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Friday, September 30, 2016

What to Expect When You're Expecting a New Lawn

If you're building a house, doing major outdoor work, or if your current lawn is beyond hope of renovation, you may be looking at totally redoing a lawn. Right now is the perfect time of year for replanting a lawn as the temperatures cool down enough to let the grass germinate and take root while it's still warm enough that we don't have to worry about frost. Read on to learn about your different options for a new lawn and what to expect if you go with the seed-planted route.

Sod gives you an instant lawn.

Sod or Seed?

Before we delve into the complicated task of successfully seeding a lawn, lets compare planting a lawn by seed to planting it with sod. Sod is pre-grown grass that comes in a roll complete with the soil the grass is rooted in. Sod is appealing to many people because you get an instant lawn without all the waiting and watching involved in planting by seed. The downside to sod is that it is much more expensive than seeding, and you can't always find specialty seed mixes or good shade varieties (yes, turf grass comes in many varieties - that sounds like a good future blog post!). Seeding is less expensive, but it can take months or even a year before your lawn looks as perfect as one that was just sodded. With either method, it is imperative that you start with good, even grading, a quality level of topsoil (this may already be present on your site, or we may need to add it), and plenty of water during the establishment period.

The Long Road to a Successfully Seeded Lawn

Depending on the exact conditions and the time of year we plant, it can take anywhere from three months to a year from the day a lawn is seeded until it's fully grown in. A lot goes on in that time, but it can be frustrating if you don't know what to expect when. Our timeline below outlines the major events in a lawn seeding project (click to see larger).

Our new lawn timeline

So let's break down this timeline. Before we can begin, the property must be properly graded, and quality topsoil may need to be added depending on the quality of what's already there. We then use a machine called a slice-seeder to put down a precisely calibrated amount of grass seed at the proper depth. Straw or another moisture-saving material is typically put down on top of the grass.

Next up is germination, which is just a fancy way of saying the seeds are sprouting. Our favorite type of grass seed is called RTF, and it can be expected to germinate 10-14 days after planting. Usually you won't see every seed sprouting at once, but if you keep an eye on your lawn it will start to look more and more green every day.

A month to a month and a half after seeding we can start mowing. In the meantime weeds may have gotten taller than the grass, but to give the new turf the best chance of survival we need to wait to mow it. We promise that in the end the weeds will be gone, you just may be stuck with them at first.

Once the lawn has been mowed, the grass is old enough that we can apply weed killer without killing the new grass. Sometime after the first mowing is also when your lawn will be overseeded. This means we use the slice-seeder again to add more grass seed, especially in areas where germination didn't go as well.

If conditions are ideal, you will have a picture-perfect lawn in 3-4 months. Ideal conditions include planting in late summer to early fall, maintaining a proper amount of moisture, full sun exposure, no disease problems, and no other extreme or unexpected events. If all of these things go wrong, it could take a year to see the lawn you want, but we guarantee you will love the final results. The best time to plant a lawn in the Indianapolis area is August 15-October 15. During late summer and early fall temperatures are warm enough to encourage growth, but cool enough not to scorch it. We get less rain in the fall than the spring, which helps to avoid over-watering and disease. Full lawn seeding is something we take great pride in here at Gardens of Growth. One of our favorite seeded lawns is pictured on the right less than a year after planting. Trust us with your turf, and we won't let you down!

Friday, September 23, 2016

5 Tips for Outstanding Containers

Last week we were excited to participate in Downtown Indy's second annual INspired Beauty event as part of the planter challenge to help raise money for their street beautification fund. We were even more excited to take home the People's Choice Award for our entry! Today we're going to share 5 container design elements from Maria, our horticulturist (pictured on the left), to help you make your own winning containers.

