A robin bathes in a bird bath. (C) Jarruda/canstockphoto.com
All over Indianapolis, birds are nesting, laying eggs, keeping them warm, hatching babies, keeping them warm and nourished until they take flight.
That’s a lot of work, but gardeners can help lighten the avians’ parental load.
Just like we’re all worried about bees in our landscapes, some of the same practices to support them apply for bird friendly gardens. For instance, reducing or eliminating the use of insecticides means that there will be bees and other bugs in your garden. Birds eat bugs. If no bugs, no food for birds.
If you were only going to do one thing in your landscape to attract birds, a water source would be the way to go. And though we may not think about it, bees and butterflies enjoy the occasional drink, too.
Confession time. A few weeks ago, I was changing the water in a shallow, glass bowl on a wrought iron stand in the front garden. To my horror, there were about a dozen bees drowned in the bowl. To prevent this from happening again, placed a thick and flat rock in the dish. The rock protrudes above the water level to provide bees, butterflies and birds a mini-landing pad and reduce the chance the bugs will drown.
I had a similar birdbath several years ago, only the glass bowl was much deeper. Again to my horror, there was a male goldfinch drowned in the bowl. So, be mindful of the depth of the birdbath.
A lot of us provide seed for birds, too. According to a 2014 Wild Bird Feeding Industry Research Foundation’s report, 39.4 percent, or 52.3 million U.S. households buy wild bird seed “at least sometimes.”
The average household spends $81.21 a year on wild bird seed to total $4.25 billion. U.S. households spent nearly $40 annually on feeders, or $2.06 billion, the foundation reported.
But what kind of seed should you buy? Depends on what kinds of birds you want to feed.
Finches, nuthatches, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, wrens and chickadees are spotted regularly at my niger thistle feeder that hangs in the dogwood outside my living room window.
In the back, I have a feeder for sunflower or safflower seeds. I rotate them to discourage grackles and squirrels, which don’t like safflower seeds. Chipmunks, though, tend to eat any seed I put there. So do cardinals, mourning doves, chickadees, titmice and finches.
Place feeders where you can see them and enjoy their visitors. It’s best to put feeders in an open section of the garden where the falling seed won’t smother plants.
Lastly, create a good habitat in the landscape to provide birds shelter and protection from predators and safe places to nest and raise their young. Shade and ornamental trees, evergreens, flowering shrubs and perennials all fill that need.
‘Blue My Mind’ evolvulus forms the base of a sun-loving container with ‘Alligator Tears’ coleus. Photo courtesy Proven Winners
The basic design elements of planting a container are pretty simple: thriller, filler and spiller.
The thriller is the focal point of the pot, usually the tallest plant. Fillers are just that, they fill in gaps and help round out the planting. The spillers are the vines or other plants that trail over the side of the pot.
For decades, the main trailing plant has been variegated vinca vine (V. major). Several years, ago, the chartreuse ‘Margarite’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) started earning high marks for its trailing habit.
‘Margarite’ can be a bit of a thug in a pot or hanging basket, frequently over whelming its plant mates. The same with the Wave brand of petunias, which with a spread of 3 feet or more, can completely consume a container. Each of these will work in really large containers, or even better, as a summer groundcover.
Besides Garnet Lace, Illusion sweet potato vines come in chartreuse and purple-bronze. Photo courtesy Proven Winners
For a pot, look for other sweet potato vines, such as Illusion Emerald Lace, which is chartreus, or Midnight Lace, which is purple. Each is a good trailer that reach 2-3 feet, but without the thuggish tendencies of other sweet potato vines.
The natural habit for petunias is to trail, so about any of them will work as a spiller in a pot without consuming it. Among my favorites is Proven Winners’ ‘Royal Velvet’, the country’s best-selling petunia, which has a wonderful fragrance, an attribute frequently bred out of hybrids.
Wire vine acts as the perfect foil for blue plumbago (P. auriculata) and a tricolor sage (Salvia officinalis). Photo courtesy Proven Winners
If you are looking for something else trial as a trailer, here are a couple of suggestions:
‘Blue My Mind’, sometimes called a dwarf morning glory (Evolvulus), is a true-blue winner. This sun-loving, heat- and humidity-tolerant annual has silvery-green leaves and blue flowers about the size of a quarter. It gets about 6 inches tall with a 12-15 inch spread.
The shade tolerant Torenia Summer Wave Blue is a great substitute for lobelia in pots and hanging baskets. Photo courtesy Proven Winners
Creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris) offers a light, delicate foil to larger to containers for sunny to partly sunny locations. It gets about 4 inches tall with a spread of about 18 inches. The dark stems and green leaves provide a nice, contrasting texture to bolder plants, such as petunias and geraniums.
