June 2013

Herbs from the garden freshen summer fare

For a summer refresher, steep fresh lavender flowers to mix with lemonade or iced tea. © Natalie Houlding/iStockphoto

The herbs are coming on and for many of us, we wonder what to do with them. Here are a few suggestions that you may not have thought of for summer fare.

A few months back, I read an article about using sage in Italian food, so I tried it. I made whole wheat pasta with browned butter and added sage (Salvia officinalis), best known as the Thanksgiving herb.

The fresh, chiffonade sage added a surprising brightness to the dish. For for a two-person serving, I added six large leaves. Next time I’ll add eight. I placed the slivers of sage in the butter to flavor it as it browned. Sage also can be added at the tail end when making (or heating up) tomato sauces to enliven those dish, too. Or mix fresh sage in a pasta salad.

Basil, best known as the main ingredient in pesto, has a lot of other uses in the kitchen. My favorite is fresh basil (Ocimum basilicum) placed on cheese pizza, even the frozen kind, for a bright flavor. It’s even better when you make your own, such as pizza marguerite. This easy-to-do summer pizza is made with mozzarella, freshly sliced tomatoes, and basil. Fresh basil adds a bright taste to a BLT, too.

One the sweet side of the herb aisle is lavender (Lavandula), which can be used in ice tea, lemonade, fruit salad, shortbread cookies and ice cream, to name a few dishes.

For ice tea or lemonade, steep about ¼ cup of fresh lavender flowers in a cup of hot water, strain and mix in your tea or lemonade.

Always make sure the lavender and other herbs you use in cooking have not been treated with chemicals. If you don’t grow herbs, you can always get fresh ones at area farmers markets.



Today’s begonias are not like our grandmothers’ begonias


Sparks Will Fly begonia. Photo courtesy of Burpee Home Gardens

If your image of begonias is limited to the serviceable (yet pretty) wax-leaf varieties with bronze or green leaves (B. x semperflorens-cultorum), here’s an eye opener.

Begonias have branched out into beautiful, improved specimens that are about as tough as you’d want a plant to be.

First up are the Angel Wing, Baby Wing and Big series of begonias (B. x hybrida, B. benariensis). These are great for in-ground or container plantings. They can pretty much hold their own in full sun to shade.

Next comes the Rieger begonia (B. hiemalis), commonly grown as a winter-blooming houseplant. It now is the perfect plant for spring pots outdoors, where its color intensifies in morning sun. Although the color is subdued, it does perfectly fine in shadier locations. Remove spent flowers to keep the plant tidy.

New on the market is ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ begonia (B. boliviensis), with drooping, bell-shaped, orange-red flowers and dark green leaves. This heat-tolerant, sun-loving plant won the most votes in the 2012 American Garden Award program. New offerings are planted in select public gardens and visitors are invited to vote for their favorite. The 2013 offerings can be found at the Garfield Park Arts Center.

Santa Cruz Sunset begonia. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ from Proven Winners does best in a hanging basket or container because of its cascading habit. It can get up to 24 inches tall, but more likely will be in the 12 to 15 inch range. The flowers are about 2 inches long.

‘Sparks Will Fly’ (B. x hybrida) is 2013 introduction from Burpee Home Gardens. I first saw this last year at a large horticulture show and it stopped many of us in our tracks.

The foliage is deep green with red under sides. Orange star-shaped flowers dot the plant. It will get, dotted with orange, star-shaped flowers. It gets about 15 inches tall and wide and does best in shade.


Cicada redux in honor of east coast gardeners

In its month above ground, a cicada morphs from a nymph to an adult, mates and dies, leaving behind eggs embedded in small twigs. (C) Photo courtesy Sam Orr.

In honor of gardeners in the eastern part of the United States, here’s a Hoosier Gardener column that ran in The Indianapolis Star April 21, 2007 about the emergence of the 17-year cicada, which occurred in Indianapolis in 2004. In 2007, a brood emerged in northwest Indiana.


They’re back, this time in northwest Indiana where people are braced for a spring invasion of Brood XIII of the periodical cicadas.

Central and southern Indiana residents recall a similar invasion of the red-eyed insects in 2004, when Brood X emerged after 17 years under ground.

The 2004 emergence and lifecycle of Brood X was captured on video by photographer Sam Orr, in his documentary, the Return of the Cicadas.

Orr, who also has studied forest ecology, teamed up with an expert on the topic, Keith Clay, a professor of biology at Indiana University-Bloomington and director of the Research and Teaching Preserve. Both worked under a grant from the National Science Foundation to research the long-term effects on forests of the one of the largest outbreaks of insects on Earth.