Heights and Habits

In order to give your container design good structure, you need to think about the height and habit of the plants you choose. If everything is the same height, you can't see all the plants properly, so it's good to mix that up. Planters where everything is the same height also lack interest. Habit refers to the shape of the plant. This is where the classic rule of "thriller, filler, and spiller" comes in. "Thrillers" are tall plants that are usually narrow or sometimes bushy. "Fillers" are shorter and less conspicuous, and they often have a spreading form. As you might guess, "spillers" are plants that cascade over the sides of the container. Some people treat the "thriller, filler, spiller" saying as a strict rule for making good containers, but we like to consider it more of a guideline than an actual rule. If you have all three, chances are you'll have a good container (especially if you follow our other tips), but don't be afraid to experiment once you get comfortable. Just know that too many of one type will leave you with a container that isn't at its best. In the container on the right, we have coleus provide both height and width, euphorbia with little white flowers to help fill in some of the bare spots, and vibrant creeping Jenny cascading over the sides.


Color is pretty self-explanatory. When choosing colors and color schemes for your planters you have all kinds of options. A monochromatic color scheme uses different plants with the same color - using all different shades of green is a surprisingly fun option. Complimentary color schemes use colors on the opposite sides of the color wheel: green and red, orange and blue, or purple and yellow. You can also use all warm colors (orange, yellow, and red) for a bright and cheery look or all cool colors (purple, blue, and green) for a peaceful and laid-back feel. While we may think of flowers first when we think of color, make sure you're thinking about foliage color too. In the grouping of planters on the right I stuck with bright orange and dark purple for a dramatic, high contrast fall color scheme.


Texture is a visual element that people usually don't consider if they're new to container design. When we talk about texture, we're talking both about how the plants physcially feel (like sharp agave or soft licorice plant) but also how fine or coarse the leaves and flowers are. We think of plants with small, airy flowers and leaves as having a fine texture. Plants with big flowers and leaves are considered to have a coarse texture. Mixing textures well can truly set a container apart and make anyone look like a pro. In the container on the left, I used agave for a coarse texture, 'Black Beauty' ornamental pepper with a medium texture, and white lantana for a fine texture.

Growing Conditions

Growing conditions don't affect the look of a container much, but they are absolutely essential to making sure that your container continues to be beautiful for weeks and months to come. The two main conditions you need to think about with containers are light level and water needs. Pick plants that match the light levels you have. If the plant has a label it will tell you the light needs, if not you can ask a garden center employee for help. The plants you pick should also have similar water needs, and those water needs should go with what your maintenance expectations are. If you are great about remembering to water your plants, then you can pick whichever plants you want as long as they all tolerate the same water levels (and you can teach me your secrets - even I forget to water my own plants as often as I should). If you know you struggle with watering, you're going to want to pick plants with moderate or low water needs. The more heat and sun your planter is exposed to, the more often you'll need to water it. The planter on the left is a mix of succulents - perfect for full sun locations and people who have a hard time remembering to water containers.

Whatever you love!

The final rule is to just do what makes you happy! Don't get so wrapped up in the rules that you stress yourself out and can't enjoy what can be a relaxing and fun process. Start with a few plants that make you really happy. If it's something tall and dramatic, try to find something more subdued with a fine texture to go with it. If it's a stunning succulent, add other drought-tolerant plants like lantana and agave. I could go on and on with more scenarios, but my main point is that sometimes the easiest way to make a plan is to just go with your gut and add a few extras if the combo you end up with needs a little something to bring it all together in keeping with the tips we went through. For example, the combo of tulips, willow twigs, and violas on the left started with the client knowing she wanted purple tulips, and also that she didn't want the design cluttered up with a lot of extras. So we simply added violas for some low-lying texture and lighter color and twigs for extra height and finer texture. She absolutely loved the results!

If you love what you're seeing but don't want to design or plant it yourself, give us a call at 251-GROW! We love doing planters, and we work with our customers to understand their tastes and preferences and then come up with solutions they love. Now is the perfect time to plan for fall containers, so get in touch with us if you want some showstopping autumn designs without finding time in your own busy schedule.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Problems in the Garden: Hydrangea Rust and Leaf Spots

Every once in a while an insect or disease pops up in so many of our gardens at once that we decide to talk about it on the blog in case others are seeing it as well. Lately we have seen an awful lot of two diseases common on hydrangeas: a rust, and a leaf spot disease.

