April 2015

Saving the lives of warm-season plants

Hold off planting frost-tender geraniums and warm season vegetables and herbs until about May 10. (C) NDPetitt/

Hold off planting frost-tender geraniums and warm season vegetables and herbs until about May 10. (C) NDPetitt/

I’ve been saving lives the last couple of weeks…the lives of basil, peppers, tomatoes, rosemary, impatiens and geraniums (Pelargonium), to name a few.

That’s because people want to buy these plants at the garden center where I work, even though it’s too early. Call it the 70-degree temperature syndrome. Symptoms include trying to rush the season. Even though temps are warm, the soil has not reached the right temperature for the plants to grow and thrive. That’s why the rule of thumb for planting warm-season vegetables and flowers is May 10. In fact, temperature dropped to 36 degrees in central Indiana on May 13, 2013.

So, if you can’t plant them yet, why do garden centers have them for sale? Because customers want them, or think they want them. Some lucky people buy plants early to hold over in their greenhouse until they can be planted outdoors. Others say they will keep them in the garage, possible depriving plants of necessary light. Others say they plan to leave them outdoors during the day and move them indoors at night.

These are all viable options, but require some vigilance on the part of the buyer to make sure plants are watered as needed. The lack of light may cause plants to stretch and become weak.

Why not let the garden center do all the work necessary to keep the plants alive until planting time? That’s less worry on your part. And you’ll know that the plants will be well tended so they will be at their best.

Show your school colors

Getting ready for high school or college graduation celebrations in the backyard? Talk to garden centers now to make sure you can get flowers in the school colors you want. Most garden centers will help you find plants and colors you need.

Stick with annuals to carry the school-color theme. Perennials are iffy about their bloom times and getting just the right color may be challenging. Most of the time, annuals are already blooming, so you can make sure you get the colors you need.

Some colors, such as black, are going to be harder to find, even in annuals. There are a few black petunia varieties on the market, or look for black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’).

For gray or silver, look for licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare) or dusty miller (Senecio cineraria).

If you have any dried or faux hydrangea flowers, you can always spray paint them any color you need and stick them in a pot with annuals or use as a bouquet for a tabletop arrangement.

Kids gardening: Good for vitamin N

Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants

Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants

We hear a lot about vitamin deficiencies, and kids are not immune, frequently coming up short on their vitamin N for nature. One way to bolster their vitamin N is to get kids involved in gardening with something other than weeding. Even I hate to weed, but I love planting and growing stuff, and picking vegetables and flowers.

Crops like strawberries and purple carrots are fun for kids (and adults) to grow. Start small. Give children their own spot or pot in an area with at least six hours of direct sun, and reasonably close to a water source.

Allow them to select what they want to grow because they are more likely to eat the veggies and fruits. Certainly a few flowers, such as marigolds, would be all right, too. Feel free to narrow the field by suggesting eight or 10 crops that kids can choose from to fit the space available. Here are a few suggestions:


Everbearing or day neutral strawberries bloom and produce all summer long. Although a small planting will not yield dozens of strawberries, there should be enough to satisfy an occasional summer dessert. Tristar, Tristan and Tribute are cultivars to consider. (I grow Tristan in a window box.) Buy plants.


Sure, carrots are orange, but they can also be purple, red, yellow and pink. The more dense the color, the higher the carotene and the better for you. Carrots are fairly easy to grow, especially in well-worked loose, loamy or sandy soil. Grow in a container that is at least 12 inches deep. Botanical Interests offers Carnival Blend, Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple carrots. Burpee has Kaleidoscope Mix, Rainbow Hybrid and Purple Dragon carrots. Sow seeds.

Green beans

Purple green beans are not only delicious, they are beautiful on the plant. The purple pods against the green leaves also make the vegetable easy to spot for picking at just the right size. Don’t be alarmed, though, because the beans turn green when cooked. Sow seeds. Some to consider: Royalty Purple from Rare Seeds, Purple Podded Pole from Burpee and Dwarf Velour French from Park Seed.

Cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are about the best producing plants in the garden. For most of the summer, you can pick a handful to munch on while wandering in the garden, or for a salad. Kids, in particular seem to like the yellow pear cherry tomatoes, but there are orange, black and purple types, too, with red the most common. Buy plants.

One of the best sources for getting our children and future gardeners involved is National Gardening Association’s Kids Gardening. You’ll find tips and techniques for families, classroom-ready lessons for educators and more.

Plant sales rain or shine

(C) Photo dustinhaas/

(C) Photo dustinhaas/

Some of the best things about spring are the plant sales held by various groups, usually as fundraisers for their programs or other activities. The sales are good places to buy heirloom vegetables, native plants and hard-to-find perennials. Here’s the rundown:

April 18, Hendricks County Parks and Recreation

Thousands of native plants for $4 each, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at McCloud Nature Park, 8518 Hughes Road, North Salem. Experts will make presentations and answer questions. Proceeds benefit the Parks Foundation of Hendricks County.

