March 2017

Plants you probably should be growing


For late winter and early spring beauty, consider ‘Golden Glory’ cornelian cherry. Photo courtesy

For late winter and early spring beauty, consider ‘Golden Glory’ cornelian cherry. Photo courtesy

Gardeners always have favorite plants, including those they think are not used often enough. Last week, we looked over the shoulders of Indiana gardeners at their favorite new plants. This week, we asked them about plants they thought should be planted more. Here’s what they had to say.

Bob Hill in Southern Indiana praises cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), an Asian member of the dogwood family. The hardy tree provides bursts of yellow flowers in late winter or early spring, has beautiful exfoliating bark year-round, and thick crops of red fruits in late summer and fall. “The best Cornus mas cultivars include the heavy-blooming ‘Golden Glory’, ‘Redstone’ and ‘Spring Grove’. If your yard is small, ‘Pyramidalis’, makes a nice fit in tight places,” said Hill, owner of Hidden Hill Nursery & Sculpture Garden in Utica.

Fancy-leaf geraniums, such as ‘Glitterati Ice Queen’, are gaining in popularity for summer fare. Photo courtesy University of Georgia Trial Gardens

Fancy-leaf geraniums, such as ‘Glitterati Ice Queen’, are gaining in popularity for summer fare. Photo courtesy University of Georgia Trial Gardens

Fancy-leaf geraniums (Pelargonium), which are celebrating a resurgence in popularity, deserve a spot in a pot, said Jean Starr of Chesterton, who blogs at “They have smaller flowers than what we think of when geranium is mentioned, but even when they’re not in bloom, their multi-colored leaves provide plenty of interest.” Among Starr’s favorites is ‘Glitterati Ice Queen’ from Hort Couture Plants, which can be mixed with other plants in a pot, grown in a hanging basket or window box.

A dwarf butterfly bush, such as ‘Glass Slippers’, works well in sunny spots in small yards. Photo courtesy

A dwarf butterfly bush, such as ‘Glass Slippers’, works well in sunny spots in small yards. Photo courtesy

Karen Kennedy, former president of Marion County Master Gardeners, says she’s become fond of the dwarf butterfly bushes (Buddleia), which in the 3-4 foot range, work well in her small garden. She especially likes Buzz Velvet, with vivid raspberry flowers, and ‘Glass Slippers’, the latter part of the Monarch series, with periwinkle blue flowers and silver foliage. “Both bloomed all the way to frost. A great edition to a sunny area of the garden,” she said.

Spring-planted Johnny jump-ups sometimes self-sow to reappear when temps cool in fall or the following spring. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

Spring-planted Johnny jump-ups sometimes self-sow to reappear when temps cool in fall or the following spring. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

“I think the most under-used plant is the little violas and pansies,” said Carol Michel of Indianapolis, who blogs at Plant pansies and violas (Viola spp.) in early spring. “They will last until it gets hot, toward the end of May. They don’t mind an occasional frost, either,” she said. “The yellow-purple ones, generally referred to as Johnny jump-ups, are my favorites.”

The native copper iris offers an unusual color in the spring garden. © James Henderson, Golden Delight Honey,

The native copper iris offers an unusual color in the spring garden. © James Henderson, Golden Delight Honey,

Copper iris (Iris fulva), a late spring bloomer that is tough and beautiful, makes Irvin Etienne’s list of under-used perennials. “The flowers are an unusual shade of copper that I find highly attractive. Related to the native Louisiana iris, it is considered beardless and crestless. It tolerates wet conditions and clay, but mine is happy in good, normal garden soil,” said Etienne, horticultural display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.


Indiana gardeners name the best new plants in their gardens

‘Fierce Gigante’ elephant ear easily reaches 5 feet tall or more in a summer. Photo courtesy Irvin Etienne/

Pretty soon, new plants will beckon to us from newspapers and magazines, catalogs and the benches at garden centers: “Try me!” “Try me!”

To help guide our plant lust, I checked with some of my favorite gardeners throughout the state, asking what the best new or sort-of-new plant they’d grown. I also asked what plants they thought were under used or under appreciated by gardeners, and we’ll have that next week. For the new plants:

A big elephant ear from Plants Nouveau, ‘Fierce Gigante’ (Colocasia) easily reaches 5 feet tall when given ample moisture and rich, said Irvin Etienne, horticultural display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and guru of all things tropical. “I thought the beautiful foliage would be its only asset, but the flowers turned out fabulous – big, creamy calla-like flowers on purple stems. My favorite new colocasia.”

‘Masterpiece’ is appreciated as much for its tasty tendrils as its pod and peas.
Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

Carol Michel, an avid vegetable gardener in Indianapolis who blogs at, picked ‘Masterpiece’ pea from Burpee. “It was easy to grow in a container and both the pods and the peas are edible, as are the tendrils. The tendrils are also frilly, and make a nice edition to flower arrangements.”

Tiny Tuff Stuff hydrangea is a winner in an Indianapolis Master Gardener’s landscape. Photo courtesy

Karen Kennedy, a former president of Marion County Master Gardeners, said she’s taken with several newish hydrangea introductions that have replaced a large Endless Summer (H. macrophylla ‘Bailmer’). Newly planted are ‘Tiny Tuff Stuff’ (H. serrata ‘Makd’), Bobo (H. paniculata ‘Ilvobo’) and Little Quick Fire (H. paniculata ‘Smhplqf’). “All three performed marvelously in their mostly sunny locations, with little to no care and bloomed all summer long. Unlike a lot of other hydrangeas they don’t faint in the heat and aren’t as demanding about water,” she said.

The long-blooming ‘Heatwave’ hyssop toughs it out through summer’s heat and humidity. Photo courtesy

Jean Starr of Chesterton, who blogs at, says ‘Heatwave’ hyssop (Agastache) was unbeatable for its big flowers and long bloom time. “Even through the worst of the heat and humidity, ‘Heatwave’ kept pushing out its big purplish blooms on strong stems that could reach up to three feet in height. Rated to Zone 5 but resents wet feet in winter.”

‘Lemon Meringue’ adds long-blooming stalks of yellow flowers in the summer garden. Photo courtesy

Down in Southern Indiana, Bob Hill raves about the native false indigos (Baptisia), especially those in the Decadence series, because of their durability, hardiness and tolerance. ‘Lemon Meringue’ only adds to all that with bright yellow flowers on 36-inch-tall stems and bluish-green leaves, followed by the showy seed heads in fall, said Hill, owner of Hidden Hill Nursery & Sculpture Garden in Utica.

Effort under way to make butterfly weed Indiana’s official wildflower


Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo courtesy

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo courtesy

The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society has launched an initiative to declare butterfly weed as the state’s official wildflower.

Society members plan to spend the 2017 session walking statehouse halls to promote a bill that elevates the status of the native perennial, a critical plant in the lifecycle of monarch butterflies.

The peony, an import from Asia, is the official state flower, and there are no plans to change that, said Davie Sue Wallace, vice president of INPAWS. Several states have state flowers and state wildflowers, including Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and Florida.

INPAWS criteria for this selection: It needed to be garden worthy in performance and size; it needed to be found in the wild throughout Indiana; it needed to be a plant that retailers and wholesalers would be interested in; and it needed to be a plant of interest to children for educational purposes. Butterfly weed won by a long shot, said Wallace of Evansville, 10-year member of INPAWS.

She met with Republican Sens. Vaneta Becker and David Long the day before Thanksgiving to begin the process. Becker will likely craft the bill, Wallace said.

“It has been very challenging to do this during the holidays. But this just seems like the right year,” Wallace said.

To support Senate Bill 470, email or write Becker and Long and the representatives and senators from your area, Wallace said.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has become a very popular perennial the last several years, primarily because of its value as a food plant in the monarch butterfly’s lifecycle. A member of the milkweed family, butterflies slurp nectar from the bright orange flowers. Monarchs lay her eggs on milkweeds, which hatch and the larva eat the leaves before pupating and turning into butterflies. The Asclepias family is the only food plant for the caterpillars.

The loss of natural habitats of butterfly weed has prompted gardeners, municipalities, highway departments, parks and others to plant the perennial as a way to support monarchs, whose numbers have seen sharp decline over the last decade.

Coincidentally, butterfly weed is the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year, so named by the Perennial Plant Association, a trade association of breeders, growers, horticulturists and educators.

Grow butterfly weed in full sun and well-drained soil. Once established, the plant, which gets about 2 feet tall and wide, is drought tolerant. The flowers and seed heads are great for bouquets. Deadhead the plant to reduce self-sowing.

Celebrate cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and other healthful brassicas

Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

A lot of us already know about red and white cabbage, but what about purple broccoli or orange cauliflower?

Those are some members of the brassica family of plants, which also includes Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, mustards, kohlrabi, radish, rutabaga, turnip and Chinese cabbage.

Foodies are in love with these vegetables, known for their strong aroma when cooked and their high nutritional value. They also taste good. My favorites are broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages.

The resurgence of interest in these old-fashion vegetables has prompted the National Garden Bureau, a trade group that promotes growing plants, to name 2017 the Year of the Brassica.

The family members sometimes are referred to as cole crops, an English adaptation of caulis, Latin for stem. Or you may hear them called cruciferous, which refers to their four-petaled flowers that resemble a cross.

Cheddar or orange cauliflower. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

Cheddar or orange cauliflower. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/

These are usually planted as transplanted in early spring for summer harvest. Some, such as broccoli and mustards, can be planted again in July for harvesting in fall and early winter.

Probably the biggest consideration to growing these plants is their susceptibility to insect damage, especially from cabbageworms and flea beetles. Many gardeners cover these plants with row covers to help control the insects. Another effective control is Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. This is a non-selective bacteria that kills caterpillars — all kinds, from cabbageworms to the caterpillars of monarchs and other butterflies. Always read and follow the label directions.

Grow these plants in full sun and well-drained soil. They are fairly drought tolerant once established.

Each type of plant has different growing habits and horticultural requirements, so follow the seed packet instructions, plant labels or other sources, including Purdue University’s Vegetable Gardening Tips. Of course, if you don’t want to grow these vegetables, you can still celebrate their year by purchasing them at farmers markets, which is where I usually get mine. Here’s one of my favorite, easy dishes.

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Clean and trim the Brussels sprouts and pat them dry with paper towel or clean cloth. Place sprouts on a baking sheet, but don’t crowd them. Drizzle with olive oil and season with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper. Using your hands or spatula, coat the Brussels sprouts with the oil and seasoning. Roast in 400 F oven 30 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Turn the sprouts every 10 minutes or so. Serve as they are as a vegetable side dish, or sprinkle the sprouts with shredded Parmesan, pierce them with a toothpick and serve as an hors d’ oeuvres.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Salt and Pepper. (C) bhofack2/

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Salt and Pepper. (C) bhofack2/

January garden checklist


Waiting for the beautiful red amaryllis to bloom. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


General Landscape

  • Keep road and sidewalk salt away from plants. If necessary, screen the plants with burlap to keep off spray. Calcium chloride products are recommended over sodium chloride to melt ice. Sand, cinders, ash and fresh kitty litter also may be used instead of ice-melting salts.
  • Prune summer and fall blooming woody plants, including vines, shrubs and trees.
  • Use hand or a broom to gently brush away heavy snow that may accumulate on shrubs before it freezes.
  • new growthApply an all-purpose natural fertilizer or a dusting of compost around spring-flowering bulbs as they break ground.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Examine produce, tender flower bulbs and roots stored for the winter to make sure there is no rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Remove and discard damaged material.

Settle in with a good book or two this winter


Happy New Year! Now that we’re headed into 2017, it’s time to spend a few quiet weeks, stowing energy for the winter season and perhaps entertaining ourselves by learning something new. Here are a few books to consider:

Rantings of a Mad Botanist: A Comprehensive Guide to Gardening and Land Use Practices Emphasizing Central Indiana (Mad Botanist Publications, hardcover, 456 pages, $45) by Bill N. McKnight sounds a lot more scholarly than it is. Ok, McKnight, editor of special publications at the Indiana Academy of Science, a former biology teacher and museum curator, is scholarly, but his book is not.

Rantings perfectly conveys McKnight’s philosophy and methods of tending his 3-acres on Indianapolis’ north east side, spiced with his typical dry and thought provoking humor.

This 3.2 pounder does not contain beautiful plant photograph, but rather is illustration with charts, graphs and a few drawings. The front part of the book gives all the basics a gardener needs. The latter part provides lists of plants in groups, such as trees, succulents, shade, tall and thin, night gardens and more. The book is self-published and can be found at

jonnes-book-cover-copyJill Jonnes’ Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape (Viking, hardcover, 396 pages, $32) takes us through the good, bad and ugly of trees in our culture. She takes us from Thomas Jefferson’s pastoral setting to today’s heat island effect and invasion of devastating Asian beetles.

She reminds us of environmentalist John Muir and introduces us to John Davey, known as the Tree Doctor, who founded Davey Tree Expert Company in 1880, and tells us how Arbor Day became a national event.

downsized-garden-coverThe Downsized Veggie Garden: How to Garden Small – Wherever You Live, Whatever Your Space by former Hoosier Kate Copsey (St. Lynn’s Press, hardcover, 192 pages, $19.95) is an encouraging how-to manage your food gardening. Copsey, who now lives in New Jersey, takes us through the seasons with what to plant when, tips for success, plant selection and more, all with a non-chemical approach.

late-bloomer-cover-smallAlso from St. Lynn’s Press is Late Bloomer: How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life (hardcover, 144 pages, $18.95) by Jan Coppola Bills, who owns a Michigan garden design and installation company.

“If you’re curious to know what so different about gardening to this half, I’d say it’s all about a shift in perspective. Instead of a drive to completion and outcome and control, it’s now about a more deeply soul-pleasing way of gardening,” writes Bills.

How to recycle your discarded fresh-cut Christmas tree

Coat a pinecone with peanut butter, then roll it in bird seed or nuts and hang in your discarded Christmas tree. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Coat a pinecone with peanut butter, then roll it in bird seed or nuts and hang in your discarded Christmas tree. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

In the next few days, you’ll be hauling out your fresh-cut Christmas tree, and may wonder what to do next.

Between Monday and Jan. 31, you can take your un-decorated, de-tinseled tree, free of fake snow and plastic bag, to one of nine Indy Parks. From there, it goes to GreenCycle for making mulch or other recycled, sustainable product. You can find a listing of where your can recycle or dispose of trees in other communities throughout Indiana at Pick Your Own Christmas Tree.

You can cut the tree and branches into 3-4 foot long bundles and leave for heavy trash pickup, if allowed by your municipality. Or, cut the tree and season the wood to burn in the fireplace.

Use the tree for soil erosion around lakes and ponds, or if privately owned, dump it into the water to create a fish habitat.

Move the tree to the backyard to make a seasonal feeder and shelter for birds. Decorate it with pine cones rolled in peanut butter, nuts or birdseed. Hang fresh fruit, such as oranges or apple, or strings of popcorn or dried fruit in the tree. Brace it against another tree, fence or post.

Also in the backyard, the tree can be used as a wind break for flowerbeds or tender shrubs. Cut the boughs and place them around small shrubs, perennials or other plants, especially those spending the winter in pots.


Winter safety for people, pets, plants

With the recent snow and icy weather, remember to use caution when applying de-icers on sidewalks, driveways, porch steps or other pavement adjacent to lawn or beds that have been planted with flowers, trees and shrubs.

Clearing the pavement of snow frequently eliminates or reduces the need for de-icers. Products containing sodium chloride, or salt, can be harmful to plants. I opt for de-icers labeled for use around plants and pets. Always apply according to label directions.

Buy the book! Indiana Gardener’s Guide



Ten reasons to buy The Indiana Gardener’s Guide:

  1. It’s the perfect gift for gardeners of all skill levels.
  2. It’s the perfect gift for new homeowners, who may be wondering about their lawns, trees, perennials and annuals in their landscape. Written so that beginners can understand.
  3. Solid, practical information about gardening in Indiana. No gimmicks. Information you can trust.
  4. Symbols give tips on a plant’s attributes, such as native, cut flower, low water needs, fragrant, good for bees and butterflies.
  5. Offers suggestions for companion plants.
  6. Easy to use.
  7. Reasonable price.
  8. Limited supply. When the books are gone, they are gone.
  9. Signed copy for no extra charge.
  10. You can pay via PayPal, check, charge or cash.

$15, includes $3 shipping/handling. Order by Dec. 19 to ensure delivery by the holidays. Email Jo Ellen with your phone number for details,

Signed copy

A Color of the Year gardeners can embrace

Guacamole hosta. Photo courtesy

Guacamole hosta. Photo courtesy

Finally, a Pantone Color of the Year that actually works in the landscape and we don’t even have to wait for the hue to drench the pots and other accessories because it is already with us.

