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Worthy garden plants grow in city demonstration plots

 

At Garfield Park, vote until Sept. 30 for your favorite plant for the American Garden Award: Celosia Arrabona Red (front), Cuphea Sriracha Violet (rear) and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue (right). Not pictured is Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

At Garfield Park, vote until Sept. 30 for your favorite plant for the American Garden Award: Celosia Arrabona Red (front), Cuphea Sriracha Violet (rear) and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue (right). Not pictured is Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you are going to the Indiana State Fair this month, hop the shuttle or hike over to the north side of the fairgrounds to see the All-America Selections Display Garden.

This is the third year for the garden, which is redesigned and replanted each year by Marion County Master Gardeners to keep it fresh and interesting. The garden is slightly northeast of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources area.

You’ll see the newest All-America Selections flowers, vegetables and herbs, along with a collection of AAS winners from previous years.

“This year I don’t have all of the plants totaled, but the years of AAS range from 1935’s Straight 8 cucumber to the latest in 2014 for this year,” such as Mascotte, a dwarf French bean, said Steve Mayer, Purdue Marion County Extension horticulture educator.

Last year, Master Gardeners volunteered 1,601 hours in the display garden. Each week, volunteers weed, water, deadhead, mulch and tidy the garden. And, they harvest. Last year, 855 pounds of produce were donated to a local food bank, he said.

The All-America Selections Display Garden includes vegetables, flowers and herbs that should grow well in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

The All-America Selections Display Garden includes vegetables, flowers and herbs that should grow well in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Steve Mayer

Beside the plants, visitors will see various examples of raised and accessible planting beds, ways to cage or trellis tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and other vegetables, examples of how to protect plants from insects, such as squash bugs, and other techniques you can use at home.

Master Gardeners will be in the garden during the fair, too, ready to answer questions and give advice. In 2013, 13,778 people visited the garden during the fair.

On the other side of town at Garfield Park, visitors have a chance to vote for their favorite plants on display as part of the American Garden Award program. Designed to instill interest and excitement for gardening and new plants, it gives the public a chance to have their say. Garfield is one of 32 public gardens in North American participating in the six-year-old program.

Thomas Graham, a Garfield Park Master Garden, plants and maintains the beds, which this year, are on the west side of the Arts Center. Four plants are in the running: Cuphea Sriracha Violet, Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination Flame, Celosia Arrabona Red, and Petunia Sanguna Radiant Blue. Vote for your favorites with your smartphone or online. Voting ends Sept. 30.

August garden checklist

Indoors

  • (C) Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

    (C) Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

    Take cuttings from plants such as impatiens, coleus, geraniums and wax begonias to winter over indoors. These are called herbaceous cuttings. Root the cuttings in media such as vermiculite, perlite, peat moss or planting soil instead of water. Keep them moist.

  • Begin stocking up gardening supplies before they are removed for the season from retailers’ shelves. Pots, potting mixes, fertilizers and other products may be harder to find later in the season.

General landscape

  • Check trees and shrubs that have been planted in recent years for girdling damage by guy wires, burlap or ropes.
  • Keep newly established shrubs, trees, perennials, ground covers and grass well watered during dry spells. New plants should receive an inch of rain every seven to 10 days.
  • Don’t fertilize woody plants now. It stimulates green growth that will not have time to harden off before winter.
  • Bagworm on arborvitae. Photo courtesy Purdue University

    Bagworm on arborvitae. Photo courtesy Purdue University

    Hand prune and destroy bagworms, fall webworms and tent caterpillars.

  • Have soil tested for fall fertilization requirements if it has been three years or more since the last analysis.
  • Begin seeding new lawns or bare spots in established lawns in late August or, preferably, September. Fall is the best time to repair or start a new lawn.
  • Order spring-flowering bulbs for fall planting. Store in cool, dry place. Plant in late fall and early winter.
  • Sow seeds for biennials or transplant seedlings for blooms next year.
  • Spade or till soil for fall bulb planting; add a moderate amount of fertilizer.

Vegetables and fruits

  • Spinach 'El Grinta' (Spinacia oleracea). Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Spinach 'El Grinta' (Spinacia oleracea). Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Complete fall vegetable planting by directly sowing seeds of carrots, beets, kohlrabi, kale and snap beans early this month. Lettuce, spinach and green onions can be planted later in August and early September. Thin seedlings as required.

  • Harvest onions after tops yellow and fall. Cure them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area. The necks should be free of moisture when fully cured, usually about a week.
  • Harvest potatoes after the tops yellow and die. Cure before storing.
  • Pick beans, tomatoes, peppers and squash often to encourage more production.
  • Harvest watermelon when the underside ground spot turns from whitish to creamy yellow; the tendril closest to the melon turns brown and shrivels; the rind loses its gloss and looks dull; the melon produces a dull thud rather than a ringing sound when thumped.
  • Harvest sweet corn when kernels are plump and ooze a milky juice when punctured with a fingernail. If the liquid is watery, it’s too early; if doughy, it’s too late.
  • Pears are best ripened off the tree. Harvest pears as soon as color changes, usually from a dark green to a lighter green, and when the fruit is easily twisted and removed from the spur.
  • Prune out and destroy raspberry and blackberry canes that bore fruit this year. They will not produce fruit again and could harbor insects or disease.

Dianthus: A flower of the gods for everyone

Dash Crimson and Dash Magician sweet William have provided a small bouquet of flowers about every two weeks since May. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dash Crimson and Dash Magician sweet William have provided a small bouquet of flowers about every two weeks since May. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Since early May, I’ve been able to cut a small bouquet of sweet William about every two weeks. This is a plant I don’t grow very often because it does not like hot summers.

Two of the Dash series sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) from Ball Seed, came as trial plants early this spring. I potted up Dash Crimson and Dash Magician in a container and hoped for the best. Unlike a lot of times with trial plants, the best happened.

A 2014 introduction in the series is Dash Magician. Its flowers open white but age to various pinks. I have it planted with Dash Crimson, which is a deep blue-red.

Mildly fragrant, this sweet William gets about 15 inches tall, and unlike a lot of dianthus, the stems are able to hold the flowers upright. Dianthus, which includes carnation, generally has weak stems.

There are several types of dianthus, which means flower of the gods. The perennials include carnations and Cheddar pinks, such as Bath’s Pink and the 2006 Perennial Plant of the Year, Firewitch. Annuals include China pinks, such All-America Selections Corona Cherry, Melody Pink and Supra Purple. Then there is the biennial sweet William. Biennial seed germinates the first year to form a rosette, a cluster of leaves close to the ground. These rosettes are what bloom in year two. Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) is another example of a biennial.

A distinct advantage of the two I have from the Dash series is their long-flowering period. Usually by this time in a normal summer, the sweet Williams would be done, possibly returning a little later along with the cooler temps. Another advantage is that the plants bloom the first year when grown from seeds. No vernalization, or cold period, is needed. Seeds are available from Burpee.

Dianthus does best in full sun and well-drained soil. The incredibly fragrant, perennial Cheddar pinks are evergreen, holding on to their blue-green foliage all winter. These are tough plants. So tough you can walk on them.

Because the annual dianthus is very cold tolerant, it is not uncommon for it to winter over. This is not 100 percent reliable, so don’t plan your whole color scheme around this happening. Most of these annuals are sold as bedding plants, so they are inexpensive to replace.

Weeds offer architectural interest

mullein flower a morguefile0001452827250An Indianapolis reader wants to now the name of a plant that she’s sure is a weed. “I enjoyed watching this all summer last year. Could you provide me with the same of the weed? The middle stem grew so tall, I couldn’t believe it stayed upright,” wrote D.E.

She sent along a postage-stamp size photo of the plant, which even though a small image, was easy to identify.

The tall plant with greenish-blue, fuzzy leaves is common mullein (Verbascum thapsus). It is listed as an introduced biennial wildflower with an interesting lore. Some people call it a weed. Some say it’s an herbal medicine. And in the past, it served as a shoe insert and tobacco substitute. The incredibly soft leaves can get up 10 inches long and 5 inches wide.

 

The leaves of common mullein are extremely soft and have been used as inserts for shoes with holes in their soles. © Spiff/dollarphotoclub.com

The leaves of common mullein are extremely soft and have been used as inserts for shoes with holes in their soles. © Spiff/dollarphotoclub.com

It prefers a sunny location and generally roots along roadside, fields and areas of our garden where the soil has been disturbed.

The flowers are processed for an herbal cure-all for everything from respiratory problems to joint pain. The leaves have been used as bandages. Decades ago, poor people used the leaves to line their shoes that had holes in the soles.

Originally from Europe and Asia, the texture and form of mullein make it an interesting natural, architectural element in the garden.

There are hybrid ornamental verbascums that are grown here as a long-blooming tender perennial that’s terrific as a cut flower. Although some, such as the Southern Charm or Christo’s Yellow Lightning, are rated hardy to USDA Zone 5, they rarely winter over.

Beautiful purple fruit forms on pokeweed in late summer. Robins love it and act a little drunk as they imbibe. © Jennifer Handy/123rf.com

Beautiful purple fruit forms on pokeweed in late summer. Robins love it and act a little drunk as they imbibe.
© Jennifer Handy/123rf.com

Another weed with stunning architectural stature is pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which also can reach 10 feet high. An native perennial in the Eastern United States, young leaves are considered a delicacy in some cultures. Mature plants are poisonous to humans.

Birds, especially robins, love the purple fruit that forms as clumps along the plant in mid to late summer. As the season progresses, the hollow stem turns purple, adding even more interest in the garden.

Pokeweed prefers full sun and moist, rich soil, but is quite tolerant of part shade. Birds frequently deposit seeds in our garden beds. ‘Silverstein’ is a variegated cultivar of pokeweed, with creamy-green leaves on 4 to 6 foot tall plants with violet pink fruit.

 

Get plants ready for your vacation

Consider wicking water into smaller pots while you are on vacations. (C) Kate Copsey

If you’re getting ready to leave the landscape for a few weeks of summer vacation, here are some things you can do to ensure the garden looks decent when you return.

Vegetables

  • Deeply water the vegetable garden a day or two before you leave. Depending on how long you will be away, you might want to ask a neighbor or friend to water the garden once a week.
  • Harvest everything that’s ripe or nearly ripe. Tomatoes can be picked green when a white star forms on the bottom of the fruit. Place the tomatoes in a cool, dry place, out of direct light, such as your kitchen counter. Do not put in the refrigerator.
  • Share the produce with your neighbor or friend who will be watching your house while you are away. Allow the caretaker to pick whatever is ripe.

Flowers

  • If you have veggies, herbs or flowers growing in containers, cluster the pots to make it easier for someone to water. Consider moving the containers to an area that gets dappled or east sun for the time you are away. Moving the pots out of full sun will reduce the watering needs.
  • Deeply water annuals and perennials, especially if there’s been no rain.
  • Cut back perennials and annuals by one-third to one-half. This reduces the amount of top growth the plant needs to support. The plants will bounce back within a couple of weeks.
  • Consider a reservoir of water and wick system.

“The wick really should be in place before you plant, let alone go on vacation, but, if you didn’t think that far ahead, you can improvise,” said Kate Copsey, who has gardened in Indiana, Ohio, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia and now, New Jersey.

“Assuming you cannot lift and move the container you will need a decent- sized receptacle filled with water, preferably covered to reduce evaporation,” said Copsey, a Master Gardener and garden writer. Soak a few strips of an old towel in the water. Poke one end of the towel in the container as close to the plant as possible. Place the other end in the water.

Make sure the wicks reach the bottom of the receptacle so that they still work as the water level goes down, she said. “The wick absorbs water from the bucket and transfers it to dry soil in the container.”

You also could do this wicking technique with several plants ringed around a child’s swimming pool or other large reservoir.

The trouble with roses 2

Oso Easy Cherry Pie rose. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Oso Easy Cherry Pie rose. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

As rose troubles continue to plague gardeners, we will look this week at a few more common problems. Last week, we covered black spot, anthracnose, rose mosaic virus and rose slugs.

Japanese beetles tend to congregate on the flowers, buds and leaves of roses and hundreds of other plants. The beetles skeletonize the leaves. Photo courtesy Kansas State University Extension

Japanese beetles tend to congregate on the flowers, buds and leaves of roses and hundreds of other plants. The beetles skeletonize the leaves. Photo courtesy Kansas State University Extension

Japanese beetles. Pretty soon, it will Japanese beetle season, that is if any of the pupae survived the winter to emerge as the attractive, green metal bugs.

These bugs skeletonize the foliage of roses and 400 other types of plants. They also dine on flower petals. Frequently, systemic insecticides are recommended to control Japanese beetles, but these products are nonselective, meaning they kill bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects along with bugs we don’t want. Try these methods instead:

  • Remove any damaged leaves and flowers and soon as you notice them. Holey leaves and chewed petals are like neon signs and attract more beetles to the feast.
  • Spray the plants with a strong stream of water to knock off the beetles.
  • In the mornings, knock the beetles into a bucket of soapy water and dispose.
  • When startled, the beetles fall to the ground. Take advantage of this by placing newspapers or cloth under the roses and shake the plants. Slide the bugs from the paper or cloth into a bucket of soapy water and dispose.

 

Although not deadly, powdery mildew weakens a plant, making it susceptible to other diseases or insects.  Photo courtesy University of Kentucky Extension

Although not deadly, powdery mildew weakens a plant, making it susceptible to other diseases or insects. Photo courtesy University of Kentucky Extension

Powdery mildew. Besides roses, a lot of plants get this fungus disease, including lilac and garden phlox, with some being more susceptible than others. This disease creates a whitish or grayish powdery coating on the foliage, stem and flower buds. Although not deadly, it is unsightly and may weaken the plant.

To control this disease, plant roses in full sun and with good air circulation. Once mildew hits, there’s nothing that will get rid of it. Fungicides may keep the disease from spreading to healthy leaves. Remember that fungicides are particularly deadly to bees, so always follow the label directions.

Webs on plants are another sign of possible spider mite infestation. Yellow or orange stippled leaves are another common symptom. © Dreamstime.com/Taviphoto

Webs on plants are another sign of possible spider mite infestation. Yellow or orange stippled leaves are another common symptom.
© Dreamstime.com/Taviphoto

Spider mites. Spider mites cause tiny orange, white or cream dots on the leaves, called stippling. Mites may show up when it’s hot and dry. Knock them off with a strong spray of water from the hose.

A hard spray from the hose is a quick and easy way to knock aphids off of roses and other plants without the need for insecticides. © Dreamstime.com/Armando Frazao

A hard spray from the hose is a quick and easy way to knock aphids off of roses and other plants without the need for insecticides. © Dreamstime.com/Armando Frazao

Aphids. Sometimes called plant lice, these slow moving insects suck the life out of plants, causing distorted leaves and flowers. Aphids can be lots of different colors and are easy to see. Control with a hard spray of water from the hose. There are lots of predatory insects, such as lady beetles, that feed on aphids, so a non-selective insecticide is not usually recommended.

Roses may have other problems, so look for disease- and insect-resistant plants and know what you have before you treat it. And remember, a few blemishes are nothing to worry about. Mother Nature is not perfect, either.

July garden checklist

Indoors

  • For best selection, order spring-flowering bulbs for fall planting. Many bulb merchants will wait to ship the bulbs until closer to planting time, which usually is late fall and early winter. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

    For best selection, order spring-flowering bulbs for fall planting. Many bulb merchants will wait to ship the bulbs until closer to planting time, which usually is late fall and early winter. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

    Keep an eye on houseplants that have been set outdoors to make sure they are watered properly. Hot summer breezes can quickly dry them out.

  • Propagate houseplants by taking cuttings from vigorously growing plants. Root in moistened growing medium, such as perlite, vermiculite or soilless mixes. Keep moist, enclosed in plastic and out of direct sunlight until rooted. The amount of time it takes to root varies according to plant and growing conditions.

General landscape

  • Supplement rainfall to newly planted nursery stock, gardens and lawns if needed to supply 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water each week or 10 days.
  • Container-grown plants can be planted anytime, but make sure new stock is well watered.
  • Keep grass at 3 ½ to 4 inches tall to conserve moisture.
  • Don’t remove clippings from the lawn unless grass is excessively tall. Clippings return nutrients to the soil and do not contribute to thatch buildup.
  • Apply mulch around young plants and in flower and vegetable gardens to conserve soil moisture and control weeds. Do not allow mulch to touch stems or trunks.
  • Remove water sprouts (from trunk) and suckers (sprouts from roots) on fruit trees, including crabapples and other ornamental trees. See illustration below.
  • Illustration courtesy www.tlcfortrees.com

    Illustration courtesy www.tlcfortrees.com

    Pinch off faded rose blossoms and other flowers. Deadheading, or picking off the faded flowers of many perennials and annuals keeps them blooming longer and tidies up the plants.

  • To rejuvenate summer-stressed plants, cut annuals and perennials back by about one-half, water well and apply an application of water soluble fertilizer.

Vegetables and fruits

  • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and ornamental kale and cabbage for late summer plantings and fall harvest.
  • Harvest tomatoes, squash, okra, peppers, beans and cucumbers frequently to encourage further production.
  • Complete succession planting of bush beans and sweet corn.
  • Standard sweet corn is at its peak for only a day or so. The super sweet corn maintains its peak quality longer. Harvest when silks begin to dry and kernels exude a milky, rather than watery or doughy juice when punctured.
  • Broccoli seedlings. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Broccoli seedlings. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Make sure potato tubers, carrot shoulders and onion bulbs are covered with soil to prevent development of green color and off flavors. Apply mulch to keep them covered.

  • Allow blossoms on newly planted strawberries to develop for a fall crop.
  • Prop up fruit tree branches that are loaded heavily with fruit.
  • Harvest raspberries when fully colored and easily separated from stem. After harvest, prune out fruiting canes.

The trouble with roses 1

Double Pink Knock Out Rose. Photo courtesy Star Roses

Double Pink Knock Out Rose. Photo courtesy Star Roses

Questions about sick roses continue to fill my inbox and the aisles of  garden centers.

Many roses, including the tough-as-nails Knock Outs, did not rebound after our brutal winter. Several of those that did make it through don’t look great.

There’s some thinking that the roots of the plants were damaged by the severe season. They are no longer able to support adequately the top growth, rendering the plants weak and susceptible to insects and diseases.

Cutting the roses back hard – close to the ground – is what we did in spring, but if the plants still are not thriving, consider cutting back again. This reduces the top growth and allows the roots to heal and grow. Fertilizing isn’t necessary, but a good dose of compost around the base of the plant will help.

In the first of a two-parts, here are some common problems we’re seeing:

Rose slug damage on leaves. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Rose slug damage on leaves. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Rose slugs. These are the larvae of the rose sawfly. They are a pale green and are usually present in spring and as they dine, they give roses a stained-glass look.

Pear slugs. The damage from these larvae is similar to rose slugs, but appears in summer.

These insects can defoliate roses and give the plant a burned look. Be vigilant about inspecting the undersides of leaves. Remove any larvae or use a strong spray from a hose to knock them off.

Rose mosaic virus leaves tracks in the leaves, eventually turning they yellow from a lack of chlorosis. Photo courtesy Kansas State University Extension

Rose mosaic virus leaves tracks in the leaves, eventually turning them yellow from a lack of chlorophyll. Photo courtesy Kansas State University Extension

Rose mosaic. This virus can be spread by insects as they munch and move among the plants. We can spread it, too, with tools that are not cleaned with a 10 percent bleach solution after each use on a sick plant. The disease stunts the growth of roses and causes mottled leaves, which lose their green becoming chlorotic.

Once a rose is infected, you can remove affected branches, but the disease remains in the plant. Eventually, the rose will be weakened and likely will die. Consider removing and destroying affected plants to keep the disease from spreading to healthy roses.

Black spot is the most common disease on roses. Eventually, it can weaken and kill the plant. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Black spot is the most common disease on roses. Eventually, it can weaken and kill the plant. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Leaf spots. Roses can be affected by two different leaf spots: black spot and spot anthracnose. Black spot, which appear on the top of the leaf, is probably the most common disease on roses. Eventually, the leaves turn yellow and drop. This disease weakens the plant.

Anthracnose is an opportunistic disease that may show up in hot weather. Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Anthracnose is an opportunistic disease that may show up in hot weather.
Photo courtesy Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Lab

Anthracnose spots may show up in really hot weather. The spots are fuzzy. Leaves turn yellow and drop off.

Make sure that any pesticide you select is labeled for the problem you have.

Next week, we’ll look at a few other common rose problems.

Patriotic pop for pots

A pot of Lanai Red verbena, Whirlwind White fan flower, white lantana and Angleface Blue angelonia herald the patriotic hues of the Fourth of July. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A pot of Lanai Red verbena, Whirlwind White fan flower, white lantana and Angleface Blue angelonia herald the patriotic hues of the Fourth of July.
© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you are looking for a patriotic pop of blooms for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, here are some suggestions.

First, go with premium annuals. These are usually in 4-inch (or larger) pots and cost considerably more than bedding plants. But premium annuals give you a lot of bang for your buck because they already have good size and maturity, making them showy right from the start.

Garden centers will stop selling bedding plants soon, if they haven’t already. Growers are no longer producing these because once they reach a certain size, it’s too hard to keep marigolds, petunias, vinca, salvia and other bedding plants alive in those tiny four- or six-pack plastic trays.

As the season progresses, even the premium annuals start to look a little scraggly. Because they are in larger pots, the plants can can be cut back, fertilized and allowed to rest for a couple of weeks before they start to rebloom, making them worthy of space on the garden centers’ tables and your deck or patio. Rehabbed plants will have a tighter growth habit, too, with more flowers. A premium annual costs $4.50 to $5 each.

Keep in mind the components of a container. Thriller is the focal point or dramatic plant. Fillers are mounded plants that take up space, usually at a mid-level in the pot. Spillers cascade over the side of the pot.

So, what would be good choices for your red, white and blue patriotic pot? Here are some suggestions of annuals for full to part sun locations.

Red

  • Tall red salvias (S. splendens) work well as a centerpiece in a container
  • Red geraniums serve as fillers and red petunias, verbenas are fillers and spillers.

White

  • Victoria White mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) can be used as a centerpiece plant. These get 15 to 18 inches tall and bloom all summer.
  • White verbena, petunia, lantana, fan flower (Scaevola) all have mounded, trailing habits. Diamond Frost euphorbia fills the pot with tiny starts.

Blue

  • Royal Velvet Supertunia, which is probably the best selling petunia on the market. The deep purple-blue flowers didn’t lose their scent during the hybridizing process, either.
  • Victoria Blue mealycup sage adds nice height as a centerpiece in pots.
  • Angelface Blue angelonia looks like 18-inch tall stalks of orchids. Use as a centerpiece or thriller in a pot.

Cannas add tropical flair to the Midwest garden

‘Maui Sunset’ canna, under planted with ‘Kong’ coleus, strikes a dramatic pose in the garden. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Maui Sunset’ canna, under planted with ‘Kong’ coleus, strikes a dramatic pose in the garden.
© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

When I was a little girl, I’d trek down the alley to my great grandmother’s house a block away. Her side yard was a gardener’s bounty, with a circle of tall red cannas at the center. Whenever I see these stately plants, I think of her and her garden.

Although cannas (Canna) are an old-fashion flower, they provide a trendy, tropical feel to the garden, deck, patio, porch or balcony. Ranging in height from about 2 to 6 feet, they are as dramatic in the ground as they are in pots.

A canna is a rhizome, and can be found already growing in pots in garden centers this time of year. Or, rhizomes can be purchased at garden centers in early spring in a package or through online or mail order retailers. Pot these up in March to get the growing process started before transplanting outdoors in mid to late May.

Look for virus-free rhizomes and plants. For the last 10 years, cannas have been troubled by one of three viruses, spread, the experts say, by aphids. The virus can cause malformed leaves or flowers and create speckles or streaks in the foliage. When buying canna plants, make sure they are symptom free.

The fact that cannas have red, yellow, orange, pink, off-white or speckled flowers and that hummingbirds like the blooms is sort of a bonus. To many, the real beauty of the plant is the lush foliage. Depending on which cultivar you have, the leaves will be green, purple, golden or striped.

Cannas are tough plants and do best when planted in full sun, but are quite tolerant of shadier locations. They can take it wet or dry, but prefer soil that is well drained and evenly moist. Cannas also can be planted or grown in pots in the margin or edge of ponds or water gardens. The blue-green leafed cannas seem best suited for pond planting.

There’s nothing quite like a canna leaf striped with green, red, purple or yellow, backlit by the late afternoon sun. It just screams tropics. Flowers and leaves can be cut for indoor arrangements.

After the tops are killed by cold temperatures, remove the foliage, dig and dry the rhizome and store in a cool, dry place. Pot up next spring for another season of beauty.