May 2013

Spring to summer change outs: a gardener’s dilemma

(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Pansies, Johnny jump-ups and violas love the cooler weather and right now, they are beautiful. But fewer than 5 feet from these spring bloomers site more than 100 annuals, perennials, roses and shrubs for their trials in my garden this year.

The dilemma is when to pitch the pansies and replant pots with the new stuff. Many gardeners have this issue even with no plants to trial. Their new plants come from trips to the garden centers.

I’ve already started filling the hanging baskets or other pots that I pulled plants from last fall. Other pots contain tropical plants, such as Crinum, rain lily (Zephyranthes) and possibly one of the new lily of the Nile (Agapanthus). These wintered over on the enclosed, but unheated porch or in the basement.

Soon, I’ll transplant the Johnny jump-ups (Viola tricolor) and viola (V. cornuta) to a spot in the yard and compost the pansies (V wittrockiana).

Rose slugs

Rose slug and rose slug damage. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.

Seemingly overnight, rose leaves developed what’s called a stained-glass window look. A tiny caterpillar munches just enough green tissue to give rose leaves an opaque look.

The critter is commonly called a rose slug, although it is not a slug at all. It is the larvae stage of two or three sawflies. The sawfly lays eggs on the under side of rose leaves in early spring. As the eggs hatch and the caterpillars emerge, they feed on the leaves.

The best defense is a good offense. Every few days examine your roses, especially the under sides of leaves, for eggs. Use a strong spray from the hose to wash them away. Beneficial parasitic wasps like these insects, so Mother Nature will catch up with the problem if you avoid using pesticides.

If the infestation is severe, insecticidal soap and neem oil may work. Always read and follow the label directions.



Creeping phlox ground cover helps control erosion along slopes

Creeping phlox. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I never have to look outdoors to know what’s blooming. The customers at the garden center where I work part time keep me informed.

They come in and ask for the plants they see blooming. Here’s what’s on the hit list this year.

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), a low-growing evergreen ground cover that has had a splendid spring. This perennial does best in full sun and well-drained soil. Once established, this North America native plant is drought tolerant. Creeping phlox retains its needle-like leaves all winter. It gets about 6 inches tall with a 24 inch spread. Plant in rock gardens, in the front of a flower bed or border, along walls and slopes or as a carpet of color under trees and shrubs. Shear off spent flowers to tidy up the plant in spring.

Cascading branches of white flowers on bridal veil spirea (Spiraea vanhouttei) spur interest in this old-fashion, easy-care shrub. This was in my yard and all over the neighborhood where I grew up. It remains a staple in older neighborhoods today, but can be hard to find, so ask your garden center to order it. Bridal veil spirea does fine in part shade to full sun. It can get up to 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide, so make sure to give it room. If this needs to be pruned, do so right after it is done blooming.

Bridal veil spirea. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I’m lukewarm on crabapples (Malus) until I see them bloom like they have this spring. And this is the first year that I noticed intense fragrance on this common tree. Look for crabapples that are resistant to the leaf diseases that can plague this tree and for cultivars that hold the fruit through winter for extended interest. Newer cultivars have been grafted on root stock that reduces or eliminates suckering—sprouts coming from the base of the tree, a common complaint about this and other fruit trees.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day May 2013


Alliums add dramatic flair to the garden. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Except for a few 80-degree days, it’s been a slow, low-temp spring, which has prolonged tulips, in particular. This year, the large alliums, a gift from Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens, are beautiful and so dramatic. I’m going to have to get a lot more of these and other alliums, especially those that bloom a bit later in summer.

Native columbine (Aqueligia canadensis). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The lower temps have also delayed the bloom cycle of other plants. Just starting to reign supreme in the garden are the beautiful native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), which self-sows about, but would never be considered invasive. This year, the flowers’ red-orange seems more intense.

