Slice the peppers, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, move peppers to a plastic bag and return to the freezer. Nothing could be easier. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
The last gasps of the growing season yield an onslaught of tomatoes and peppers and these are vegetables that don’t keep very well without some type of preservation.
After reading Minnesota garden writer Rhonda Fleming Hayes‘ column a few weeks ago, I decided to freeze them. Easy peasy.
Frozen pepper slices ready for the freezer. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
I placed slices of peppers and tomatoes on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, I slide the slices off of the cookie sheet into plastic bags put them in the freezer. The frozen peppers and tomatoes can be used in chili, soup and sauces.
For more information about preserving your food at home, check out Purdue Extension’s programs, http://bit.ly/1vovIHl
If you don’t want to mess with freezing, canning or dehydrating your vegetables, you can share your bounty with soup kitchens and food pantries around the city and state. Here are a few:
- Society of St. Vincent dePaul, www.svdpindy.org
- Gleaners Food Bank, www.gleaners.org
- Second Helpings, http://www.secondhelpings.org
- Julian Center Food Pantry, http://bit.ly/1xtGJJD
- Feeding America, http://bit.ly/1pBG0gt
- Food Pantries, www.foodpantries.org/ci/in-indianapolis.
The Rescue stink bug trap works, but it won’t catch all of these Asian invaders, which want to get into your house.
The brown marmorated stink bugs are back at this this year, working diligently to get into our homes. This is the second year these Asian imports have shown up in significant numbers in Indiana. They are brown bugs, about the size of a dime. They look like shields with legs and emit a cilantro-like smell when threatened or killed.
“I can’t tell you how many I’ve had in the house since last summer,” Julie Iverson, a Marion County Master Gardener, posted on Facebook. “One scared the living daylights out of me when I was reading in bed the other night. Yikes!”
On Sept. 20, I installed a Rescue brand trap, which works on pheromones to attract the sinkers. The trap covers draws from a 30-foot area. Normally, I’m not very enthused about traps, such as for Japanese beetles, because they are so effective. But bug experts I’ve talked to say the stink bug trap is slightly better because it pulls from a smaller area. Hopefully, it will get the bugs in your yard and not pull them in from the neighborhood. And though effective, the trap will never catch all of the stink bugs. I hate to think how many make it into my house. A while back, there were two sitting on the button to turn on my radio.
Vegetables and fruits
At the end of the season harvest tomatoes and peppers to finish ripening indoors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
If you haven’t already, start bringing in houseplants that spent the summer outdoors. Temperatures have fallen into the 50s some nights, and that’s the indicator that houseplants need to head back indoors.
Give them a shower with the hose to knock off any six-legged hitchhikers before bringing them in. If you have plants already indoors, consider segregating for a week or so the ones moving in to make sure there are no diseases or insects that will spread.
A few days ago, I snipped off all of the tomatoes that had started to turn creamy or white to finish ripening indoors. Then, I pulled the plants. A lot of gardeners toss their tomato plants in the trash rather than the compost pile because of concerns about diseases, such a verticillium wilt or a blight. If the compost pile does not get hot enough, diseases, insects and weed seeds may not be destroyed. Problems can be spread throughout the garden when incomplete compost is used in planting or as a mulch. Here’s a good EPA guide for composting at home: http://1.usa.gov/1rqJUOZ.
Concern about the spread of disease and insects holds for other plants in the garden, too. If your perennials have shown any sign of a problem, such as premature leaf browning or aphid damage, cut them back and remove any fallen leaves. If the plant seems to have the same problem every year, consider pulling it out and planting something else. Life is too short to fret about uncooperative, high maintenance, worrisome plants.
A blue green pumpkin sits amid mini cabbages for a fall planting. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
While you are at it, pot up a fall container. Garden centers have a decent selection of annuals that tolerate lower temperatures, including pansies, osteospermum, petunias and calibrachoa. These are good companions for ornamental cabbage, kale and grasses, Swiss chard, mums and asters. Add a pumpkin, gourd or ornamental corn for more seasonal flair.
September is the best month to fertilize the lawn. Everyone thinks it’s sometime in spring, but at that time, the grass is greening up and growing anyway because of warmer temperatures. Fertilizing in spring increases mowing duties.
Fertilizing the lawn in September, and again in November, encourages good root development, which translates into a thick, healthy lawn that naturally crowds out weeds. I use Ringer Lawn Restore, an organic fertilizer, but there are other products formulated for fall application.
Lastly, perform an act of hope and faith and plant a few spring blooming bulbs. You’ll be glad you did when the snow melts and tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers harken another growing season.
The American beautyberry serves as a food source for songbirds. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service
Noted horticulturist and author Stephanie Cohen blew into town a couple of weeks ago to talk about companion shrubs for her favorite plants, perennials.
Shrubs provide the texture and structure for perennials, which fade in and out with the season. Cohen, known affectionately as the Perennial Diva, discussed more than 50 woody plants that work well with perennials. Her talk was sponsored by the Indianapolis Museum of Art Horticultural Society.
Experienced gardeners know that shrubs are less maintenance than most perennials. “We’re a maturing population, so the (plant) choices we make are important,” said Cohen, a retired horticulture professor. Very few people are just doing perennials beds nowadays. Gardeners mix perennials with herbs, shrubs, annuals and containers. “This makes a more interesting garden.”
From Cohen’s list of plants, here are three of my favorites.
Dwarf fothergilla (F. gardenii) has white, lightly honey-scented, bottlebrush-like flowers in spring. In summer, the foliage has a blue green look, and in fall, the leaves turn a brilliant red or orange. This native is hardy throughout Indiana, dwarf fothergilla gets about 3 feet tall and wide. Does fine in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. This is a good companion for spring-blooming bulbs and perennials. “If I had only shrub to pick, this would be the one,” Cohen said.
The Eastern U.S. native fothergilla blooms in spring, making it a perfect companion for tulips, daffodils and other bulbs. © Kongxinzhu/iStockphoto.com
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana or C. dichotoma) sports beautiful clusters of purple berries on nicely arched branches this time of year. In summer, the shrub presents a graceful backdrop to perennials, waiting patiently for its time to shine. Beautyberry does best in full sun, but tolerates part shade. Size ranges from about 4 to 8 feet tall and wide, depending on the cultivar. Works well with summer-blooming and early fall-blooming perennials. The top part is killed by winter temperatures, so I usually cut beautyberry back close to the ground in spring. It quickly bounces back to bloom and berry.
A bumblebee burrows in for the night on a blue mist spirea. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Blue mist spirea or bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) is another late-season bloomer, presenting itself as a companion to asters and the fall-color of ornamental grasses. This is an aromatic shrub that attracts bees and butterflies to its tufts of blue flowers along slightly upright branches. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil. This is another shrub I cut back to the ground in early spring.
Cohen returns to Indiana Oct. 4
Cohen will be back in Indiana for Hendricks County Master Gardeners 2014 Adventures in Gardening. She’ll talk about Native Perennials: Sustainable, Colorful and Wonderful and Perennials from Spring to Fall.
You know how it is. You’re on a walk and you see a plant and wonder what it is. Or, one of the plants in the garden starts to look really bad. Is it an insect, disease or something else?
There’s help for these and other questions right on your smart phone. Here’s the rundown.
Purdue University has released a handful of helpful apps, each costing $0.99, available at iTunes or Android stores.
Purdue Perennial Doctor identifies insects and diseases of 100 of the most commonly planted perennials in the Midwest and eastern United States. You plug in the plant name from a list, say it’s a disease of flowers, leaves, stems or crown. The app pulls up what the likely cause might be.
For instance, say you have brown spots on peony leaves. You tell the app that it’s a leaf problem and it will show images of the diseases or insects that affect peony foliage and offer tips on what to do. Purdue Annual Doctor, Tree Doctor and Tomato Doctor work the same way.
