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Meet a couple of hydrangeas that bloom reliably

'Haas Halo' Hydrangea arborescens. Photo courtesy Plants Nouveau

‘Haas Halo’ Hydrangea arborescens. Photo courtesy Plants Nouveau

The most frequent question about hydrangeas is why don’t they bloom.

Breeders have boosted the reliably blooming types by at least two in the last couple of years, and these hardy hydrangeas have their roots in native species.

Most gardeners already know about ‘Annabelle’, a native hydrangea (H. arborescens), which has large, white, mop top flowers. Invincibelle Spirit was the first pink-blooming ‘Annabelle’ type, introduced in 2010 by Proven Winners/ColorChoice plants. Although there was a lot of excitement about the breeding breakthrough, the enthusiasm waned once we planted it in the garden.

Invincibelle Spirit II is much improved over its predecessor. Photo courtesy Prove Winners/ColorChoice

Invincibelle Spirit II is much improved over its predecessor. Photo courtesy Prove Winners/ColorChoice

Invincibelle Spirit was wimpy, wimpy, wimpy the first three years and the color was more of a dirty pink rather than vibrant hue. Eventually it bulked up in the garden and improved its performance, color and length of bloom, especially if given a bit more sun than its shade-tolerant sister, ‘Annabelle’.

Enter Invincibelle Spirit II, a much-improved introduction of the pink-bloomer, which I got this spring to trial. The flowers are a larger, brighter pink, darker leaves and stronger stems. It has bloomed all summer sitting in the nursery pot, awaiting its forever home in my landscape. It is in the 3-4 foot tall and wide range. Proven Winners ColorChoice says eventually the original will be taken off of the market.

And, as with it predecessor, $1 from every plant sold will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Center. It will be available at garden centers in 2016.

Another reliable bloomer is ‘Haas Halo’, introduced by Plants Nouveau in 2011. This stunner has pure white, lace cap flowers that are 14 inches wide on sturdy, upright stems, even in withering heat.

'Haas Halo' Hydrangea arborescens has pure white, 14-inch wide flowers. Photo courtesy Plants Nouveau

‘Haas Halo’ Hydrangea arborescens has pure white, 14-inch wide flowers. Photo courtesy Plants Nouveau

I bought this hydrangea two years ago and am pleased to report it is a very vigorous plant that has continued to bloom throughout the summer, even without regular watering.

‘Haas Halo’ will be in the 4-5 foot tall and wide range at maturity, with glossy, blue-green foliage. It does best with morning sun, but can take it full on if given water periodically.

These hydrangeas bloom on current season growth, so they can be cut back however far you’d like in late winter or early spring and still produce gorgeous flowers in summer.

Trial plants will do what they want to do

Proven Winners’ Fireburst bidens took the heat and kept on blooming. Photo courtesy provenwinners.com

Proven Winners’ Fireburst bidens took the heat and kept on blooming. Photo courtesy provenwinners.com

Sometimes you get it right and sometimes, well, Mother Nature has her way.

This past spring, I was thrilled with the trial combos I got from Ball Horticulture Co., annuals selected for color, design and texture.

At the same time, I got ‘Campfire’ coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) from Ball, which I thought worked beautifully as the centerpiece for the combo pots.

The mid May planting of trial plants looks great with complimentary colors and textures. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The mid May planting of trial plants looks great with complimentary colors and textures. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Everything worked really well until the coleus got its growth spurt and completely engulfed its neighboring plants. Failure to believe the coleus would really get 30 inches tall like that plant tag said was a rookie move on my part. Plants are going to do what they were meant to do, big or small, upright or trailing, long-lasting blooms or fabulous foliage.

By the August, Campfire coleus had taken over the pots of trial plants. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

By the August, Campfire coleus had taken over the pots of trial plants. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If nothing else, there’s a lesson here about coleus. It is not our parents’ coleus, a plant prized for its foliage and tolerance of shady areas. Today’s coleus cultivars are big, bold, sun loving and slow to bloom. A lot of gardeners do not like the blue flower spikes on coleus and newer introductions have been bred to delay blooming.

