February 2016

Holiday safety, baby colors and spiffing up the amaryllis

Add ivy around amaryllis bulbs for a natural look. (C) Carol Michel

Add ivy around amaryllis bulbs for a natural look. (C) Carol Michel

If you’d like to dress up your containers of amaryllis or paper white narcissus, add a bit of greenery around the seasonal bulbs.

Once the bulbs are planted, sprinkle grass seeds or cat grass oats (Avena sativa) on the soil around the bulbs. Press down the seeds, add a dusting of potting mix and water thoroughly.

At garden centers this time of year, you can find ivy (Hedera spp.), frosty fern (Selaginella kraussiana variegatus), cyclamen (C. persicum) and other small plants. These can be transplanted around amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) or paper whites.

Or, place small snippets of evergreen boughs around the bulbs. Remove the boughs when watering the container to avoid spillovers.

Seasonal safety

(C) Photo stefania57,

(C) Photo stefania57,

When decorating with fresh greenery, remember that some plants are toxic to humans and pets. Of course, these plants are not meant to be consumed, but sometimes accidents happen.

The beautiful red holly berries that define the holidays and the season, are poisonous to people and pets. Be especially careful with the berries. Kids may mistake the berries for candy and pets may see them as treats. Mistletoe also is poisonous. So is the red fruit on yews.

However, the poinsettia, long reputed to be poisonous, is not toxic unless you eat hundreds of leaves, called bracts. Some people have a sensitivity to the sap, or latex, that oozes when bracts or stems break. For pets, poinsettia may be “irritating to the mouth and stomach, sometimes causing vomiting, but generally over-rated in toxicity,” said the ASPCA’s website about toxic plants.

Color of Year

Color arbiter Pantone has named two hues as the 2016 Color of the Year. Serenity, a sort of baby blue, and Rose Quartz, a sort of baby pink, will be the go-to colors for home accessories, clothing and other items.

Pantone-13-1520 roase quartz

A lot of times, it’s hard to work in the Pantone Color of the Year, such as turquoise (2010). But for flowers, the color of Serenity and Rose Quartz will be easy to find.


These pastels are common in spring-blooming annuals, such as pansies and violas. In summer, petunia, Calibrachoa or vinca (Catharanthus roseus) sport blooms that come close to these fashion-forward colors. Or big-leaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) also could fill the bill.

Pantone has posted color palettes that can be a guide to selecting companion plants for the garden.

Books for holiday giving

allergyfree garden coverAmong the stack of books I have for review are several recommended for holiday giving.

Thomas Leo Ogren is known internationally for Allergy-Free Gardening, published originally in 2000. He has developed OPALS, the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale, which classifies plants according to their tendencies to aggravate allergies.

His 2015 book, The Allergy-Fighting Garden (10 Speed Press, $22.99) expands the list and offers lessons on how to identify the sex of plants. A big part of the problem, he says, is that we plant mostly male specimens because female plants frequently are deemed messy because the produce fruit. When only male plants are planted, the pollen floats around searching for females, but finding none and lodging in your eyes, nose and throat instead.

This book will help not only homeowners and gardeners, but commercial landscapers, too.

beneficial bugs coverMany of us are concerned about the plight of monarchs and bees, but there are thousands of other insects that are good for our gardens. Roughly 1 percent of the million identified insect species are considered harmful, with the rest as benign or beneficial, said Jessica Walliser in her book Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden (Timber Press, $24.95).

Walliser, a horticulturist who loves bugs probably more than plants, teaches readers how to design gardens to support insect activity and what plants are best for the job. Her book would be an aid for teachers as well as gardeners, who want to know more about the insects in their world.

post-wild world coverAs development continues to gobble up natural areas in our communities, Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West (Timber Press, $39.95) takes on the challenge. “The front lines of the battle for nature are not in the Amazon rain forest or the Alaskan wilderness. The front lines are our backyards, medians, parking lots and elementary schools,” they write. The ecological warriors are gardeners, landscapers, teachers and others and this book is dedicated to anyone who can influence a small patch of land.

If you are looking for a beautiful coffee table book about a beautiful garden, you can’t go wrong with The Art of Gardening by R. William Thomas and others, photographed by Rob Cardillo (Timber Press, $34.95). art of gardening coverThis book is about Chanticleer, dubbed a pleasure garden, which it is. Chanticleer is my favorite public garden in the country, and this book captures all of the artful design and innovative techniques that makes this place so special.

December garden checklist


Holidayshuge christmas tree

  • When shopping for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, check for green, flexible, firmly held needles and a sticky trunk base — both indicators of freshness. Make a fresh cut and keep the cut end under water at all times.
  • Evergreens can be trimmed gently for indoor holiday decorations.


  • Houseplants usually require less water and fertilizer during the winter, but they need more light. Move plants closer to windows (but not touching glass) when days are gray.
  • Store lawn and garden products in a cool, dry place, protected from moisture and freezing, but away from heat.

General Landscape

  • Prevent the bark from splitting on young, thin-barked trees, such as fruit and maple, by wrapping them with tree wrap, or paint them with white latex paint, especially the south and south-west sides.
  • Protect broadleaves, evergreens or other tender landscape plants from excessive drying (desiccation) by winter sun and wind with canvas, burlap or polyethylene plastic screens on the south and west sides. Shields also may be used to protect plants from salt spray.
  • Protect weak-stemmed shrubs from extensive snow loads by tying their stems together with twine. Carefully remove heavy snow loads with a broom so limbs don’t break.
Plants have been protected with burlap. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Plants have been protected with burlap. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

  • If needed, protect young plants, broadleaves and needle-bearing evergreens and other tender landscape plants from excessive drying from sun and wind by spraying with an antidesiccant when temperatures are above 40 degrees F. Always read and follow the label direction.
  • Mulch tender plants with organic material when they become dormant.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Harvest root crops. Store in a cold location with high humidity.


Tis the season for live or fresh-cut trees

Live Christmas trees can be planted in the landscape to memorialize the holiday and family fun and joy. ©gpointstudio/

Live Christmas trees can be planted in the landscape to memorialize the holiday and family fun and joy.

The seasonal shopping season has begun, and if a Christmas tree is on your list, here are some things to keep in mind.

A live evergreen tree is sold in a container or as a balled-and-burlapped specimen. It is alive and attached to its roots. People like living Christmas trees because they can be transplanted to the landscape to memorialize the holiday.

If you plan to have a live tree, prepare the planting hole now before the ground freezes. Dig the hole and stow the soil in a wheelbarrow or tub in an unheated garage or other area where it will not freeze. To prevent people or pets from tripping or falling into the hole, fill it with bags of leaves or cover with a piece of wood.

Keep the tree outdoors until close to the holiday. Keep the container or balled-and-burlapped root ball moist. Move the live tree indoors and set in something that holds water. A plastic or metal tub works well for balled-and-burlapped, or a large saucer for a container tree. Only allow the tree to be indoors for a couple of days and move it outside. Do not let the root ball dry out.

When ready to plant, remove the tree from the container or burlap and cage. Transplant in the hole, making sure the root flare, or where the trunk becomes a root, is at the soil surface. Back fill with the stowed soil. Water the new planting. If the hose is already put away, carry room temperature water in 5-gallon buckets to drench the soil.

Cover the planting area with chopped leaves or shredded bark mulch. Don’t allow the mulch to touch the trunk. Apply about 10-15 gallons a week, until the ground freezes.

Cut tree

A Christmas tree cut at the farm,  ready for you to take home and decorate. Cut trees also can be found at garden centers. (C) jatrax/

A Christmas tree cut at the farm, ready for you to take home and decorate. Cut trees also can be found at garden centers. (C) jatrax/

Planted and grown as a crop, a cut tree is harvested from a farm. Farms have trees already cut or you can cut your own ( Garden centers also have wide selections of cut trees. These are usually trucked in from Michigan or the Carolinas, where growing Christmas trees is a huge business.

Before putting it in its stand, cut another inch off the stump to ensure the tree will take up water. Keep the stand filled with water.

After the holiday, lash the tree to another tree or to a fence, where it can serve as a winter shelter for birds.

Here are more tips on selecting and enjoying your Christmas tree.


Fun to say, Honorine Jobert anemone looks good in the garden, too

'Hononrine Jobert' is the 2016 Perennial Plant of the Year. Photo courtesy

‘Hononrine Jobert’ is the 2016 Perennial Plant of the Year. Photo courtesy

One of the best plants in the late blooming garden has been voted the 2016 Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year.

The winner is ‘Honorine Jobert’, a Japanese anemone (A. x hybrida), which blooms from late July into September or October in the Indiana garden. The 2-3 inch-wide flowers are pure white and upward facing atop sturdy, wiry stems.

This deer-resistant plant will be 3-4 feet tall with about a 2-foot spread. Plant in full sun to part shade in moist, organically rich, well-drained soil and ‘Honorine Jobert’ will dazzle you in the garden or as a delightful cut flower. The foliage of Japanese anemone may burn in really dry, hot weather, so try not to let the plant dry out.

“Certainly, one of my favorites of the hardy, fall-blooming anemones,” said Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and a board member of the Perennial Plant Association. “Tall, graceful, and tough as nails. I love the single white flowers dancing high above the rest of the fall garden. And I love the name, too. I just like saying ‘Honorine Jobert’.”

Although breeders, growers, educators and others voted it the 2016 Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year, ‘Honorine Jobert’ has been around a while. It is synonymous to ‘Alba’ Japanese anemone, and was found in a Verdun, France, garden in 1858, according to Missouri Botanical Garden.

“As with all the fall-blooming anemones, remember part of Honorine’s toughness includes its robust growth. Don’t plant next to weak-growing plants, because she will push them aside,” Etienne said.

It spreads by rhizomes, so if it gets too assertive where it’s not wanted, it can easily be pulled from the soil. For winter interest, the seed heads dry to form what looks like cotton balls atop the wiry stems. Cut the plant back to the ground in late fall or early spring.

This perennial is widely available at garden centers and through online retailers.

‘Peppermint Stick’ celery is as yummy as its name

‘Peppermint Stick’ celery lives up to its name with a sweet, intense flavor. Photo courtesy Ball Horticultural Co.

‘Peppermint Stick’ celery lives up to its name with a sweet, intense flavor. Photo courtesy Ball Horticultural Co.

Each year, I try growing something new, and this year, it was celery. Celery was never on my list, but in spring, Ball Horticultural Co. sent me a new variety, ‘Peppermint Stick’ (Apium graveolens), to trial.

I planted it in the ground and pretty much ignored it, except for watering and a little granular, organic fertilizer. It could also be grown in a large container. I don’t know when I’ve had an easier, no-fuss, no-muss vegetable plant to grow. ‘Peppermint Stick’ is not your ordinary-tasting celery.

“I didn’t expect the sweetness and flavor. I loved the big crunch, too,” said Jolene Ketzenberger, who tasted ‘Peppermint Stick’ celery for her program, Eat, Drink Indy Radio on

“But while it’s great raw, it also holds its flavor when cooked. I’d love to see what chefs could do with this variety. I’m envisioning a dish that plays up that sweetness and crunch,” Ketzenberger said.

The folks at Ball Horticultural Company describe the taste as “pretty intense. More of an herb celery for finishing a dish,” said Katie Rotella, a marketing communicator at Ball. “It’s not a typical peanut-butter-and-celery snack. My product manager likes to say it’s the perfect size as a swizzle stick in his bloody Mary drinks.”

‘Peppermint Stick’ celery can be grown in a pot or in the ground. Photo courtesy Ball Horticultural Co.

‘Peppermint Stick’ celery can be grown in a pot or in the ground. Photo courtesy Ball Horticultural Co.

‘Peppermint Stick’ gets its name from the look of the stalks, which are dark green with a reddish cast. The name also aptly describes its sweet, intense flavor. The leaves are delicious, too.

This celery can be grown from seed, harvested in about 100 days after sowing; or, as plants, which need about 80 days from planting to harvest. Look for transplants early in spring, likely marketed under the Burpee Home Garden brand. Celery plants will not hold well in the small nursery pot at the garden center. Plants and seed also should be available from mail order retailers.

There was a definite difference in taste between the older stalks and the newest ones. Just as you’d expect, older stalks were stringier, chewier and lacked the intensity of newer stalks.

Celery is one of those foods that, when I buy it, I ask myself, should I just throw it away now or wait a few weeks until it’s spoiled? With how easy ‘Peppermint Stick’ was to grow, I might make celery a staple in my vegetable garden. That way, I can harvest the stalks as needed throughout the growing season and not worry about any of it spoiling.

Chemicals and bee safety

Annuals, such as cosmos, purchased or grown from seed, have not been treated insecticides that harm bees. © ND Petitt/

Annuals, such as cosmos, purchased or grown from seed, have not been treated insecticides that harm bees. © ND Petitt/

Shortly after my Sept. 13 column about a renewed appreciation for bedding annuals, I got a letter from reader J.D, expressing concern that I recommended buying the plants.

“Most, if not all, annuals are being treated by the growers with systemic insecticides that are toxic to pollinators. Retailers do not know or will not tell if the plants they are selling have been treated,” she wrote.

Gardeners are right to be concerned about the impact of pesticides on bees and other pollinators. The ones causing the most worry are commonly called neonics, short for neonicotinoides. Neonics are systemic insecticides, which move through all parts of the plants, including pollen and nectar. They were considered a pesticide breakthrough, because of how they work on insects, and because they are less toxic than other products on the market

I checked with various growers in central Indiana who sell to independent garden centers. And, I contacted the folks at Ball Horticulture Co., the parent company for many seed and plant brands, including Pan American Seed and Burpee, and a representative of the Home Garden Seed Association.

Gardeners will be relieved to know that none of the growers or seed producers contacted use neonics on their plants.

“At Ball, seed for our flowering annual bedding plants is not treated with neonics, and our production farms for vegetative cuttings, like Ball FloraPlant and Selecta, have been neonic-free since last shipping season,” said Katie Rotella of the marketing communications department at Ball Horticulture Co.

“Spraying neonics on flowering annuals right before they go to market is not a common practice,” she said. “And garden centers are demanding any products be clearly labeled if any neonics have been applied.” Her example was Home Depot, which labels plants that have been treated.

“Seed producers depend on bees,” said Patricia Buskirk, one of the country’s largest producers and packagers of seeds, and a member of the Home Garden Seed Association. “Why would we risk harming them? Annual plants – tomatoes, peppers, bedding plants, lettuce, and most of the other plants home gardeners grow from seed – do not benefit from neonics.”

A few months ago I made similar calls regarding the use of neonics on perennials, trees and shrubs. “No, we don’t use any products that contain neonicotinoides,” said Bill Ward, a salesman at Brehob Nursery, Indiana’s largest wholesale grower.

Willoway Nursery, a large grower in Ohio that supplies independent garden centers in Indiana, does use the chemical “sparingly, as needed, to control some insects.  We have to pass inspection and to do that we have to be free of pest and disease,” said Danny Gouge, marketing manager at Willoway.

“We have seen incredible public pressure on this topic,” said Joe Bischoff, director of government relations for AmericanHort, a large trade association of growers, nurseries, retailers and others.

AmericanHort has extensive research projects under way to learn about neonics affect on pollinators and to explore alternative pesticides. Besides the horticulture industry, the Environmental Protection Administration and other government agencies also feel the heat, he said.


  • You will not find neonic-treated seeds on any retailer’s shelf or from mailorder or online retailers. Most, if not all growers, do not treat annuals with neonics. Many do not treat perennials.
  • As the debate continues about whether neonics should or should not be allowed in agricultural settings, homeowners need to be aware of their own pesticide use, Buskirk said. A case study by Xerces Society showed that homeowners can apply 12 to 16 times the amount used in an agricultural setting. Use pesticides only when necessary, and according to package directions.
  • Continue to ask garden center staffers what the plants they sell are treated with. If they don’t know, ask them to find out.
  • Express your concern about the use of pesticides that are toxic to bees and other pollinators.

To learn more:

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

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.


Native wheel bug aptly named

Native wheel bug uses it proboscis to kill prey. (C) Joseph Berger/

Native wheel bug uses it proboscis to kill prey. (C) Joseph Berger/

Last summer while trimming back a shrub, I got stung. It wasn’t a bee, wasp or hornet sting.

I explored the shrub to see what caused the pain and found an insect that looked like it had a wheel on its back. On Google, I typed “bug that looks like it has a wheel on its back” and the answer came back wheel bug (Arilus cristatus). Fortunately,  the sting wasn’t a full-on assault, but rather more like a warning. I definitely felt the jab, and the discomfort lasted about an hour.

“Wheel bugs look other worldly,” said Jim McCormac, author, photographer, speaker and blogger. “The sight of a fully grown adult (wheel bug) is sure to get a reaction from anyone who sees it.” McCormac, a botanist with Ohio Division of Wildlife, wrote about wheel bug on his blog Oct. 21, after finding a second one on his garage wall.

The native wheel bug is a member of the assassin bug group – quick, efficient and deadly to prey. This steam punk bug, at nearly 1½ inches long, has a killer proboscis.

With lightening speed, the bug jabs the proboscis into its victim. The proboscis pumps in chemicals, which quickly disable the prey and turn its insides to slush, which the wheel bug sucks out, he said.

“That’s an efficient proboscis: combination killing needle and drinking straw,” said McCormac. On his website, you can find a video of wheel bug dispatching prey and sucking out its innards. Although the jab can be quite painful to humans, it is not deadly.

McCormac says it’s been a good year for wheel bugs. He has noticed they have a taste for brown marmorated stink bugs, and reports finding fewer of the exotic, cilantro-scented insects in his Columbus, Ohio, home. He wonders if the wheel bugs are exploiting the exotic stink bugs as a food source and impacting their numbers. One can hope, he said. Yes, we can.


(Since this column was filed, INPAWS has closed registration for the annual conference, because the venue is filled to capacity. I apologize for any inconvenience. Check the INPAWS website frequently for announcements of the 2016 conference and other events and programs.)

McCormac is among the speakers at “Bioscaping: Gardening for Life,” the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society’s annual conference, Saturday, Nov. 14 at IUPUI. He will talk about “Butterflies and Moths: Their Darker Side.”

“This is Indiana: The Historic Hoosier Landscape Prior to 1816,” is the topic of Mike Homoya, a botanist with Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and author of “Orchids of Indiana.” Kevin Tungesvick, a restoration ecologist, will speak on “A Dangerous Precedent: The Mounds Reservoir Proposal.”

Popular speaker Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and co-author of The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, will address “Rebuilding Nature’s Relationship at Home.” His co-author, Rick Darke, will give two presentations: “Looking at the Layered Landscape, and Designing” and “Maintaining the Living Landscape.”