Chesterton Tribune

Learning the hard way Drought threatens magnolia trees

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August is for .... a month of losses and gains.

My beautiful magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ is dying. In late June I noticed the leaves on one branch wilt, turn yellow, then brown. A well-established tree, I hadn’t given it any special water during the drought but drug out the hose pronto and soaked it.

Despite the attention, more branches began dying. Most of it now looks like toast.

A call to Eric Biddinger, Porter County’s Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service agent, confirmed my worst fears: the tree’s likely doomed.

Eric said he’s received several similar calls and my tree most likely contracted verticillium wilt, a common fungal disease which can lay dormant in the soil for many years. Under stress, such as a drought, it will find a weakness in a plant and attack, clogging its vascular tissue and reducing its ability to take in water --- if there is any.

While quick pruning, fertilization and watering may save a tree or plant, there are no chemical controls to battle verticillium wilt and the best alternative is to plant wilt-resistant varieties such as beech, ginkgo, holly and hawthorne in trees. Purdue’s website has additional information at in the botany and plant pathology section under educational materials.

Wilt also can attack certain vegetables, perennials and annuals.

August is never a favorite of mine because it’s the month my Dad, Casey Jankowski, died. It doesn’t seem possible it was 25 years ago. That July, when we knew his battle with cancer was being lost, he and Mom gave Bernie and me a pair of hedge clippers for our anniversary. It was my last gift from Dad.

Despite their age, those clippers look and work like new. They are kept in a closet off the kitchen, not in the garage; they are wiped quickly when wet or dirty, and cared for lovingly. At some point I wrote ‘Dad 1977’ in permanent marker on the clippers’ metal neck. They always will be special to me, and I hope to the person I pass them along to someday.

The good news is that I finally have a 100 square-foot garden shed of my very own to house the junk I can never part with. I highly recommend 7-foot sidewalls, which allow you to lift rakes and shovels for easier storage.

I want to tastefully decorate the shed, but not make it gaudy. That’s always the best thing about the annual Crown Point garden walk: seeing how each gardener personalizes their yards.

Karen and Jim Radford’s garden impressed me the most this year. A scarlet runner bean vine scrambled over an old chair, a ladder was laid on the ground with plants placed in each rung, and antique tablecloths were draped over an old wooden gate section. Plants were labeled using white paint on broken pieces of clay pottery set at their feet.

The couple also hinged four weathered painted doors, attaching them to each other in a W shape with wood planks across the top for added stability, and nailed old license plates, a wreath, mirror and garden implements to the doors. What a focal point!

When is yard art too much of a good thing? According to Karen Radford, “I usually get another opinion. You can see it so often and not really look at it with a critical eye.”

Time is my enemy, and it takes time finding yard art, like an old decorative gate (with rusted chain and padlock attached) I bought at the Rainboutique, a great resale shop in Porter. The gate will be reincarnated as a support for a clematis vine. Last month we discovered the Old Green Shutters antique shop at 617 Indiana Ave. in Crown Point, a treasure trove of architectural salvage items. A spindle footboard to an old iron bed followed me home.

Some of these shops will let you bring in items to swap or help reduce the cost of the merchandise you want to purchase. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Out in the garden, I’m not going to whine about the lack of water, how most things are stunted, half dead or hardly blooming, and how the stupid shagbark hickory trees are already losing their leaves. This season can be summed up in a back-handed compliment I recently received. Said the woman, “Your yard usually looks so pretty and colorful, but this year it just isn’t at all.”

One success story is eupatorium fistulosum ‘Gateway’ or Joe Pye Weed. Its individual stalks are over 5 feet tall with dainty nodding rose-purple flower heads 13 inches across. We need to use more of this native meadow plant, which surprisingly is in the daisy family. Also known as boneset, it comes in several varieties, likes full or part sun and slowly forms a clump.

Despite its height, Joe Pye Weed doesn’t have to be banished to the back of the border; put it in the middle and make a statement.

On the Crown Point garden walk many of us were stumped by an old-fashioned annual, the balsam impatiens. It grows to several heights by variety and is more erect than spreading with bright flowers --- sometimes double --- bunched along the stalk. These shade lovers, which can be grown from seed, were a favorite of Victorian gardens.

Not every Crown Point garden was shabby chic. Pam and Bob Vrlik displayed shiny galvanized tubs and buckets, artificial ivy, outdoor speakers and dramatic outdoor lighting. Their city garden had a pergola potting shed on one end of a sweeping wrap-around deck that looked over three ponds and a waterfall.

