April 2014

Shop local plant sales to add to your garden’s beauty

Perennial Premiere at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Perennial Premiere at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

If you are looking for unusual or hard-to-find plants or just a few good standbys to fill in the garden, check out area plant sales.

This weekend is Perennial Premiere, the annual plant sale at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which ends at 5 p.m. Sunday. Here, you’ll find plants, art and garden accessories from area growers, merchants and artists.

Even for plant geeks like Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the IMA, Perennial Premiere has tempting treats.

'Forever Pink' Phlox. Photo courtesy Jim Ault/

‘Forever Pink’ Phlox. Photo courtesy Jim Ault/

Intriguing Etienne is ‘Forever Pink’ Phlox, which is said to start blooming in spring and go into October. This sun-loving hybrid was developed at the Chicago Botanic Garden and is marketed through Chicagoland Grows. An upright, clump grower, it is a sterile, so it doesn’t need to stop blooming to produce seed, Etienne said. It’s about 1 foot tall and is mildew free. It should have good drainage. “A perennial with this length of bloom has a place in any garden,” he said.

He also is tempted by ‘Wesuwe’ salvia (S. nemorosa), which promises to rebloom. If you’ve grown East Friesland salvia (S. nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’) or Blue Hill (S. x sylvestris ‘Blauhugel’), you know like other perennial salvias, it’s pretty much one and done, even with deadheading. Even the popular May Night (S. x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’) is only good for one really strong bloom.

This sun-loving salvia, with deep purple flowers, is one of three used in Salvia River in the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Eitenne recommends cutting it back by at least half after the first bloom.

Salvia River at Lurie Gardens in Chicago. Photo courtesy Millennium Park/Lurie Gardens

Salvia River at Lurie Gardens in Chicago. Photo courtesy Millennium Park/Lurie Gardens

One he’s grown is Agastache ‘Cotton Candy’, which he calls “a blooming machine.” It is loaded with soft pink flowers with darker pink calyces, or seedpods. “The calyces keep them colorful even after the flowers drop,” he said.

Agastache Cotton Candy. Photo courtesy

Agastache Cotton Candy. Photo courtesy

This sun-loving perennial gets 2 feet tall and blooms all season. Sometimes called hummingbird mint, agastache is a bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnet. Give it good drainage, especially in winter, Etienne said. Introduced by Terra Nova Nurseries, ‘Cotton Candy’ is listed as hardy to USDA Zone 6, “but it is coming back after our for-sure Zone 5 winter,” he said.

Other plant sales on the calendar:

• Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s Plant Sale and Auction, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May 10 at Park Tudor School, Upper Gymnasium, 7200 N. College Ave.,

• Garfield Park Master Gardeners Plant Sale, 9 a.m. to noon, May 17 at the Conservatory,


Timely snips keep summer pots neat, tidy and full

Easy Wave Gelato Mix petunia can be kept neat, tidy and full with a few snips now and then. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

Easy Wave Gelato Mix petunia can be kept neat, tidy and full with a few snips now and then. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/


As we move into the high season for planting, here are some tips and reminders for how to get the most out of our summer containers.

1. The larger the container, the better. Larger pots tend not to dry out as fast. It’s best to use containers that have drainage holes.

If you have a fancy container without drainage holes, plant your arrangement in a pot with holes that will fit inside the ornamental one. Place a brick, gravel, mulch or other material in the bottom of the ornamental container to keep the planted pot elevated so that it won’t be sitting in water.

2. Make sure plants in the same pot have the same horticultural requirements, such as sun or shade.

3. If planting a large ceramic, terra cotta or other heavy pot, place it where you want it before filling it with dirt and plants. Leave at least 1 inch between the soil line and the top of the pot. This space allows containers to be watered without displacing the soil.

Here are some more tips from the plant breeder Suntory, which includes brands Sun Parasol mandevillas, Million Bells calibrachoas and Surfinia petunias.

• Boost the number of shoots by trimming the branches that overflow the pot. Use scissors or pruners. This can be done two or three times during the growing season.

• Make sure the soil feels dry before watering. Overwatering leads to root rot or other fungal problems. Water the soil, not the plants. Water until the liquid runs out the bottom of the container.

• Fertilizer containers regularly, even if using a potting mix with fertilizer added or a slow-release fertilizer at planting time. Water-soluble products work well in containers. Always read and follow the label directions.