Clearly, ‘Campfire’ coleus needed pots all to itself or it needed to be planted in the ground, where it would have created quite a display.

Another trial plant, marketed as Campfire Fireburst bidens (Bidens ‘KOIBID1346’) from Proven Winners, is spectacular. I’ve always thought bidens was kind of a wimpy plant, one that flagged when it got hot. This one, though, was quite heat tolerant. Fireburst has a trailing habit with orange-yellow, daisy-like flowers, a full inch wide. This was a strong bloomer, working well in a hanging basket, window box, pot or in the ground in a sunny spot.

Bidens is fairly cold tolerant, holding its own until a hard frost. Fireburst’s color works well in a fall planting, with yellow mums or blue asters, for example, and an orange pumpkin or gourds. It should be available at garden centers next year.

Annuals a best buy for season-long color, blooms

Four Tall Red Salvia annuals were planted about 2 inches apart to give the look of a single plant. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Four Tall Red Salvia annuals were planted about 2 inches apart to give the look of a single plant. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Annuals have always been billed as a lot of color for the coin, because their seasonal role is to bloom their heads off, set seed and die.

And, even though consumer interest has shifted to premium annuals – single plants in a 3- or 4-inch pot – there’s still incredible value in plain old bedding plants.

Bedding plants are the annuals sold in cell packs of three to eight plants in a tray or 36 to 48 plants in a flat. Sometimes bedding plants also are sold individually in 2-inch cells, usually 18 plants to a flat, called 1801s in grower parlance. A four-pack of a bedding annual will set you back $1.50 to $2. A premium annual may cost $5 or more per plant.

This summer, I’ve appreciated a bedding plant tagged Tall Red Salvia (S. splendens), which cost me $1.59 for four plants. I planted them in June in the new bed I created after a weedy mulberry tree was removed, resulting in a lot more sun in my yard.

I planted the salvias about 2 inches apart because I wanted the four plants to form the look of one plant, and it worked. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies are happy, and so am I.

Because bedding plants are so affordable, you can buy a lot of them and fill quite a bit of space without great expense. I was reminded of this when I saw both sides of a long walkway lined with several dozen ‘Victoria Blue’ mealycup sage, another type of salvia (S. farinacea). Depending on where you buy it, a flat of bedding annuals costs $18 to $25 for 36 to 48 plants.

Neither of these salvias needs to be deadheaded or cut back. They are reasonably drought tolerate, pollinators like them, and they can be cut for indoor arrangements. The goldfinches are gorgeous swaying on the stalks of ‘Victoria Blue’, too. Indeed, these two salvias are best buys. Here are a few others.

Vinca, sometimes called Madagascar periwinkle, (Catharanthus roseus), comes in pinks, purples and white. Some have a contrasting eye, or center. A great for full sun to part shade. No deadheading needed.

For shade, we used to plant bedding impatiens (I. walleriana), but with impatiens downy mildew around, we’ve had to find substitutes. Bedding coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) works well in shade to part sun, and so does wax-leaf begonia (B. semperflorens), which can take full sun, too. For the best show, plant these bedding annuals no more than 4 inches apart to give the bed a full, dense look.

Fall-planted bulbs bridge the season from spring to summer

Spring Valley mix foxtail lilies and Allium christophii bridge the season from spring into summer. Photo courtesy brentandbeckysbulbs.com

Spring Valley mix foxtail lilies and Allium christophii bridge the season from spring into summer. Photo courtesy brentandbeckysbulbs.com

You know that gap between spring and summer, when there’s nothing blooming in the garden? It’s after the spring bulbs, columbine (Aquilegia) and Iris have bloomed but before coneflowers (Echinacea) and bee balm (Monarda) come on.

What’s missing are the bridge flowers, said Brent Heath, co-owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, who will be in town for several speaking engagements and a hands-on workshop.

Gardeners just are not as familiar with them as they are the big three, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, said Heath, who with his wife, Becky Heath, wrote Daffodils for American Gardens and Tulips for North American Gardens.

