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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We've moved to a new website!

Gardens of Growth has launched a new website with a fully integrated blog, so we're slowly moving everything over to the new site. Click here to go to the new blog where you can see old posts as they disappear from here, along with new posts. Thanks!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Got any weekend plans?

There's no shortage of awesome events in Indianapolis this coming weekend, September 10-11. I think I heard five different festivals advertising on the radio earlier. So if you're trying to narrow down your options, the team here at Gardens of Growth has a few recommendations.

Saturday is the 50th annual Penrod Arts Fair, and we're excited to be a sponsor this year! Also known as "Indiana's Nicest Day", Penrod showcases artists, musicians, and performing artists from across the country (along with plenty of local food and drinks) in a day-long celebration of the arts in our community. The fair is held on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which is an experience all on its own with some of the best gardens in the city. Learn more on their website.

On Sunday you can sleep in from your long day at Penrod at the IMA and then head down to the historic neighborhood of Herron-Morton Place, one of Indy's officially designated historic districts. We are incredibly proud to have one of our favorite projects featured as one of our clients' homes is part of the tour. Go at your own pace and see ten beautiful sites in one lovely neighborhood. Learn more about the event and see photos of the homes on their website.

Whatever you end up doing with your weekend, we hope you enjoy it! And if you're inspired by any of the gardens you see, give us a call and we'll design something truly unique just for you.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Proper Tree Pruning: There's more to it than you think

It's time for another tree care lesson! If you need a refresher on why we value trees so much, check out last year's post on the top 10 benefits of urban trees. Today we'll talk about proper pruning technique and why it's so important.

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Flush cuts leave large wounds.
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If you've ever needed to prune a tree branch and you haven't been trained on the best methods, chances are you've done one of two things: cut the branch somewhere in the middle to meet whatever clearance needs you're trying to achieve, or cut the branch off flush with the trunk. Both of these are bad for the tree. Trees can't heal wounds in the way people heal cuts on their skin. The tree has to grow new bark from the areas around the cut to seal off the damage, and some parts of the tree are better at this than others. When you cut a branch in the middle, the bark just below that wound can't wrap around and seal off the cut, so instead the branch just dies back to a spot lower down the branch where it can seal itself off, and you're left with a stub that will die. If you cut the branch flush with the trunk, you're creating a much larger wound that provides a bigger area for insects and disease to invade, and it takes longer for the tree to seal it off. The tree pictured above has been pruned properly, and you can see that new bark has totally covered the cuts over the years. Learn how to get these results below.

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So where should you make a cut? There's a sweet spot at the base of a branch just before where it connects to another limb or to the trunk. There is a ridge of bark on the top of the branch and a little bump called the branch collar on the bottom. Your goal is to cut just on the outside of these two structure. See the diagram above for an example. It won't always be easy to spot the branch collar on the bottom, so if you aren't sure make your best guess. The angle of the cut should follow the angle of an imaginary line connecting the bark ridge and branch collar. If you're having trouble finding the branch collar, make the angle match the angle of the bark ridge as it extends into the trunk.

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If you look at a branch that has broken off in a storm, you will sometimes notice that the weight of the falling branch caused a strip of bark to rip off of the trunk as it fell. This can also happen when a branch breaks as you work on sawing though it, and ripping bark like that leaves a wound that can be difficult for a tree to heal over. If you are removing a branch larger than 1" in diameter, you need to use the three cut technique to avoid tearing the bark. First you make a cut on the bottom of the branch further up than where your ideal cutting zone is. This cut should go about a third of the way into the branch. Next, you cut off the branch on the outside of this pre-cut. If the bark starts to rip, it will stop when it gets to your first cut. Your third cut should be at the base of the branch in the sweet spot we discussed above.

Congratulations! You now know how to prune your trees to keep them happy and healthy for years to come! Please spread your knowledge, and never hesitate to ask a professional for help if you have questions.

Friday, August 5, 2016

August Featured Plant: Liriope

Here at the office, we like to joke that it's not a GoG garden unless it has liriope! We certainly do use this grassy plant a lot, and with good reason. With clean, tidy foliage and a pleasant surprise of purple flowers in late summer, it thrives in many conditions and matures to be a dense, low-maintenance groundcover suitable for a wide variety of soil conditions.