Image source: Maria Gulley
Rust on hydrangeas shows up as powdery orange spots on the undersides of leaves. As the disease advances, the leaves will turn yellow and then brown, and the flowers may turn brown prematurely. We have noticed this most often on varieties of Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), such as Annabelle and Incrediball.

Leaf spot on hydrangea.
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There are many fungal leaf spots that affect many different plants and have different appearances, but the one we are seeing on hydrangeas right how looks like a small tan or whitish dead spot a quarter inch or smaller surrounded by a purple or brown ring. The spots may expand and eventually cause the leaf to turn yellow and fall off. We are seeing this a lot on varieties of Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), such as the Endless Summer series and any of the varieties that change flower color with soil pH.

Rusts and most leaf spots are caused by fungi, and that is the case for both of these problems on hydrangeas. These fungal diseases spread by spores in hot, humid, wet conditions when water can carry spores from one leaf to another. With the very rainy and hot weather we had at the end of August into September, it's no wonder that many hydrangeas around the Indianapolis area are starting to lose their charm.

Soaker hoses water without spreading leaf diseases.
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The good news is that neither rust nor leaf spots will do any serious harm to your hydrangea, and both are treatable and preventable with the same methods. While you may lose leaves early this year, the hydrangea will come back just fine in the spring. Once you notice the first signs of rust or leaf spots, you can spray your hydrangeas with a fungicide labelled for that disease (ask for help from a garden center employee if you're having trouble finding the right one) to help prevent its spread. We usually will spray for rust, but we often leave leaf spots alone, especially this late in the season. Rust can quickly defoliate a whole group of hydrangeas while the leaf spots are much slower to cause that much aesthetic damage. Since both diseases are spread by water carrying the spores on the leaves, you can help prevent infection by watering your hydrangeas at the base or using soaker hoses. Of course you can't stop rain from spreading the fungi, but you can keep your hose from spreading it.

Hopefully with these tips you can keep your hydrangeas happy and healthy through the end of the summer!

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, September 2, 2016

September Featured Plant: Showy Autumn Stonecrop

When people envision their ideal garden, they usually think about it at the height of summer, full of mid-season perennials and warm sunshine. But there are many excellent plants that continue the landscape show into the late summer and fall, and showy autumn stonecrop (often called sedum) is one of the best.

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As more and more gardeners are looking for hardy, drought-tolerant plants, Showy Autumn Stonecrop is gaining popularity. This relative of succulents has thick, fleshy leaves that allow the plant to store more water, and the waxy coating on the leaves helps reduce water loss from evaporation. With these traits in mind, you might guess that this plant comes to us from Africa or the Middle East, but it is actually native to Asia, particularly from drier regions of China and Korea. In addition to its use for dry soils, many people love Showy Autumn Stonecrop because it is an excellent late season food source for pollinators (learn more about helping pollinators in some of our past blog posts).

Common Name: Showy Autumn Stonecrop

Scientific Name: Hylotelephium spectabile and Hylotelephium x hybrida (the genus name is sometimes listed as Sedum)

Notable Varieties: 'Autumn Joy' (classic improved variety), 'Autumn Fire' (recent introduction with deeper color and reduced tendency to split), 'Pink Bomb' (shorter than other varieties)

Light: full sun

Size: 18-24" tall and wide

Soil: well drained soil is essential, tolerates sand and drought

Blooms: various shades of pink flowers on big clusters from late summer into fall

Other Notes: pollinators love it; can rot in wet soil; very heat and drought tolerant once established

See other plants of the month here.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Pests to Watch for: Asian Longhorned Beetle

In a world of global commerce and travel, it's inevitable that species will find themselves living in new places both by accident and by design. Some of our most beloved garden plants are from other continents, and they get along quite well with our native plants. However, some non-native species can invade an ecosystem and cause all kinds of damage to the unsuspecting native flora and fauna. Today we'll introduce a particularly insidious new invader with the potential to change both our wild and managed landscapes: the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

What is the Asian Longhorned Beetle, and why is it important?