Most bulbs prefer it more dry than wet.

Bridge flowers at their best: white and purple Allium, white foxtail lilies, blue Dutch iris, Indian hyacinth, Dichelostemma (pink flowers), small, early lilies (Lilium) and ‘Starlight’ Triteleia (straw-colored flowers). Photo courtesy brentandbeckysbulbs.com

Bridge flowers at their best: white and purple Allium, white foxtail lilies, blue Dutch iris, Indian hyacinth, Dichelostemma (pink flowers), small, early lilies (Lilium) and ‘Starlight’ Triteleia (straw-colored flowers). Photo courtesy brentandbeckysbulbs.com 

“Most bulbs like to sleep in dry beds,” he said during a telephone interview. On his recommended list for fall planting: Allium, Calochortus, Camassia, Dichelostemma, Dracunculus, Dutch Iris, Eremurus, Nectaroscordum and Triteleia.

Plant these bulbs in full sun and well-drained soil. Many are hardy here, but some are not, so check a bulb’s hardiness. As with all bulbs, once the flowers are done, allow the foliage to turn yellow or brown before removing it. I have grown some of these and they do, indeed, bridge the season. They also are terrific cut flowers. Here are few of my favorite late-spring, early summer bulbs.

Foxtail lilies (Eremurus) get 3-4 feet tall with spikes of yellow, orange, white or pinkish flowers. Plant in full sun, hardy to USDA Zone 5. Foxtail lilies are good cut flowers.

Indian hyacinth (Camassia) is a North American native plant that has blue or white star-like flowers atop 30-inch tall plants. I have two patches of camassia and it’s gorgeous, but if the weather heat up, these start to look a little bedraggled pretty quickly. Plant in full sun. Camassia is fully hardy throughout Indiana.

Allium atropurpureum and A. giganteum show up just when you think the spring bulb show is over. These ornamental onions have tall stalks topped with balls of blooms. Hardy in Indiana, but grow them in full sun and well-drained soil.

Learn more

Heath will speak about companion plants for bulbs, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 16, Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 Central Ave. Fee is $5, limited seating. Sponsored by the Marion County and Garfield Park Master Gardeners.

Bulbs for Forcing Lecture and Workshop, 10 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 17, Lilly House, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road. Fee is $40 for members, $50, nonmembers. Sponsored by the IMA.

Bridge Flowers Lecture, 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 17, DeBoest Lecture Hall at the IMA. Free.

Garden spiders add color and drama to the landscape

A garden spider spins a silky tomb for a bumble bee. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A garden spider spins a silky tomb for a bumble bee. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

This time of year, garden spiders spin their orbs in the landscape.

The yellow and black females are larger than the males, more colorful and usually more visible, especially this time of year. The females make the large webs, some up to two feet across, and the males spin smaller orbs around the fringes, each with a zigzag in the center.

The garden spider (Argiope aurantia) is native throughout the United States and is considered a beneficial insect.

The female garden spider is about one inch long, but is not harmful to humans. She hangs upside down on her web, spun between two plants in a sunny spot protected from wind. The male is narrower and may be brownish. It is about one-fourth to one-third inch long.

When bees, flies, butterflies and other insects become ensnared in the web, the spider shoots them full of venom and quickly wraps them into silky tombs. Some are stored for dinner later, but many are eaten as soon as they are encapsulated. Each day, the female garden spider eats the entire center section of the web and spins a new one. Speculation is she cleans out her pantry of bugs to make way for the new catch of the day.

Late summer is the annual mating and egg-laying season. So risky is his journey into her web that he frequently has a silken tether at his belly that allows him to drop to the ground if she says no. The males die after mating and sometimes make a meal for the female.

She lays her eggs and wraps them into round bundles of silk, with the last layer a brownish color for better camouflage. She hangs the egg sacs on the web where she can guard them against predators. She usually dies by the first frost.

Eventually, the eggs hatch, but stay in their cocoon until spring when they emerge and go their way.

The Fairfax County (Va.) Public School’s Web site has more lifecycle details and other interesting tidbits about this spider.