October 2013

Tips for extending the growing season and the harvest

Remove the bottoms of water jugs to make cloches. Hold the jugs in place with a stick. (C) Fotolia/John Braid

As we grow more of our own food, we want to know how we can push the weather envelope and harvest carrots, spinach and other vegetables for Thanksgiving.

Protecting vegetables from the cold can be as simple as adding a little extra mulch around plants or as elaborate as a heated greenhouse. There are lots of steps in between, too.

Straw and leaves

Tuck loose straw or leaves around spinach and other leafy crops. Apply straw or leaves atop carrots, onions and radishes. Create a barrier around plants with straw bales or bags of leaves. Cover the open area with a row cover or thick clear plastic sheets.


About as inexpensive as straw or leaves are cloches — inverted pots, plastic jugs with the bottoms cut out or glass domes. These protect smaller plants in spring and fall. Think of a cloche as a mini greenhouse. Remove unvented cloches during the day. Cloches are particularly useful in spring to cover seedlings and get a jump on the season.

A row cover, made of plastic fabric, will keep plants five to 10 degrees warmer than the outside ambient temperature. (C) Fotolia/Eag1e

Row Cover

A floating row cover is made of polyester or polypropylene. The fabric allows air, light and rain to penetrate. Hoops suspend the fabric 12 to 18 inches above the plants. It keeps the area under the cloth 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature.

Use PVC pipe or other similar material to form the hoops. Secure the hoop by placing the end in a slightly larger PVC pipe that has been pounded in the ground at the edge of the garden bed. If the hoop pipe is 1-inch diameter, use 1 ¼ or 1 ½ inch diameter pipe in the ground. Secure the material by stuffing it in the ground pipe with the hoop pipe.

Hold hoop house plastic or row cover fabric in place with PVC pipe.

Hoop House

Use an a couple of layers of opaque plastic, 4 to 6 millimeters thick, to create a hoop house, which can be about any height. The construction is the same as row cover. A hoop house usually extends the growing season by six to eight weeks in fall and spring.


University of Illinois Extension Season Extenders

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Guerney’s Seed & Nursery Co.


Out of place plants = weeds

Redbud seedlings. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The adage that a weed is just a plant out of place certainly holds true in my yard, when plants show up where I don’t want them. Here are some common examples:

Eastern redbud

The Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a fast-growing, native, ornamental tree with pink flowers in spring and pale yellow, heart-shaped leaves in fall. A prolific seeder, seedlings show up everywhere and anywhere. They are hard to pull and dig out. Best time for the job is early spring when the soil is moist.

Virginia creeper. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Virginia creeper

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve slipped a plastic bag on my arm to pull Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), thinking it was a young poison ivy plant. This native climbing and trailing vine starts out with three leaves and within a few feet, takes on the more familiar Virginia creeper, five-leaf form. The leaves turn a beautiful deep red in fall. It blooms in summer, followed by fruit, but I’ve never noticed either. This is good for camouflaging fences or climbing a trellis, but not creeping through the garden bed. Pull anytime and keep pulling where it’s not wanted.

Hackberry seedling. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) has rough leaves arranged alternately along the branch. Seedlings of this native plant are easy to spot because of their arched form. Cut back to the ground or dig out.

Mulberry. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


White mulberry (Morus alba) seems to have a fast-growing stranglehold on my neighbor’s side of the fence, no matter how much I whack it back. Unlike the native red mulberry (Morus rubra), the Asian introduction can readily be found in urban areas. It is likely spread by birds that eat the fruit, which despite its white mulberry moniker, is red.

Tree of heaven. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Tree of heaven

When I was a kid, we called this a stink tree and today, it sometimes is called a ghetto palm. However, tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) seems to be its most common nickname. Tolerant of sun or shade, this fast-growing tree from China is very tough, a prolific seeder and hard to get rid of. Keeping it chopped back will eventually starve it out. If small, dig it out. If large, you’ll probably have to hire an arborist to take it down.


Stink bug with voracious appetite shows up in big numbers this year

Brown marmorated stink bugs has bit appetites for apples, cayenne pappers, bean, tomatoes and more. Photo courtesy John Obermeyer/Purdue University

For the past month, I’ve been consumed with brown marmorated stink bugs. I’ve repurposed newspapers into swatting machines, killing more than 100 on the outside of my house and 10 inside on my screened-in porch.

I’m pretty observant in my garden and I did not notice any of these Asian invaders last year. So, in my world, it’s gone from zero to hundreds of mini-shielded, cilantro-stinking bugs in a year.

After online research and interviewing experts about the brown marmorated stink bug, called BMSB for short, I know the worst is yet to come. Our homes will be inundated by these bugs, and so will our tomatoes, green beans, corn, apples and just about everything else in the garden. In the next 10 years, we could be talking billions. (I wrote about this insect in The Indianapolis Star, Oct. 8.)

