The grasslike ‘Evergold’ sedge is evergreen, too. It was left in this container to add another color and texture to a winter arrangement, it’s third season in a pot. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Say evergreens and most people think pine, spruce or arborvitae. But several perennials fall into this category, including a couple of grass-like plants.
Sure, sedge (Carex spp.) can be a weed, but there’s a whole bunch of these grasses that have been cultivated and made garden worthy. Some are native, too. Not only are many sedges evergreen, they are tolerant of dry, wet, sun and shade.
Probably the most readily available is ‘Ice Dance’ (C. morrowii). The narrow green and white blades perk up containers or perform like a pro as an edging on a garden bed. Sedges also can serve as a ground cover.
A great place to see a large planting of a native sedge is outside the Deer-Zink Pavilion at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. A large bed is planted with Pennsylvania sedge (C. pensylvanica), a shade tolerant beauty that looks great all year.
Sedges bloom, but their flowers, although attractive, are not particularly showy. I don’t cut them off. There are several yellow or gold cultivars, too, including ‘Evergold’ (C. oshimensis). Most sedges range 8 to 15 inch tall.
Along the same ideas as sedge is lilyturf (Liriope spp.), another grass-like ground cover that gets about 12 inches tall. It, too, tolerates sun or shade, but its spike of blue flowers is showy in late summer, followed by black berries.
There are two types of lilyturf, one that spread by underground rhizomes (L. spicata) and one that is a clump grower (L. muscari). To help hold soil on a hillside or to cover a challenging areas, the spreading one would be ideal. The clump grower, a popular one is ‘Big Blue’, works well in many applications, including as a year-round container plant.
I can’t say enough good about coral bells (Heuchera spp.) because the come in so many leaf colors and forms. Found only in North America, coral bells are prized as much for their foliage as they are the blooms.
In fact, as breeders worked on this plant, the foliage got all the attention to the detriment of the flowers. But new introductions, such as ‘Berry Timeless’, have an improved floral show.
Coral bell foliage may change color as it moves through the season, but even in winter, there’s a presence in the landscape, even under snow. Coral bells are very shade tolerant, but prefer well-drained soil.
Pink Brandywine tomato is credited with sparking interest in heirlooms. Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants
If you’ve been perusing the mail order garden catalogs or online websites, you may have come across some confusing or unfamiliar terms.
Take heirloom, for instance. An heirloom vegetable or flower has been in cultivation for at least 50 years. Heirlooms also are open pollinated. To understand open pollination, we need a bit of botany, said seed merchants Renee Shepherd of reneesgarden.com and Patty Buskirk of seedsbydesign.com in their ezfromseed.com newsletter.
The flowers produced by plants are either perfect or imperfect. Perfect means male and female parts are in the same flower. A tomato is an example of a perfect flower. Imperfect means the plant produces separate male and female flowers. Squash is an example of a plant that does this.
“Regardless, the pollen must be transferred from the male organ of the flower to the female organ in order for seeds to form. This can happen by wind or with the help of pollinating insects like bees,” Shepherd said.
An advantage of open pollinated plants is that the seeds they produce will generally come true when replanted.
Big Beef, a 1994 All-America Selections, is a hybrid that is resistant to several diseases that affect tomatoes.
A hybrid is the cross pollination of two or more plants to breed for certain characteristics, such as sweeter or more plentiful peppers or disease resistant cucumbers. Hybrids have been around for decades – remember Gregor Mendel and peas? Seeds from hybrids are viable, but will not likely come true, reverting to one of the parent plants.
Many gardeners extol the flavors of heirlooms, asserting that a lot of umami is bred out of hybridized tomatoes for the sake of consistent size and color. And with flowers, the first attribute to go in hybridizing is frequently fragrance.
Many hybrid plants have been bred to fend off diseases, such as tomatoes rated F or V, indicating resistance to fusarium and verticillium wilt. This does not mean hybrids are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. There are few, if any, GMO vegetables for home gardeners.