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As you may guess, the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) is from Asia - specifically China and the Korean Peninsula - and it probably got here on wood packing materials like crates (this is also the way the invasive Emerald Ash Borer made it's way here). The insect attacks a wide range of trees including all maples, ashes, elms, sycamores, birches, and many more. An un-treated infestation will inevitably result in tree death. With such a wide range of vulnerable trees, it is estimated that communities could lose 30% or more of their trees if ALB becomes established. The good news is that so far this beetle has only been found in the wild in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts, and all of those outbreaks have been successfully contained. The bad news is that the beetles have been found in packing materials in warehouses in an additional 11 states (including Indiana), so we have to be vigilant to prevent a catastrophe in our state's cities and forests.

How does ALB affect a tree?

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The distinctive adult beetles are easy to spot, but it's the larvae that do damage to a tree. Adult females lay eggs on the bark of a tree, and once the larva hatches it burrows into the wood of the tree in the trunk or a large limb. When it first emerges it feeds on the outer layers of wood, and these are the layers that are critical for transporting water and nutrients and growing new wood. As the larva grow they burrow deeper into the heartwood where they can significantly weaken branches. The larvae can grow up to 2.5" inches long and nearly half an inch in diameter. After spending time as a pupa deep within the tree, it emerges as an adult and chews its way out of the tree to mate and feed on leaves and bark. The tree is gradually weakened as its ability to transport food and water is reduced by the larvae feeding on the critical outer layers of wood. The tree starts to visibly struggle 3-4 years after the initial infestation, and the tree will usually die 10-15 years after being attacked. In the meantime, large limbs may fall and damage property as they are weakened by the burrowing of the larvae.

How can I tell if my tree has ALB?

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There are several indicators to watch out for. For one thing, the adult beetles are hard to miss. At 1-1.5" long they're fairly big, and with their long curving antennae, black bodies with white spots, and blue feet, they don't look like many other beetles you'll see. They can emerge at just about any time of year, but their activity peaks in late summer and early fall. Two other easy-to-spot indicators are the adult exit holes and frass. Adult exit holes are round circles about 3/8" of an inch across (see photo to the left), large enough to fit a pencil inside. Frass is the excrement from the larvae as they feed on the wood. It looks a lot like sawdust and can be found on the ground under the tree or on branches. ALB is not the only tree pest that has exit holes or produces sawdust-like frass, but most other borer beetles we see around here don't make holes nearly as big as ALB. If you look closer you may also notice little oval-shaped depressions in the bark where the female lays her eggs. Branches that fall off of an infested tree will have large holes bored through them from the larvae feeding. Infested trees will have yellowing or dying branches after a few years, but many other insect, disease, and environmental factors can also cause yellowing leaves or canopy dieback.

What can be done for an ALB-infested tree?

Unfortunately, not much. It is very difficult for insecticides to reach the larvae once they make it into the heartwood of the tree. The best response is to cut down the tree and destroy it to ensure that no eggs, larvae, pupae, or adults survive to attack another tree. Since treatment isn't an option, the best course of action is to make sure your trees are healthy (stressed trees are always more vulnerable to insect and disease invaders than healthy trees) and to spread the word to make sure everyone is on the lookout for this dangerous beetle.

What is being done to keep ALB out?

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA is on red alert to prevent the beetle from making it here in the first place whenever possible. Wood packing materials coming from Asia are now subject to new regulations to ensure that no living things are present before they are shipped to the U.S. Travelers coming from regions where ALB lives have their luggage inspected if they are carrying any plant material (already standard practice to catch a whole range of potentially dangerous species). Any piece of cargo that is suspected of carrying ALB is immediately quarantined, and the area is searched in case any escaped. APHIS is doing what they can to prevent another outbreak, however it's impossible to be 100% effective. That's why it's so important that average citizens like you and me are informed an on the lookout. If you think you see ALB, it is important that you report it immediately. Here in Indiana you can call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on their toll-free line: 1-866-663-9684 (1-886-NO-EXOTIC)

Want to learn more?

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.

Image source: today's

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.