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Liriope is not technically a grass, but it looks like a grass and is valued for its foliage like a grass would be, so it's considered a grass-like perennial. It is actually classified in the same family as asparagus. In warmer climates, liriope is evergreen. Even here in Indiana it remains green into the winter, but it eventually turns brown before the spring unless we have a very mild winter. Liriope will spread gradually through its roots to form a dense turf. The purple flowers in August and September are a bonus feature for this attractive foliage plant. The small purple blossoms eventually give way to glossy black berries that stay on their stalks through the fall.

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Common Name: Liriope (sometimes Lilyturf)

Scientific Name: Liriope spicata or Liriope muscari

Notable Varieties: 'Big Blue' (overall improved variety), 'Variegata' (white stripes on edges of leaves), 'Silver Dragon' (white flowers, white stripes on edges of leaves

Light: full to partial sun

Size: 1-2' tall, spreading to fill a space

Soil: will tolerate drought and low fertility soils; does not like soggy soil

Blooms: purple flower spikes about the same height at the foliage in August and September

Other Notes: deer and rabbits don't eat it; keep a border between liriope and a lawn so the grass doesn't grow into the liriope

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, July 1, 2016

July Featured Plant: American Hornbeam

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Looking for a strong, reliable, attractive tree with a tidy habit? You'll love American Hornbeam. It has shiny green foliage, interesting (but not showy) flowers, good yellow fall color, and a tight oval or spreading form. As an added bonus, this tree is native to Indiana.

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American Hornbeam grows naturally as a small understory tree in forests in the eastern U.S. It prefers to grow at the bottoms of hills, especially at the edge of marshes or near rivers at the top edge of the flood plain. It has many common names, and these names tell us something about the plant. Musclewood refers to the sinewy texture of the bark (see the picture below). Ironwood refers to how dense and strong the wood is. The tree isn't large enough for it's hard wood to be useful for lumber, but that doesn't stop artisans and craftsmen from using it when it's available.

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Common Name: American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Blue Beech, Musclewood

Scientific Name: Carpinus caroliniana

Notable Varieties: none

Light: full sun to filtered shade

Size: 20-35' tall and wide

Soil: can tolerate frequently wet sites as long as the soil drains well; will tolerate clay soil on drier sites

Blooms: lime green flowers look like weird-shaped clusters of leaves in spring

Other Notes: a single-stemmed tree will have a more upright habit, and a multi-stem tree will have a more spreading habit; tree will be less dense in shade

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Poison Ivy: How to identify, avoid, and eliminate the pesky plant

Poison ivy - you know you don't like it, but what do you know beyond that? Roughly 85% of people are allergic to poison ivy (10-15% severely so) which makes this plant the arch-nemesis of many a gardener. Today we take a look at how to identify it, how to avoid getting a rash, how to treat a rash if you do get it, and how to kill the plant.

A young poison ivy plant
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photo by Stilfehler
Let's start with identification. Poison ivy has compound leaves that always have 3 leaflets. This means that each leaf stem has three tiny leaves attached to it (my mom always used the the rhyme "leaves of three, beware of me"). There is often a reddish color on the leaf stem, although it's not always prominent. Poison ivy creeps along the ground or climbs up plants and structures, and it never stands straight up on its own. For information about poison ivy look-alikes and how to tell them apart, check out this helpful post from another blog.

The best way not to get poison ivy is obviously to know how to spot the plant and avoid touching it, but sometimes you don't see it until it's too late, or you don't notice it at all. Fortunately, if you do touch poison ivy there are ways to avoid an itchy rash. It is the oil secreted by all parts of the plant (urushiol oil, if you want to get technical) that causes the allergic reaction. It acts like a stubborn grease on your skin, so the key is to use the same kind of tactics you might use to get grease off your skin: soap, cold water, and scrubbing action. The scrubbing is essential. It's more effective than soap, so if you don't have soap on hand just find whatever you can to scrub the skin - whether it's a towel or a handful of wet sand. This popular YouTube video demonstrates how to get off poison ivy oil using axle grease to visualize urushiol oil. If you have been in the woods or in any other place where you suspect you may have come into contact with poison ivy, it's a good idea to immediately wash your clothes and thoroughly clean your skin. Cold water is better than hot water because hot water will open your pores and make it more likely that some of the oils will be absorbed.

One of the many options for treating
a rash from poison ivy
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If you do get poison ivy, there are all sorts of products that help. Calamine lotion is a classic that will soothe the itch and help dry out the rash. Hydrocortisone-based anti-itch creams relieve itching. Benadryl cream or other antihistamine creams help block the molecules that drive the allergic reaction to stop itching. Lotions that have menthol mixed in provide an instant cooling effect while the rest of the active ingredients kick in. Oral antihistamines can help as well. If I have an especially nasty case that's driving me crazy, I take Benadryl at night for the combined anti-itch and sleep-inducing effects. Oatmeal baths can soothe the skin, as can cool compresses. If you're interested in more natural remedies, check out this list.

Now for my favorite part: killing poison ivy. Pulling it out by the roots is the most immediately effective method. If you know someone who isn't allergic, ask them to pull it for you. If not, you can pull small weeds by putting a plastic bag over your hand, pulling the weed with the bag, and then closing the bag (the same concept as picking up after your dog on a walk). For bigger plants, you'll just have to dress to for minimal skin exposure and wash thoroughly afterward (if you didn't already watch the YouTube video I linked to before, watch it before you try this). If you want to go the herbicide route, make sure you use a systemic herbicide like RoundUp that will kill the roots. You may need multiple applications, and if you're dealing with a large plant you have to get the whole thing. If a vine is climbing through another plant, you need to cut the vine where it starts to climb the other plant and then spray the poison ivy where it's in the ground. It is not good to spray the trunk or branches of a tree with herbicides. The down side to using chemicals to deal with poison ivy is that you then have a bunch of dead poison ivy to deal with, and there are still residual oils on the dead plant that can cause a reaction. Use the same care when removing dead poison ivy as you do when dealing with live plants.

Birds and other wildlife love the berries
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photo by H. Zell
I'm going to end on a note sympathetic to poison ivy. Yes, this plant does have a redeeming quality. It is a native plant, and its berries are a great food source for wildlife. I'm not by any means saying that you should let poison ivy run free on your deck, but if you are dealing with a natural area where little human traffic is expected, consider letting it be. You can avoid the headache of trying to kill poison ivy in its natural habitat (trust me - it's not easy), and you can feed the birds at the same time. I hope you now feel more prepared to deal with this dreaded plant. Knowledge is power! We have focused on poison ivy for this post since it's the most common, but the same information applies to poison oak and poison sumac (except for the plant identification). Hopefully this information will help you enjoy the outdoors itch-free this summer.

Friday, June 3, 2016

June Featured Plant: Catmint

Looking for a sturdy yet attractive plant with an interesting fragrance? Catmint may be just what you're looking for! This low-maintenance perennial has a tame, mounding habit and is covered with spikes of small purple or blue starting in late May or early June and continuing all the way into September.
'Walker's Low' Catmint
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Catmint is a close cousin of catnip. The strong smell does appeal to cats, but not the way catnip does. The fragrance of catmint can be a divisive issue. Some love it, and some hate it, so before planting it in your garden be sure to rub the leaves and give them a sniff to see if you want it growing in your yard. If you do like the smell, there are few flowers that can beat it as far as durability and adaptability. Rabbits and deer don't like the smell, so they won't nibble on it, but if there are wandering cats in your neighborhood it may attract them.

'Blue Wonder' Catmint
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Common Name: Catmint

Scientific Name: Nepeta species and hybrids

Notable Varieties: 'Walker's Low' (somewhat smaller variety), 'Six Hill Giant' (larger variety), 'Blue Wonder' (deep blue flowers)

Light: full sun to light shade

Size: 1-3' tall, 1.5-4' wide (depends on variety)

Soil: tolerant of many soil conditions, but prefers good drainage

Blooms: small light purple or bluish blooms on loose spikes from early to late summer

Other Notes: deer will not eat it; cutting it back in the summer can encourage a flush of fresh growth and stronger flowering; will not self-seed; foliage and flowers are strongly fragrant, but not everyone likes the smell

See other plants of the month here.