Can you have an organic garden if you don’t use certified organic seeds? “Yes! In your own garden, you want a safe environment with healthy and nutritious plants,” Shepherd said.
To achieve that: Maintain healthy soil, follow effective organic gardening techniques, use certified organic fertilizers and look for alternatives to chemical pest and disease controls.
Unless a seed is specifically labeled as treated, which is very rare in the home garden seed market, it has not been treated with pesticides or fungicides, she said.
If marsala wine is known for anything, it’s cooking. Marsala chicken, anyone?
But, Pantone, the powers that be in all-things-color, picked the its hue to celebrate in 2015. “A naturally robust and earth wine red, marsala enriches our minds, bodies and souls,” Pantone explains.
Fortunately, unlike other Colors of the Year, such as turquoise in 2010, the selection of marsala is an easy ingredient to get in the fashion-forward garden.
First, there’s the food angle. Robert Scheer, the Indianapolis Star’s Wine Dude, tells us “Marsala is pure Sicily. Whether sweet or dry styles, they’re great for cooking into Italian favorites, and can be wonderful when combined with garden offerings, like shallots, and fresh herbs, like rosemary. If you sip marsala, you might taste flavors of vanilla, walnut, brown sugar or apricot.”
Shallots are a worthwhile, onion- garlic-like bulb to grow. More mild than garlic, shallots demand a pretty penny at the grocery or farmers markets, but they are very easy to grow from a bulb or seed. These foodie favorites and can be planted in spring or fall.
Rosemary, of course, is not winter hardy here, so a lot of us grow this herb in a pot outdoors in summer so we can bring it indoors in winter. Whatever you do, don’t let the soil dry out. Rosemary is not a very forgiving plant.
Marooned coleus. Photo courtesy Proven Winners
At the plant level, I couldn’t find anything named marsala, but there are lots with wine in their moniker: Dipt in Wine coleus, Summer Wine ninebark, Wine & Roses weigela, Charmed Wine oxalis, Imperial Wine dahlia and Royal Plum Wine verbena.
Charmed wine oxalis. Photo courtesy Proven Winners
If the name isn’t an issue, you can get that marsala color in the garden with Marooned coleus, one of my favorites. You can also work a few wine-colored pots, rug or pillows into the scene to confirm your fashion sense. Oh, and don’t forget the wine!
From the left: Master Gardeners Karen Kennedy, Sharon Gamble and Carolyn McMahon. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
This was the year that cooperative extension services throughout the United States celebrated their 100th anniversary.
Although we may consider cooperative extension a purely American service, the practice of disseminating agriculture information to farmers goes back 2,000 years in Chinese culture. The idea of crop rotation was introduced in China in 800 BC.
Ireland is credited with launching modern extension services in the mid-1800s, primarily spurred by the great potato famine. Oxford and Cambridge universities embraced the notion of university extension, which took knowledge beyond the campuses in the 1860s.
Here in the United States, cooperative extension services fall under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and are lodged in land-grant colleges, such as Purdue University. Extension services became part of federal law in 1914 with the Smith-Lever Act. The idea was to share information with the public about agriculture, home economics, 4-H and public policy. Funding for extension activities is a mix of federal, state and local dollars, grants and donations.
Today, gardening, community development, family financial fitness, leadership and resource conservation are as much or more a part of extension services as agriculture. Here in Marion County, 4-H focuses on science, technology, engineering, art and math – skills incorporated into an active robotics program, for example.
Of course, my primary intersection with extension is through the Master Gardener program. These frequently unseen volunteers work in many important landscapes in the city, including the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, the Indianapolis City Market, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Cold Spring School, IPS’ environmental studies magnet. They conduct many free garden- and nature-related programs and workshops for the public.
Steve Mayer, the coordinator of Marion County Master Gardeners, says of the 390 members, 285 are active volunteers. So far this year, they have donated 14,572 hours to beautify and educate the community about gardening. “This wouldn’t be the most accurate number for 2014 because a lot of people haven’t reported all of their hours, yet,” Mayer said.
