February 2013

Epimediums add color throughout the year


Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' plays nicely with other plants, including grape hyacinths (Muscari), in spring. Epimediums are an under-used, but terrific three-season perennial for the shade garden.(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you are bored with hostas for the shade garden, the experts at the recent Shade Savvy horticulture symposium at the Indianapolis Museum of Art offered up dozens of alternatives.

Next week, we’ll look at other recommendations for the shadier parts of the landscape, but today, we’ll explore Epimedium, one of my favorites.

Sometimes called barrenwort, epimedium is a great three-season plant that, once established, tolerates dry shade. Early blooming flowers on spindly stalks are followed quickly by green leaves with red markings. The red gives way to all green in summer and returns in fall, turning leaves deep purple. This time of year, we cut these hardy perennials back to the ground because the flowers will emerge soon.

Some epimediums from China are evergreen, retaining their foliage throughout winter, said Karen Perkins, owner of Garden Vision Epimedium of Templeton, Mass., a specialty mail-order company.

Most of what is readily available are a few cultivars of E. grandiflorum, such as ‘Lilafee’, or ‘Sulphureum’ (E. x versicolor).

Improved cultivars have flowers three or four times the size of what most of us grow along with more variation in foliage, Perkins said. The leaves of ‘Sweetheart’ (E. x rubrum) are edged in red. The leaves of ‘Sunshowers’ have red flecks in spring.

Granted, epimediums can be pricey, selling for $18 to $20 or more for a gallon-size pot. And the plant looks spindly in spring as it emerges from dormancy.

Despite its delicate looks, epimedium is one tough plant. It is slow to establish because its under ground stem, called a rhizome, is woody. The rhizomes on some other familiar plants, such as Iris and Canna, are fleshy. It usually takes three years for epimediums to develop into nice plant, Perkins said.

And, when you consider the multiseason attributes of this shade-loving perennial, the cost of epimedium does not seem so unreasonable.

Locally, Soules Garden has a good selection of epimedium, as does the IMA’s Greenhouse.


Plants can be hazardous to your pet’s health

Annabelle (Hydrangea arborescens) and other hydrangeas may cause vomiting, depression or diarrhea if ingested by animals. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Do you have a killer landscape? You might, depending on which plants you have that are poisonous to pets. Here are some that you might want to avoid:

Burning bush (Euonymus alata), Chrysanthemum, Clematis, fleabane (Erigeron), foxglove (Digitalis), Hellebores (Helleborus), Hibiscus, holly (Ilex), Hosta, Hydrangea, ivy (Hedera), lily (Lilium), rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), yarrow (Achillea) and yew (Taxus).

I confess I have several of these in my yard and I have dogs. However, they don’t eat plants, except for grass and ripe tomatoes. Depending on the plant, ingestion may cause vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory problems, excessive salivation, drowsiness, lethargy or death in dogs, cats, horses and other pets. Lilies, in particular, are deadly to cats and dogs.

There are many other toxic plants, but these are common in the Indiana landscape. Download a complete list at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Poison Control Center. If you suspect your pet has ingested parts of toxic outdoor or indoor plants, immediately call your veterinarian, or the Animal Poison Control Center, (888) 426-4435.

City Gardener Program

Do you have your first home and would like to learn how to take care of the landscape or plant a garden? Purdue Extension-Marion County’s City Gardener Program might be for you.

“This helped me appreciate and look forward to the whole process of gardening,” said a 2012 participant. Participants also said they felt like the program will make them better gardeners.

Six Wednesday sessions begin at 6:30 p.m., April 3 and continue through May 8, at Discover Hall at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. You can attend one or all of them. The fee is $5 each, or six for $20. Session are two-hours long and topics include: soil and fertilizer; vegetable and flower gardening; lawn-care basics; care of trees and shrubs; combat insects and diseases. The information also is applicable to suburban landscapes.

To register, please call or email Debbie Schelske, (317) 275-9286,


You Can Grow That! February 2013: Love-in-the-Mist (Nigella)

Love-in-the-Mist (Nigella damascens). Photo courtesy John Herbst.

Just like a great romance, love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascena) ages well. Not only are the flowers beautiful, the seed heads have a magic all their own.

The fennel-like foliage is light and airy on plants that get 15 to 18 inches tall. This easy-to-grow annual is as lovely in a vase as it is in the garden. They also look nice dried.

Nigella grows best in full sun to part shade. To get yours started, sow seeds in early spring, as soon as the soil surface is thawed. You can also sow seeds in fall. Sprinkle seeds on the soil surface and brush lightly with your hand or a rake. The seeds need to have good contact with the soil, but they don’t need to be covered.

Nigella sativa's seeds are edible. Sometimes they are called black cumin.

Love-in-the-mist shamelessly self sows, but would never be considered invasive or overbearing. No matter what color you sow, eventually, there seem to be fewer blue flowers and many more of the white and just a smattering of pink. It blooms for about four weeks and tends to like cooler temperatures. For a continuous show, sow seeds a few weeks apart.

Another annual nigella, N. sativa, produces edible seeds, sometimes called black cumin.



Practice tough love on early emerging spring bulbs


Daffodils and other spring bulbs that emerge early usually don't need any special care. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

With Indiana’s cold-one-day hot-the-next weather, many spring blooming bulbs have broken ground early.

Bulbs planted close to sidewalks, driveways and foundations likely are already up several inches. The ground around these bulbs stays a bit warmer than soil in garden beds because the adjacent hardscape absorbs and retains heat.

Bulbs buried under leaves in a sunny location also may be emerging from the ground because the debris keeps the soil bit warmer.

Many gardeners worry about these early risers and wonder if they should do anything to protect them. Fortunately, you don’t have to do anything.

It’s possible the leaves may be a bit damaged by a severe cold snap, but the flowers are still tucked under ground.

Once the flowers emerge and there’s below freezing temperature scare, you can cover the buds with cloth or paper. If you use plastic, be sure to tent it so that it does not touch the plants.

Personally, I practice tough love and don’t cover anything.

Spring pruning

Between now and mid-March is a good time to prune trees and shrubs, if needed. Do not prune spring-blooming shrubs now. Rather, wait until after they bloom.

Some shrubs benefit from a severe pruning every spring, whacking them back to just a few inches above the base of the plant. Cutting back these shrubs results in strong new growth, tidy plants and lots of flowers.

  • Japanese spirea (Spiraea x brumalda, S. japonica).
  • ‘Annabelle’, Invincibelle Spirit, Bella Anna and other smooth-leaf hydrangeas (H. arborescens).
  • Endless Summer, Cityline, Forever and Ever and other reblooming hydrangeas (H. macrophylla). Other big leaf hydrangeas should not be cut back in spring, but rather in summer, shortly after they bloom.
  • Russian sage (Perovskia).
  • Blue mist spirea (Caryopteris).
  • Knock Out and other shrub roses (Rosa rugosa).
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia).
  • Red- and yellow-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea). The best color comes from new branches.
  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa).

2013 Spring Garden Clinic

February 9, 2013

The Hoosier Gardener will review blue flowers in the hopes of squashing the notion among some that there are not blue flowers for the garden. Her talk, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, is part of the annual Spring Garden Clinic, held this year at St. Luke Methodist Church, 86th Street and Spring Mill Road in Indianapolis.