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Friday, December 2, 2016

December Featured Plant: Eastern Hemlock

December's plant of the month fits two niche categories: it's an evergreen that thrives in shade, and it's an evergreen native to Indiana. Meet Eastern Hemlock! In addition to its value as an evergreen for shade, eastern hemlock is also beloved for its light and delicate texture, complete with adorable little pine cones less than an inch long.

Image source: Kelsey Behl
This gorgeous conifer grows naturally in wooded areas throughout northeastern North America. In Indiana, you can find it happily looking over cliffs and valleys in some of our parks. I have spotted it at Turkey Run State Park and Clifty Falls State Park, and I'm sure it can be found in many other areas as well where shade, water, and quick-draining soil abound. While healthy eastern hemlocks have historically had few serious pest and disease problems, in the past few decades an invasive insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid has become more and more of a problem in the eastern U.S. So far it hasn't been a problem in Indiana, but it never hurts to keep an eye out and let an expert know if you think you've spotted it. Learn more about the pest here.

Image source:
Common Name: Eastern Hemlock

Scientific Name: Tsuga canadensis

Notable Varieties: 'Gentsch White' (a globe-shaped dwarf variety up to 4' tall and wide)

Light: partial to full shade (can tolerate full sun in colder climates)

Size: 40-70' tall, 25-35' wide

Soil: consistently moist, well drained soil

Other Notes: tolerates deer and black walnut trees; eastern hemlocks are native to Indiana

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Three Sisters: How Plants Saved the Pilgrims

A sketch of the traditional Three Sisters garden
Image source:
I'm sure some of you have already gone out to start Christmas shopping, but we're going to hang out on Thanksgiving for just a few more minutes. Our recent fun with the edible garden projects at IPS schools has us inspired about plants and food, so today we're going to connect Thanksgiving and plants by talking about the Three Sisters.

Before it was a delicious restaurant in Broad Ripple, Three Sisters referred to a specific kind of companion planting practiced by the Native Americans. Companion planting is a type of garden organization where you put plants of different species next to each other to their mutual benefit instead of keeping all the plants separated. In a Three Sisters planting, corn kernels, beans, and squash seeds are all planted together in a little mound. The corn stalks provide a structure for the beans to climb on. The beans' roots naturally enrich the soil with nitrogen. The squash vine will shade the ground to reduce weeds, and its tough, hairy leaves and vines will help keep pests from feeding on the vegetable trio.

Corn, beans, and squash
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Not only did these three vegetables help one another grow, they also provided a full meal for those who planted them. The corn provides starch, the beans provide protein, and the squash provides vitamins and natural sugars, plus nutritious oils in the seeds.

When the Pilgrims arrived in American, one of the ways in which the Native Americans helped them was by teaching them how to plant the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters would have been essential to the settlers' survival, and without that we never would have had the first Thanksgiving we all learn about in elementary school.

So if you're looking for some inspiration on what to plant in your vegetable garden, consider giving this traditional, scientifically supported planting method a try. While we may be tempted to think of Native American cultures as primitive, this kind of agricultural expertise was learned through thousands of years of thoughtful trial and error - and remember that they had to domesticate these plants first! The Three Sisters may be the most famous kind of companion planting, but it's not the only one. Check out this link to learn about more options. Enjoy the start of your holiday season!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Indy Students Get Learning Gardens

Students at William McKinley School #39 plant spinach. 
Sunshine, laughter, dirt, shovels, seeds and water - all the ingredients you need to grow a garden and an amazing interactive learning experience. This week two schools, William McKinley #39 and Global Prep Academy #44 at Riverside, opened learning gardens for their students.

By the end of the project, nearly 100 schools in the Indianapolis area will have these urban gardens, thanks to the non-profit The Kitchen Community and Gardens of Growth. The Kitchen Community has built hundreds of gardens across the country, connecting students to real food, increasing academic achievement and driving community engagement.

IPS Students learn about gardening & fresh food. 
Gardens of Growth is proud to be the exclusive builder of these interactive learning areas in Indianapolis for the Kitchen Community. We were fortunate enough to be on-site this week for the opening of two learning gardens; we saw joy from not only the students, but the teaching staff as well.

The learning garden's design and concept encourages students to be hands-on. They couldn't wait to get their hands dirty! This week students planted vegetables, including spinach, cilantro and garlic. Teachers learned about irrigation and how to keep the plants thriving.

Urban gardens, like the ones created by the Kitchen Community and Gardens of Growth, are on the rise in Indianapolis, where the trend towards fresh, locally grown food doesn't show signs of slowing down.
Gardens of Growth Builds a learning garden at IPS schools

The Kitchen Community plans to create around 100 learning gardens in the Indianapolis-area. While the first schools are in the IPS district, applications are still being accepted from all over the area. To apply for a learning garden for your school, have an administrator fill out the online application.

The Kitchen Community is made possible through generous donations and dedicated volunteers. To get involved visit their website.

Friday, November 11, 2016

8 Tips for Winterizing Your Garden

As the season draws to its close, it's important to wrap things up correctly in the garden to save yourself some headaches in the spring. Raking up leaves and cutting back perennials are the obvious tasks (Dreading doing it on your own? Call us to schedule a leaf removal or fall clean up!), but there's more to it than that. Today we'll go over 8 essential end-of-year tips to keep your garden healthy through the winter and leave it ready to go in the spring.

Crocuses come up very early
in the spring.
Image source: Maria Gulley
  1. Dig up tender summer bulbs and tubers.Dahlias, cannas, elephant ears, and caladium can all have their roots dug up and saved inside to be planted again next year. They should be stored in a dark, dry place that's cool enough to keep them from growing but not so cold that they freeze.

  2. Plant spring bulbs.
    Unlike the tropical and semi-tropical summer bloomers from the last tip, spring-blooming bulbs can take a hard freeze. The best time to plant hardy bulbs is in the fall before the ground has totally frozen. For a subtle but stunning early spring display check out some of our previous plants of the month: snowdrop, crocus, and winter aconite.

  3. Prune deciduous shrubs.
    If some of your deciduous shrubs (the ones that lose their leaves in the fall) are getting a little overgrown, late fall is the perfect time to cut them back hard to maintain their size without having to break out the shears or pruners five times during the season next year. For fast-growing shrubs you'll want to cut them down to about a foot smaller than the final size you want. Cut slower growers back about six inches shorter than what you want. This way when the new growth comes in next spring, the size will be just right. The one thing to remember is
    Black-Eyed-Susans need to
    be divided every few years.
    Image source: Maria Gulley
    that spring-blooming shrubs set their flower buds the previous year, so if you cut them back hard now, you won't get many flowers next spring. For more info on good pruning practices, check out our post on pruning 101 and two specialty pruning processes for really overgrown shrubs.

  4. Divide perennials.Fall is the perfect time to divide crowded perennials. In the middle of the summer, a plant will be stressed by both heat and water loss if you divide it. In the winter, the ground is frozen. Spring is a good time to divide plants as well with cool temperatures and more consistent rain, but some plants can be stressed if you dig them up just when they're starting to come out of dormancy. Different species have different division practices, and some don't want to be divided at all, so check out this article before you get started to make sure you're picking the best method for your plants.

  5. Bring sensitive plants inside.If you like to buy tropical or succulent plants to sit on the patio in the summer, chances are you can save them inside over the winter to add a little green to your house and avoid having to buy new plants the following summer. Look up the type of plant you have to find its optimal light and temperature conditions, and if you have a good spot inside go ahead and bring them in. Just be sure to put a saucer underneath if you don't use one outside!

  6. Wrap young trees.
    Tree wrap to protect bark.
    Image source:
    Rabbits, deer, and the sun can do some serious damage to the trunks of young, thin-barked trees during the winter. Rabbits feed on the bark and can cut off the tree's circulation if they do enough damage. Deer can damage the bark by rubbing their antlers on it. Thin-barked trees are susceptible to damage when the sun warms the bark (usually on the southwest side) just enough for sap to start flowing, and then the sap freezes, expands, and causes cracks overnight. You can avoid all of these problems by wrapping a loose-fitting, light-colored material around the trunk. Products specifically designed to protect tree trunks are available at many garden centers and hardware stores.

  7. Disconnect hoses.Like picking up leaves and cutting back perennials, this is a winterizing task most homeowners already know about, but it's so important I'm putting it on this list anyway. If you leave hoses connected to water spigots, they can freeze and build up pressure to break water lines inside the walls. This results in a big, expensive mess.
    Image source: Maria Gulley

  8. Fertilize, fertilize, fertilize.Fall is one of the best times of year to fertilize trees, shrubs, perennials, and lawns. Nutrients applied just before the end of the season are more likely to be taken down into the roots to improve the plant's overall health for years to come. There are many options for fertilizing. Granular applications are the most popular, but one good option for trees is deep root fertilization. With deep root fertilization, we use a pressurized tool to inject a liquid fertilizer down into the soil where it is immediately available for roots. 

With these eight tips, I hope you now feel more confident that you're taking care of your garden correctly for the winter. It can be hard to get yourself outside to do the work once it starts to get colder, but it will be worth it when it's easier to get your landscape going again in the spring. And of course you can call us at 317-251-GROW if you want someone else to do the work!

Friday, November 4, 2016

November Featured Plant: Chokeberry

Chokeberry may not sound like a plant you want in your yard, but this medium-to-large native shrub has pleasant spring flowers, attractive (and edible!) berries, and simply stunning orange to red fall color.

Image source: HGTV Gardens
Chokeberries are available in two different species: red chokeberry and black chokeberry. As you may guess, one has red berries and the other has black berries (more of a very dark purple, really). The red chokeberry is taller and narrower with less dense branching, and the black chokeberry has a low and spreading habit with foliage that is dense all the way to the ground. Both have berries that are edible when fully ripe, but the flavor is very bitter. They can be turned into jellies and pie fillings for a sweeter taste. We like to recommend chokeberries as an alternative to the popular burning bush, since burning bush is widely considered to be invasive. Chokeberries also provide a more nutritional fall snack for our birds than burning bush.

Image source: NetPS Plant Finder
Common Name: Red Chokeberry and Black Chokeberry

Scientific Name: Aronia arbutifolia and Aronia melanocarpa

Notable Varieties: 'Brilliantissima', 'Autumn Magic' (both are more compact than the species with better fall color)

Light: full sun to part shade

Size: A. arbutifolia 6-8' tall and 3-4' wide; A. melanocarpa 3-6' tall and 4-7' wide

Soil: tolerant of many soil conditions, including clay and wet soils

Blooms: small white clusters of flowers bloom briefly in April-May

Other Notes: attractive red or black berries depending on species; both can spread by suckers to form a dense colony - suckers should be removed if you want individual shrubs

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Project Spotlight: Cozy Backyard Haven in Carmel

Photo credit: Lori B. Adams
A common theme for our clients is that they want an outdoor space that is comfortable and that reflects them. We see a whole range of styles, space use needs, and desired features, but everybody wants a place where they can feel relaxed and truly themselves with family and friends. This cozy, party-ready, backyard we installed in Carmel exemplifies that.

The customer wanted her backyard to reflect who her family is, but the bland, traditional landscaping left by the builder was far from it. Once Amanda, our designer, saw the inside of the home, she knew this was going to be a fun project. "I wanted to bring their dynamic personality outside and have fun," she says. Our client says we did just that: "Amanda did such a great job of making the outside feel like the inside of our home," says the homeowner.
Photo credit: Lori B. Adams

The finished space is perfect for entertaining, featuring a fire pit, hot tub, views of sculptures, and a pergola. The fire pit has a concrete basin with colorful fireballs. Overall, the feel is relaxed and homey, yet unique with plenty of vibrant character in the details.

One of our biggest challenges was dealing with the layout conflict created by two unmovable air conditioning units, which were the first things guests saw when entering the back yard for a party. Chris, our jack-of-all-trades in the construction department, created a custom cedar covering for the units, which thrilled the homeowner.

Photo credit: Lori B. Adams

Photo credit: Lori B. Adams
Our foreman on the job, Jose, showed absolutely perfect attention to detail. Every component was painstakingly faithful to the spirit of the design, and it shows in the finished project. His crew's work on the joints and the limestone was especially flawless, as you can see in the photo on the left.

This great team effort led to a stunning, fun, finished product that is already being used for parties. Ready to get your party started? Call us at 317.251.GROW to see about having your outdoor space revamped!

Photo credit: Lori B. Adams

Friday, October 21, 2016

Pumpkins: Fun Facts about Fall's Jolly Mascot

Image source: Maria Gulley
It's no secret that pumpkin spice everything has taken over the world at this time of year. Whether you're gleefully sipping a pumpkin spice latte while reading this or you're one of the folks saying "bah humbug!" about the whole trend, I hope you'll enjoy learning a few facts about these orange bundles of joy (I bet you can guess where I fall on the issue!).

Pumpkins are a type of squash. The botanical name for their category of fruit (bonus fact: in scientific terms, pumpkins are fruits) is cucurbit, and the larger family also includes gourds and melons.

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This year the classic Halloween special, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" turns 50. Linus has been believing in the epic squash for even longer; the first reference to the Great Pumpkin is in a Peanuts comic strip from 1959.

Pumpkins can grow on every continent except for Antarctica. They were originally cultivated thousands of years ago in the region we now know as Mexico. Today, the U.S. is one of the biggest pumpkin producers globally, along with Mexico, Canada, China, and India.

Pumpkins are pollinated by native bee species and honeybees. Have you heard about declining bee populations? Check out our series from last year to get the facts about why bees are dying and what you can do to help.

World's Largest Pumpkin
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Jack-o'-lanterns are made from pumpkins today, but they originally come from Ireland where they were made from potatoes and turnips. Learn more about the legend behind this Halloween tradition here.

The current world record holder for largest pumpkin was grown in 2014 by a man named Beni Meier. It weighed in at 2,323.7 pounds - that's more than a Smart Car!

The word "pumpkin" is an American development. It started out as pepon, a Greek word that means "large melon". In France it became "pompon". The Brits changed it "pumpion". In the American colonies, the word transformed one more time to land at "pumpkin".