So, as we round out 2014 and head into 2015, I thank Purdue’s extension services and especially Master Gardeners, for all of their good work and wish them all the best for another hundred years.
Snip parsley, thyme, sage and other herbs from the garden to make a bouquet garni for foodie friends and family. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Gardeners have great opportunities for a few quick, but not-so-dirty gifts from the garden. For many of us, something homegrown makes the most thoughtful and memorable gift.
For foodies, harvest sprigs of sage, thyme, parsley or other herbs from the garden for a bouquet garni. Tie together with a cotton string or tuck into a cotton bag. Attach the bouquet garni to a favorite soup or sauce recipe.
Enable the bird lovers on your list. Smear some pine cones with peanut butter and roll them in birdseed. Attach a bit of wire to hang the cones from a tree limb or birdfeeder. Freeze and place in a plastic bag. Pair with a book about birds or wildlife. Squirrels will like this pine cone treat, too.
Snip dried blooms from a smooth-leaf or panicle hydrangea. Add some evergreen boughs and tie with a colorful ribbon as a gift for the host or hostess. Spray paint the dried flowers red or gold for a bit of holiday color.
Spray paint a dried hydrangea blossom and pair with a few evergreen boughs for a hostess gift. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Gather seeds from your favorite annual or perennial. Provide planting instructions on an envelope decorated with a picture of the flower and place the seeds inside. Attach to a garden book or a magazine gift subscription. Or, make a gift certificate that promises a division of a perennial from your landscape. Add an image of the plant, instructions for car and a delivery date.
Cut a stem or two of lavender, dry the leaves and tuck them into an organza bag to make a sachet. Lavender adds a lovely scent to the car, linen closet or lingerie drawer. Dried rosemary leaves, rose petals, cloves, citrus peels or needles of pine or fir trees also make sweet thinking-of-you, happy-to-see-you or just-because sachets.
A sachet is easy to make with a few sprigs of lavender. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Busy families will put homemade jelly, canned tomatoes or other home-preserved foods to good use during the holidays. These foods are also welcome by friends and family who will be entertaining this time of year.
As we approach the time of the year for reflection, I want to thank you for reading my columns, sending comments and sharing the information. I would not be able to do this without you.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Chickadees and other birds enjoy the holiday spirit. Photo courtesy Wild Birds Unlimited
On Facebook the last few days, local birders have been crowing about spotting two female harlequin ducks, described as “a rare inland record for Indiana.” They were observed on a pond in a heavily developed retail and residential area of the city.
Most of us don’t trek to lakes or ponds to view birds. Rather, we’re content to watch them from the comforts of our cozy indoors or on the occasional walk outdoors.
Christmas Bird Count
Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 marks the 115th Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the Audubon Society. Following a strict methodology, groups of amateur and expert birders gather at Eagle Creek Park, Goose Pond and other defined areas to identify and count birds.
This citizen science project provides ornithologists and other scientists with detailed information about which birds are where. Consider it a snapshot of what’s going on in nature.
Great Backyard Bird Count
I haven’t been involved in this project, but the last two years, I have participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This citizen science project, Feb. 13-16, 2015, is a partnership of Audubon, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is easy because you can do it standing at your kitchen window. If you are more ambitious, the project presents a great opportunity to teach children about their environment. If you have a bird feeder, pick a time of day and identify and count the number of birds at the feeder during a 15-minute period.
This count is done all over the world. In 2014, U.S. participants filed at least 36,000 checklists and identified 591 species of birds.
Water key to attracting birds
One of the ways to attract birds to your yard is to supply a source of water. A couple of years ago, my son gave me a birdbath heater, which works great at keeping the water from freezing.
Bird seed, suet, mealy worms and peanuts feed the winter birds as do the seed heads of perennials we left standing and the fruits on hollies, viburnums and crabapples.
Rain chains from rainchainsdirect.com are solid copper. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
It’s high season for gift giving and here are some suggestions for the gardeners on your list.