Torenia Yellow Moon. Photo courtesy Log House Plants
‘Summer Blue Wave’ Torenia is a terrific trailer for shade to part sun, performing much better than any lobelia in a pot or hanging basket. Torenia, sometimes called wishbone flower, comes in other colors, too, including ‘Yellow Moon’, which is yellow with a grape-colored throat.
Hold off planting frost-tender geraniums and warm season vegetables and herbs until about May 10. (C) NDPetitt/morguefile.com
I’ve been saving lives the last couple of weeks…the lives of basil, peppers, tomatoes, rosemary, impatiens and geraniums (Pelargonium), to name a few.
That’s because people want to buy these plants at the garden center where I work, even though it’s too early. Call it the 70-degree temperature syndrome. Symptoms include trying to rush the season. Even though temps are warm, the soil has not reached the right temperature for the plants to grow and thrive. That’s why the rule of thumb for planting warm-season vegetables and flowers is May 10. In fact, temperature dropped to 36 degrees in central Indiana on May 13, 2013.
So, if you can’t plant them yet, why do garden centers have them for sale? Because customers want them, or think they want them. Some lucky people buy plants early to hold over in their greenhouse until they can be planted outdoors. Others say they will keep them in the garage, possible depriving plants of necessary light. Others say they plan to leave them outdoors during the day and move them indoors at night.
These are all viable options, but require some vigilance on the part of the buyer to make sure plants are watered as needed. The lack of light may cause plants to stretch and become weak.
Why not let the garden center do all the work necessary to keep the plants alive until planting time? That’s less worry on your part. And you’ll know that the plants will be well tended so they will be at their best.
Show your school colors
Getting ready for high school or college graduation celebrations in the backyard? Talk to garden centers now to make sure you can get flowers in the school colors you want. Most garden centers will help you find plants and colors you need.
Stick with annuals to carry the school-color theme. Perennials are iffy about their bloom times and getting just the right color may be challenging. Most of the time, annuals are already blooming, so you can make sure you get the colors you need.
Some colors, such as black, are going to be harder to find, even in annuals. There are a few black petunia varieties on the market, or look for black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’).
For gray or silver, look for licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare) or dusty miller (Senecio cineraria).
If you have any dried or faux hydrangea flowers, you can always spray paint them any color you need and stick them in a pot with annuals or use as a bouquet for a tabletop arrangement.
Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants
We hear a lot about vitamin deficiencies, and kids are not immune, frequently coming up short on their vitamin N for nature. One way to bolster their vitamin N is to get kids involved in gardening with something other than weeding. Even I hate to weed, but I love planting and growing stuff, and picking vegetables and flowers.
Crops like strawberries and purple carrots are fun for kids (and adults) to grow. Start small. Give children their own spot or pot in an area with at least six hours of direct sun, and reasonably close to a water source.
Allow them to select what they want to grow because they are more likely to eat the veggies and fruits. Certainly a few flowers, such as marigolds, would be all right, too. Feel free to narrow the field by suggesting eight or 10 crops that kids can choose from to fit the space available. Here are a few suggestions:
Everbearing or day neutral strawberries bloom and produce all summer long. Although a small planting will not yield dozens of strawberries, there should be enough to satisfy an occasional summer dessert. Tristar, Tristan and Tribute are cultivars to consider. (I grow Tristan in a window box.) Buy plants.
Sure, carrots are orange, but they can also be purple, red, yellow and pink. The more dense the color, the higher the carotene and the better for you. Carrots are fairly easy to grow, especially in well-worked loose, loamy or sandy soil. Grow in a container that is at least 12 inches deep. Botanical Interests offers Carnival Blend, Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple carrots. Burpee has Kaleidoscope Mix, Rainbow Hybrid and Purple Dragon carrots. Sow seeds.
Purple green beans are not only delicious, they are beautiful on the plant. The purple pods against the green leaves also make the vegetable easy to spot for picking at just the right size. Don’t be alarmed, though, because the beans turn green when cooked. Sow seeds. Some to consider: Royalty Purple from Rare Seeds, Purple Podded Pole from Burpee and Dwarf Velour French from Park Seed.
Cherry tomatoes are about the best producing plants in the garden. For most of the summer, you can pick a handful to munch on while wandering in the garden, or for a salad. Kids, in particular seem to like the yellow pear cherry tomatoes, but there are orange, black and purple types, too, with red the most common. Buy plants.