The documentary begins with the awkward, tentative emergence of Cicadidaemagicicada from pencil-size holes, first poking out their heads to test the temperature. If it’s too cool, they slide back in until the next day. And, when it’s just right, they emerge one by one until there are millions of them pulsating on the ground. “There are just so many of them,” Orr said.

It’s like watching a horror movie, repelled, yet compelled to watch.

There are 30 broods of periodical cicadas, some on the 17-year cycle and some on the 13-year plan. “There are some we can’t find, so they may never have existed,” Clay said.

Adult cicadas climb a shrub, preparing to sing for sex. (C) Photo courtesy Sam Orr.

Half-inch, brown nymphs emerge from their cicada huts. After about a week, the nymphs shed their exoskeletons, those tan shells we find on trees, shrubs and the ground. After a short while, cicadas’ wings dry out and the 1 ½-inch long adults turn greenish black. The males begin their mating chorus by vibrating membranes on their stomachs. The females do not sing.

The cacophony lasts a couple of weeks. After mating, the females embed their eggs in small branches on trees and shrubs, and the adults die. In six to 10 weeks, the eggs hatch and the tiny, baby nymphs fall to the ground, eventually burrowing about 18 inches deep, where they dine on a root sap for the next 17 or 13 years.

In the case of Brood X, “they sit there underground for 16 years and 46 weeks and you don’t even know they are there,” Orr said.

It’s not uncommon for there to be three dozen or more exit holes per square foot in heavily infested areas. One woman joked her house might cave in because there were so many exit holes in her landscape, he said.

During their above ground phase, cicadas do not eat plants, sting or bite, so spraying is not recommended. Young trees and shrubs are the most susceptible to branch damage from the egg laying, but the plants can be protected with netting.

Some of the cicadas provide once-in-a-lifetime, nutritious snacks for wildlife. With 2004’s huge proliferation of food, the state reported a big jump in the wild turkey population a few months after the invasion, Clay said.

Although a cicada invasion may be a hard-sell, “I have more empathy for them than most people,” Orr said. He loves telling children about the cicada’s life cycle, including their long stay under ground. “I tell them the cicadas are older than they are.”



Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: June 2013

'Hummelo' stachys, 'Elvira' red-hot poker, 'Lady Elsie May' rose and 'Purple Emporer' sedum. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

This is the time of year between spring and summer, when a few late spring perennials and shrubs are still lovely, but summer blooms are a few weeks away, the garden seems to quiet down. Soon, lilies will be blooming along with hosta, later blooming hydrangeas, coneflowers and more.

Everything seems a bit or early or late this year, but the cooler, more moist weather has prolonged the show for many plants.

I love happenstance plantings and celebrate ‘Hummelo’ (Stachys officinalis). ‘Lady Elsie May’ Rosa, ‘Purple Emperor’ Sedum and ‘Elvira’ red-hot poker (Kniphofia). ‘Elvira’ is new to the mix and blends nicely with the ‘Lady Elsie May’ rose.

Today, ‘Annabelle’ (Hydrangea arborescens) is loaded with pale green flowers, which will soon turn to white for their summer show. In a bit more sun is Invincibelle Spirit, the first pink-flowering H. arborescens on the market. The form of this plant has definitely improved as it has matured, but I’m still not 100 percent in love with the color, a sort of dusty pink.

White Dome, another H. arborescens, has a lace cap flower and is more like the straight species. Still, a lovely plant that is more restrained and subtle compared to its sister ‘Annabelle’.

White Dome hydrangea. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

All of the dwarf oakleaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia) are blooming, even the three ‘Pee Wee’ planted last year. The first dwarf oakleaf I planted several years ago, ‘Sike’s Dwarf’, is now mature and really beautiful. I see it every day of the year, walking in and out my back door from the house to the garage and when I stand at the kitchen sink. Every day, for four seasons a year, I enjoy this plant.

'Sike's Dwarf' oakleaf hydrangea will have to be moved this summer. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

But, it’s grown too big for its space and in reaching maturity, hides all of the other smaller, but beautiful plants behind it. So soon, I will cut back the plant, dig it up and transplant it to its new spot. To do that, though, I will have to dig and transplant a bunch of big, wonderfully fragrant hostas, which bloom in late July and August.

So, I think what I’m going to do is enjoy the oakleaf for the next few weeks, cut it back, dig it up and pot it up in a good size nursery pot to hold until the hostas finish their show and I can move them.

A mix of Heuchera and Heucherella provide gorgeous foliage that is there year-round. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I harvested my first blueberry…the only one blue, and the Carolina all-spice’s flowers have been quite lovely this year. New for me is Redventure Celery, from the Drunken Botanist collection. I’m growing it in a pot  and it’s bloomed and now I need to figure out when you harvest it.