The coral bells (Heuchera) are forming a nice mass, with so much foliage color…oh, they bloom, too. There are a few heucherella and tiarella mixed in there too, along with sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica). The bluebells are always such a nice surprise because they bloom later than other spring bulbs.

My maidenhair fern (Adiantum) survived the winter, always cause for celebration. The clump was given to me by a regular customer at the garden center where I work. She over heard me telling another customer that maidenhair ferns were hard to find in the trade and brought one for me! The garden center has some really nice customers.

The ‘Bath’s Pink’ Cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) grows more on my asphalt driveway than in the garden bed. I swear this plant would grow on concrete. It is so fragrant right now!

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The reblooming bearded iris (Iris)  ‘Immortality’ is lovely and soon, the blue one will bloom, but I don’t remember its name. Reblooming iris flowers are large, fragrant and put on a nice show in spring and again in late summer.

A favorite plant—Arisaema triphyllum—has emerged amid the Epimedium (E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’) and I’m thinking about moving it before it gets completely swallowed up. The jack-in-the-pulpit came from the late Jim Story, the first reader who wrote me when I started writing about gardening in 1989. He was such a generous soul, as are many gardeners, but he was special.

Last fall, Longfield Gardens sent a bunch of spring-blooming bulbs. By far, among my favorites is Anemone de Caen ‘Mr. Fokker/Sylphide’ (Anemone) mix. I hope they return next year, but if not, they have been beautiful this year.


A variety of heuchera, heucherella and tiarella have rooted nicely to offer a mass of colors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dozens of trial plants have arrived for the 2013 growing season. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Last spring, I whacked back my 20-year-old ‘Miss Kim’ lilac (Syringa pubescens subsp. patula) and last fall, shifted her to the back yard because Carol Michel’s garden designer (Wendy Ford, Landscape Fancies) said it was too big for its space and blocked the view of my front door. I planted another one in the front, but about 5 feet from the original, which allows for a better view of the door. Both are ready to bloom.

With all of this work from Mother Nature, it’s like Christmas for me. And not just because of the plants blooming in the garden. Awaiting planting are this season’s trail plants. Before it even gets in the ground, I think I’m really going to like ‘Purrsian Blue’ catmint (Nepeta faassnii). I’ve already cut it back once and it’s not even planted in the ground yet. However, it immediately—within a week—began blooming, not something I’ve noticed with catmint. It’s not supposed to flop, either, so we’ll see how it does once its in the ground.

Bath's Pink Cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for being the  host of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Please feel free to join in. We think it’s the longest running gardening meme on the Web.



Readers ask about Jerusalem artichokes, jet bead and color changing tulips

Winter hardy sunchokes are related to sunflowers and are native in to the Eastern United States. © CanStockPhoto Inc./Jochen

Questions about tulips, jet bead and Jerusalem artichokes fill the inbox.

M.S. of Indianapolis wants to know “why do some tulips in the landscape change color?”

Several things could cause this. Some tulip bulbs are bred to do change colors through the day. Other times, it could be the natural aging of the flowers, when many colors fade.

“While not common, it occasionally happens that a bulb flower’s bloom color can change through a spontaneous mutation or exposure to natural elements that cause one layer of cells to mutate to another color,” said Tim Schipper, owner of “The bulb itself is unaffected and remains healthy, but the flower color is different.”

Invasive species

D.O. read about jet bead, a shrub noted for thriving in “bad soil, shade and slopes. I thought I hit the jackpot. However, after doing some research, I find that it’s a very invasive shrub. Is this true?”

Jet bead (Rhodotypos scandens) does sound like a dream plant because it survives in less than desirable growing conditions. Its over-adapatability and proliferation is why this Asian shrub is considered a pest.

“Jet bead is a serious problem in Indy Parks, and a few other natural areas in the state,” said Ellen Jacquart, director of northern stewardship at the Nature Conservancy of Indiana and a member of the Indiana Invasive Plant Committee. “This is one we’d really like to get assessed and out of trade.”


