Tomato, pepper and cucumber transplants are among the vegetables that don’t like cold soil. Plant these outdoors around Mother’s Day. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
As we head into prime planting season, here are a few things to keep in mind.
When potting up containers, use a high quality potting mix. This is usually a soilless mix with vermiculite, finely shredded organic matter and other ingredients that promote drainage. Potting mixes also are light weight. Since the mixes are soilless, be sure to fertilize regularly, according to the product label directions.
Containers have three basic elements: thriller, filler and spiller. The thriller is the largest or most dramatic plant, frequently the centerpiece or backdrop. Fillers are moundy-roundy and help fill gaps. Spillers cascade over the edges of containers.
Vegetables and Herbs
Don’t push planting. Warm season vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and peppers, are not happy in cold soil. Wait until May 10 (or Mother’s Day) to plant these crops and to sow seeds for green beans, corn, squash and pumpkins.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is extremely sensitive to cold temperatures. It’s ok to plant parsley (Petroselinum crispum), sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus) and other perennial herbs outdoors now.
If a perennial or ornamental grass has all of its new growth around the perimeter of a dead or sparse center, that’s a signal it needs to be divided. Lift the plant and slice off the healthy growth to transplant. Discard the dead center.
If you fertilized the lawn in fall, you probably won’t have to fertilize in spring or early summer. Doing so will increase mowing duties. Try to keep the lawn at about 3 inches high.
Annuals and Tropicals
Some annuals tolerate the cool temps of spring, but others, such as impatiens (I. walleriana) and geraniums (Pelargonium) do not fare well. Wait until mid-May to plant tender annuals and tropicals.
Try Something New
Lastly, try something new, whether it’s a vegetable or herb you’ve never grown, or a new perennial or annual. Trying new things in the garden keeps us growing.
Here’s HortusScope for May 2013, a checklist of garden and nature related events compiled as a public service by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies. Please click on the link below to download your copy.
HortusScope May 2013
Debbie Clark’s rose garden and portions of her perennial garden were under water last week along White River north of Broad Ripple. The flooding also displaced timbers and bricks around some of the beds. © Debbie Clark
If your landscape has been under water, here are a few things you should know.
For vegetable gardeners, the big rains came before we planted tomatoes, peppers, corn, green beans and other warm-season crops. Cool-season vegetables, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, lettuce and spinach, may have to be declared a loss.
We don’t really know what is in the floodwater, which could contain animal manure, human waste or other contaminants, such as pesticides or oils. It is really hard to rinse off these contaminates from the cracks and crevices of lettuces, broccoli heads and other plants.
Seeds and seedlings likely were washed away, so you will need to sow again or replace with transplants.
How much damage trees, shrubs and perennials sustain will depend on how long they were under water. Water saturates the soil, displacing oxygen, a critical element for root and plant survival. Worms and beneficial microorganisms also need oxygen to survive.
Dead or compromised roots will be reflected above ground with tip or branch die back, yellow, limp or droopy leaves and stunted growth on trees and shrubs. Top growth on perennials will be yellow or dead, but new growth may develop from the base or crown of the plant. Some perennials likely drowned and will need to be replaced.
Besides drowning plants, the floods may have eroded the soil from tree and shrub roots, in garden beds and lawns. Replace soil as needed.
Once the water drains away, most of us will be anxious to fix things. As difficult as it may be, wait until the soil dries out. Working with soil that is too wet destroys its texture, damaging it even more.
Finally, to get the microorganism active again, add compost, rotted cow manure, chopped leaves or other organic matter to the soil surface, or work it in the soil when planting or sowing seeds.
'Lizzano' tomato would work well in a hanging basket or a patio pot. Photo courtesy All-AmericaSelections.org
If there’s hope on the horizon for the gardening industry, it’s in food.
For the last few years, growers, garden centers, landscapers and gardeners have struggled with oppressive weather, a downturn in home construction and reduced discretionary income.
Edibles are the fastest growing segment in the gardening business, a trend that has remained steady or increased slightly over the past several years. The “keep it local” culture and concerns about food safety have been driving factors and so has taste. In our yards or community gardens, we control how we grow the food, such as our selection and use of products for insects or diseases.
