January 2017

Bush clover removal and pruning a shrub

Bush clover has cropped up on lists of invasive plants. (Lespedeza). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Bush clover has cropped up on lists of invasive plants. (Lespedeza). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Thanks to the warmer than normal fall, the end-of-season landscape cleanup is still under way for a lot of us.

As we traipse around, cutting back hosta or pulling tomatoes, it’s a great opportunity to think tough love – what is working and what isn’t.

Although I really like that ‘Pink Fountain’ bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii) blooms in late summer, it’s just too big. It is totally out of scale, dwarfing its neighboring perennials. This perennial is more like a shrub at about 4 foot tall and wide. It takes up a lot of space in my small yard for a late-season bloom. Bush clover is in the pea family, which that really puts down roots, so getting it out will be laborious.

Add to that, bush clover has crept up on several lists of invasive species. Ellen Jacquart of the Nature Conservancy and chairwoman of Indiana’s Invasive Plant Species Assessment Working Group. It’s planted along I-69, Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area near Howe, Indiana, other places and is spreading, she said.

The plant was heavily promoted by Division of Fish and Wildlife as good for upland birds, but now it’s considered invasive. Sterile varieties of bush clover may not be a problem, she said.

I’ve also decided to pull out some no-name ordinary hostas and replace them with some new, variegated yellow-green varieties to trial. While I’m at it, I’m mixing in some snowdrops (Galanthus spp.). I’ve also marked three ‘Halcyon’ hostas to move, because they have outgrown their space. I really need to learn to believe the plant tags.

The Judd viburnum (V. x ‘Juddii’), which I planted 20 years ago, is fully grown and with a beautiful form, fragrance and fall color. I’m wrestling with beginning a rejuvenation pruning in spring or pulling it out. Rejuvenation pruning removes one-third of the oldest and largest branches from the base of the shrub in year one, another third in year two and the final third in year three.

The process opens up the plants and reins in the size a bit. For more information about this, check out Purdue University Extension’s free download, “Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs”

Winter is for the birds

Goldfinches and many other birds appreciate a bird bath even in winter. (C) Al Mueller/Fotolia

Goldfinches and many other birds appreciate a bird bath even in winter. (C) Al Mueller/Fotolia

Although I leave my bird feeders up year-round, some people only put them out for winter.

And like a lot of us, perhaps you’ve noticed some birds have turned up their beaks at Niger thistle, that expensive black seed, long the must-have for sparrows, chickadees, finches, siskins, nut hatches and other small birds.

Initially, I thought perhaps the thistle seed was stale, so I’d purchase new. Still the seed was barely touched.

John Schaust, chief naturalist at the Indianapolis-based Wild Birds Unlimited Inc., credits better selections in our landscapes. The more we plant native plants, such as coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), salvia, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) and viburnums, the less interest the birds have in bird feeder fodder.

Niger thistle has very little oil compared to sunflower, safflower and other seeds, he said.

Bird feeding is a $3 billion-plus industry, and I contribute my share. I have two feeders for sunflower, one for safflower, one for thistle, one each for peanuts (in shells and out), one for dried fruits and nuts, and two for suet. For the two finch feeders, I’ve switched to mixed finch food, which the birds seem to eat. I have four bird baths in summer and two in winter, which are heated. A water source is the best way to attract birds to your yard, regardless of whether you feed them.

There are all kinds of rules about where to put feeders, such as about 3 feet away from a window, and 10 feet from trees so squirrels and chipmunks can’t jump to get the food. There also are recommendations for baffles to keep squirrels, chipmunks and other wildlife from climbing the poles to get to the food. It actually takes an arsenal of several impediments to ensure birds get their due. Some of these are difficult to accomplish in many urban landscapes, and in suburban areas, deer regularly nibble at feeders. I just keep yelling “all things in moderation.”



Death to DST. Long live morning!


I’m so glad we’ve seen the end of Daylight Saving Time in Indiana for a few months. It’s light at 7 a.m. What a concept!

I guess it’s really not DST and changing the clocks back and forth as much as the time zone we are in. Indiana lies west of the line of demarcation between Eastern and Central time zones. The dividing line is in Ohio. Because we are beyond the western edge of this line, daylight doesn’t really take hold until about 8 a.m. when it’s DST, and night stays lit up until 9:30 or 10 p.m. We lose our mornings, which is terrible for an a.m. person.

Originally posted Nov. 1, 2009.

See previous posts about this topic:

Disruptions with Daylight Saving Time

I Hate Daylight Saving Time

Hardy cyclamen: Trying something new

Wild, hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) does well in a shady to partly sunny area. (C) Elizabeth Bakusov/

Wild, hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) does well in a shady to partly sunny area. (C) Elizabeth Bakusov/

The trees have finally started to drop their leaves for fall and much of the color of the season now lays on the ground.

The best tool for dealing with leaves is a mulching mower. Mulched leaves are about the best soil amendment you can have and its free. All you have to do is mow the leaves, leaving the little bits on the lawn. The bits decompose and add trace amounts of nutrients to the soil.

All over my neighborhood, the leaf blowers are in full force. A leaf blower is a great tool for moving leaves into the flower beds as natural mulch and nature’s No. 1 soil amendment. The leaves help insulate perennials and as they decompose, add nutrients to the soil.

Volunteers are planting 150,000 spring bulbs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the largest bulb displays in the IMA history. Photo courtesy Irvin Etienne

Volunteers and members of the hort department are planting 150,000 spring bulbs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the largest bulb display in IMA history. Photo courtesy Irvin Etienne

And, there’s still plenty of time to get spring-blooming bulbs planted. Over the last few weeks, hundreds of volunteers have been planting 150,000 tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari and other spring bulbs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s called Bulbapalooza and is the largest planting of spring bulbs in the history of the IMA. Just think how gorgeous the grounds will be next spring.

Volunteers will get a pass that allows free entry to visit the grounds next spring so they can see their handiwork.

This year, I’m planting something new in my yard, a hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium). We’re probably all familiar with the florist cyclamen (C. persicum), a seed-grown plant found around Easter.

The flowers of hardy and florist cyclamen look similar as do the leaves. But where one is grown as a houseplant, the hardy cyclamen is a late summer bloomer in the garden. It will spread and naturalize a bit and with its mottled leaves, act as a little ground cover throughout the summer.

These are small plants, only about 6 inches tall, with about a 12 inch spread, so they will have to go someplace where they won’t get overshadowed by their companions. Grow hardy cyclamen in part shade. Mine are going along the edge of some hosta.

The cyclamen fulfills my mission to try something new, so I’m looking forward to

November garden checklist


  • Houseplant growth will slow so apply less fertilizer and water.
  • Move plants closer to windows or to sunnier exposures if plants are dropping leaves.
  • Potted hyacinth.

    Potted hyacinth.

    Pot up spring-flowering bulbs with tips exposed to force blooms indoors. Moisten soil and refrigerate 10 to 13 weeks. Transfer to a cool sunny location and allow an additional three to four weeks for blooming.

  • Continue to keep poinsettias in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily until early December or until red bracts begin to show. For more information, download Purdue University’s The Poinsettia.

General Landscape

  • Mow lawn as needed.
  • Rake or shred large fallen leaves and compost them with other lawn and garden debris. For more information about creating a compost pile, download the pamphlet: Making Compost From Yard Waste from Virginia Tech.

    Toss plant debris from fall cleanup into the compost heap. (C) Fotolia

    Toss plant debris from fall cleanup into the compost heap. (C) Fotolia

  • 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.
  • Erect physical barriers around woody plants and trees if rabbits, rodents or deer are a problem. Metal mesh (1/4-inch) hardware cloth is good for this. Pull mulch away from trunks to discourage rodents from making a winter home there.
  • Remove dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs.
  • November is the second best month to fertilize the lawn with natural products. Late fall fertilizing with products keeps the lawn green going into winter and boosts encourages it to green up earlier inspring. Always read and follow the label directions of the natural product you use. For more information, visit
  • 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.
  • Continue planting container grown and balled-and-burlapped plants as long asground can be worked and weather permits. Mulch well. Keep watering new plantings until ground freezes.
  • Protect graft union on rose bushes by mounding soil around the plants and adding mulch on top. Wait until after several killing frosts so that plants will be dormant. Plants covered too early may be smothered. Don’t use soil from around the plant. Instead, buy bags of top soil and use that.
  • live-christmas-tree-istock_000002559385Prepare hole if you plan to use a “live” Christmas tree (one that is balled-and-burlapped). Mulch the area heavily to prevent freezing or dig the hole and put the fill in a protected area that won’t freeze, such as a garage or basement. For details, check out Purdue’s Living Christmas Trees for the Holidays and Beyond.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Continue harvesting vegetables that have not been killed by frost.
  • Clean up and discard fallen leaves and fruit around plants to reduce disease carrier over.


Persimmons predict winter and make delicious cocktails


Some people use persimmon seeds to predict the winter. Photo courtesy Chris Wilhoite/

Some people use persimmon seeds to predict the winter. Photo courtesy Chris Wilhoite/

Some of us look to woolly worms to predict the upcoming winter and some of us rely on persimmon seeds.

Chris Wilhoite, co-owner of Soules Garden on Indianapolis’ south side, has been splitting American persimmon seeds (Diospyros virginiana) for about five years to see what they bode for winter. “I got interested because there are a couple of trees on the property,” he said. “I tried to eat one before it was ripe. I think they get sweeter after a frost or two. I tried one in early fall… super sour and made me pucker up.”

He learned of the folklore associated with the seeds and their prognostication of the type of winter we’ll have. The “Old Farmer’s Almanac” said if the seed is spoon-shaped, it means lots of heavy, wet snow. If it’s fork-shaped, the winter will be mild and the snow will be powdery. If the seeds look like a knife, “expect to be cut by icy, cutting winds,” the magazine reports.

“We actually do not harvest them,” Wilhoite said. “The raccoons eat them—just a guess. It would be nice to harvest and make pudding or whatever, but there is just way too much going on” with closing the nursery for the season. How reliable are the seeds’ predictions? “I sort of forget to look back and see how close they were to predicting. I think I’ll start a journal or something from now on,” he said.

Forager Ellen Zachos, author of the soon-to-be-published Wildcrafted Cocktails, suggests making a frozen persimmon margarita. You can use fresh persimmon pulp or frozen (Tuttle Orchards in Greenfield, Indiana, has frozen pulp). Here is her recipe.

Persimmon margarita. (C) Ellen Zachos

Frozen persimmon margarita. (C) Ellen Zachos

Frozen Persimmon Margarita

To rim the glass, combine 1 tablespoon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon ground, dried spicebush berries in a small bowl, and mix well. Transfer to a saucer. (Skip the spicebush berries if you don’t have on hand.)

Pour a tablespoon of lime juice into another saucer and dip the rim of a chilled glass in the juice. Then dip the rim in the sugar and salt blend, and set the glass aside.


2 ounces smooth persimmon purée

1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon simple syrup

1 cup ice cubes

1 lime wedge, for garnish

Combine the persimmon purée, tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, simple syrup and ice cubes in a blender. Blend until the texture is thick and smooth. Pour into the rimmed glass and garnish with a wedge of lime.


FFA students visit arborist and landscaper to explore career options

A woman sleeps in Greek mythology’s Vale of Enna, created by Brower/Jacques Design of Greenfield, Indiana, for the 2016 Indiana Flower & Patio Show. The show was sold recently to Marketplace Events, the producer of the Indianapolis Home Show. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A woman sleeps in Greek mythology’s Vale of Enna, created by Brower/Jacques Design of Greenfield, Indiana, for the 2016 Indiana Flower & Patio Show. The show was sold recently to Marketplace Events, the producer of the Indianapolis Home Show. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

There’s a saying in the green industry that we need to start them young if we want horticulturists, arborists, plant breeders and growers, garden center managers, landscapers and others in the future. One tact is to expose them to various aspects of the industry through educational experience.

This past week, about 60,000 young people were in town for the National FFA Convention, which returned to Indianapolis after a three-year-stint in Louisville, Kentucky.

FFA students examine the safety harness worn by arborists. Photo courtesy Breidenbach

FFA students at Vine and Branch  examine the safety harness worn by arborists. Photo courtesy Breidenbach

Fifty FFA students will spend their Career Path Tour at Vine & Branch and Salsbery Brothers Landscaping, two neighboring Carmel companies near 146th Street and Gray Road.

The companies will showcase arboriculture and horticulture, said Scott, a certified consulting arborist and owner of Vine & Branch, a tree service company.

At Vine & Branch, the students suited up in personal protective gear and worked with equipment, participated in safety demonstrations and observed a portable milling machine. They also were to see the aerial rescue of Clay, the Carmel Fire Department’s mannequin wearing a Vine & Branch uniform, from a 40-foot tree, Scott said.

FFA students visited Salsbery Garden Center and Nursery to learn about landscaping, plants and design. Photo courtesy Breidenbach

FFA students visited Salsbery Brothers Landscaping to learn about landscaping, plants and design. Photo courtesy Breidenbach

At Salsbery, students toured the garden center and nursery, discussed irrigation methods and perused landscape architect drawings.

Students received a free membership in the International Society of Arboriculture, and a gear bag stuffed with information about professional tree care and landscaping organizations and related programs at Purdue and other universities.

Flower & Patio Show Sold

Marketplace Events North America, producer of the Indianapolis Home Show and other similar exhibitions throughout the country, has purchased HSI Show Productions, owner of the Indiana Flower & Patio Show and the Christmas Gift and Hobby Show.

The Indiana Flower & Patio show has been produced since 1958, and the Christmas Gift and Hobby show since 1949.

The purchase was announced Oct. 5, 2016. At the same time, Marketplace Events said it also purchased three home shows in Richmond, Virginia, bringing its portfolio to 51 shows, including 47 consumer home shows and four holiday shows.

HSI and Marketplace Events have worked together on shows for a long time in Indianapolis and share many of the same customers and exhibitors, said Brent Keller, Marketplace Events’ vice president. None of the HSI staff made the transition.

Mums for the season

Use mums as a centerpiece in a pot and enjoy them for the seasons. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Use mums as a centerpiece in a pot and enjoy them for the seasons. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A common question in garden centers this time of year is “will this mum come back next year?”

As with a lot in Mother Nature, the answer is “that depends.”

The mums we buy this time of year are grown as a seasonal plant, just like pansies are in spring.

If planted in a pot, just enjoy the for the season, then compost it. If the mum is newly planted in the ground, don’t cut it back until spring when you see new growth developing at the base of the plant. Cut back again a time or two between then and early July to keep the mum from getting too tall and lanky.

The best time to buy mums as perennials is spring, which is when they are hard to find at garden centers. You might consider buy mums in spring through online retailers.

Summer bulbs

October is the month we dig up the tender or tropical bulbs, such as dahlia, canna and eucomis. All of my tender bulbs are in pots, so I usually cart them – pots and all – to the basement for the winter.

Or you can remove the bulbs and tubers from the soil, brush them off and allow them to dry. Store in a cool dry place where they won’t freeze or get too warm and sprout. You can store them in mesh bags or a box with peat moss, wood shavings or shredded newspaper. Check them periodically and remove any bulb or tuber that is soft or damaged.

Fall cleanup

I’m ready to pull all of the vegetable plants out of the garden. I’ll pick any tomatoes with color or green, allow them to ripen at room temperature, slice, then freeze them. Leave the stem on the tomato during the indoor ripening process.

Unplanted hardy plants

I confess to having several perennials and shrubs that spent the summer – some of them, their second summer – in a nursery pot. My goal yet this fall is to get them planted in the bed where I pulled out the vegetables, and mulch them with shredded leaves. I will plant as many of them as possible in a more permanent location and the rest will go in the ground in spring. I remind myself the road to you know where is paved with good intentions.

Cross-striped cabbage worm makes presence known

Cross-stripped cabbage worm dines on kale. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Cross-stripped cabbage worm dines on kale. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A caterpillar I didn’t recognize decided my kale was mighty tasty. In a matter of a couple of weeks a bluish-yellow worm devoured everything but the stems and ribs of the leaves.

So I did what a lot of people do. Googled it. I typed in kale blue yellow worm and up came cross-striped cabbageworm, technically a larva. Amazing how that works!

I clicked on several links and most of what I found were southern references to this cabbageworm, such as info from Clemson University. Made me wonder if it was a newer pest in the Midwest, so I sent a few photos to Purdue University’s Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory to confirm the identification. I also asked about rice-like items that adhered to the leaves, wondering if they were the eggs of parasitic wasps, natural predators of certain caterpillars.

“These are indeed the cross-striped cabbageworm. We see them fairly commonly,” said Purdue entomologist Rick Foster.

The more familiar white cabbage moth flits from cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, mustards and other members of the Brassica family depositing a few eggs at each stop. The brown cabbage moth of the cross-striped cabbageworm lays its eggs on a single plant. The result is a plant being devastated, such as the one in the photo I submitted, he said.

The cross-striped cabbage worm moth deposits eggs on one plant. When the larvae hatch, they devour the plant. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The cross-striped cabbage worm moth deposits eggs on one plant. When the larvae hatch, they devour the plant. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

“The cocoons are wasp parasites, (which) probably have dropped off the larvae,” Foster said. The wasp eggs hatch and the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out.

I donned gloves and picked off the cross-striped cabbageworms and squished them. The hope was to reduce their numbers before I planted up fall pots with ornamental cabbage and kale.

The Purdue lab is a tremendous resource for Indiana gardeners. You can mail whole plants, roots, leaves, buds or flowers to the lab for identification of insect or disease problems. You can also send insects. The PPDL website provides instructions on how to submit samples. The fee is $11.

A little closer to home is the Marion County Master Gardener lab in the Purdue-Marion County Extension office in Discovery Hall at the north end of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. People can drop off plant or insect samples, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekdays. Forms are on site for this free service.

Marion County Master Gardeners staff the Answerline, 317-275-9292, where you can call with questions. Lastly, you can send photos of plants or insects to for Master Gardeners’ help with identification and tips on what to do. These services also are free.

Bicentennial: Indiana’s landscape then and now

The passenger pigeon. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

The passenger pigeon. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

A few days ago, I dialed up the WAYBAC machine and journeyed back 200 years to 1816 Indiana.

From the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center, a group took a visual trek from Kentucky, across the Ohio River to Spencer County, Indiana, with a young Abe Lincoln and his family. Within a year of their move, the Lincolns and other southern Indiana residents witnessed billions of periodical cicadas emerge, mate, lay eggs and die. “They probably thought they encountered a plague of Biblical proportions,” said Mike Homoya, a state botanist and plant ecologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Nature Preserves, who served as the guide.

The progeny of those cicadas emerged in that area again in 2004. “It’s one way of connecting to our past,” said Homoya, author of Orchids of Indiana and Wildflowers and Ferns of Indiana Forests, each published by Indiana University Press.

Connecting the audience to our past was what “This Was Indiana: The Historic Hoosier Landscape 1816” was all about. This landscape tour reminds us of what was there, what’s missing and what remains, however altered.

We learned how Indiana was plotted in square townships, which still exist and are used as geographic locators today. (These are not the same areas that we commonly think of as townships.) Corner posts and nearby trees, called witness trees, guided surveyors and travelers. Using an 1804 map of Marion County townships, Homoya found what was the location of our witness tree at Circle Centre mall, just outside Victoria Secret.

There were about 23 million acres in Indiana with 21 million of them forested and 2 million acres of prairies. Some of the trees were huge, with a sycamore measuring 14-foot diameter at chest height in 1819. Today’s sycamore champ measures 8-foot diameter at chest height, he said.

Carolina parakeet, Eastern subspecies. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

Carolina parakeet, Eastern subspecies. Credit John J. Audubon/Birds of America

It’s not just the big trees that are gone. Porcupines, prairie chickens, wolves, Carolina parakeets and passenger pigeons resided here or migrated. Homoya said there were many reports of the noonday sun obscured, as if by an eclipse, by millions of passenger pigeons for three days or more. Despite those numbers, the parakeets and pigeons are extinct. Also no longer in the wild here are buffaloes, which made the famous Vincennes Trace as they hoofed through southern Indiana, Homoya said.

Much of our state’s natural features have changed since then, but the cypress swamps remain in southwest Indiana, the Indiana dunes and lakeshore are part of the National Park Service, forest remnants of older-growth trees are scattered about, including at Crown Hill Cemetery, and slivers of the great prairie can be found in Spinn Prairie in White County. Lots to explore in celebration of our bicentennial.