The BMSB (Halyomorpha halys) is not harmful to people or pets, but it emits an unpleasant, cilantro-like smell when disturbed. And, although a nuisance because the bugs want to winter in our homes, it’s a much more serious pest for gardeners and farmers. The brown marmorated stink bug nymphs and adults are equally damaging to crops, said John Obermeyer, a Purdue University entomologist.

Nymph of brown marmorated stink bug. Photo courtesy John Obermeyer/Purdue University

We can caulk our windows and doors and make sure to plug any cracks or crevices where you can see daylight in our homes. In the garden, though, protection is more challenging. Scientists are frantically trying to find a way to control this destructive pest, but right now there are no natural enemies.

Trap crops, row covers and lure traps help, but there’s still a lot that’s not known. Lure traps (Rescue is one brand), armed with pheromones, are quite effective at capturing nymphs and adults within a 30-foot range. They are usually left up from spring through fall to trap as many of the insects as possible.

If you see BMSBs, your county extension office wants to hear from you.


Indiana map where BMSB have been found

U.S. map where BMSB have been found

News and updates about BMSB

All about BMSB from the Entomological Society of America/Rutgers University

Tips for controlling brown marmorated stink bugs

Recycle snippets from fall clean up in late-season, winter containers

A white pumpkin, assorted gourds and Spanish moss with faux leaves and berries in a container on a sheltered porch. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

As we perform our fall cleanup chores, save a few items for use in late season and winter containers.

Right now, you can use seed heads of perennials, snippets of ornamental grass, twigs, a pumpkin or a few gourds and maybe a mum or pansy for a pot of fall beauty.

Spray paint the twigs to match the trim on the house. Pumpkins, too, come in other colors besides orange, including white, yellow-green and green. And the gourds, with their gnarly or warted skins are just plain fun.

You can always supplement with artificial fall leaves or stems of faux berries for a little more pizzazz.

Stow some of nature’s fall bounty for use in a winter container, too. Dried hydrangea flowers, ornamental grass flowers or foliage, red or yellow-stem dogwood, birch branches and willow stems are all good choices. For a winter arrangement, fill in as needed with evergreen boughs and other greenery from a garden center or perhaps a friend’s landscape.

Fall-planted lilies shine in the summer garden

We all know about planting tulips and daffodils in fall for spring blooms. But there are lovely summer-blooming bulbs to plant in fall, too.

Asiatic, oriental and orienpet lilies (Lilium) are always worth a little space in the perennial garden.

Asiatics bloom in early summer and come in many colors. These are usually 10 to 24 inches tall and have trumpet-shaped flowers. Oriental and a new group called orienpet lilies are worth having if only because of their fragrance. These also can get pretty tall, up to 5 or 6 feet, depending on the variety. Really tall ones may need to be staked, or plant them amid companion plants that will help support the lilies.

Foxtail lily (Eremurus 'Stenophyllis'). Photo courtesy

Most of these lilies are winter hardy throughout Indiana. Plant lilies where they get morning sun or where they get filtered afternoon sun. Most do well in average soil, but prefer it to be well drained.

A lot of gardeners are unfamiliar with the foxtail lily (Eremurus), which blooms in very late spring to early summer. These have 30-inch stalks topped with pink, white, cream or yellow flowers. Hardy to USDA Zone 5, plant these in full sun and well-drained soil.

Lilies and foxtail lilies also are terrific cut flowers for indoor enjoyment.


You Can Grow That! October 2013: Late blooming annuals


Red Giant mustard accents snapdragons in the late season garden. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

You Can Grow That! in September talked about late-blooming perennials. This month, here’s a sampler of late-blooming, easy-t0-grow annuals, some of which you may already have in your garden. If not, many of these may be available at garden centers.

Snapdragons love the cooler temperatures of fall and have been known to keep blooming into December. Snaps (Antirrhinum majus) come in all sizes and colors and do best in full sun, but tolerate part sun. Even this time of year, you can sow seeds directly in soil in window boxes, pots or a patch in the landscape, according to packet instructions. Garden centers also may have snapdragons in pots this time of year. Snapdragons are great cut flowers, too.

Petunias (Petunia) and million bells (Calibrachoa) may already be growing in your landscape or pots. Cut them back a bit, give them a dose of fertilizer, keep them watered and they will keep blooming for several more weeks. These are quite tolerant of cooler temperatures and can take a frost or two.

Cape daisy (Osteospermum) also should revive as temperatures cool. These plants are stunning in spring and fall, but seem to lose their zip in summer when the temeratures get hot, especially at night. Indiana’s hot weather prevents the plants from resting at night, which diminishes their blooms.

Verbena hybrids seem to be revived by cooler temps, too. These sun-loving and heat tolerant plants will continue blooming for several more weeks.

At garden centers, also look for pots of Swiss chard, mustards and kale for interesting foliage and color. Many of these work well as the centerpiece or thriller in a late-season container for outdoors. If we plan far enough ahead next year, we can grow our own from seed. Look for the seeds in spring and sow them in early August, according to packet instructions.