May 2017

Dogwood anthracnose can be a killer


Leaves from this native dogwood (Cornus florida) were sent to Purdue University’s Plant Pest Diagnostic Laboratory. The diagnosis: dogwood anthracnose had infested the tree (Cornus florida). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The other day while gazing out my front window, I noticed the leaves on one of the two flowering dogwood trees looked very small. I darted out of the house to get a close look and was shocked to see most of the leaves were brown and curling. The flower petals, called bracts on dogwoods, were shriveled and the ground was covered with their bits and pieces.

Oh, dear, I thought. I wonder if this could be dogwood anthracnose, a fungus disease that I have only read about.

I snipped off some leaves, put them in a disposable plastic container, boxed it up and mailed it off to Purdue University’s Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab ( along with an $11 check and a form that described symptoms, size of tree and other details.

Two days later, I got the results: two types of fungus, dogwood anthracnose and spot anthracnose, with the first one causing the most damage.

Dogwood anthracnose can be a deadly disease on this much-loved native tree (Cornus florida). Not only does the fungus deform leaves, it attacks the twigs, and if it spreads to branches or the trunk, the tree is likely a goner.

“Dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva) initially causes spotting and blotches on bracts and leaves and later moves into small twigs. Unless pruned out the infection will move into larger branches and eventually lead to cankers on the main trunk which can kill the entire tree,” the report said. That must be the destructiva part of the scientific name, I thought.

Pete Fife of Vine and Branch sprayed a fungicide of two native dogwoods to control dogwood anthracnose. The fungus disease could kill the tree if left untreated. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The lab recommends pruning out all dead wood and burn or bury material. Putting the wood out with the trash in Indianapolis will get it burned. Water during prolonged dry periods in summer to avoid drought stress, but avoid wetting the foliage. Spray with a fungicide to protect new growth. Trees with large trunk lesions or cankers can’t be saved and should be removed and burned or buried to reduce.

“We have had several calls and emails about dogwood recently but most of that has been related to cold damage in the northern part of the state,” said Tom Creswell, director of the lab. “I believe newly emerged leaves were stressed by a cold rainy period and the damage took a while to be noticed.”

The two dogwoods have been in this bed, heavily under planted with shade-tolerant perennials since 1999, and this is the first time I’ve had a problem. The tree affected is in more shade than its neighbor, which could account for its severity. I’ve hired a certified arborist to treat both trees with a fungicide this year and hope it is a one-time problem brought on by just the right environmental conditions.

Campaign promotes selling, planting native plants

The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society and The Nature Conservancy have partnered to encourage gardeners to grow native plants. One of the ways it does this is by promoting retailers that sell the plants.

Grow Native is the statewide roll out of Go Green, Grow Native, a Monroe County initiative launched a few years ago. “We shortened the name to Grow Native and developed the website to simplify applying for the status and for sharing the Buy Native directory. We started the new version in February, and are now taking applications from around the state,” said Ellen Jacquart, an INPAWS member and former invasive plant specialist with TNC.

The idea is to recognize garden centers, nurseries and other retailers that carry native plants and to educate and encourage them to sell fewer invasive species. Retailers can sign up at for the program on two levels. A Basic member if a retailer who sells native plants. The Invasive Free retailer has agreed not to sell invasive plants, which comes with additional promotions, she said.

About 30 businesses are on the list, including two in Indianapolis – Cool Ponds and Mark M. Holeman Inc. Others listed from the area have one-time plant sales, such as INPAWS, Master Gardeners and the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

David Gorden, landscape architect and partner at Holeman, said he and the company have been long-time supporters of INPAWS and frequently feature native plants in their designs and installations. He finds customers are “more and more interested in native plants for their landscapes.”

Pawpaw flowers dangle amid redbuds on a spring day. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Although not a garden center, people can make appointments to find native plants or to have them ordered. For example, people may want the Indiana banana tree, or pawpaw (Asimina triloba), which can be hard to find, he said.

The free and voluntary program was an appealing way to start the conversation with plant sellers and educate them about the issue of invasive plants in horticulture, Jacquart said. Businesses at either level can display the Grow Native decals in their windows.