Nearly 52 percent of the 68 million gardening households expect to grow edible plants — vegetable, herbs and fruits — this year, an increase of 11.3 percent, according to the most recent survey by the Garden Writers Association Foundation.
Edibles are the fastest growing segment in the gardening business, a trend that has remained steady or increased slightly over the past several years. The locovore culture and concerns about food safety are the driving factors and so is taste. We also control how we grow the food, such as use of chemicals for insects or diseases.
Where do we grow our food? The survey says about 35 percent of us grow plants in the ground, nearly 16 percent grow food in containers and nearly 31 percent use both methods.
For those who say they will be growing food in 2013, the top challenges are time (35.7 percent), insect and disease control (30.8 percent), wildlife control (26.0 percent), irrigation (23.6 percent) and cost (13 percent), the survey found.
A lot of angst and potential failure can be averted with a few steps:
• Start small in sunny space.
• Work in organic matter when digging the bed.
• Buy disease and insect resistant plants.
• Water and fertilize regularly.
• Keep weeds out.
Downy mildew on impatiens leaf. Photo courtesy Purdue University Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory.
Gardeners and growers throughout the country are battling a fungus called impatiens downy mildew, which turns the underside of the plant’s leaves white or gray.
If you noticed this last year, do not plant bedding impatiens (I. walleriana) in the same place this year. This disease only affects bedding impatiens. New Guinea and SunPatiens are not bothered by the disease.
Besides a white mildew on the undersides of leaves, other symptoms include collapsed centers on the impatiens or all of the flowers will be on the tips of the plants. Avoid planting impatiens where there was disease for at least five years. Don’t compost any diseased impatiens.
Trade off with begonia, torenia, coleus or another annuals that tolerates the same low-light condition that impatiens loves. Many tropicals, including some gingers, also make good shade plants.
Early symptoms of downy mildew on bedding impatiens. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab
Severe symptoms of downy mildew on bedding impatiens. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab
Virginia bluebells (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Yes, it’s spring, but boy has it been a seesaw.
A long cool March led to a slow, low spring, where plants emerged, flower buds opened and lasted for days, if not weeks.
Barrett Browning daffodil. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Then wham, in true Hoosier tradition, the temps hovered in the 70s for days, taking daffodils from flower to fried in about two days. Daffodils absolutely do not like the heat. All that’s left are the late blooming ones, which are some of my favorites.
Last fall, I planted a couple of dozen anemones (A. blanda) for about the umpteenth time. But this time, I think they may actually do something besides feed the critters. Ferny foliage is above ground and I’m awaiting the flowers.
Last fall, I also planted guinea-hen flower—sometimes called checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), which I like because it is so unusual.
Fritillaria meleagris. Here it's planted with Narcissus of-unknown-name. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
And, as a photographer, it’s not always a good idea to shoot top down, but rather, it’s better to shoot closer to ground level. However, if you do that, you miss the truly exquisite beauty of the inner tulips.
In all its golden glory for a few short days is the Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’. I love epimedium, a four-season beauty that is just not used enough.
Tulips and hyacinths (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Long-time survivors of my early attempts at bulb plants are the lipstick red tulips (Tulipa) and deep blue Dutch hyacinths (Hyacinthus). The colors are so intense, even after more than 20 years, and they keep getting closer together. With spring bulbs, I’m always reminded of Sally Ferguson, one of the first public relations professionals I meet when I started writing about gardening. Lilies remind me of Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens, whom I have never met, but feel as if I know because I have interviewed him many times and because he writes sweet little notes with his catalogs and orders. And he gives members of Garden Writers Association a discount on orders.
The inner beauty of tulip (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Lastly, the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), my favorite spring ephemeral, have begun to bloom. I started with five corms at least 20 years ago and now, these beautiful native plants fill the whole back portion of the yard. They have begun to spread into more areas and I transplant those that root in the pathways. These are hard to find in garden centers and even in spring bulb catalogs, but the latter is where to start looking, if you want some for your yard. Or, ask someone who has them to share. Now would be the time to transplant them.
Thanks to Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens for being the host of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, when gardeners all over the world post a snapshot of what’s going on in their landscape on the 15th of the month.
