February 2018

Tempting new plants to try this summer. Can you say orange?

Queeny Lime Orange zinnia. Photo courtesy

Some new annuals we might want to try include a zinnia, marigold and gypsophila.

These and a few others are 2018 All-America Selections, plants that have been trialed and evaluated in gardens throughout the country. Judges look for uniformity and flower production, including any improvement over similar plants already on the market. That can be a color, size or other attributes.

First on my list is Queeny Lime Orange zinnia. It just sounds delicious. The flowers range coral-orange to light peach petals with a kiss of lime coloration. Seeds are available at several online retailers, including Burpee, Johnny’s Selected, Jung and others.

Zinnias are very easy to grow from seed, starting them indoors in mid-April or direct sowing in the garden outdoors in late May. Of course, butterflies love zinnias and you’ll like this one, too. Cut a few stems for indoor arrangements. The flowers last about three weeks in a vase with no preservatives. Just change the water every few days.

Marigolds are experiencing a bit of resurgence right now. Adding to mix is Super Hero Spry, a French marigold (Tagetes patula), provides more color and size uniformity. It has maroon lower petals and gold centers tipped in red. It’s a tiny one, only about 10 to 12 inches tall, making it perfect for use in containers. Another benefit: no deadheading required. Easy to grow from seeds, kids might like the Super Hero name. Stokes and Jung has seeds.

Super Hero Spry marigold. Photo courtesy

This year, South Pacific Orange canna joins its sister, South Pacific Scarlet, introduced as a 2013 AAS winner. Each of these pollinator pleasers is fairly easy to grow from seed, but it needs to be started indoors by late February or early March. Seed is available from Jung, Burpee and others. Plants may be available at garden centers in late spring or early summer.

South Pacific Orange canna. Photo courtesy

Gypsy White Improved gypsophila (G. muralis) is a compact baby’s breath-type annual. Seed is available from Stokes, Park and others. Seedlings are ready to transplant about six weeks from sowing. Plant in a pot as flowering filler or in the ground as an edger. This plant does not like to go dry.

Gypsy White Improved gypsophila. Photo courtesy

FloriGlory Diana Mexican heather (Cuphea) is vegetatively propagated rather than grown from seed plant. This is a more expensive propagation process, but yields plants cloned from the parent. This one promises five times the flower power as others on the market. Gardeners already know drought-tolerant Mexican heather can take the heat when planted in a pot or in the ground.

FloriGlory Diana Mexican heather. Photo courtesy










Put tu-lips together for Valentine’s Day


Spread the love with fresh-cut red tulips in a Valentine’s Day display. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

If a bouquet of flowers is in your future for Valentine’s Day, here are some tips to keep it fresh and long lasting.

Always start with a clean vase. If it is difficult to clean, denture cleanser tablets foam out water rings or other debris. A baby bottle brush also is a useful tool. A dirty vase feeds bacteria, which destroy cut flowers.

Remove any leaves that will be in water in the vase. Submerged leaves rot, create bacteria and speed up the deterioration of flowers.

Use a sharp knife or scissors to remove one-half inch of the stem at a 45-degree angle, under water. This prevents an airlock from forming, which blocks the stem’s ability to take up water. Cut bulb flowers do better with just an inch or two of water in the vase rather than filled.

Roses get limp, bend over or don’t open because an airlock is in their stems. If the time between when roses are cut and they are delivered to the florist is too long without water, the flower heads also will bend. Unfortunately there’s nothing you can do about the latter, and it’s difficult to know whether the rose is suffering from an airlock or poor handling in transportation. The best advice is to give the stem a new cut and hope for the best.

Do not place a vase of flowers in direct sun or expose it to heat sources, such as a register or television. These speed up the deterioration of the bouquet. Flowers will last longer if placed in a cool, bright spot, such as a north window.

If floral food comes with the bouquet, use it. With or without floral food, change the water every two or three days. Re-cut the stems, as needed, by about one-half inch when you change the water. Do not use floral food with cut bulbs, such as tulips, lilies and daffodils.




Tasty plants for small spaces

Bonnie Plants purple basil in a container adds a bit of spice to a garden bed. Photo courtesy

Maybe you want to grow some of your own food, but you live in an apartment or a condo and with only a balcony or patio with limited space. Or maybe you only have a sunny front porch stoop, or your landscape has a lot of shade except for a few sunny spots among perennials or shrubs. Containers are the answer for growing food in these special spaces.

Almost all herbs thrive in containers, especially the summer flavors of basil, rosemary, parsley, stevia, chives, mints and lavender. Enjoy the herbs for the season and don’t worry about wintering them.

But for other edibles, not just any plant does well in a pot. Many will get too tall and required elaborate staking schemes to keep them from toppling over. Tomatoes and peppers fall into this group. Here are some varieties developed for container growing.