One of the best sources for getting our children and future gardeners involved is National Gardening Association’s Kids Gardening. You’ll find tips and techniques for families, classroom-ready lessons for educators and more.
(C) Photo dustinhaas/dollarphotoclub.com
Some of the best things about spring are the plant sales held by various groups, usually as fundraisers for their programs or other activities. The sales are good places to buy heirloom vegetables, native plants and hard-to-find perennials. Here’s the rundown:
April 18, Hendricks County Parks and Recreation
Thousands of native plants for $4 each, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at McCloud Nature Park, 8518 Hughes Road, North Salem. Experts will make presentations and answer questions. Proceeds benefit the Parks Foundation of Hendricks County.
April 18 and 19, Perennial Premiere
Perennial Premiere at the Indianapolis Museum of Art has been the reigning queen of plant sales, with offers of many hard-to-find perennials, native trees and shrubs and artistic accessories for the garden.
Programs include beekeeping, an herb demonstration and tips on planting early season vegetables. Food trucks will be on site and New Day Craft Mead and Cider will offer tastings. Activities will be in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse, its parking lot and Tanner Orchard.
The IMA’s $18 admission fee is in effect for nonmembers to go to Perennial Premiere. Members only can shop 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. The event is open to the public noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. If not an IMA member, join and immediately get a 20 percent discount on plants and merchandise. Free shuttles will be in operation. Automotive traffic to the area is barred except for plant pickups. Visit the IMA website for more information.
April 27 through May 9, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
This is the first of four plant sales at the school, 7725 N. College Ave. The sales benefit the horticulture program and its students.
Along with Master Gardeners and Elizabeth Garvey, their horticulture teacher, students grow annuals, scented geraniums, perennials,
native plants, vegetable plants, including heirloom varieties.
The sale is open to the public, noon to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It is closed Sundays.
May 9, INPAWS Native Plant Sale & Auction
Members of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society dig, divide or propagate plants from their gardens for this annual sale at Park Tudor School, Upper Gymnasium. Enter via 71st Street.
This large sale offers hard-to-find plants for wetlands and woodlands as well as sunny and shady areas. At 9:30 a.m. landscape architect M.J. Meneley, of Indianapolis’ Blue Marble Design, will speak about Designing with Natives. Pay $10 to hear the talk and you get a 15-minute lead on plant shopping. The sale runs 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The auction begins at 11 a.m. Visit the website for more information.
Here are a few tips for shopping plant sales:
- Bring your own bag, tote or box. Serious shoppers sometimes bring collapsible wagons or carts.
- If uncertain, ask questions about the plant, including its horticultural requirements and care.
- Consider paying with cash, especially for smaller vendors.
- Don’t be in a rush.
- Try something new and buy an unfamiliar plant.
Chris Turner, who has been keeping chickens for three years, gives Hula, a Barred Rock hen, her 15 minutes of fame.
© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
When I was young, my two sisters and I piled into the car with my parents and headed out for some Easter shopping. We went to the G.C. Murphy store in Fountain Square where my dad bought baby chicks.
My city-girl mom would not have approved of this, so dad told us girls to sing, laugh and talk in the car on the way home to cover the chirping until we got the chicks into the basement. Soon after, they were relocated to a relative’s farm.
The temptation to keep your own chickens is even greater today. If you’re curious about cute, fuzzy chicks roaming free range in your yard and dream of fresh eggs for breakfast, here are a few things to keep in mind, especially for gardeners
“People think, oh good, the chickens will eat bugs and weeds, but they’ll also eat your hostas and vegetable crops,” said Chris Turner, 45, a gardener who lives in Indianapolis’ Old Northside. Turner, owner of uTopos, a gardening company, has been keeping chickens for three years.
He recommends a chicken coop, not only to protect your landscape, but to keep the birds safe. Even in urban settings, predators, such as raccoons, hawks, dogs and cats, will kill chickens or eat their eggs. He has lost one chicken to a predator.
His five hens are in a 20- by 20-foot coop, completely enclosed with chicken wire. There’s an access door for cleaning, collecting eggs and replenishing water. Manure is added to the compost pile. And, his dog has been trained not to bother the chicks.
If you want your chickens to be free range, you’ll have to install a 5-foot tall fence around vegetables, he said. It’s best to have the garden enclosed at the top, too, because chickens can fly short distances.
For more information about making chickens a part of your life and garden, visit Agrarian, an urban chick specialty shop at 49th Street and College Avenue, or Naptown Chicks. Purdue University’s Getting Started with the Home Poultry Flock also provides good guideance.