Epimedium (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
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What: 24th annual Orchard in Bloom. In honor of the 90th anniversary of The Orchard School, the theme is Growing to Learn. Proceeds benefit the school and Indy Parks. The unique partnership between The Orchard School and Indy Parks has raised more than $1 million in the last decade to support outdoor education at Orchard and Indy Parks. Holliday Park, specifically, has received $200,000 for new and innovative outdoor educational programs for all of Central Indiana which have touched the lives of hundreds of area children in public and private schools, as well as their families and senior citizens. The Orchard School’s Outdoor Education Coordinator Diana Shellhaas is the 2013 Honorary Chairperson. The truly amazing thing about this event is the work and spirit of the volunteers, including parents and community members. It’s a massive undertaking and one done extremely well.
Landscape designer Gus Lemcke incorporated Orchard in Bloom's 2012 edible theme into his tabletop arrangement. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 5, 2013. Preview Party, 6 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 2, 2013.
Where: Holliday Park, 64th Street and Spring Mill Road, Indianapolis. No parking allowed in park or vicinity. Free parking and shuttle service at Second Presbyterian Church, 7700 N. Meridian St.
Admission: $10 in advance, available at Marsh Supermarkets, The National Bank of Indianapolis branches, The Orchard School and the Holliday Park Nature Center. Tickets are $12 at the gate the days of the show. A three-day ticket is $15. Children 14 and under are free.
Speakers: Garden and Natural Living Symposium, includes Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, the Hoosier Gardener, who will speak about edible landscapes (times to be announced). Other seminars and demonstrations by landscapers, green-living experts, garden specialists and more.
The Garden Pavilion showcases innovative gardens, featuring edible landscapes, created by renowned local landscape designers. Their theme this year for landscapers is “Growing to Learn” in honor of The Orchard School’s 90th anniversary.
Microgardens feature landscape ideas for smaller spaces.
Garden and Natural Living Symposium speakers and events will occur throughout the weekend and will feature landscape specialists, green-living experts, and garden specialists.
The annual Containers In Bloom competition is back and puts garden club experts, individuals and students to task in a container gardening competition.
The Exhibition Tents delight shoppers with more than 100 local and regional vendors, selling handcrafted tools, garden furniture, herbs, blooming plants and flowers, artwork and more. Look for featured vendors offering products made from repurposed or recycled goods.
The Children’s Area offers outdoor fun to entertain and enlighten the younger set. Kids can grow their own salad, plant a pizza garden, or simply play in the kids’ tent.
The Garden Café offers tasty meals and snacks and will feature natural and organic products.
The Planting of the Orchard Arboretum, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 26, Arbor Day, The Orchard School.
Chef Showdown, May 2, during the Orchard In Bloom Preview Party
Run for the Bloom, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. May 5, The Orchard School.
Featured artist: Douglas David, owner of Douglas David Cottage.
Sponsors: The Bank of Indianapolis, Indy Parks and The Orchard School.
Among garden writers and others in the green industry, there’s an ongoing discussion about whether to use botanical names when talking about plants. Some think it is off-putting and others think it helps consumers make the right plant selection.
Way back when I first started writing about gardening, a reader sent me a question about a snowball bush. I answered it as if it were a hydrangea, which is what we called a snowball bush when I was growing up. Well, a snowball bush also is a viburnum, which several readers subsequently pointed out with letters stuffed with clippings from plant catalogs.
About the same time, Jan Glimn Lacy, a noted, local botanical illustrator, chided me for not using the botanical names. Using them would add more specificity and a sense of professionalism to the columns, she said. I’ve been using the Latin names ever since.
These names help guide us when purchasing plants. For instance, ‘Cinnamon Snow’ hellebore (Helleborus ballardiae) tells us precisely which lenten rose we are talking about. Or, it pays to know that the southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) is not reliably winter hardy in central Indiana, but the sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana) is.
A common concern among gardeners is how to pronounce the scientific names. Fine Gardening magazine has an audio pronunciation guide for dozens of plants and Dave’s Garden Botanary, an online botanical dictionary. Of course, there are botany dictionaries and pronunciation guides of the book type, too.
Most of all, don’t worry if you don’t know how to pronounce the words. Make a list of the plants’ common and scientific names, if you have them. Use the list when shopping at garden centers or online retailers.
And, even when you know the botanical name, there may be different ways to pronounce it. Clem’-a-tis may be the preferred pronunciation for clematis, but there are many, many of us who say cle-ma’-tis.