Purdue’s Plant Diagnostic Sample Submission allows you to send a photo of the problem to the Pest Diagnostic Laboratory for identification and remedies. There’s an $11 submission fee. Submissions can be digital or you can mail a sample of the plant. For more details: www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/services.html.
Marion County Master Gardener AnswerLine is a free resource. You can call (317) 271-9292 with your questions. Master Gardener volunteers research the problem and call you back within a day or two.
Or, you can email your questions to email@example.com. Emailing gives you the opportunity to include photos to help Master Gardeners solve the problem. Make sure the photos are in focus and show enough of the plant to help identify it, such as leaves, flowers and branching characteristics. The photos also should be large enough, about 500KB so they can be expanded to help with identification.
Garden Compass is a free app to identify plants, pests and diseases. You take a photo of the problem, give as much information as possible, such as locale and what you observe. Provide a close-up image of the foliage, branching or other identifying characteristics. It’s frequently difficult to identify a plant or problem from a photo taken far away. The photo is sent to an expert in your region to help identify the problem and make suggestions on what to do.
A pink Art Nouveau grabs the center of attention amid Purple Haze dahlias.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Dahlias have never been a favorite of mine, mainly because they always seemed persnickety — prone to mildew, rot and spider mites to name a few challenges.
But this year, Longfield Gardens offered to send me some samples of these tender tubers, and, well, you can never have too many plants to try.
I was about a month late when I planted them up in containers in June. Even though July was cool, the plants took off and started their season of bloom. And did they ever. Maybe enough to change my mind.
For one thing, they are still going strong, long after other annuals have taken on a tired look. They likely will keep blooming until frost. And no sign of mildew, although a little damage from mites.
Dahlias come in many colors, forms and sizes, as large as dinner plates, which usually need staking, and others more diminutive.
Mine are border anemone dahlias, reaching 18 to 24 inches tall with flowers a bit bigger than a golf ball. Although not long-stemmed, they are tall enough for small cut flower arrangements.
When it comes to fall, we have two options: leave them in the ground and let nature take them, or dig the tubers for winter storage.
If digging, wait until the tops of dahlias are killed by frost. Discard any damaged tubers. Rinse the soil from the healthy tubers. Many dahlia experts recommend treating tubers with a fungicide, such as sulfur powder, before storing. Allow to dry, wrap in plastic or place in bags of wood shavings or similar material. Store the tubers out of light, where they won’t freeze or get so warm the they sprout.
In past years, I’ve moved dahlias, pot and all, to my basement for the winter, where they go dormant and require no water. In spring, I move the pot to my enclosed porch to acclimate the plants to more light and begin watering. They go outdoors in mid May.
In early April, take the tubers out of winter storage and plant in pots and place in a bright area indoors. Fertilize with a water-soluble product, according to label directions. In mid May, transplant dahlias outdoors in the garden or in containers. Dahlias do best in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.
For more information about growing dahlias, check out the American Dahlia Society. Elkhart has the only Indiana chapter.
Evergreen needle drop. Photo courtesy Un. of Nebraska Extension
Don’t be alarmed if evergreens, especially white pine and arborvitae, drop needles. All evergreens shed needles at some time, but not all at once like deciduous plants do.
- Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer to lawns at the rate of 1 pound actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Here’s more info on taking care of established lawns.
- Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlapped nursery stock. Mulch well and keep newly planted stock well watered until the ground freezes.
- Reseed bare spots or put in new lawns using a good quality seed mixture. Fall is the best time to do lawn repairs or put in a new one.
- Early fall is a good time to apply broadleaf weed killers. Follow label directions and spray on a calm day to prevent drift.
- Continue watering gardens, shrubs and trees if rainfall doesn’t reach an inch or more every week or 10 days. It’s important for plants to go into cold weather with adequate moisture.
- Prepare new beds now for planting next spring. The soil is usually easier to work in the falland fall-prepared beds allow for earlier plantings inspring. Beds may be mulched with compost, chopped leaves or other organic material during the winter, if desired. Avoid fall tilling when there’s a chance of soil erosion.