Hens start laying at about 6 months, and no, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs. Turner’s five girls provide about four eggs a day. Chickens produce for about five years and then stop. Some people keep the non-laying birds until they die a natural death, some send them to a farm and others sell them for food processing.
Chickens aren’t high maintenance, Turner said, but they are an expensive way to get eggs, by the time you figure the cost of the coop, food, water tank and other necessities.
“They do love to eat in the garden,” Turner said. In fall, especially, when he’s cleaning up the garden, his girls are out there with him, pecking and scratching away at the dirt and plant debris. “They are just so happy.”
Remove the yellow anthers to keep Easter lily flowers blooming longer. © Julianna Olah/Fotolia.com
Next Sunday is Easter and the plant of the holiday is a lily, sometimes dubbed the “white-robed apostle of hope.”
Why lilies are associated with Easter is the stuff of legends, and maybe faith. One is that it’s a reference to the “lilies of the field” in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Another legend says lilies sprouted from the ground where Christ’s tears fell while he hung on the cross. Many religious denominations embrace the tradition by filling their sanctuaries with the white lilies.
The fact that we have blooming lilies this time of year is not quite a miracle, but a process that tricks Mother Nature. Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) normally bloom in summer.
Use caution with Easter lilies if you have cats.
In an environment where cold, heat, water, fertilizer and light are strictly controlled, about 40,000 Easter lilies are forced into bloom at Crossroads Greenhouse on Kentucky Avenue, a facility heated by methane gas harvested from the Indianapolis’ South Side Landfill.
When shopping for lilies, look for a symmetrical plant with at least four buds in various stages of development, said Kim Holden, landscape and greenhouse sales manager at Heartland Growers, the Westfield, Indiana, company that owns and operates Crossroads Greenhouse.
At home, place the lily plant in a cool, bright area, but away from hot and cold drafts. The soil should be evenly moist, but not sopping wet. Temporarily remove any decorative cover from the pot to allow water to run free from drainage holes. Don’t let the pot sit in water. There’s no need to fertilize the plant.
“Pinching out the (yellow) anthers from the center of the flower makes the bloom last longer,” Holden said. Removing the anthers also takes away the pollen, which can stain tablecloths and clothing.
Unlike that other big holiday plant, the poinsettia, an Easter lily is winter hardy throughout Indiana, making it a beautiful, fragrant, trumpet-shaped flower in the garden them. With a nice layer of mulch for winter protection, the Easter lily should bloom the following summer.
Between now and transplanting the lily outdoors, remove the spent flower, but leave the stalk and leaves intact. Water when the soil surface feels dry, and begin a fertilizing program to help replenish the bulb.
In mid May, transplant the lily to a sunny area with well-drained, organically rich soil. If concerned about drainage, mound up a good quality compost about 6-8 inches high and plant the lily there. Remove the stalk after it turns yellow. Just like their spring counterparts, summer bulbs need their foliage to replenish the nutrients needed for next year’s bloom.
Arrange tomatoes, lettuces, marigolds and other plants to showcase their textural and colorful beauty while making good use of space. ©NCAImages/iStockphoto
In the last 10 days, I’ve received two books with the same theme: food gardening.
It’s no surprise to garden centers, mail order and online retailers and, apparently publishers, that gardeners, whether they call themselves that or not, are into growing their own food.
Some people may not call themselves gardeners because they only grow a pot of tomatoes on the patio or lettuces in a window box, but they are, just like those who grow food in large, in-ground beds.
In the most recent Garden Trends Research Report, 58 percent of consumers said they plan to grow edible plants in 2015. About 25 percent said they will grow them in the ground, 10 percent said they will grow them in containers and 24 percent will use both methods, according to the October 2014 survey conducted by the Garden Writers Association Foundation.
One of the most lush and inviting books to cross my desk recently is Growing Beautiful Food: A Gardener’s Guide to Cultivating Extraordinary Vegetables and Fruit written and photographed by Matthew Benson (Rodale, $32.50, hardcover).
An organic farmer in the Hudson River Valley of New York, Benson finds beauty in contorted carrots, purple-flecked green beans, the irregular shapes of heirloom tomatoes, well-pruned apple trees and the shades and textures of green. “Creating a great salad is usually a symphonic act, with texture, color, form and taste all playing their parts,” he wrote.
With a poetic, essay style, Benson takes readers through four season of growth, not just vegetables and fruits, but chicken- and beekeeping, too. He discusses composting, soil and the weather in the front of the book. In the back, he gives growing and harvesting tips and a few recipes.