I'm sorry this is a bit blurry. I took the photo then ate the blueberry before I looked at the picture. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Carolina all-spice. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Redventure celery flower. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Although Heuchera and Heucherella bloom, these plants are mostly appreciated for the foliage color. The foliage frequently changes colors as the leaves age or as the plant goes through the season. Here in Indianapolis, the foliage is evergreen persisting in some color through winter. In early spring, you just go out and snip off any winter-damaged leaves.

Last fall, I moved a bunch of Hellebores (Helleborus) from the shadier back yard to a spot in the front that gets good morning sun. These plants, which I’ve had for several years, have doubled in size. Their growth has been amazing and making me wonder if I should transplant more of these evergreen, winter-blooming perennials to sunnier locations.

A native bumble bee forages for pollen and nectar on a spirea. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Lastly, this coming week is National Pollinator Week. Last month at the Garden Writers Association’s Region III meeting in Wooster, we learned about pollinating insects, birds and animals (even humans). In the program, we learned about bees and floral fidelity.

Once you know this, you will recognize bees’ practice of floral fidelity in your own garden. The lesson: plant flowering plants in clumps or clusters. Learn more about how to celebrate National Pollinator Week.


Celebrate National Pollinator Week by planting in clusters

June 17 to 23 is National Pollinator Week when we celebrate insects and animals that help produce $29 billion worth of food, including apples, nuts and tomatoes. And then there are the flowers.

A native bumble bee forages for pollen and nectar on a spirea. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The big worry in this natural cooperative are the bees, which are threatened  by mites, pesticides and loss of habitat. Indiana has at least 400 species of bees that work the Hoosier landscape. What can we do as gardeners? It helps to know a little bit about bee behavior.

Bees practice floral fidelity. That means that on any given foraging trip, they visit only one species of flower, said Denise Ellsworth, program director of Ohio State University’s Honey Bee and Native Pollinator Education at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster.

For instance, the bees leave their hive and collect pollen and nectar from a stand of salvia and only the salvia. The bees return to the hive, deposit their harvest, head out and visit coneflowers and only coneflowers.

By contrast, butterflies flit from cosmos to lily to milkweed, or species to species.

This practice of bee floral fidelity is a guide to how we should plant our gardens, Ellsworth told a group of garden writers last month at Secrest.

Don’t plant onesies, such as a coneflower in the backyard and one in the front. Instead, plant the same flowers in clumps or clusters so a bee doesn’t have to work too hard to collect the goodies.

Use native plants. Bees, birds and other pollinators are hard wired to seek out native plants. All plants don’t have to be native, but be sure to have a good number in the mix.

Avoid using pesticides. If you must, don’t use them when flowers are open or bees are present. Know what you have before you treat it and always read and follow the label directions.


Diseases create problems for bedding impatiens but not for maples

Impatiens downy mildew stunts growth, yellows leaves and eventually kills the plant. Photo courtesy of Purdue University Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory

It’s been one of those springs—cool and wet, which is just the right formula for leaf diseases.

Maples, in particular, have brown or black spots, most likely a fungus disease call anthracnose.

“This was the most common plant problem sample that was brought into our office during the past month,” said Steve Mayer, horticulture educator at Purdue Extension-Marion County.

Maple leaves have also shown up with blisters, another fungus disease, he said. “Neither of these two foliar diseases will cause any long-term detrimental effects to healthy trees. However, most trees are stressed from last year’s drought and producing a second crop of leaves to replace those that fall prematurely (from the fungus disease) may cause additional stress.”

Purdue recommends adding 2 to 3 inches of mulch around trees, making sure to keep it away from the trunk.

Trees, shrubs and other drought-stressed plants should get at least 1 inch of water each week from either irrigation or rain. “Do not fertilize any more this growing season, as this may only stress the trees and shrubs by forcing new growth,” Mayer said.

Impatiens trying patience

More gardeners have sickly or dying bedding impatiens (I. walleriana). This best-selling annual for shade gardens has been hit with impatiens downy mildew, a deadly disease that persists in the soil for at least five years. The disease also can be carried by wind.

If impatiens did not do well last year, do not plant them again this year. There’s nothing you or growers can do to prevent this disease because there are no fungicides or other pesticides to control the problem. Remove infected plants. Do not compost them, but rather discard in the trash.

The disease started showing up in Indiana last summer, but has been severe in other states and Europe. The best remedy is to use other shade-tolerant plants, such as begonia, torenia or tropical plants. New Guinea impatiens and SunPatiens are not affected by impatiens downy mildew.

Maple blister disease. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory.

Maple anthracnose. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory.