April 18 and 19, Perennial Premiere

Perennial Premiere at the Indianapolis Museum of Art has been the reigning queen of plant sales, with offers of many hard-to-find perennials, native trees and shrubs and artistic accessories for the garden.

Programs include beekeeping, an herb demonstration and tips on planting early season vegetables. Food trucks will be on site and New Day Craft Mead and Cider will offer tastings. Activities will be in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse, its parking lot and Tanner Orchard.

The IMA’s $18 admission fee is in effect for nonmembers to go to Perennial Premiere. Members only can shop 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. The event is open to the public noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. If not an IMA member, join and immediately get a 20 percent discount on plants and merchandise. Free shuttles will be in operation. Automotive traffic to the area is barred except for plant pickups. Visit the IMA website for more information.

April 27 through May 9, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

This is the first of four plant sales at the school, 7725 N. College Ave. The sales benefit the horticulture program and its students.

Along with Master Gardeners and Elizabeth Garvey, their horticulture teacher, students grow annuals, scented geraniums, perennials,
native plants, vegetable plants, including heirloom varieties.

The sale is open to the public, noon to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It is closed Sundays.


May 9, INPAWS Native Plant Sale & Auction

Members of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society dig, divide or propagate plants from their gardens for this annual sale at Park Tudor School, Upper Gymnasium. Enter via 71st Street.

This large sale offers hard-to-find plants for wetlands and woodlands as well as sunny and shady areas. At 9:30 a.m. landscape architect M.J. Meneley, of Indianapolis’ Blue Marble Design, will speak about Designing with Natives. Pay $10 to hear the talk and you get a 15-minute lead on plant shopping. The sale runs 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The auction begins at 11 a.m. Visit the website for more information.

Here are a few tips for shopping plant sales:

  • Bring your own bag, tote or box. Serious shoppers sometimes bring collapsible wagons or carts.
  • If uncertain, ask questions about the plant, including its horticultural requirements and care.
  • Consider paying with cash, especially for smaller vendors.
  • Don’t be in a rush.
  • Try something new and buy an unfamiliar plant.

Keep your garden and your chickens safe

Chris Turner, who has been keeping chickens for three years, gives Hula, a Barred Rock chicken, her 15 minutes of fame. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Chris Turner, who has been keeping chickens for three years, gives Hula, a Barred Rock hen, her 15 minutes of fame.
© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

When I was young, my two sisters and I piled into the car with my parents and headed out for some Easter shopping. We went to the G.C. Murphy store in Fountain Square where my dad bought baby chicks.

My city-girl mom would not have approved of this, so dad told us girls to sing, laugh and talk in the car on the way home to cover the chirping until we got the chicks into the basement. Soon after, they were relocated to a relative’s farm.

The temptation to keep your own chickens is even greater today. If you’re curious about cute, fuzzy chicks roaming free range in your yard and dream of fresh eggs for breakfast, here are a few things to keep in mind, especially for gardeners

“People think, oh good, the chickens will eat bugs and weeds, but they’ll also eat your hostas and vegetable crops,” said Chris Turner, 45, a gardener who lives in Indianapolis’ Old Northside. Turner, owner of uTopos, a gardening company, has been keeping chickens for three years.

He recommends a chicken coop, not only to protect your landscape, but to keep the birds safe. Even in urban settings, predators, such as raccoons, hawks, dogs and cats, will kill chickens or eat their eggs. He has lost one chicken to a predator.

His five hens are in a 20- by 20-foot coop, completely enclosed with chicken wire. There’s an access door for cleaning, collecting eggs and replenishing water. Manure is added to the compost pile. And, his dog has been trained not to bother the chicks.

If you want your chickens to be free range, you’ll have to install a 5-foot tall fence around vegetables, he said. It’s best to have the garden enclosed at the top, too, because chickens can fly short distances.

For more information about making chickens a part of your life and garden, visit Agrarian, an urban chick specialty shop at 49th Street and College Avenue, or Naptown Chicks. Purdue University’s Getting Started with the Home Poultry Flock also provides good guideance.

Hens start laying at about 6 months, and no, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs. Turner’s five girls provide about four eggs a day. Chickens produce for about five years and then stop. Some people keep the non-laying birds until they die a natural death, some send them to a farm and others sell them for food processing.

Chickens aren’t high maintenance, Turner said, but they are an expensive way to get eggs, by the time you figure the cost of the coop, food, water tank and other necessities.

“They do love to eat in the garden,” Turner said. In fall, especially, when he’s cleaning up the garden, his girls are out there with him, pecking and scratching away at the dirt and plant debris. “They are just so happy.”