For those of us in a more urban setting comes the completely revised The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden: Grow Tons of Organic Vegetables in Tiny Spaces and Containers by Karen Newcomb (Ten Speed Press, $18.99, paperback).
Newcomb promotes a holistic, intensive-style to gardening, giving tips on planting by the growing season, the color of plants, by the USDA Hardiness Zone Map or the moon. Like all good gardeners, Newcomb starts with building the soil. Good soil yields healthy plants and good produce. After the soil is prepped, a 5-by-5 foot bed will produce 200 pounds of vegetables.
The methods involve inter- and under planting, planting close together, succession planting and vertical gardening. No pretty pictures in this book, but lots of great advice and techniques.
This year’s trip to the Indiana Flower and Patio Show on Saturday revealed quite a selection of better than usual garden designs and plants. Many of the companies did a better job of identifying plants, something I think should be required for any company that participates with a garden.
The main design element remains outdoor entertaining. Decks, paving, stone or wood walls form outdoor kitchens, seating areas, waterfalls and ponds. The show continues through March 22. Here are some highlights:
Start to Finish Landscaping designed “Rural Tranquility,” demonstrating a very clever way to reuse glass wine bottles. Slap a table on the bottle and you’ve got a plant market. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
ProCare’s theme “reFreshed” is emblazoned on a fountain wall. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Hittle Landscape creates “Mid Summer Eve” with a fountain fill with lush succulents. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Gardens of Growth sticks with its philosophy of sustainability with its “Four Seasons” garden by incorporating a large trunk as the base of a glass table. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
McNamara Florists retains its reputation as a wow designer with its topiary creations. The flowers and butterflies are chicken wire stuffed with moss. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
A great table top decoration: a colander planted with oregano. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Hendricks County Master Gardeners took their turn staffing the Purdue Extension booth at the Indiana Flower and Patio Show. The booth is a great place to get answers to your gardening questions and to learn how to be a Master Gardener and other extension programs. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Dolce Fresca, a 2015 All-America Selections basil, recovers rapidly when harvested and holds its shape well, making it work well in a container on the patio or deck. Photo courtesy All-America Selections
My philosophy is to always try new plants every year and this year, it will be vegetables. A few of these have been available for a few years, but they will be new to me.
Kalettes is a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale to create a new vegetable so special, it has its own website (kalettes.com). I have not grown this yet and so far, I’ve only been able to find it as seed, so that’s what I ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com). Kalettes supposedly have a sweet nutty flavor, and can be sautéed, roasted, grilled or eaten raw. Since I like Brussels sprouts, I’m hoping Kalettes will make kale taste good.
A brand new vegetable named Kalette is a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale that can be eaten or cooked. Photo courtesy Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Jasper cherry tomato produces sweet, tender fruits during a long production periodPhoto courtesy All-America Selections
Jasper is one of the best producing tomatoes in the Marion County Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This cherry tomato was a 2013 All-America Selections, praised for its long, productive season, ¾-inch round fruit with good taste. It also is resistant or tolerant of early and late blights and fusarium wilt.
Sandy is the first lettuce to be named an All-America Selections winner since 1985. This 2015 introduction is a loose-head, oakleaf lettuce that is very disease resistant, especially powdery mildew, and slow to go to seed, called bolting. Leaves can be harvested at about any size. It slowness to bolt and size – about 10 inches tall and wide – make this a good selection for a pot or window box.
A 2015 winner, Sandy is the first lettuce to receive the All America Selections moniker since 1985. Photo courtesy All America Selections
For years, I didn’t like cucumbers. But, tastes change and I now find cucumbers add a fresh, bright, crunch to salads. Diva, which has been grown under cover in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, has earned lots of praise for its productivity. Diva produces fruit even when covered to protect the plants from cucumber beetles and other insects. It also is resistant to downy and powdery mildew. The taste of this seedless cuke is supposed to be sweet, tender, crisp, but not bitter. It is a 2002 All-America Selections winner.
New Ace pepper, introduced by Harris Seeds (harrisseeds.com) is another strong producer that is resistant to fusarium wilt. It’s real claim to fame, though, is that it produces large, well-lobed green fruit earlier than a lot of other peppers, usually maturing in about 65 days. The fruit turns red the longer it stays on the plant.
New Ace sweet pepper matures in about 60 days, making it an early, prolific producer.
Photo courtesy Veseys.com
To go along with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers comes Dolce Fresca basil, another 2015 All-America Selections winner. It out performed other Italian, large-leaf basil while staying bushy and compact.
Diva cucumber produces fruit even when covered to protect from cucumber beetles and other insects. Photo courtesy All-America Selections