March 2017

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.

Easy-peasy winter pots

Evergreen boughs cascade over the edges of a winder pot. A white birch log and faux holly berries add spot color. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Evergreen boughs cascade over the edges of a winter pot. A white birch log and faux holly berries add spot color. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

This is my favorite time of year, not because of the holidays or the weather, but because of the plants we have to work with.

Plants include branches, seed heads, ornaments and other elements we snip from the landscape or buy at garden centers, nurseries, farmers markets, grocers and other retailers.

The textures, forms and shades of evergreen branches pair wonderfully with red- or yellow-stem dogwoods, willows, birch branches, boxwood, stems of Russian sage or the dried flowers of hydrangeas.

Poke plants in the soil of an all-weather container on the porch, balcony or patio, by the mailbox, at the end of the driveway, in view of the kitchen window or in a flowerbed. If you’ve already emptied soil from the pot, fill it with mulch and poke away.

Pots with greenery are easy to assembly. You can start in the center and build out or start on the edges and build in. If the pot will be seen from all sides, put the tallest branches in the middle. If seen from one side, but them at the back.

For the edges of the container, use evergreen branches that drape, such as incense cedar, western cedar or other arborvitae. If using branches that naturally bend upward, such as Douglas fir, Fraser fir or pine, invert them so they bend down to cover the edge of the pot. Fir branches tend to be blue on the underside and green on the top, which add another color and texture to the mix.

For the center, branches of curly willow, dogwood and birch do the trick. Spray paint brown branches red, green, silver, gold or other colors to compliment the pot or home. Cut branches of hollies also work nicely as a centerpiece.

Leave dried hydrangea blooms tan or brown for a more natural look, or spray paint them red, gold or other colors and use as filler. Fill in with salal, huckleberry or branches from evergreens. Or use faux branches of hollies, strands of shiny beads, plastic ornaments and other glittery items from craft stores and other retailers. Attach a wired weatherproof ribbon or bow for a festive look.

The nice thing about winter arrangements in containers is you don’t have to actually plant or water anything. Just stick the branches or stems in the soil. It’s easy to pull them out to rearrange and fill in any empty spots.

Once the holidays have passed, remove reds and other colors. Some of the greenery will hold its color well into early spring and some will turn brown. In my mind, the pots still look attractive because of the hues and textures.

The heart of a gardener: Giving Tuesday

Marian University’s Friends of Riverdale wants to raise $1.5 million to restore a portion of Jens Jensen’s landscape at Allison Mansion, including rebuilding the colonnade and arbor. Photo courtesy Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf/Marian University

Marian University’s Friends of Riverdale wants to raise $1.5 million to restore a portion of Jens Jensen’s landscape at Allison Mansion, including rebuilding the colonnade and arbor.
Photo courtesy Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf/Marian University

We all know about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard about Giving Tuesday? This year it’s Nov. 29.

With the holidays coming sooner rather than later, here’s a way to celebrate by giving to non-profit organizations that support gardening, nature, historical landscapes and flowers.

Indiana Landmarks’ Cultural Landscape Committee identifies, catalogues and helps promote the state’s significant landscapes, such as George Kessler’s boulevard, parkways and parks; landscape architect’s Dan Kiley’s designs in Fort Wayne and Columbus, the Olmsted Brothers’-designed gardens on the IUPUI campus and at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Donations can be made to Indiana Landmarks Cultural Landscape Committee, 1201 N. Central Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46202, or online. In the online comments section, write Cultural Landscape Committee.

Native plant enthusiasts can share the love with Letha’s Youth Outdoors Fund, which is part of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, or INPAWS. The fund aims to get school-age children in touch with nature, especially those with the least access to experiences in natural areas. Grants pay transportation and naturalists’ fees for visits to Indiana’s wild places and fund youth-initiated projects that get kids excited about the natural world.

The fund honors Letha Queisser, who died in 2007. For more than 20 years, the trained botanist and avid wildflower fan took neighborhood children on nature walks to a nearby Indianapolis park. Since the fund was founded in 2008, more than $40,000 in grants have been awarded, enabling nearly 12,000 youth to visit environmental education centers, nature preserves and parks under the guidance of trained specialists and enthusiastic volunteers. Donate online, or mail a check to INPAWS, Attention: Letha’s Fund, P.O. Box 501528, Indianapolis, IN 46250.

Marian University’s Friends of Riverdale is raising $1.5 million to restore the Jens Jensen-designed colonnade and arbor near Allison Mansion. The university never had the funds to replace these Riverdale features because the base of the structure needs to be reinforce to support the columns, plus the weight of the arbor and plants.

To donate, go to and click on Give Now. The colonnade is not a listed project, but donors can choose “other” and write in the comments “colonnade.” Or, send a check with colonnade in the memo to Deb Lawrence, Marian University, 3200 Cold Springs Road, Indianapolis, IN 46222,

Random Acts of Flowers opened in October in Indianapolis, one of five centers in the country. It recycles flowers from weddings, funerals and other events. The goal is to improve the emotional health and well being of individuals in health care facilities by delivering recycled flowers, encouragement and personal moments of kindness. For details on donations of vases, flowers or money, visit

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

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.