“More and more gardeners are buying native because of all the advantages these plants provide,” Jacquart said. “The Grow Native project helps put native plants in the hands of gardeners who want them.”


Mother’s Day converges with prime time for warm-season plants


A ruby-throated hummingbird enjoys the nectar of a lantana. (C) Steve Byland/

One of the things about working at a garden center around Mother’s Day is you are busy. Really busy. It’s all about the plants.

First, Mother’s Day is considered the day warm-season plants, such as basil, tomatoes and peppers, can be planted outdoors. Normally, mid-May is when frost no longer is a threat, clearing the way for planting beans, corn and other seeds, too.

Geraniums (Pelargonium), impatiens and other summer annuals can finally go in their pots to decorate porches, stoops, patios, decks and balconies.

And then there’s Mother’s Day, when a lot of people buy plants for the women in their lives, especially moms, but others who fill that role.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there are people who come into a garden center mid-afternoon on Mother’s Day on a desperate search for a plant they can give as a gift. Combination pots of summer annuals and hanging baskets almost always satisfy that last-minute need. So does a blooming hydrangea, especially if it comes guilt free, meaning the recipient can enjoy it in a pot for the season and not feel bad if it dies or doesn’t get planted in the landscape.

Another last minute idea is to buy plants that attract hummingbirds or butterflies, potting mix, a pot and plant it up. It is easy peasy and you’ve created that handmade-with-love gift that makes it extra special.

If the woman being celebrated is a gardener, she probably can’t have enough gloves, especially Mud gloves, a favorite brand. They are comfortable, washable and come in many colors. Give her a couple of pair for a useful and attractive gift.

Take a look at bird feeders. Feeders are bird specific, such as certain types for hummingbirds or finches, and appropriate food for particular birds. For this, I suggest going for serviceable over cutesy. Also, make sure the feeders are easy to fill and clean. Understand how the feeder is mounted. Some can go on shepherd’s hook or hung from a hook attached to the trim of a house or garage. A feeder, equipment to hang it and a bag of seed and you’re all set with a gift of nature’s finest entertainment.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Let kids get their hands dirty

Young girl watering the vegtable garden with a hose. (C) Fotolia

The first time I grew vegetables, the harvest was more than the bounty.

That was the summer my then six-year-old son, Ben, learned the difference between flower, flour, plants and power plants.

His questions revealed how his mind worked and what he’d picked up in the news. We lived in Southern Indiana at the time and Marble Hill, a now defunct nuclear-powered generating plant, was in the headlines. I loved talking to him at the kitchen counter about such heady stuff, even if he was only six.

That also was the summer I learned dozens of ways to cook zucchini, which thankfully, was Ben’s favorite vegetable.

Many kids find gardening fun, especially when they grow food and flowers they like. And some plants are just plain fun to grow not matter what your age.

When working with kids, get them involved from the start, asking for their input for planning the garden and what kinds of seeds and plants they’d like to try.

It’s easy to wimp out in mid-summer when weeds are high and the days are hot, but gardening teaches us about responsibility and commitment, no matter who needs the lessons.

Fulfilling responsibilities is the reason to start small. Don’t dig up more than you can handle.

Here are a few edible suggestions to whet a kid’s appetite:

*Carrots and beans. Both are easy to grow and rewarding for youngsters. Beans grow on bush-type plants or vines and both are great for kids. Make a teepee with sticks from the yard or inexpensive bamboo stakes for beans and other climbers. Make the teepee large enough and children will have a seasonal playhouse. Some beans have incredibly beautiful pods, including purple, striped and pink.

*Pumpkins and watermelons. Jack ’o lantern styles for carving, ‘Baby Bear,’ ‘Wee-Be-Little’ and ‘Jack Be Little’ are great pumpkin varieties for kids to grow. For a watermelon, try ‘Sugar Baby.’

*Pizza garden. Tomato, basil, parsley can be grown in the ground or in a large container. A five-gallon or larger bucket works great as a pizza pot. Just punch holes in the bottom for drainage. Don’t use soil from the garden in the pot. Use a good potting soil or soilless mix.