For some reason this year has been a bonanza for certain insects. Ants, to name one. I also raked up a nest of ground bees or yellowjackets recently, getting away with only one sting. (I consider myself very lucky because a friend who did this had the bees everywhere, including her underwear.)

Randy Knutson, a National Park Service wildlife biologist, said the underground nest could be huge. He suggested I drown the bees by letting a hose run at night down the nest entrance, which is disguised under a clump of dirt. A neighbor rid his home of bees by letting a shop vacuum run at the nest’s mouth, eventually trapping three gallons of bees over days.

The least preferable solution, said Knutson, is dousing the nest, again at night, with a liquid bee poison.

Butterflies have been in abundance here, one black with blue tail spots, most likely a type of swallowtail, said Knutson. The small white one with black dots whose wings open to show pale blue on top could be a spring azure, often confused with the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

The strangest butterfly, or moth, was bright yellow in body and wings, the latter nearly five inches across. The wings also had mottled rust-brown spots. The insect was so large it startled me when it flew out from under a bush being watered. Knutson was stumped.

Neither could he identify a large beetle I found and still have frozen in case it’s a bad dude we need to know about. It’s 7/8 of an inch long and 1/2 inch wide, very shiny copper/gold with a dark green overlay that creates a W on its back. The bottom is especially iridescent green/gold.

As long as it doesn’t eat roses.

The Chesterton Tribune’s own Alex Newman told me about a new local daylily farm that next year promises to be a wonderful source. Carl and Darlene Hart of Chesterton are raising about 12,000 daylily plants on the five acres they own in Pine Township. The farm opened this year for the first time offering gorgeous plants for $5 per clump.

The amazing fact is that Carl has hybridized most of them himself. The day I stopped, the retired couple were tending 1,000 baby plants sowed last year. Carl said, “It’s a lot of fun raising from seed; you never know what you’ll get. I should have started 20 years ago. I’m running short on purple so I’m pollinating more. It’s a lot of hard work, but as long as I’m able, I’ll do it.”

Most of the daylilies have no name, and Carl likes blends of yellow, orange and red. Darlene has no special color favorite, rather enjoying the total effect of the plants in bloom.

A lifelong gardener, Carl’s hobby has turned into quite an adventure. He said most of the new plants will bloom their second or third year, but a few will bloom the first year. How exciting it must be to see that first flower unfold.

Whenever I get to a Barnes and Noble I buy the latest issue of BBC Gardener’s World magazine.

It’s $6.95 but at 170 pages a much better buy than the $6.99 Fine Gardening for 90 pages. Gardener’s World is an excellent resource for stylishly presented new plants, ideas and trends as well as basic gardening techniques. The trick is finding stateside sources for the plants showcased; luckily, the eye-popping hardy geranium ‘Black Satin,’ a deep burgundy with pink summer flowers, was bred in Oregon.

Web-surfing I came across some other cultivars (an abbreviation for ‘cultivated variety’) that are new to me. Fern ‘Lady in Red’ or athyrium filix-femina, the native Lady Fern, has red-violet stems and lacy green foliage. Butterfly bush or buddleia (named after a Mr. Buddle) comes closest to red yet, they say, in the cultivar ‘Attraction.’

The rage for variegated green/gold phlox paniculata leaves continues with two more varieties available, both about 30-inches tall with some mildew resistance. ‘Goldmine’ has violet flowers with ‘Rubymine’ showing more red.

For those whose gaillardia (blanket flower) ‘Goblin’ is flopping all over the garden, ‘Bijou’ is a 10-inch tall more manageable version with attractive leaves and big fans of orange/yellow flowers.

Ordinarily I would be dividing daylilies, iris, peonies and a host of other perennials for the Sept. 14 Duneland Garden Club plant sale, but it would be cruel to rip out a struggling plant and ask it to acclimate itself under stressful conditions. People who have annual container arrangements said they have been watering them three times a day in the hottest weather.

Garden Club President Tim Miller recently showed me how to move a plant in a drought. Dig the new hole quite deep, then fill it with water and let it soak away. Add the plant and refill the hole, watering again well. So far, it’s worked.

Water is a precious resource, this year more than ever. Someone recently observed that our bath and shower water is tremendously wasted because it could be captured and used on gardens, the mild soap concentration actually benefiting plants by fighting insects and disease.

But after soothing our tired muscles and refreshing ourselves both body and soul, do we lug out a bucket and slog the used bath water to the garden? In the dark? Do we pump it out a window? Do we stockpile it? Would that breed mosquitos? The concept sounds great in theory, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.



Posted 8/13/2002