Patio Baby eggplant. Photo courtesy

Patio Baby eggplant, a 2014 All-America Selections, is an early and highly productive variety with a compact habit. Harvest the deep purple, egg-shaped fruit at baby size, 2 to 3 inches. Roast them or use in dips and salads. Thornless leaves and calyxes allow for painless harvesting and make Patio Baby child-friendly, too. Plant produces fruit throughout the season.

Asian Delight pak choi. Photo courtesy

Asian Delight pak choi or bok choy is perfect for the foodies looking for a highly rated Chinese cabbage. A 2018 All-America Selections was praised by judges for its tasty, tender white rib and dark green, textured leaves. Asian Delight forms 5 to 7 inch heads that are slow to go to seed, called bolting. That means the yield can be double or even higher than that of other pak choi varieties on the market.

Red Ember cayenne pepper is great for drying to produce the powder form. Photo courtesy

Red Ember cayenne pepper is earlier to mature than some other varieties. Another 2018 AAS Winner, Red Ember produces a large number of rounded-end fruits on durable, medium-sized plants. Judges described the thick-walled fruits as spicy, but tastier than the traditional cayenne, with just enough pungency for interest.

Little Bing Cherry Tomato. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Little Bing cherry tomato was very productive in a Smart Pot in my trial garden last year. It provided many tasty, 1-inch size tomatoes throughout most of the summer. It only gets about 2 feet tall, does not need supports and has good disease resistance.










Seeds hold a lot of promise

Photo courtesy Carol Michel/

I know as soon as I write seed, some readers will roll their eyes and immediately tell themselves they can’t grow anything from seeds.

Yes. You. Can.

For some seeds, you just barely have to say dirt for them to break open to grow lettuce, basil, green beans and peas. These can be sown directly in the garden, window box or other container.

Think about this. One green bean transplant cost $1 to $2 when purchased at a garden center. One green bean plant produces 40 to 60 pods. A packet costs $1 to $4, and contains many seeds. A few seeds can be planted every few weeks so you can have green beans all summer long.

Go with the easy just once, just for fun and see what happens.

Ready for something slightly more challenging, but not too difficult? Try tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. These are usually started indoors. Growing these plants from seed gives you dozens of varieties to try with different flavors, forms and colors, many more than you’ll find as transplants at garden centers.

Japanese style eggplant transplants, for instance, can be hard to find, but the seeds are readily available. Sometimes, hot peppers, including habanero, ancho and jalapeno, can be hard to find in garden centers. Seeds greatly expand the options.

What to try? Check out, which oversees mostly seed-grown plants in trial gardens all over the country. The plants are evaluated and improvements over similar ones on the market are noted and rewarded.

Where to get seed? Garden centers carry several brands, including Botanical Interests, Burpee and Renee’s Garden, each of which offers organic selections. Online seed retailers will have even more choices. For a local source, Urban Farmer ( is a family owned, Indiana-based organic seed merchant. Fedco, High Mowing Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seeds also have extensive selections of organic seeds.

Check reviews of online seed and plant retailers at Members of the Direct Gardening Association, a trade group, promote good customer service and other industry standards.

And don’t worry about GMO seeds. They are not available to home gardeners, so set that concern aside. Enjoy the selections of hybrid and heirloom seeds.

Everything you need to know about the seeds – when and where to sow, how deep, soil requirement, light exposure, water needs, distance apart, whether to direct sow or start indoors – can be found on the seed packet. Many times, more detailed information can be found on the seed merchant’s website, too. Purdue Extension’s Indiana Vegetable Planting Calendar also may be of help.

Go ahead and give seed sowing a try. Pick something that suits your interest. Consider getting kids involved in the process. We are never too young or too old to appreciate the wonder that comes from such a tiny promise.


February garden checklist


  • Keep houseplants close to bright windows. Check soil for dryness before watering.
  • Examine produce, tender flower bulbs and roots stored for the winter for rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Remove and discard damaged material.
  • Sketch garden plans, including what to grow, spacing, arrangement and number of plants needed.
  • Order seeds and plants as early as possible for best selection.
  • Renees Garden SeedTest left over garden seed for germination. Place 10 seeds between moist paper toweling, or cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep seeds warm and moist. If fewer than six seeds germinate, buy fresh seed.
  • Wash pots and trays that will be used for seed sowing and transplants.
  • Start seeds for cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, five to seven weeks before transplanting outdoors.
  • Start seeds for impatiens, begonia, geranium and other slow growing annuals.

General Landscape

  • Prune landscape plants except early spring bloomers, which should be pruned within a month after the have finished blooming. Birches, maples, dogwoods and other heavy sap bleeders can be pruned in early summer.
  • Repair or build trellis for roses, grapes and other vining plants as needed.
  • Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs as they break ground.
  • Prepare lawn and garden equipment for the upcoming growing season. Sharpen blades and have equipment serviced before the spring rush.

Vegetables and Fruits