A wonderful holiday gift for gardeners or wannabes in the millennial group is The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash (St. Lynn’s Press, hardback, $17.95). Naturally, there’s a glossary, recommended tools and lots of encouragement to tell the millennials to just try it.
Nash details design ideas for three garden settings: balcony, deck and small yard. She deciphers seed packs and suggests what’s best sown directly in the soil and what’s best planted as a seedling. It’s pretty much everything a millennial needs to succeed. A third-generation Oklahoma gal, Nash blogs at reddirtramblings.com, which won a gold award this year from Garden Writers Association for best electronic writing.
Coffee for Roses by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press, hardback, $17.95) busts 70 myths embraced by gardeners, such as hummingbirds only visit red flowers, marigolds keep bugs out of the vegetable garden and roses should be planted with coffee grounds. An avid researcher, Fornari (coffeeforroses.com) delves into the history of some common practices, explains why they don’t work and offers suggestions that do.
There’s something romantically alluring about David Austin roses. Breeding techniques have developed roses that retain their old world beauty and fragrance without old world disease problems. David Austin (800-328-8893) gift certificates make perfect stocking stuffers. With the certificate, the recipient can select his or her rose, which will be shipped at the appropriate planting time.
One of the best tools for an avid gardener is the transplant spade. The long, narrow blade is perfect for getting below the root ball to lift perennials and small shrubs for transplant. I’ve had my Fiskars Steel D-handle Transplanting Spade for years and it’s my go-to tool when planting or dividing perennials. It costs about $30 and can be found at garden centers or online.
At the luxury end ($80) is a copper rain chain. I’ve wanted this for years and when Rain Chains Direct (855-843-7246) invited several garden writers to try one, of course, I said yes. The beautiful 8 ½-foot long, solid copper chain can replace a downspout to slow rain coming off a roof. The chain also can be used where there is no spout, such as from a garage, to slow rain pouring from the roof.
Keep poinsettia in a cool, bright area away from hot and cold drafts. (C) serezniy/123RF
Tis the season of poinsettia, holly, mistletoe, snow and ice.
First up, poinsettia was introduced by John Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who had seen it growing along the roadsides during his post there. He sent a few plants to his buddy, John Bartram in Philadelphia, an early American horticulturist, who cultivated them and offered them for sale.
The most popular query about poinsettia is how to keep it all year and get it to color up for next year’s holiday. Trust me when I tell you it’s not easy, but Purdue University’s The Poinsettia guides you through the process, which requires a strict schedule of light and dark for weeks.
Plant Care Indoors
For now, remember that the poinsettia is easily damaged by cold temperature. Ask the retailer to put a paper or plastic sleeve over the plant, which will protect it from the store to the car and the car to your house.
Holly berries are toxic. (C) Andersphoto/dollarphotoclub.com
Once home, place poinsettias in a cool, bright place away from cold and hot drafts, such as the front door, a heat register or the television. There’s not need to fertilizer the plant. The soil should be evenly moist, but not wet.
When the plant starts to drop its leaves and looks bad, compost it. And despite what people may think, eating poinsettia is not going to harm you unless you devour more than 500 leaves to reach a toxic level. The sap of poinsettia may cause a mild irritation to the pets’ mouths. Holly berries also are toxic. Eating 20 berries can be a killer to pets and kids.
Mistletoe is poisonous to pets and humans. (C) PicturePartners/iStockphoto.com
All parts of mistletoe is toxic to pets and humans, so be sure to contact your veterinarian, physician or poison control center if you suspect your cat, dog or child may have eaten the plant. Vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulty are among the symptoms. Death to pets can occur within hours of ingesting mistletoe.
Plant Care Outdoors No one likes to walk on icy pavement, so we grab a deicer to make pathways passable. Deicers are most effective once the snow has been removed. Select a product that is rated safe for plants and pets.
