December 2017

With all of this rain, plants can drown

Heavy rains can drown plants. (C) Carol Michel/

We’ve had a lot of rain. We already know that the rain has promoted fast growth and early blooms on perennials, trees and shrubs. It’s also contributed to disease problems, especially fungi, for many plants.

All the rain can cause the soil to be waterlogged, which means there’s decreased oxygen available for plants. A lack of oxygen can cause plants to drown. As of this writing, we’ve received 26.05 inches of rain. Our average is 19.65 inches.

“It is important to understand what is happening to plants growing in these conditions and what to expect later. I look at this as a wait-and-see situation,” wrote

Rhonda Ferree, a horticulture educator at the University of Illinois Extension, in a recent report.

Visible injury to trees and shrubs may not show up for a year or two. Waterlogged soil deprives roots of oxygen, reducing the ability of trees or shrubs to take up and provide necessary nutrients. That lack of nutrients is what may cause decline or damage. Perennials may already show an overall decline because of waterlogged soil.

Ferree also notes that flooded yards add a lot of weight to the soil, which may cause compaction. That also pushes oxygen from the soil, inhibiting a plant’s ability to take up nutrients.

“Although survival is directly related to a species’ tolerance of waterlogged soils, other factors are important, including the soil type; the time, duration and depth of the water; the state of the floodwater; and the age and size of woody plants,” she said.

“Unfortunately, little can be done to prevent damage to plants growing in waterlogged soils. If a woody plant shows injury symptoms, such as leaf drop, do not immediately replace it. Some plants will show initial injury symptoms and then recover”

Injury symptoms, which vary according to several factors, include slower shoot and root growth, leaf yellowing, leaf twisting, leaf drop, root death, increased susceptibility to attack by insects and disease, absence of fruiting, and death.

Some will recover and some may not, providing yet another example of how gardening teaches us patience.

Indy gardener pots and prunes blog posts into book

Carol Michel. Photo courtesy Jill Thompson

Carol Michel has come a long way since I first interviewed her shortly after she won the 2009 Mouse and Trowel Award for, voted the best blog by readers from all over the country.

“I love writing, and blogging gave me a way to write about gardening and share what I wrote almost immediately with others,” she said at the time. Michel, who grew up in Greenwood, Indiana, and has been blogging seriously since 2006.

Since then, Michel, who has a degree in horticulture from Purdue University, wrote a garden column for a south side community paper for a few years, writes regularly for gardening magazines and began accepting speaking gigs. And she’s won other awards for her blog from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and Garden Writers Association, of which she’s a member.

She retired a year ago after 30-plus years in information technology and almost immediately started on a book. Published earlier this year, Potted and Pruned pulls from Michel’s blog, showcasing her practical advice, heavily seasoned with her unique sense of humor.

“After 10 plus years of blogging, I felt like I had some good essays about gardening that were trapped in the online world. By putting some of the essays in a book, potting them up and pruning them first, I hoped to reach a new audience of gardeners who haven’t discovered garden blogs,” she said in an interview

Michel, who declares herself a Gardenangelist, published the book under Gardenangelist Press. She worked with Deb Wiley, a freelance editor in Iowa, and with a former Indianapolis resident, Katie Elzer-Peters of Wilmington, North Carolina, who served as managing editor. Elzer-Peters fostered the book through the publishing process, and coordinated the design and graphics. The book is available in hard and soft cover and Kindle at, or signed copies are available from her blog.

Michel, who claims to have the world’s largest hoe collection with 56 of the tools, embraces the old-fashion and historic aspects of gardening. She prowls used bookstores and lurks online auction houses, searching for first editions of garden books, such as those by Elizabeth Lawrence (1904-1985) or Cynthia Westcott (1898-1983). Michel has made the pilgrimage to Wing Haven, Lawrence’s home and garden in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was so impressed with Westcott’s ability to write about plant pathology in a way that was easily understandable, Michel helped create an award from Garden Writers Association to honor academics who communicate complex horticulture information in language a gardener can understand.