P.B. “is interested in planting Jerusalem artichoke, but am having trouble finding any bulbs. Any suggestions?”

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), frequently called sunchoke, is a perennial in central Indiana, usually planted from edible tubers. It is related to the sunflower, but not to artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus), which can be grown from seed as an annual in cold climates. Each of these will likely have to be ordered from online retailers. Jung Seed sells both. Purdue University has more info on growing sunchokes.


You Can Grow That! May 2013: Fragrant viburnums

Viburnums, tulips, lilacs and other plants perfume the spring air. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A good spring overloads the senses. Not only does the earth break out in eye-pleasing blooms, many of the flowers release delicious fragrance.

Until just a few days ago, the office, kitchen, bedroom, backyard and enclosed back porch have been perfumed by viburnums, incredibly easy-to-grow shrubs.

In a partly sunny location in the back of the yard are two Burkwood viburnums (Viburnum burkwoodii), an upright shrub that can reach 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide when grown in full sun. Mine are closer to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.

In their shadier location, the burkwoods have a more open growth. In full sun, the growth is much more dense. Although my burkwoods have fewer flowers in the shade than they would have in full sun, they still are loaded. This viburnum is semi-evergreen, retaining its foliage through winter, depending on the severity of the weather.

Outside the bedroom window and bordering the enclosed porch sits a Judd viburnum (V. x judii). This is a rounded, 6-foot tall and wide fragrant beauty with blue-green leaves that turn a deep red in fall and cling to the plant for several weeks of late season color. It prefers full sun, but tolerates light shade.

Like all spring bloomers, the viburnums’ flowers and fragrance can be rushed through their season with high temperatures in spring.

We all know about borrowed landscape views—the scenes created by a neighbor’s plants. Some of us also enjoy borrowed scents. A neighbor’s old fashion lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) have burst open, adding fragrant breezes to my living room.

Any day now my two ‘Miss Kim’ Manchurian lilacs (Syringa pubescens subsp. patula) will begin blooming outside the living room and the bedroom windows. These bloom a few weeks later than the old fashion lilacs. ‘Miss Kim’ also is not affected by the powdery mildew fungus disease that afflicts many traditional lilacs. It has decent fall color, too, with deep purple leaves.

And just a few days ago, the crabapples (Malus) were in full bloom at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The blooming branches created a large arch, which held the fragrance at nose level. I’d never noticed that crabapples were so fragrant.

These scents of the season reinforce the good sense of planting fragrant bulbs, perennials, annuals, trees or shrubs where you can enjoy their elusive attributes.

Survival tips for the growing season

Tomato, pepper and cucumber transplants are among the vegetables that don’t like cold soil. Plant these outdoors around Mother’s Day. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

As we head into prime planting season, here are a few things to keep in mind.


When potting up containers, use a high quality potting mix. This is usually a soilless mix with vermiculite, finely shredded organic matter and other ingredients that promote drainage. Potting mixes also are light weight. Since the mixes are soilless, be sure to fertilize regularly, according to the product label directions.

Containers have three basic elements: thriller, filler and spiller. The thriller is the largest or most dramatic plant, frequently the centerpiece or backdrop. Fillers are moundy-roundy and help fill gaps. Spillers cascade over the edges of containers.

Vegetables and Herbs

Don’t push planting. Warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and peppers, are not happy in cold soil. Wait until May 10 (or Mother’s Day) to plant these crops and to sow seeds for green beans, corn, squash and pumpkins.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is extremely sensitive to cold temperatures. It’s ok to plant parsley (Petroselinum crispum), sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus) and other perennial herbs outdoors now.


If a perennial or ornamental grass has all of its new growth around the perimeter of a dead or sparse center, that’s a signal it needs to be divided. Lift the plant and slice off the healthy growth to transplant. Discard the dead center.


