and snapdragons would benefit from a water-soluble fertilizer according to label directions.


You Can Grow That! October 2012: Special spring-blooming bulbs

Scilla siberica blooms early in the season, making it perfect for naturalizing in lawns and under trees and shrubs. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Tulips and daffodils demand center stage in the spring bulb show, but minor bulbs hit all the right notes with their subtle beauty, depth of color and interest.

Certain bulbs fall in the minor category because they are tiny, short and usually adorned with smaller flowers.

Minor bulbs (the Dutch call them special bulbs) are ideal for naturalizing the lawn because they bloom early and their foliage has a chance to ripen before the grass needs to be mowed. Tuck them under trees, shrubs and perennials for a floral carpet.

Minor bulbs include Siberian squill (Squill siberica), glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa), snowdrops (Galanthus), grape hyacinth (Muscari), Iris reticulata and Crocus.

All spring-blooming bulbs can be planted through October. Ideally, they should have a month to six weeks in the ground before the soil freezes to develop roots.

Perhaps the drawback to minor bulbs is that you need to plant a lot of them for a good show. However, these minor bulbs tend to multiply rapidly by self sowing.

In the lawn, lift patches of grass and plant the tiny bulbs a couple of inches deep in clusters rather than individually, then replace the turf, tamping down gently. In garden beds or around trees and shrubs, make sure to remove mulch before planting the bulbs 2 inches deep. Replace mulch.

There’s no need to fertilize bulbs. They come already packed with everything they need to bloom next year. Water the bulbs well after planting. If there’s no rainfall, water the bulbs every week to 10 days until the ground freezes.

Next spring, don’t remove the foliage until it turns yellow, brown or falls flat. Bulbs need the leaves to process the nutrients necessary for next year’s flowers.

More minor bulbs

  • Species tulips (Tulipa tarda, T. turkestanica, T. greigii, T. pulchella)
  • Checker or guinea hen flower (Fritillaria melanges)
  • Species crocus (Crocus chrysanthus, C. flavus, C. sieberi, C. angustifolius, C. tommasinianus)
  • Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
  • Wind or Grecian anemone (A. coronaria, A. blanda)

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


Doug Tallamy returns to Indiana with his native plant message

October 13, 2012
8:30 AMto3:00 PM

Photo courtesy Doug Tallamy

Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, returns to Indiana in October to discuss his favorite subject — native plants and their role in our ecology. He will be the keynote speaker for Adventures in Gardening in Hendricks County, Indiana.

What: Adventures in Gardening, a seminar for all gardeners, sponsored by the Hendricks County Master Gardeners.

Who: Speakers will be:

  • The keynote speaker is Doug Tallamy, author and professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, explains why native plants are important in the home landscape and recommends which ones to use and how to use them.
  • Ellen Jacquart, director of stewardship of the Indiana chapter of the Nature Conservancy, will identify the invasive species on properties and how to get rid of them.
  • Hendricks County Pollinator Project highlights the importance of pollinators and their role in food, flower and fruit production.

When: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012.

Where: Hendricks County Fairgrounds Auditorium, 1900 E Main (Old U.S. 36), Danville, Ind.

Hendricks County Master Gardeners Adventures in Gardening 2013: $35 if received through Sept. 22, 2012; $45 if received Sept. 23 through Oct. 5, 2012. Includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials.