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Smart Pots boost potato production

The 2013 potato production was much greater in Smart Pots. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I tried some new pots to grow potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) this year and the results have been astounding. I switched from Gardman plastic potato tubs to 15-gallon Smart Pots, and boy, was that ever smart.

Last year, I got a handful of fingerlings from the Gardman tubs. This year, I got many more, using the same brand of organic seed potatoes I’ve used before.

About 10 ounces of potatoes were harvested in two Gardman Potato Tubs in 2012. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The real surprise was the 3-½ pounds of Adirondack Blue potatoes. These are purple through and through and, despite their name, have their origin in South America and are considered an heirloom. I’ve already eaten one and yum is a good description.

“Smart Pots are made of polypropylene, specially for us to our specs. It is BPA free and lead free,” said Charles Jackson, vice president of High Caliper Growing Inc., the Oklahoma City company that makes the pots. The cloth is specially designed to control moisture and heat.

I credit my garden-writer colleague C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening for telling me about Smart Pots after seeing my pitiful potato post from last year.

Smart Pots also come in black. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Besides changing the pots, I read more about growing potatoes. As a result, the plants received:

• Mid-day shade. This keeps the leaves from getting sunburned and the plants a bit cooler.

• Regular applications of Espoma Holly-Tone, a natural, acidic fertilizer. Potatoes prefer it more acidic than the alkaline soil Indiana has to offer.

• Water as needed.

Even without pesticides, I had very, very little leaf damage from potato beetles or other critters. The potatoes are firm and unblemished.

I’m done with the fingerlings, but next year, I’ll plant Adirondack Blue and Yukon Gold potatoes in my two pots. Visit smartpots.com to find area retailers that carry them.

If you saw last week’s column about Quebec City, you noticed that Smart Pots are planted with vegetables, edible flowers, herbs and fruit trees throughout the main entryway at the province’s Parliament Building.

Long-term users have said the pots last three to five years or more and that perennial plants, trees and shrubs can be left outdoors in the Smart Pots, even in winter.

These pots would be a boon for urban gardeners with little or no yard, heavily rooted or compacted soil and too little sun because of big trees.

Dozens of varieties of food crops, including vegetables, fruits and herbs, grow in Smart Pots in the main entryway to Quebec's Parliament Building. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

 

You Can Grow That! September 2013: Late-blooming perennials

'Raydon's Favorite' aster. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The Midwesterners’ choices for late blooming perennials have taken a giant step past everyday chrysanthemums in the last several years.

Ready for the late season spotlight are some, newer yet under used, perennials that delight gardeners in Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and beyond. These are the plants that need the heat of summer to build up their resources to color the landscape well into fall

Here’s a sampler:

‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aster kicks into gear in September and keeps going until October in the upper Midwest or November in the lower Midwest. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 through 8, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is a cultivar of the North American native aromatic aster with a newer tongue twister, scientific name Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. It formerly was Aster oblongifolium and may be listed that way on plant tags, in catalogs and other references.

This deer resistant plant can be grown in full- to part sun in average soil. It gets about 2 feet tall with a slightly relaxed habit, has an 12- to 18-inch spread and is drought tolerant. The flowers can be cut for indoor enjoyment. This cultivar is not affected by powdery mildew, a common pest on this species. Introduced in 2000, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is readily available at garden centers or through mail order and online retailers. A good alternative is ‘October Skies.’

Consider pairing asters with plants that also have good fall color, such as ornamental grasses, stonecrop (Sedum), Amsonia or shrubs with late blooming flowers like peegee hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) or spectacular foliage like ninebark (Physocarpus) and oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia).

Bugbane, cohosh or snake root is a multi-named native species that also has undergone a scientific name change. Formerly Cimicifuga, it now is Actaea. Regardless, this perennial looks good in its native species form or as one of the purple-leafed cultivars.

Hillside Black Beauty bugbane. Photo courtesy of perennialresource.com

‘Black Negligee’, ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and ‘Brunette’ all get in the 4- to 7-foot tall range with a spread of about half that. They do well in shadier, moist areas of the garden. The long, fragrant white or pinkish-white flowers begin to bloom in August and continue for about six weeks. Place in the back or the middle of the flower bed where shorter plants can enhance the base of the tall bugbanes. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 8. Bugbane is deer resistant and is readily available through mail order and online catalogs. Some garden centers also may carry the plant.

‘Frosty Igloo’ isn’t your average mum. This mum bloomed in Indianapolis from July through November in its first year in trials. Granted, it was a cooler than normal summer; however, the white flowers stayed crisp and clean and the foliage fresh and green the whole time.

Frosty Igloo mum. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Marketed as a hardy mum, the Igloo series was introduced as a Dendranthema, but recently changed its scientific name to Chrysanthemum. Reliably hard to -20 degrees F, the plants get about 12 inches tall and slightly wider. Plant in full sun for the best flowering.

Most gardeners have grown a lot of mums and know that they don’t always come back. This one is very different and quite a performer with a nice rounded shape that is covered with flowers that come in five colors. Introduced by Blooms of Bressingham, it can be difficult to find. It comes in other colors, too, including pink and orange tones.

 

Two Purdue Master Gardener classes in Indy this fall

Marion County Master Gardeners plant and maintain the All-America Selections Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

The Purdue Master Gardener Program in Marion County offers 50 hours of classroom instruction on gardening related topics in exchange for a donation of 50 volunteer hours to help teach others what you have learned.

The Marion County classes consist of 18 three-hour sessions on: plant science; soils and fertilizers; pests and pest management (insects, diseases, animals, weeds); plant problem diagnosis; pesticide use and safety; home lawn care; growing vegetables; trees and shrubs; annual and perennial flowers; flowering bulbs and ornamental grasses; home landscape design; growing fruit; landscape planting and maintenance; pruning trees and shrubs; indoor plant care, and information on potential volunteer opportunities.

Participants also learn how to find reliable answers to gardening questions using the Internet and other resources. Most class sessions are in a lecture format with the opportunity to ask questions. The volunteer activities after the program provide additional hands-on learning.

Purdue Master Gardener Class

Daytime classes: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 17 through Nov. 21, 2013.

Nighttime classes: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 17 through Nov. 21, 2013.

Location: Purdue Extension-Marion County Office, 1202 E. 38th St., Discovery Hall, Indiana State Fairgrounds Purdue Master Gardener Class

Registration deadline: Sept. 12.

Cost: $150 materials fee

For more info: (317) 275-9286 or dschelsk@purdue.edu  Complete schedules and registration information for both classes are online.

Quebec City, where everything seems to bloom at once

Simultaneous blooms of purple celosia, pink snapdragons and ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass share space with silvery-blue eucalyptus and dark-leafed cannas at Jardin Jeanne-d’ Arc in Quebec City. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I just returned from six days in beautiful Quebec City. Nearly 400 garden writers gathered in the Canadian province, where French is the predominate language and the streets have a definite European feel.

As a gardener, I made these observations of differences between gardening in Indiana and gardening in Quebec City. Quebec City is in Zone 3, which is much colder than Indiana’s Zones 5 and 6. The growing season there is much shorter, too, basically from late May to early October.

Edibles

More than 130 kinds of edible plants adorn the main entryway to the 1877 Quebec Parliament Building. Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs grow in large Smart Pots, as do herbs, vegetables and edible flowers. Long, narrow beds in the lawn are planted with tomatoes, cabbages, beans and other food.

Beds of tomatoes, kale, beans, grapes and more replace lawn at Quebec’s Parliament Building. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Students from Laval University keep everything neat and tidy. The plantings are a cooperative project of the National Assembly and Urbainculteurs, a not-for-profit that promotes urban gardening. The harvests are donated to an organization that works with children in need.

Lawns

The lawns have what many consider weeds, such as white clover. That’s because Canadian law bans the home use of lawn and garden chemicals for purely aesthetic problems, such as weeds or insect damage.

As a result, pollinating insects thrive. And, there was little to no damage on ornamental and food plants because with reduced use of pesticides, natural predators are allowed to do their jobs gobbling up bugs.

Flowers

The color of flowers is richly saturated. That’s because the sun is not as bright as it is in Indiana, so flowers are not washed out or fried. The temps are cooler, too, which prolongs flower color.

The weather and lack of intense sun also allow many shade-loving plants, such as tuberous begonias, to thrive in sunnier spots.

All of the perennials seem to bloom at the same time. In Quebec, daylilies, phlox, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and summer annuals, such as celosia and New Guinea impatiens, bloom right along with monkshood and others that bloom in September and October in Indiana.

 

Naked ladies thrill the late-summer garden

 

Hosta Curve at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

For an easy, try-this-at-home example of season extenders for garden beds, take a stroll along Hosta Curve at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

That’s what the IMA horticulturists call the curve in the road that takes visitors to Oldfields, the vegetable garden, orchard and greenhouse.

In spring, Hosta Curve is filled with ‘Salome’ daffodils (Narcissus). As the ground warms, big, blue-leaf hostas (H. seiboldiana ‘Elegans’) unfurl to camouflage the ripening foliage on the bulbs. The hostas bloom through July and the flowers are trimmed off late in the month. Within a few weeks, the bed is filled with flowers again, this time from fragrant pink resurrection lilies.

Irvin Etienne and those pink blooming hosta. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

“People sometimes want to know what those pink-blooming hostas are,” said Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the IMA.

Also called naked ladies and surprise lilies, Lycoris squamigera blooms in August and September. Its leaves emerge in late spring and early summer, and then disappear. Several weeks later, the plant resurrects itself, with 2-foot tall sturdy stalks topped with clusters of large, pink trumpet-shaped flowers. The stalks are leafless, giving these lilies the naked lady or surprise monikers.

Lycoris squamigera is the only lycoris that is winter hardy in USDA Zone 5. The lovely red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is hardy in USDA Zone 6. Each can be cut for indoor enjoyment.

Lycoris does well in full sun to part shade and average soil. Water during long dry spells. Fertilizer is not necessary. Remove the flowers and stalks as they fade.

Lycoris squamigera. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

For another try-this-at-home idea, step across the road to the beautiful fern bed that skirts the southern edge of the Oldfields lawn area. In this setting, the lycoris adds its pink blooms to densely planted, native ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). In spring, that area is planted with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Lycoris may be hard to find at garden centers, so shop around. Or, order it from fall bulb catalogs or online merchants.

Each of these plant combinations is very easy to grow and maintain, said Etienne. And with the inclusion of spring and late-season bulbs, many beds will have multiple seasons of flowers.

Lycoris and ostrich ferns. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

 

Purdue detects late blight disease on tomatoes

Late blight on tomato. Photo courtesy Purdue University/Janna Beckerman

Late blight disease was confirmed this week on several tomato samples from Tippecanoe County in west-central Indiana, leading the Purdue University Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory to urge growers to inspect their plants for the destructive disease.

Symptoms of late blight, caused by the fungal-like organism Phytophthora infestans, include olive green to brown spots on leaves with slightly fuzzy-white fungal growth on the underside. Humid conditions, such as in the early morning or after rain, is a primary contributing factor.

The lesion border sometimes is yellow or has a water-soaked appearance. Brown to blackish lesions also develop on upper stems, and brown spots develop on tomato fruit.

The disease can spread quickly in tomato and potato plantings in cool and wet conditions. The spread is slowed by hot, sunny weather.

“All growers should assume their crops may eventually be affected and thus should be on a weekly schedule to both thoroughly inspect their potato and tomato plantings and apply fungicides if the weather remains cool and cloudy,” said Tom Creswell, lab director, and Gail Ruhl, senior plant disease diagnostician, on the PPDL’s website.

They said infected plants in home gardens should be removed immediately and either burned or put in a plastic bag for disposal. “Do not compost affected plants, as spores will spread from this infected debris to other healthy tomato plants,” they said.

Because there are many similar diseases on tomato leaves, identification of late blight requires examination by microscope. Samples can be submitted for analysis to Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory.

More information on late blight is available in the Purdue Extension publication Late Blight on Tomato and Potato.

 

Visit Garfield Park and vote for your favorite plant

(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you’ve always wanted to have your voice heard in all those “best plants” categories, here’s your chance.

At the top of the hill at the Garfield Park Arts Center sit the four nominees for this year’s American Garden Award, the public’s chance to vote for their favorites.

Zinnia Zahara Cherry. Photo courtesy AmericanGardenAward.com

This is the third year Garfield Park has participated in the five-year-old program. There are 30 gardens in the United States and one in Canada enrolled this year.

“We launched the American Garden Award as a way to give the general public a voice in naming their favorite flower,” said Diane Blazek, director of All-America Selections, which oversees the program. “We get new entries each fall, so it’s an ongoing competition with yearly winners determined by audience participation.”

The garden at the arts center is designed, planted and maintained by Garfield Park Master Gardener volunteers. American Garden Award supplies seeds or small plants, which are grown at no charge by Heidenreich Greenhouses on Indianapolis’ southside.

The project is not without its challenges, said Master Gardener volunteer Thomas Graham, on a recent warm, sunny afternoon at the garden.

Petunia Surfinia Summer Double Pink. Photo courtesy americangardenaward.com

The first two years, the flowers were planted on the hill, where soil erosion was a constant battle despite copious amounts of planting mix and shredded mulch. This year, the flowering candidates are planted at the top of the hill. Soil erosion is much less of a problem and the sun is better.

Graham said it takes him and Marci Phillips about three hours a week to deadhead, weed and tidy up the beds. The Friends of Garfield Park, Inc., purchases supplies, such as soaker hoses, mulch and planting mix.

“They water, weed and fertilize our four beds and keep them blooming for visitors to the center to enjoy,” said Lesley Meier, director of the Garfield Park Arts Center. Garfield Park is about 10 minutes from Downtown, just south of Fountain Square and along the Indianapolis Greenways’ Pleasant Run Trail.

“People talk about the garden as they walk by,” asking questions about the plants or commenting on them, Graham said.

Verbena Lanai Candy Cane. Photo courtesy americangardenaward.com

This year’s candidates: Impatiens SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange; Petunia Surfinia Summer Double Pink; Verbena Lanai Candy Cane; Zinnia Zahara Cherry.

Graham’s favorite: Candy Cane verbena, which does resemble the colors of candy canes. Mine: Impatiens SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange. You can vote for your favorite by keying in the numbers on plant signs into your smartphone or by visiting americangardenaward.com. Voting ends Aug. 31.

Impatiens SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange. Photo courtesy americangardenaward.com

 

Tropicals at their peak in the Hoosier Garden

Pineapple lily gets its name because the flower resembles the fruit. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Tropical plants cast just the right spell that gardeners need to weather the dog days of summer.

By August, plants that thrive in the tropics are reaching their seasonal peak — the cannas and pineapple lilies are blooming, banana leaves seem to unfurl daily and then there are the surprises.

This year, the surprise is the orange fruit on Duranta erecta ‘Sapphire Showers’. A local garden center has been carrying this plant for years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it bear fruit.

Native through the West Indies and into Brazil, this woody shrub is considered a broadleaf evergreen. It reaches 25 feet tall and wide in its natural habitat, where it fruits in fall. I’m guessing the cooler than normal spring and summer temps triggered duranta’s fruiting mechanism.

Sometimes called pigeon berry, golden dewdrop or sky flower, ‘Sapphire Blue’ stays in the 4-foot range in colder climates, where its growing season is cut short by temperatures below 25 degrees. Duranta can be moved indoors to a sunny window for winter.

Sapphire Showers duranta. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Sapphire Showers’ has long, arched branches laden with clusters of white-edged, violet-blue flowers, which attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Grow it in a pot with high quality potting mix and drainage. Use duranta as a focal in the landscape, patio or flower bed in full sun. Allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings.

Certainly as showy as the flowers are the grape-size orange berries, called golden dewdrops. Be cautious. The fruit and foliage is considered poisonous to humans and pets.

The unusual pineapple lily (Eucomis) does well in full sun to part shade. Purchase bulbs at garden centers in spring, or from online or mail order bulb merchants. I grow mine in a container, which I move to the basement to winter over in its dormant phase. The common name comes from the pineapple-like flowers.

 

Sapphire Showers duranta fruit. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘South Pacific Scarlet’ canna, a 2013 All-America Selections, adds striking architecture, form and texture. It goes from seed to 24 inches tall in the growing season. Grow in full sun to part shade. You can see this plant at the Marion County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The garden, which is filled with All-America Selections plants, is on the north end of the fairgrounds near the Department of Natural Resources buildings.

South Pacific Scarlet canna. Photo courtesy AmericaGardenAward.org

 

You Can Grow That! August 2013: Annual ornamental grasses

Wind Dancer love grass. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

We usually think of ornamental grasses as hardy perennials, which many of them are. But, there are some fabulous ornamental grasses that are annuals or tender perennials grown like annuals because they will be killed by Indiana’s winters.

Jester ornamental millet. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture.

Upright seasonal grasses can be used as the centerpiece in containers. Those that form soft mounds look great cascading over the rims of pots or the edges of window boxes. Most of these upright and mounding grasses also work well in the ground.

Don’t shy away from these grasses just because they are marketed for summer use. Many of the tender grasses keep on giving in the winter just like their hardy counterparts. Their seed heads dry and the foliage changes color, adding movement, sound and natural look in the dreary winter landscape.

Here’s a sampling of some tender grasses:

If you liked the All-America Selection ‘Purple Majesty’, a 5-foot tall ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum), you’ll love the smaller version called ‘Jester’.

Jade Princess ornamental millet. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture.

‘Jester,’ at about 40 inches tall, is shorter than its majestic cousin and its color also is different. ‘Jester’ foliage starts out almost chartreuse. It takes on purple highlights and by the end of the season, it is a deep bronze. ‘Jester’ can be grown in sun or shade. The flower will get about 12 inches tall; however, this plant is grown for its foliage.

‘Purple Baron’ has the deepest, richest color of the ornamental millets. This one has shiny, purple foliage and gets about 3 feet tall. ‘Jade Princess’ has almost chartreuse foliage with large brown inflorescens on 3-foot tall plants. One of the neat things about this species is its molasses fragrance.

‘Wind Dancer’ (Eragrostis elliottii)  is at the top of my favorites list. A billowy North American native grass, ‘Wind Dancer’ has bluish-green foliage and buff-colored flowers that bloomed all summer.

And although this grass looks beautiful in summer, it is gorgeous in winter, retaining most of its seed heads and overall form. ‘Wind Dancer’ gets about 3 feet tall and wide and does best in full sun to part shade.

Toffee Twist carex, Peachy Keen verbena and Sweet Caroline Sweetheart sweet potato vine. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

‘Toffee Twist’ (Carex flagellifera) is a sedge that really does best in a container. Because of its toffee brown color, it can look dead in the landscape. However, it looks terrific with chartreuse, pink or purple companion plants in a container. Technically, not a grass, this sedge gets about 15 inches tall and 24 inches wide and does best in part shade.

Fiber optic grass. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

 

Pink Crystals melinis. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

‘Pink Crystals’ ruby grass (Melinus nerviglumis) was picked as a winner by Illinois Master Gardeners, praised for its showy pink flowers. Nicely mounded, ‘Pink Crystals’ gets about 3 feet tall and wide and does best in full sun to part shade.

Fiber optic grass (Isolepsis cernus, formerly Scirpus) looks a lot like a long turf grass, which is why it doesn’t work so well in a flower bed. It has about a 12-inch height and spread. Plant this in a pot or window box so that it cascades over the edge.

Annuals earn top marks in summer trials

Summer trial plants Kong Jr. Scarlet coleus, Arrabona celosia and Zahara Sunburst zinnia. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Even though I was quite late getting them potted up in containers, several new annuals have earned more than passing grades in their summer trials.

Plant breeders have definitely improved verbena (V. x hybrida). Spectacular this year is Proven Winners’ Violet Ice Superbena. The 3-inch wide balls of violet flowers have white eyes.

Violet Ice Superbena verbena. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Sun loving and vigorous, Violet Ice gets about 12 inches tall. It has about a 24-inch trail in a container or a 30-inch spread when planted in the ground. Although some of my other trial verbenas have been bitten by spider mites, Violet Ice seems to have been spared. It does not require deadheading.

Double Take Pink geranium (Pelargonium interspecific) from Ball Horticulture is a strong performer, with about a dozen flowers on three plants in a pot. The double flowers with two tones of pink are planted with Sungelonia White, Deep Pink and Blue (Angelonia), a new series from Suntory Collection. Together, they present quite a show. Geraniums should be deadheaded.

Double Take Pink geranium and Sungelonia White, Deep Pink and Blue. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you like the Kong coleus series (Plectranthus scutellariodes, formerly Solenostemom), you’ll love Kong Jr., from Ball. Kong Jr. Scarlet is planted with Zahara Zinnia Sunburst and Arrabona Celosia. The celosia gets about 14 inches tall and wide.

Although the coleus is labeled for shade, I planted it in the pot that gets full sun. Its heart shaped leaves are about 1/3 smaller than Kong. The mounded plant gets up to 24 inches tall and 35 inches wide.

I have done nothing to this pot except water and fertilize on an irregular basis. Still this sunny container is a spectacular, no maintenance beauty.

Sunburst is the latest outstanding introduction in the Zahara series, which is resistant to powdery mildew, a common disease on zinnias. It is a neat and tidy 18 inch mounded plant that can be deadheaded or not — as the plant grows, it covers up the spent flowers.