If you fertilized the lawn in fall, you probably won’t have to fertilize in spring or early summer. Doing so will increase mowing duties. Try to keep the lawn at about 3 inches high.

Annuals and Tropicals

Some annuals tolerate the cool temps of spring, but others, such as impatiens (I. walleriana) and geraniums (Pelargonium) do not fare well. Wait until mid-May to plant tender annuals and tropicals.

Try Something New

Lastly, try something new, whether it’s a vegetable or herb you’ve never grown, or a new perennial or annual. Trying new things in the garden keeps us growing.

HortusScope posted for May 2013

Here’s HortusScope for May 2013, a checklist of garden and nature related events compiled as a public service by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies. Please click on the link below to download your copy.

HortusScope May 2013




24th annual Orchard in Bloom celebrates 90th anniversary of The Orchard School

May 2, 2013
6:00 PMto8:30 PM
May 3, 2013
10:00 AMto6:00 PM
May 4, 2013
10:00 AMto6:00 PM
May 5, 2013
11:00 AMto4:00 PM

What: 24th annual Orchard in Bloom. In honor of the 90th anniversary of The Orchard School, the theme is Growing to Learn. Proceeds benefit the school and Indy Parks. The unique partnership between The Orchard School and Indy Parks has raised more than $1 million in the last decade to support outdoor education at Orchard and Indy Parks. Holliday Park, specifically, has received $200,000 for new and innovative outdoor educational programs for all of Central Indiana which have touched the lives of hundreds of area children in public and private schools, as well as their families and senior citizens. The Orchard School’s Outdoor Education Coordinator Diana Shellhaas is the 2013 Honorary Chairperson. The truly amazing thing about this event is the work and spirit of the volunteers, including parents and community members. It’s a massive undertaking and one done extremely well.

Landscape designer Gus Lemcke incorporated Orchard in Bloom's 2012 edible theme into his tabletop arrangement. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 5, 2013. Preview Party, 6 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 2, 2013.

Where: Holliday Park, 64th Street and Spring Mill Road, Indianapolis. No parking allowed in park or vicinity. Free parking and shuttle service at Second Presbyterian Church, 7700 N. Meridian St.

Admission: $10 in advance, available at Marsh Supermarkets, The National Bank of Indianapolis branches, The Orchard School and the Holliday Park Nature Center. Tickets are $12 at the gate the days of the show. A three-day ticket is $15. Children 14 and under are free.

Speakers: Garden and Natural Living Symposium, includes Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, the Hoosier Gardener, who will speak about edible landscapes (times to be announced). Other seminars and demonstrations by landscapers, green-living experts, garden specialists and more.

Other info:

‡The Garden Pavilion showcases innovative gardens, featuring edible landscapes, created by renowned local landscape designers. Their theme this year for landscapers is “Growing to Learn” in honor of The Orchard School’s 90th anniversary.

Microgardens feature landscape ideas for smaller spaces.

Garden and Natural Living Symposium speakers and events will occur throughout the weekend and will feature landscape specialists, green-living experts, and garden specialists.

The annual Containers In Bloom competition is back and puts garden club experts, individuals and students to task in a container gardening competition.

The Exhibition Tents delight shoppers with more than 100 local and regional vendors, selling handcrafted tools, garden furniture, herbs, blooming plants and flowers, artwork and more. Look for featured vendors offering products made from repurposed or recycled goods.

The Children’s Area offers outdoor fun to entertain and enlighten the younger set. Kids can grow their own salad, plant a pizza garden, or simply play in the kids’ tent.

The Garden Café offers tasty meals and snacks and will feature natural and organic products.

The Planting of the Orchard Arboretum, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 26, Arbor Day, The Orchard School.

Chef Showdown, May 2, during the Orchard In Bloom Preview Party

Run for the Bloom, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. May 5, The Orchard School.

Featured artist: Douglas David, owner of Douglas David Cottage.

Sponsors: The Bank of Indianapolis, Indy Parks and The Orchard School.