Pantone’s 2017 selection is greenery. What could be more natural than that?

“Greenery is a fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore and renew. Illustrative of flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors, the fortifying attributes of Greenery signals consumers to take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate. Greenery is nature’s neutral,” said Pantone, one of the country’s best-known arbiters of color, in announcing its choice.

Our landscape has greenery, in the form of the leaves of plants and the branches of evergreens. Why our landscapes already are fashion forward. If you’d like to emphasize the 2017 Color of the Year in the garden, here are some suggestions:

Electric Lime coleus. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Electric Lime coleus. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Coleus (Plectranthus scultellarioides) is the perfect annual foliage plant. Many varieties are quite tolerant of sun and others thrive in shade. Among many to consider are Cool Vibes Mellow from Terra Nova Nurseries and Electric Lime from Ball Horticulture. For a dramatic look as a centerpiece or backdrop in a pot or among other plants, consider the striped foliage of Bengal Tiger canna, grown as an annual. The fact that it has orange-red flowers is a bonus.

In the perennial category, coral bells (Heuchera) are good starters, frequently tolerating sun or shade. Look for Lime Ruffles, Key Lime or Electric Lime (yes, another one, but a different plant than Electric Lime coleus). ‘Guacamole’ hosta has apple green leaves edged in darker green. It will get about 3 feet wide and tall and does best in shade to part shade.

Double Gold spirea. Photo courtesy Proven Winners/ColorChoice Plants

Double Gold spirea. Photo courtesy Proven Winners/ColorChoice Plants

Double Play Gold spirea (Spiraea) from Proven Winners ColorChoice, has pink flowers on and off throughout the summer. Leaves have lime-gold-green hues. This low-maintenance, mounded shrub gets18-24 inches tall and 16-24 inches wide, making it a good choice as an anchor or specimen in a sunny, perennial flowerbed.


Must have tools for homeowners and gardeners


Collapsible wheelbarrow. Photo courtesy Carol Michel/

Collapsible wheelbarrow. Photo courtesy Carol Michel/

If there’s a first-time homeowner in your group of family and friends, here are some holiday gift suggestions that will make their yard work a breeze. Gardeners also would appreciate these tools.

Lawn mower. If the yard is small, go for an electric mower. I recommend the cordless type, which is much easier to use around flowerbeds. I speak from the experience of having run over the mower cord twice before replacing the machine with a battery-operated model. I’ve had two Black & Deckers (with and without cord) and recently purchased a Neuton. Make sure it’s a mulching mower, which cuts grass clippings (and leaves) into tiny bits, returning them to the ground where they add nutrients to the soil.

Shovel. Although we use shovel and spade interchangeably, they are two different tools. A shovel has a pointed end and a bowl-shaped blade. It sort of looks like a spade found on playing cards. Among tools, though, a spade has a straight edge and is usually smaller and narrower than a shovel. Each can be used for digging. The spade is a great tool for edging beds.

Garden fork. This is probably my favorite digging tool. It is especially efficient for digging in heavy soil. The tines help break up chunks of soil.

Clippers. Start with hand snips or clippers. Corona, Fiskars and Felco are quality brands to consider. Clippers come as bypass or anvil types. Bypass models work like scissors and anvils cut on a flat, metal surface. Opt for bypass clippers because they make a clean cut of branches or stems of flowers, rather than crimping or smashing them.

Pruning tools. A lopper, especially with telescoping handles, can be used to cut branches 1 inch diameter or larger, depending on the model. Loppers also can be used to cut back woody perennials, such as hydrangeas, and shrubs.

Wheelbarrow. There are several types, with most common being the traditional model with a metal or plastic bowl. The weakest part of this type is the tire, so consider getting one with a solid rubber tire rather than one that needs air. There also are collapsible, lightweight models, such as WheelEasy from or, which would be a good choice for those without a lot of storage space.

Rakes. There are two basic types – a garden or bow rake with downward facing tines about 3 inches long, and a leaf rake, which is usually fan shaped. A garden rake is used to smooth out the soil or spread mulch, and the tines help break up clumps of soil. The leaf rake is lighter weight and does what its name implies.