- Apply a layer of organic materials to garden beds in the fall. This includes rotted or composted manure, compost, chopped leaves or a slow-release organic fertilizer.
- Plant, transplant or divide peonies, daylilies, poppies, iris, phlox and other perennials.
- Order spring-flowering bulbs or purchase locally. Begin planting them at the end of the month. Planting too early can cause top growth to sprout before winter; allow four to six weeks for good root formation before ground freezes.
- Dig tender bulbs, such as cannas, caladiums, tuberous begonias and gladiolus, before frost. Air dry and store in dry peat moss or vermiculite.
- Cut flowers in the garden for drying and use in everlasting arrangements. Strawflower, statice, baby’s breath, celosia and other plants can be hung upside down in a well-ventilated dry area.
Vegetables and fruits
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Ornamental pear trees develop multiple trunks. These large branches are notorious for splitting and falling during storms. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
Fresh from a meeting of 400 member of Garden Writers Association in Pittsburgh, I thought I’d share what I learned in a class, Recognizing At-Risk Trees by Bob Polomski, a professor of forestry and urban forestry at Clemson University.
“I created this seven-point check up list to teach tree owners how to examine their trees for defects that are likely to lead to failure and possibly cause injury or damage,” he said. In tree talk, failure means a tree or limb falls.
A silver maple with cracks and crevices threatens two houses. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch
First, stand far enough away from your trees so you can look up into the canopies.
1. Dead or hanging branches larger than 2-inch diameter should be removed immediately to prevent them from falling and damage objects and people below.
A tree limb threatens a home. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
2. Is the tree leaning? “If you see exposed roots or a mound of soil near its base, the tree may be an imminent hazard that requires immediate action,” Polomski said.
Second, walk up to the tree and closely examine the branches and trunk.
3. Are there multiple trunks and leaders? Look for cracks or splits in branches that are co-dominant. Wishbone-like trunks of equal diameter may separate during wind and ice storms. Ornamental pears are prime examples of multiple trunks that split during storms.
4. Inspect where large branches meet the trunk. Look for cracks or splits. Remove the branches before a storm does, Polomski said.
Deep cracks in the trunk indicate serious risks and should be check by a certified arborist. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
5. Use a pencil or stick to measure the depth of cracks or splits. If the crack extends into the wood beyond the bark, call a certified arborist to inspect the tree.
6. Look for cavities, cankers, mushrooms and other malformations of the trunk. These indicate dead and decaying wood. Call a certified arborist to assess the condition and potential risk of the tree.
Be on the look out for cavities and the formation of fungus, which indicates dead or dying wood. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch
Third, inspect the base of the tree.
7. Look for damage from rodents, trimmers or mowers at the base of the tree. Is there a mound of soil or cracked dirt near the main root? Do roots encircle the tree? Consult with a certified arborist to help solve the problem.
Landscape work severed the roots on one side of a pine tree, causing it to lift out of the ground and threaten the nearby house. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts
Why does this matter?
The last thing you want is for a tree to fall on your house, the neighbor’s or crash into cars on the street. A common argument for putting off tree work is the expense. It’s a balance, that’s for sure, but it’s likely more expensive to repair the house, replace the car, pay hospital bills or worse, than regular basic tree care.
Lastly, always work with a certified arborist.
The larva of hibiscus sawfly turns hibiscus leaves into lace. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
In some Hoosier gardens, hibiscus leaves look like green lace.
Don’t blame the damage on Japanese beetles. The real culprit is the hibiscus sawfly larva, which has an appetite for other members of the mallow family, including hollyhock, okra and cotton. It does not seem to bother tropical hibiscus (H. rosa sinensis) or rose of Sharon (H. syriacus)
Research on this pest began with a question from a reader. She’d already identified the problem on her ‘Lord Baltimore’, ‘Anne Arundel’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ perennial hybrid hibiscus, and a native species (H. moscheutos). “Is there any treatment at this late date or should I just remove the plants? I am getting tired of them so removal would be no big loss,” said E.A. of Indianapolis.
That sent me to my go-to bug guy, Cliff Sadof, a professor of entomology at Purdue University Extension. Hibiscus sawflies repeatedly attack his hollyhocks, Sadof said. “They can kill a hollyhock and make hibiscus look awful,” eventually weakening the plant.
The tiny hibiscus sawfly deposits eggs inside leaf tissue. The larva emerges and devours leaf tissue, leaving only the veins. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
The 3/16-inch long black hibiscus sawfly burrows eggs just under the leaf tissue. Barely visible at first, well camouflaged baby larvae hatch and begin devouring leaf tissue. By the time the green larvae reach maturity at about ½ inch long, you’ve got lacy leaves.
With a 28-day life cycle, we get four generations of the pest. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant to catch the first generation. Knocking down the first group goes a long way at controlling hibiscus sawfly the rest of the summer, he said.
The professor recommends an insecticide that contains Spinosad. To protect bees and other pollinators, “do not spray it on the flowers and be sure to hit both sides of the leaves.”
Green stink bugs show up, too
Green stink bugs lay eggs on the underside of the leaves of weeds.
Photo courtesy John Obermeyer, Purdue Extension Entomology
If my email is any indicator, another insect, the native green stink bug, also has shown up in high numbers. The native green stink bug feeds on lots of plants, including tomatoes and soybeans, as well as ornamental trees and shrubs.
Knock green stink bug nymphs from plants to help reduce the numbers of plant-eating adults. Photo courtesy Cliff Sadof, Purdue Extension Entomology
“Usually green stink bugs show up here and there, 10 to 15 at the most on a plant. But if it’s the brown marmorated stink bug, multiply that by 10,” Sadof said of the exotic pest that showed up in big numbers in 2013.
Cultural controls include removing weeds where green stink bugs hide and lay eggs. A strong spray of the hose will knock them off plants and insecticidal soap also may be effective. Always read and follow label directions.
Extend the growing and harvest season by covering cool-season plants with row covers or heavy-duty plastic. The cover also can be used to get a jump-start on the growing season in spring. Photo courtesy Gardener’s Supply/gardeners.com
If you’re considering planting a fall crop of lettuce, spinach, broccoli and other cool-season vegetables, now is the time.
Some plants already growing in the garden, such as onions and cabbage, tolerate cold and might keep producing for several more weeks with just a little protection. Chard, lettuce, cauliflower and carrots can take a frost or two. Others, such as tomatoes, melon and pumpkins, will be damaged by light frosts.
Some garden centers will have transplants, but I’ve always had a hard time finding them. Call around to see who might have them.
Northern Indiana gardeners can sow seeds now for beets, carrots, leaf lettuce, turnips, spinach, chard, radish, peas and bush beans. Try to find transplants of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, cabbage and cauliflower. Gardeners in the middle and southern part of the state have a few more weeks to sow and transplant.
When planting fall season vegetables, mix a little compost or other organic matter to the soil. A lot of times, the soil is crusted over from the summer, so a little compost can work wonders in helping the new seeds and roots develop roots. The soil is a lot warmer now, too, than it was in spring, so you might need to water more frequently until plants get established.
There are several ways to protect these veggies as we move into cold weather.
Row covers are made out of spun plastic material and can protect plants to about 28 degrees. To increase protection even more, cover the row cover with a 6-mil plastic, which will get you protection to about 15 degrees. For even more, add several gallon jugs of water among the plants. The sun heats up the water during the day and the jugs slowly release the heat at night.
For quick protection when frost threatens, toss sheets, blankets or paper bags over tender crops, such as tomatoes and peppers. Do not use plastic unless you tent it so that it does not touch the plants. Condensation that forms and freezes under the plastic will damage plants.
For more info, download Purdue University’s The Fall Vegetable Garden.
There also are several good books on this topic:
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing)
The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch (Chelsea Green Publishing)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening by Delilah Smittle and Sheri Ann Richerson (Alpha)