“I read once that the Smithsonian Museum and other archivists would far rather preserve something on paper than in an electronic format,” she said. “Though I don’t think my book is by any means worthy of a museum, I hope that someday a gardener discovers it in a used bookstore, the way I’ve discovered old gardening books in used bookstores.”




Summertime blues are here early

Larkspur. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Three clematis and larkspur are showing their summer blues.

I don’t know how many years I sowed seed for annual blue larkspur (Consolida ajacis), but I could never get it going. Then, one year, a glorious stand of ferny foliage and blue spikes appeared. Ever since, the larkspur has self-sown its way into a larger patch and in a few other places. At about 3 feet tall, larkspur provides seasonal height in the garden and is perfect for fresh-cut bouquets.

Two new and one standby clematises are blooming, all a bit early. ‘Jackmanii’ has been climbing a wrought iron structure on my porch in morning sun since the early 1990s. It has large, star-like purple flowers all along its 6-foot length. If this beauty has a drawback, it’s that it gets clematis wilt, a fungus disease that shows up just as the plant is in its full glory.

Sapphire Indigo clematis. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The large-flowering clematis varieties are the most susceptible to this problem. The fungus resides in the soil and when summer temperatures heat up and the humidity rises, the disease shows up.

First, the vine looks wilted, then the leaves and stem turn brown. Cut out any diseased stems below the soil line. The Missouri Botanical Garden recommends spraying remaining stems and the surrounding soil with a protective fungicide, such as myclobutanil. The ingredient is used in organic farming, but remember that fungicides are deadly to bees, so always read and follow the label directions.

Rooguchi clematis. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Rooguchi’ clematis has been around for a while, but it’s new for me. I planted it last year and this year, it is beautiful. This one has large, blue, bell-shaped flowers on vines about 6 feet tall. I have it growing up an obelisk in full sun. It blooms all summer and does not get clematis wilt.

Sapphire Indigo clematis only gets about 3 feet tall is loaded with flowers the color of the plant’s name. This summer-long bloomer has flowers are about 3 inches wide with curved petals. This is not really a climbing clematis, but more of a trailing type. However, mine trained nicely on a 3-foot tall obelisk in a perennial bed that gets morning sun. Sapphire Indigo was planted last summer and it is in full bloom. This clematis is said to have good disease resistance.


Rain-enhanced plant growth invites insects

Rose slug and damage. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.

There seems to be a lot to be on the lookout for this spring.

For instance, I noticed finches sitting on the branches of the ‘Goldflame’ honeysuckle vine, pecking at the flower buds. A closer inspection revealed aphids on the buds, so I’m assuming (hoping?) the birds were eating the bugs. Aphids frequently are drawn to tender new growth and the recent rains have promoted that.

My native columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) have lost all of their leaves. More accurately, the caterpillar stage of the wasp-like columbine sawfly has been devouring them. Fortunately this is an aesthetic problem and not likely to kill the plant, unless an infestation occurs several years in a row. The native columbine is supposed to be more resistant to the sawfly’s green caterpillar, so I’m hoping this is just a fluky occurrence.


Tiny bugs called leaf miners make track in the leaves of columbine.

Columbines are susceptible to leaf miner damage, too. The culprit is the larval stage of a native fly. Tiny caterpillars leave telltale tracks in the leaves as they eat their way through the layers of green tissue.

Another kind of sawfly caterpillar, commonly referred to as the rose slug, makes holes in the plant’s leaves. The green caterpillars chew holes on the undersides of rose (Rosa) leaves, usually only in the morning.

My phlox, salvia and a few other perennials show damage from what’s commonly called a plant bug. As generic as that sounds, there are a few insects that do this type of damage, but it likely is the one-fourth inch long tarnished plant bug. It makes tiny brownish or brown-black holes in the leaves or flower buds.

A plant bug has been taking bites out of the leaves of phlox (pictured), salvia and a few other perennials. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Again, the damage from leaf miners, rose slug and plant bug is more aesthetic than deadly. The first line of defense is a strong spray of water from the end of the garden hose to knock the unwanted critters from the plants. Be sure to spray water on the undersides of the leaves, too. Do it every few weeks until you have the problem under control.


June garden checklist

Plants growing in containers, such as these at Sullivan Hardware & Garden near 71st and Keystone in Indianapolis, can be transplanted any time you can work the soil. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Plants growing in containers, such as these at Sullivan Hardware & Garden near 71st and Keystone in Indianapolis, can be transplanted any time you can work the soil. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


  • Houseplants will need more water and fertilizer during summer growing period.

General landscape

  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs within a month after blooms fade.
  • Supplement water as needed. Most newly planted stock needs an inch of water every week or 10 days. Established trees, shrubs and perennials can go several weeks without supplemental watering.
  • Remove faded blooms from peony, iris, delphiniums and other spring perennials.
  • Container-grown stock, including shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals, can be planted any time.
  • Continue planting gladiolus for successive blooms.

Vegetables and fruits

  • Discontinue harvest of asparagus and rhubarb in mid-June to allow foliage to develop and store food reserves for next year. Fertilize. Water when dry.
  • Blanch (exclude from light) cauliflower when heads are 2-inches in diameter. Tie leaves up over the developing heads.
Broccoli head ready for harvest. Photo courtesy Purdue University

Broccoli head ready for harvest. Photo courtesy Purdue University

  • Harvest spring plantings of broccoli, cabbage and peas.
  • Plan your Halloween pumpkin. Determine the days to harvest for particular cultivar and count backward to find the proper planting date.
  • Remove cold-season plants, such as radish, spinach and lettuce, as they bolt or form seed stalks.
  • Every week or 10 days, continue planting carrots, beans and sweet corn for successive harvests.
  • Do not be alarmed by June drop of tree fruit. It is a natural thinning process. If needed, help nature by thinning fruit to 6- to 8-inches apart and propping heavy branches.


Dogwood anthracnose can be a killer


Leaves from this native dogwood (Cornus florida) were sent to Purdue University’s Plant Pest Diagnostic Laboratory. The diagnosis: dogwood anthracnose had infested the tree (Cornus florida). (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The other day while gazing out my front window, I noticed the leaves on one of the two flowering dogwood trees looked very small. I darted out of the house to get a close look and was shocked to see most of the leaves were brown and curling. The flower petals, called bracts on dogwoods, were shriveled and the ground was covered with their bits and pieces.

Oh, dear, I thought. I wonder if this could be dogwood anthracnose, a fungus disease that I have only read about.

I snipped off some leaves, put them in a disposable plastic container, boxed it up and mailed it off to Purdue University’s Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab ( along with an $11 check and a form that described symptoms, size of tree and other details.

Two days later, I got the results: two types of fungus, dogwood anthracnose and spot anthracnose, with the first one causing the most damage.

Dogwood anthracnose can be a deadly disease on this much-loved native tree (Cornus florida). Not only does the fungus deform leaves, it attacks the twigs, and if it spreads to branches or the trunk, the tree is likely a goner.

“Dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva) initially causes spotting and blotches on bracts and leaves and later moves into small twigs. Unless pruned out the infection will move into larger branches and eventually lead to cankers on the main trunk which can kill the entire tree,” the report said. That must be the destructiva part of the scientific name, I thought.

Pete Fife of Vine and Branch sprayed a fungicide of two native dogwoods to control dogwood anthracnose. The fungus disease could kill the tree if left untreated. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The lab recommends pruning out all dead wood and burn or bury material. Putting the wood out with the trash in Indianapolis will get it burned. Water during prolonged dry periods in summer to avoid drought stress, but avoid wetting the foliage. Spray with a fungicide to protect new growth. Trees with large trunk lesions or cankers can’t be saved and should be removed and burned or buried to reduce.

“We have had several calls and emails about dogwood recently but most of that has been related to cold damage in the northern part of the state,” said Tom Creswell, director of the lab. “I believe newly emerged leaves were stressed by a cold rainy period and the damage took a while to be noticed.”

