HORTICULTURIST Q&A

What are those mesh baggies on stakes in the gardens?

Inside the bags are either Dial or Irish Spring soap cut into chunks to keep the deer away. It’s been pretty successful, especially if you rotate the brand you use and change the soap after the rain has washed most of the scent away.

How many roses are in the rose garden?

There are approximately 80 plants of 50 different rose varieties.

Where is the best place to do some bird watching?

The prairie connected to the Native Plant Garden is one of the best places to see a variety of birds, including goldfinches, indigo buntings, Eastern bluebirds, Carolina wrens, nuthatches, titmice, cardinals, red-wing blackbirds and more. The concentration of native plants supply lots of food to attract these beautiful birds, especially in the fall.

Is it true that winter is the best time to prune a tree?

Absolutely. In most cases, winter is the best time to prune trees. When it comes to deciduous trees, it is best because you can easily see the structure of the tree. Also, most tree pests are dormant at this time. Since they are not actively searching out new trees to infest, an open area of newly cut tissue (that which is left after pruning) can begin healing.

Additionally, when it comes to conifers and other trees that have a resinous sap, pruning in the winter is best because the sap in the tree is flowing much more slowly in the colder weather. If you do this during the warmer months, it can be quite messy, attracting pests faster and potentially ruining equipment. For more information about general pruning practices, come to the Taltree Library located in our office.

What exactly is an Arboretum?

The dictionary definition: a place where trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes. Our short answer is always “it’s like a museum for trees.” Arboreta and Gardens collect plants as a museum collects artifacts, not only to study them but to preserve them. Each tree, shrub and herbaceous plant chosen for Taltree’s gardens and grounds is the museum equivalent of a work of art. We give each specimen a number because, while some are selected for the aesthetic value, more importantly we have something to learn from each plant. In our region of fractured ecosystems and declining genetic diversity, the heart of Taltree as an institution is more than skin deep.

I want to plant some spring ephemerals in my woodland garden. What would you recommend?

One of my favorite spring ephemerals is Bloodroot or Sanguinaria canadensis. The name Bloodroot comes from the reddish orange sap the tuber of the plant exudes when cut. This particularly early bloomer gets a jump on things by flowering before its leaves unfurl. The flowers are a clear, unblemished white that gleams above the brown leaves of a woodland floor.

The flowers are fertilized by ants, beetles and bees. Ants also distribute the seeds, carrying them off to their nests where the decomposed leafy matter provides the perfect environment for seed germination. Once flowering is complete, the medium green leaves unfurl the rest of the way, increasing photosynthesis to make plenty of food that is stored in the small underground tuber for the remainder of the year.

Another favorite is Hepatica or Hepatica nobilis. This dainty little native has purplish flowers that seem to appear before the leaves but the leaves actually stay with the plant from the previous year’s growth, giving it a jump start the following spring. Others we’d recommend (native and nonnative): Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum), Showy White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), and Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis).

I’ve tried roses before and I’ve just gotten fed up. Is there a carefree rose that doesn’t require constant maintenance?

There are definitely a few rose varieties out there that are barely touched by all the problems typical of most roses. One of the great things about taking care of the rose garden at the Arboretum, is we get to see quite a few different varieties side by side. After two summers of observations, there are a few shrub roses we grow that clearly outperform the rest. There is a series out now that’s available at your local garden center called Knockout®. These come in a few varieties but we grow ‘Blushing Knockout®’ and ‘Pink Knockout®.’ These roses have not gotten but a couple spots on any of their leaves. The foliage stays dark and attractive and though the flowers don’t have the appeal of a tea rose, they are a very easy and serviceable rose.

A few other shrub rose varieties that have been flourishing are ‘Little Mischief,’ ‘My Hero,’ ‘Pink Gnome’ ‘Funny Face’ and ‘Sunrise Sunset.’ All of these roses belong to the Easy Elegance® series of roses recently developed in Minnesota by Bailey’s, a wholesale nursery. We were fortunate to receive a generous donation of these tough roses from Bailey’s and many have performed admirably. Others to try are the Pavement series of hybrid Rosa rugosa or Rugosa rose. Rugosa roses are tough, beautifully fragrant and the Pavement series includes some of the purest white roses I’ve ever seen as well as some beautiful pinks and reds. Karl Bapst of the Duneland Rose Society, generously donated a few of these to our rose garden and they look quite good for their first year in the ground. They are a bit harder to find but the wonders of the internet should make finding them fairly easy.

I’ve heard fall is a great time to plant, is this true?

Absolutely! Fall is a great time to plant. The weather is cooler so it is less stressful on the plants. The rainfall is typically greater than that of midsummer so the plants have help getting established.

Perennials purchased in the fall can be planted all the way through the first frost. As long as the soil remains workable and the plants haven’t gone dormant, you can plant and establish perennials, trees and shrubs. The above ground portion of the plants may not do much, but in fall it is root establishment that is the most important. If the plants can develop a good root system before the ground freezes solid, they will surprise you next spring when they come back with healthy new growth and vigor.

Our area of Indiana typically gets the seriously cold weather that will contribute to the ground freezing in middle to late October. Deciduous trees and shrubs can be planted up until November but perennials need a bit more time. A couple weeks before the ground freezes are ideal. As insurance against heaving, be sure to put down a thick layer of mulch on anything planted in the fall.