You Can Grow That! June 2013: golden Japanese forest grass

Golden Japanese forest grass. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Aureola’, a golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra), is a perfect plant for softening the front edge of a border, cascading over a wall, working as a ground cover or adding a bright spot in the perennial bed. This is a great plant for a shadier location, where its golden color brightens some of the darker spots in the garden. It also can be used as a container plant for summer color and transplanted to the ground in fall, if desired. ‘Aureola’ was named the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Hakonechloa macra is native to Honshu Island, Japan. Hakon refers to the Japanese region and chloa is the Greek word for grass, according to the Perennial Plant Association (, a not-for-profit organization made up of educators, plant breeders, growers and others. Each year members make nominations and vote on their favorite perennial. Previous popular winners include ‘Maicht’ or May Night Salvia, ‘David’ Phlox, ‘Husker Red’ Penstemon, ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera. The fragrant, variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’) received the 2013 Plant of the Year honor.

Like other ornamental grasses, golden Japanese forest grass adds soft, graceful movement and sound to the landscape. ‘Aureola’ forms a mound of cascading layers of one-half inch wide bright yellow blades with green stripes. A mound gets 12 to 18 inches tall and up to 24 inches wide. The plant has small, delicate flowers in late summer and fall, but they are not particularly showy. In fall, the blades take on a pinkish-red hue. In cold climates like Indiana, the plant dies back in winter. In warmer zones, the plant may be evergreen.

Hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8, golden Japanese forest grass does best with four to six hours of sun a day, or part shade. Morning sun would be ideal. If the plant will be in a west- or south-facing garden, provide dappled shade. The more shade, the less golden the color. The plant prefers soil that is moist, well drained and rich in organic matter.

Fall color of 'Aureola' golden Japanese forest grass with Crow Feather Tiarella. Photo courtesy

‘Aureola’ is one of my favorite plants. It is easy and it brightens some of the darker landscape spots. Its form and texture work extremely well with other part-sun and shade plants. The fine foliage of this grass complements the bolder leaves of hosta, coral bells (Heuchera), heucherella (Heucherella), hellebores (Helleborus), foam flower (Tiarella) and Epimedium. ‘Aureola’ also does nicely around shrubs and trees. When planted in masses, a sea of grass forms a lush ground cover.

The maintenance on this plant is pretty low. Cut back to the ground in early winter or when it starts to look bad. Divide in spring. It has few disease or insect problems and, as a bonus, the deer do not seem to favor this grass. Besides ‘Aureola,’ there are other golden cultivars on the market. ‘Bene Kaze,’ is an all-green variety.


June garden checklist is posted

The checklist of things to do in the garden in June is posted.

No-no plants for the Indiana garden

Japanese honeysuckle vine smells heavenly, but it has escaped landscapes and rooted in natural areas, where it smothers native plants. This aggressive habit puts it on the invasive plant lists in Indiana, other states and the federal government.  Photo courtesy of

Some perennials are attractive, vigorous growers. And those last two words are the reasons why I would not plant them in my yard.

These are the plants your neighbors, friends and family want to share because the perennials have done so well in their yards. These also can be found in garden centers and mailorder and online retailers, frequently described as vigorous growers. Don’t bother.

Here’s a sampler:

Evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). This native plant forms huge colonies of quarter to 50-cent size, pretty pink flowers atop 12 to 18 inch tall stems. It gets its name because the flowers open at dusk. A popular cultivar is ‘Siskiyou Pink’. Alternative: ‘Bath’s Pink’ cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus).

Bishop’s goat weed or snow on the mountain (Aegopodium podagraria, A. p. ‘Variegatum’). There are solid green and variegated varieties. I planted the variegated type as a ground cover when I first started gardening. After a few years, I was pulling it out by the bucketsful. This plant, with lovely Queen Anne’s lace type flowers, does not know when to stop spreading. Alternative: bishop’s cap or barrenwort (Epimedium).

Bishop’s goat weed and evening primrose could be grown in a bed bounded by sidewalks, house or other hardscape.

Japanese honeysuckle vine (Lonicera japonica). A fast growing vine with fragrant, yellow-white flowers make this an attractive plants. And just as fast at it grows in your yard, it is taking hold in natural areas throughout Indiana and elsewhere. It’s vigor has earned it a spot on the state and federal lists of invasive species. Alternatives: ‘Major Wheeler’, ‘John Clayon’ (L. sempervirens); ‘Goldflame’ (L. x heckrottii); ‘Serotina’, Peaches and Cream (L. periclymenum).

Evening primrose can be a thug in the garden, overtaking neighborhing plants. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Sweet autumn clematis (C. terniflora, C. paniculata) is another fast growing vine that self-sows like crazy. Alternatives: honeysuckles (see above); other clematis; late blooming annuals vines, such as cardinal vine (Ipomoea quamoclit).