• Snip off spent flowers, called deadheading, to encourage plants to keep blooming.

• When plants start to look scraggly, give them a haircut. Cut the plants back to about 6 inches from the soil line. Plants will rebound in about two weeks. A lot of gardeners do this mid summer, when they leave for vacation.


Compost: does your soil good

Digging the GardenWhen people ask about the best way to improve their gardens, I tell them to look down at the ground. The best gardens have great soil – soil that is a good blend of organic matter, microorganisms, air and clay, silt or loam.

The miracle ingredient is organic matter, such as compost, finely chopped leaves or well-rotted manure. Organic matter helps all kinds of soil, whether it’s clay, sand or loam. It improves drainage, yet helps with moisture retention. Organic matter feeds the soil’s microorganisms, which create the right environment for roots to thrive. Strong and healthy roots yield strong and healthy plants. The plants are better able to withstand stressful weather conditions, such as drought, and survive minor infestations of insects of diseases.

If you don’t make your own compost, you can buy it in bags at a garden center or you can get it by the yard, in bulk, from landscape suppliers. Between us, the stuff you get bulk is a much higher quality of compost than what you can get in a bag, which may be more convenient.

For existing plants, pull mulch aside, ring plants with compost and replace mulch. If there’s no mulch, add about an inch of compost across the bed.

When making a new garden bed, mix several inches of compost in the top layer. A 3-inch thick layer of compost also can be used as mulch around plants and over beds instead of bark or other materials.

Other tips:

• Avoid landscape cloth. Yes, I know it promises to reduce weeds. But once soil and other debris accumulates on top of the cloth, weeds can blow in and take root. I have pulled landscape cloth from many jobs and underneath, the soil is dry, compacted and without worms or microorganisms. Essentially, the soil looks and feels dead.

• Avoid synthetic fertilizers. They feed the plant, but do nothing for the soil. There also is some research that suggests synthetic fertilizers reduce worms and microorganisms in the soil. Instead, use fertilizers labeled as natural or organic.

• When making new beds, consider buying bulk planter’s mix from landscape suppliers. This is a mix of organic matter, topsoil, a little sand and other elements. Planter’s mix also can be used in raised beds.

• Avoid walking on garden beds. Compacted soil restricts root development and the movement of air and water.


Spring tasks, when weather permits

For a full pot of shade-loving caladiums, plant several bulbs in a pot. Remove one or two node or eyes to encourage more stem and leaf growth. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

For a full pot of shade-loving caladiums, plant several bulbs in a pot. Remove one or two node or eyes to encourage more stem and leaf growth. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Finally, the weather might be cooperating enough that Hoosiers can begin some of the tasks of the season.

Fertilize trees and shrubs before they fully leaf out. Use an all-purpose fertilizer, such as Espoma Plant-Tone, Milorganite or other natural product. Read and follow the label directions, but usually the product is sprinkled around the base of the plant and watered in. Save a step by applying before a rain to let Mother Nature do the watering.

If you are fighting lawn weeds, apply a pre-emergent herbicide, such as corn gluten, when the forsythia blooms. A pre-emergent does not kill existing weeds. It keeps weed seeds from sprouting. However, if planning to sow grass seed, hold off on the pre-emergent because it does not distinguish between grass seed and weed seed.

Even though you’d like to kill dandelions and other perennial weeds in the lawn, the best time to do that is in late summer. Applying an herbicide now will cause plants to curl, which might make you feel better, but it’s only a temporary set back for the weeds. The reason to treat perennial lawn weeds later in the season is because the plants are bulking up for winter survival, which makes the herbicide more effective.

Want more perennials? Divide them, especially if their flower power has diminished over the last few years. Dig up the plant and use a bread knife, Japanese soil knife or a sharp spade to divide the clump into a few sections. Plant the divisions. Dividing summer-blooming perennials now allows them to get well rooted for their seasonal show. You can also fertilize perennials as they emerge from their winter sleep, or apply a light layer of compost around the plants.

This is the time to pot up cannas, caladiums and tuberous begonias indoors so they will have some size and be ready for planting outdoors once the air and soil temperatures warm up in mid May. To boost the fullness of caladium, dig out one or two nodes or eyes on the bulb before planting.

Sow seeds for warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, indoors. You will likely need to use supplemental lighting for these seedlings. Keep the lights a couple of inches above the seedlings, raising the lights as the plants grow.

It’s time for ready, set grow!