Select a deicer that will not harm pets or plants. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Many deicers contain various forms of salt and chemicals, which damage or kill perennials, trees, shrubs and the lawn. The salts also can burn or blister paws. And, when dogs clean their feet, they may ingest the product’s chemicals. Be sure to wipe the dog’s feet after walking on treated surfaces.
Live trees serve as living memories of holidays past. (C) iStockphoto.com
A live Christmas tree landscapes the yard with an earth friendly reminder of the holiday. But celebrating the season with a live Christmas tree takes planning and, in this case, muscle.
Living Christmas trees are grown in containers or they are dug and the root ball is wrapped in burlap, called balled-and-burlapped. The larger the container or the root ball, the heavier the tree and the more awkward to move.
- Select a tree suited for its landscape spot, such as sun or shade. Ask the grower or retailer about the mature size of the tree and make sure that it has room to grow in the landscape. Avoid handling the specimen by its trunk so that you don’t loosen the tree from the root ball.
At home, prepare the planting hole before the ground freezes. Dig a hole no deeper than the tree was growing in its container or in the ground before being dug, but at least twice as wide as the root ball. It’s best to plant a little high rather than too deep.
- Keep the soil you dug from freezing. Pile the dirt on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow and stow it in protected area, such as an unheated garage. Or, you can place leaves or straw bales on top of the soil to keep it from freezing.
- Protect the hole from freezing. Fill the hole with leaves or straw and cover it with a piece of wood or straw bale. The cover ensures someone won’t accidentally trip or fall in the hole.
- If you don’t want to dig now, keep the spot from freezing by heavily mulching the area with leaves, shredded bark or bales of straw. Remove the mulch and dig the hole when ready to plant.
- At home, gradually acclimate the tree by keeping it in an unheated garage or enclosed porch for three days before moving it indoors. Place the tree in a leak proof container. The root ball should stay moist but not wet. Keep the tree in the coolest indoor spot you’ve got and away from a heat source.
- Don’t keep the tree indoors for more than three to five days because the warm temperatures will encourage it to break dormancy. Once that happens, the tree will be susceptible to winter damage when transplanted outdoors. When moving the tree outdoors, you will need to acclimate it again as you did before.
- When planting, remove the container or the burlap and any string or metal from the root ball. Don’t amend the soil when planting the tree. Backfill with the soil dug from the hole. It’s best not to water if the ground surrounding the planting hole is frozen. If the soil is not frozen, water the newly planted tree. Do not fertilize.
- Mulch the planted area with a couple of inches of shredded bark, wood chips, compost or leaves. To keep the tree from drying out indoors and at planting time, many experts recommend an application of an anti-desiccant spray, such as Wilt-Pruf. Always read and follow the label directions.
Purdue University’s Living Christmas Trees for the Holiday and Beyond
Iowa State University’s Live Christmas Trees
Tips for First-time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees
Originally published at this site Nov. 1. 2009
The holidays are upon us and beginning this weekend, many of us start the season with a fresh-cut Christmas tree. A couple of years ago, on Fox 59’s Morning News, the Hoosier Gardener offered tips for selecting and caring for our trees.
Scotch pine, white pine and fraser fir are among the most popular selections for fresh cut trees. Scotch pine has stiff branches with good needle retention. White pine has long, soft needles, but weak branches for holding heavy ornaments. Fraser fir has stiff branches and short needles that are very fragrant.
- Measure the space in your home where the tree will go. That way you’ll know what height and width to shop for.
- Ask the retailer when the trees arrived. Do they arrive all at once or are there several shipments throughout the holiday season?
- Test for freshness by bending a few green needles backwards. Gently bend a branch. If the needles fall off or the branch breaks, the tree is not fresh.
- Other signs of an older, cut tree are excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability, and wrinkled bark. If in doubt, go to another tree lot.
- Ask the retailer to make fresh cut at the base of the trunk. You’ll have about six hours to get the tree in water before the cut seals up. At home, sit the tree in a bucket of water until you are ready to place it in the stand.