The two dogwoods have been in this bed, heavily under planted with shade-tolerant perennials since 1999, and this is the first time I’ve had a problem. The tree affected is in more shade than its neighbor, which could account for its severity. I’ve hired a certified arborist to treat both trees with a fungicide this year and hope it is a one-time problem brought on by just the right environmental conditions.

Campaign promotes selling, planting native plants

The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society and The Nature Conservancy have partnered to encourage gardeners to grow native plants. One of the ways it does this is by promoting retailers that sell the plants.

Grow Native is the statewide roll out of Go Green, Grow Native, a Monroe County initiative launched a few years ago. “We shortened the name to Grow Native and developed the website to simplify applying for the status and for sharing the Buy Native directory. We started the new version in February, and are now taking applications from around the state,” said Ellen Jacquart, an INPAWS member and former invasive plant specialist with TNC.

The idea is to recognize garden centers, nurseries and other retailers that carry native plants and to educate and encourage them to sell fewer invasive species. Retailers can sign up at for the program on two levels. A Basic member if a retailer who sells native plants. The Invasive Free retailer has agreed not to sell invasive plants, which comes with additional promotions, she said.

About 30 businesses are on the list, including two in Indianapolis – Cool Ponds and Mark M. Holeman Inc. Others listed from the area have one-time plant sales, such as INPAWS, Master Gardeners and the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

David Gorden, landscape architect and partner at Holeman, said he and the company have been long-time supporters of INPAWS and frequently feature native plants in their designs and installations. He finds customers are “more and more interested in native plants for their landscapes.”

Pawpaw flowers dangle amid redbuds on a spring day. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Although not a garden center, people can make appointments to find native plants or to have them ordered. For example, people may want the Indiana banana tree, or pawpaw (Asimina triloba), which can be hard to find, he said.

The free and voluntary program was an appealing way to start the conversation with plant sellers and educate them about the issue of invasive plants in horticulture, Jacquart said. Businesses at either level can display the Grow Native decals in their windows.

“More and more gardeners are buying native because of all the advantages these plants provide,” Jacquart said. “The Grow Native project helps put native plants in the hands of gardeners who want them.”


Mother’s Day converges with prime time for warm-season plants


A ruby-throated hummingbird enjoys the nectar of a lantana. (C) Steve Byland/

One of the things about working at a garden center around Mother’s Day is you are busy. Really busy. It’s all about the plants.

First, Mother’s Day is considered the day warm-season plants, such as basil, tomatoes and peppers, can be planted outdoors. Normally, mid-May is when frost no longer is a threat, clearing the way for planting beans, corn and other seeds, too.

Geraniums (Pelargonium), impatiens and other summer annuals can finally go in their pots to decorate porches, stoops, patios, decks and balconies.

And then there’s Mother’s Day, when a lot of people buy plants for the women in their lives, especially moms, but others who fill that role.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there are people who come into a garden center mid-afternoon on Mother’s Day on a desperate search for a plant they can give as a gift. Combination pots of summer annuals and hanging baskets almost always satisfy that last-minute need. So does a blooming hydrangea, especially if it comes guilt free, meaning the recipient can enjoy it in a pot for the season and not feel bad if it dies or doesn’t get planted in the landscape.

Another last minute idea is to buy plants that attract hummingbirds or butterflies, potting mix, a pot and plant it up. It is easy peasy and you’ve created that handmade-with-love gift that makes it extra special.

If the woman being celebrated is a gardener, she probably can’t have enough gloves, especially Mud gloves, a favorite brand. They are comfortable, washable and come in many colors. Give her a couple of pair for a useful and attractive gift.

Take a look at bird feeders. Feeders are bird specific, such as certain types for hummingbirds or finches, and appropriate food for particular birds. For this, I suggest going for serviceable over cutesy. Also, make sure the feeders are easy to fill and clean. Understand how the feeder is mounted. Some can go on shepherd’s hook or hung from a hook attached to the trim of a house or garage. A feeder, equipment to hang it and a bag of seed and you’re all set with a gift of nature’s finest entertainment.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Let kids get their hands dirty

Young girl watering the vegtable garden with a hose. (C) Fotolia

The first time I grew vegetables, the harvest was more than the bounty.

That was the summer my then six-year-old son, Ben, learned the difference between flower, flour, plants and power plants.

His questions revealed how his mind worked and what he’d picked up in the news. We lived in Southern Indiana at the time and Marble Hill, a now defunct nuclear-powered generating plant, was in the headlines. I loved talking to him at the kitchen counter about such heady stuff, even if he was only six.

That also was the summer I learned dozens of ways to cook zucchini, which thankfully, was Ben’s favorite vegetable.

Many kids find gardening fun, especially when they grow food and flowers they like. And some plants are just plain fun to grow not matter what your age.

When working with kids, get them involved from the start, asking for their input for planning the garden and what kinds of seeds and plants they’d like to try.

It’s easy to wimp out in mid-summer when weeds are high and the days are hot, but gardening teaches us about responsibility and commitment, no matter who needs the lessons.

Fulfilling responsibilities is the reason to start small. Don’t dig up more than you can handle.

Here are a few edible suggestions to whet a kid’s appetite:

*Carrots and beans. Both are easy to grow and rewarding for youngsters. Beans grow on bush-type plants or vines and both are great for kids. Make a teepee with sticks from the yard or inexpensive bamboo stakes for beans and other climbers. Make the teepee large enough and children will have a seasonal playhouse. Some beans have incredibly beautiful pods, including purple, striped and pink.

*Pumpkins and watermelons. Jack ’o lantern styles for carving, ‘Baby Bear,’ ‘Wee-Be-Little’ and ‘Jack Be Little’ are great pumpkin varieties for kids to grow. For a watermelon, try ‘Sugar Baby.’

*Pizza garden. Tomato, basil, parsley can be grown in the ground or in a large container. A five-gallon or larger bucket works great as a pizza pot. Just punch holes in the bottom for drainage. Don’t use soil from the garden in the pot. Use a good potting soil or soilless mix.

May garden checklist



  • Move houseplants to a shady location outdoors when danger of frost has past, usually mid-May. The soil in the pots will dry out faster outdoors, so check it frequently.


  • Take cuttings from houseplants to increase collection or share. Root cuttings in media such as vermiculite, perlite or potting soil.
  • Fertilize houseplants according to label directions.

General landscape

  • Prune early spring-flowering trees and shrubs after flowers fade.
  • Plant balled-and-burlapped or container nursery stock; water thoroughly.
  • Remove and destroy bagworms from trees and shrubs.
  • Mow lawn as needed to height of 3 1/2 or 4 inches.
  • Allow foliage of spring-flowering bulbs to ripen and yellow or brown before cutting back. Leaves make the food reserves stored in the bulbs that bring next year’s flowers. Divide or transplant spring-flowering bulbs after they’ve finished blooming. Mark empty spaces in the landscape to show where to plant spring-flowering bulbs next fall.
  • Begin organic rose care.
  • Divide or transplant perennials.
  • Plant tender ornamentals after danger of frost is past. This includes most annual flowers and tender perennials, such as cannas, gladiolus, dahlias, tuberous begonias and caladiums.
  • Mulch garden beds.
  • Pinch late-blooming perennials, such as chrysanthemums and asters, and certain annuals to keep them compact and well branched.
  • Stay on top of the weeds by pulling them as soon as you see them, once a week, after a rain, or whatever works on with schedule.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Once there is no threat of frost, usually by mid-May, plant tender plants such as tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplant, vine crops
  • Make successive plantings of beans and sweet corn to extend the harvest.
  • Thin seedlings of early-planted crops to spacing specified on seed packet or plant tag.
  • Harvest early plantings of radishes, spinach and lettuce.
  • Harvest asparagus by cutting or snapping spears at or just below soil level.
  • Harvest rhubarb by cutting, or grasp stalk and pull it slightly to one side.
  • Remove blossoms from newly set strawberry plantsto allow better runner formation.
  • Remove unwanted suckers in raspberries when new shoots are about a foot tall.
  • Begin organic practices in growing your apples. Thin fruit on apple trees to 8 inches apart about three weeks after their flower petals fall.