Bi-color Blue Senette cineraria. Photo courtesy Senette/Suntory.
Celebrate spring and plant up a pot of cool-season annuals.
You certainly can’t go wrong with pansies (Viola x wittrockiana). They are fragrant, colorful and easy to take care of. About the only requirement is to remove the flowers that have bloomed (called deadheading). Keep pansies evenly moist, but not wet. Pansies do best in full to part sun.
A stroll through garden centers in the last few days reveals more than pansies for the first pots of spring.
Snapshot Mix snapdragons. Photo courtesy All-America Selections.
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) come in lots of colors and sizes, from the dwarf Montego to towering Rocket. Snaps are a very cold tolerant annual, which have bloomed well into December in my garden. They are less tolerant of summer heat and may slow down during the hottest months. Snaps are great cut flowers. Deadheading encourages snaps to keep blooming. Plant in full sun or light shade. Snaps are easy to grow from seed.
Ranunculus is a tender, cool-season bulb that is prized for its long-stems, perfect for cutting. © CanStockPhoto/kavram
Ranunculus (R. asiaticus) is a tender bulb (actually a tuber) that can be found growing in individual pots or combination arrangements at garden centers. It tolerates low temperatures in the 20s. Flowers have densely packed, tissue paper-like petals in many colors. Ranunculus is prized, long-lasting cut flower. Adventurous gardeners can buy ranunculus tubers from garden centers, mail-order or online merchants, pot them up in February indoors and place in a sunny window. Transplant outdoors in spring.
Senetti cineraria (Pericallis x hybrida) has intensely colored, daisy-like flowers that cover a mound-growing plant that gets about 12 inches tall and wide. Senetti does well in full sun or light shade and it tolerates low temperatures to about 40 degrees F.
Martha Washington geranium. Photo courtesy Morguefile.com
Martha Washington geranium (Pelargonium domesticum) has frilly leaves and large flowers. This must have cool temperatures to set flower buds and to bloom. Place in full sun to light shade.
Walker's Low catmint. Photo courtesy Stephen Still/Perennial Plant Association
Season-long flowers, attractive gray-green foliage, fragrance and a forgiving nature equal high marks when it comes to catmint in the garden.
Thirty types of catmint (Nepeta) were grown and evaluated by the Chicago Botanic Garden from 1999 to 2006 in average conditions to mimic what the perennial likely will experience in the home garden. The plants got 10 hours of summer sun a day and were planted in well-drained, slightly alkaline (7.4 pH) soil that was amended with composted leaves. They were watered as needed, but not fertilized. There was little to no insect or disease problems.
The catmints were not routinely cut back after their first flush of flowers and most of them rebounded into more blooms within a few weeks. They also are fairly drought tolerant, once established. They do well in perennials beds, as a border or in rock gardens. They attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinating insects. Although a member of the mint family, most garden catmints are not considered invasive. True catmint (Nepeta cataria) can be invasive.
Catmint leaves have nepetalactone “an essential oil, which, when vaporized triggers a variety of behavioral responses in cats. The narcotic effect of catmint affects cats differently, causing them to become mellow, frisky or aggressive. Rubbing, licking or biting the leaves releases the vapors that produce the short-lived high, while eating the leaves may act as a sedative. By all accounts, true catnip, Nepeta cataria, is particularly intoxicating, but several other common catmints also attract cats,” wrote Richard G. Hawke, plant evaluation manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Twenty-two of the 30 catmints evaluated rated well in flower production, robust plant habits, good health and winter hardiness. Here’s a rundown of those with excellent performance:
‘Joanna Reed,’ has lavender-blue flowers and blooms from May through late October. It has dusty-green leaves and gets 24 inches tall and 48 inches wide. It “was one of the tidiest because its stems did not flop and new growth quickly concealed the declining flower stems.”
‘Six Hills Giant’ has gray-green foliage and lavender-blue flowers that bloom from early June into October. It gets about 30 inches tall and 48 inches wide.
‘Select Blue’ has lavender flowers and dusty-green leaves. It blooms from May into September and gets about 14 inches tall and 30 inches wide.
‘Walker’s Low’ has gray-green foliage and gets about 30 inches tall, 36 inches wide. Named by the Perennial Plant Association as its 2007 plant of the year, it has lavender-blue blooms from May through late September.