- If that’s not possible, take off ½ to 1-inch of the trunk with a fresh cut, then place in the stand. Make the cut straight across and not at an angle. A straight cut provides the greatest surface for the tree to take up water.
- The temperature of the water is not critical and there’s not need to add amendments to the water.
- Once in the stand, check the water level frequently to make sure it is high enough to cover the base of the tree.
- Make sure the tree is not near a heat source, such as a register or vent, heater or fireplace.
- Check your tree lights to make sure no wires are frayed. Always turn off the lights when going to bed or leaving home.
Keep an eye on the tree’s freshness. If it looks and feels dry, remove it and take it to the recycling center. In Indianapolis and many other communities, there are several tree drop off sites. There, the trees are ground up for mulch for parks, along trails and other areas.
Or, move the tree outdoors and lean it against a fence or shade tree. It should hold its needles throughout winter and provide a resting space and seasonal shelter for birds.
- Cut tree — grown and harvested for the holiday season. Purchased at tree lots, garden centers or at tree farms. Recycle after the holidays.
- Balled-and-burlapped — a live tree with the root ball intact, wrapped in burlap. Transplant to the landscape after the holidays.
- Containerized — a live tree grown in plastic container. Transplant to the landscape after the holidays.
More tree tidbits:
- Thirty-five percent of us will buy a fresh cut or live tree this year. Eighty percent of those will buy pre-cut trees; 9 percent will buy live trees for replanting in the landscape after the holidays.
- Live trees are grown in containers or as balled-and-burlapped specimens. Prepare the hole for planting in fall. Plant as soon as possible after the holiday. Photo courtesy Colorado State University.
When opting for a live tree, prepare the planting hole in fall or early winter before the ground freezes. After planting, make sure to water the transplant well. The best choices are Norway and other spruces (Picea), Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and white fir (Abies concolor).For other tips, read Purdue University’s Living Christmas Trees for the Holidays and Beyond.
- In the United States, we will purchase about 28.1 million trees and spend about $1.03 billion. We will spend an average of $40 to $50 for our tree.
- The most common Christmas tree species: balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine.
Get your tree from a farm
- Christmas tree farm. Photo courtesy Washington State University.
You also can visit tree farms to hand pick your tree, which is cut on the spot and loaded on your vehicle. This is the way to make sure your tree is a fresh as possible.
Most tree farms keep their fields very well groomed, but there are some things that are beyond the farmer’s control. Be careful of tree stumps, brambles, vines, uneven ground and sharp saws.
Go to the farm prepared for a day in the country. Wear comfortable shoes and old clothes. Bring rain gear if the weather is threatening. The “cutter downers” and the “loader uppers” should also have gloves.
Saws are usually provided by the farm operator. Check ahead of time.
Some farms measure and price their trees individually, others sell them by the foot. Ask about the pricing policy before heading out in the field. Here are some more tips:
- Head out to the field and select the tree that fits your predetermined needs.
- Check the trunk to be sure that it is sufficiently straight. Keep in mind that pines will usually have, at least, some crook in their trunks.
- Check that the tree has a sufficiently long handle to accommodate your stand.
- In fall, all conifers drop or shed a certain portion of their oldest needles. This is a normal part of the life cycle of the tree. This phenomena occurs because the tree is preparing itself for winter. Most farms provide shaking, or blowing, services so that you will depart with a perfectly clean tree.
- Cutting the tree is easiest as a two person project. The “cutter downer” usually lies on the ground. While the helper holds the bottom limbs up.
- While the cut is being made, the helper should tug on the tree lightly to ensure that the saw kerf remains open and the saw does not bind. The tugging force should be applied to the side of the tree opposite the cut.
- Take the tree to the processing area where it will be cleaned and netted. Netting makes transporting and handling the tree substantially easier.
- Now you’re ready to load up and head home to decorate your real Christmas tree.
Source: National Christmas Tree Association
Resources — To learn about the different species of holiday trees and their care, please visit the National Christmas Tree Association’s Web site.
Find a tree farm near you: