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Celebrating five years of columns with top garden tips

Don Kinzler, Growing Together gardening columnist for The ForumMichael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 6
Well-adapted apple varieties vary in fruit size, flavor, sweetness and ripening date such as these Honeycrisp. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 6
Modern Blush rose David Samson / The Forum3 / 6
Annual Cleome provides a tall background for flower gardens. David Samson / The Forum4 / 6
Fall colors have been longer lasting and more intense than usual this time of year. David Samson / The Forum5 / 6
Carrots can be left in the ground as long as possible. Sweetness increases with the cool fall temperatures. David Samson / The Forum6 / 6

When I was younger and heard senior citizens talking about time passing ever more rapidly as they aged, I figured it was the Geritol talking. Now that I've become my parents, I've discovered it's true — the sand slips through the hourglass faster than a rabbit racing toward the fresh buds of a high-priced perennial.

It's already been five years since our first Growing Together column was published March 30, 2013, and nearly that long for Fielding Questions. That's more than 500 columns that have passed through the hourglass.

We've laughed about our quirky gardening habits. We've cried over thistles, quackgrass and rabbit damage. We've truly grown together.

I do most of my writing from home, in a small upstairs room tucked in the house's southeast corner, with occasional trips downtown to The Forum building. While writing these gardening columns, I take frequent breaks to check seedlings growing under lights in the basement, water houseplants, or pull weeds in the summer garden. There's never a shortage of topics. As I'm gardening, I discover more ideas than can be addressed in a 52-week year.

How can we celebrate five years together? I'd invite everyone to the house for cake and coffee, but a focus on major gardening tips of the past five years might be more practical.

Top 20 gardening guidelines

1. Gardening is well-documented to foster a positive, optimistic outlook on life.

2. If one were to pick one 10-day window in spring to do a majority of annual flower and vegetable planting, it's May 15-25. Soil has warmed and risk of frost is reduced.

3. If tomatoes are late to ripen, check the days to maturity on the plant tag. Late types require 80 to 110 days. Better main-season tomato varieties ripen in 65 to 78 days.

4. Prevent foliage diseases on tomatoes and other plants by avoiding overhead sprinkling, watering in the morning rather than evening and applying fungicides preemptively.

5. Readers responded overwhelmingly that the much-advertised Endless Summer Hydrangeas performed poorly unless planted in a sheltered spot, watered religiously, mulched and protected during winter. Left to their own devices, Endless Summer isn't widely adapted as a landscape shrub.

6. Trees, young and old, are being irreversibly damaged when lawnmowers and string trimmers scar the trunk's bark.

7. Prune developing apple trees into a pyramidal, Christmas tree shape with a single central leader having the lowest branches widest, with branches tapering increasingly shorter as you go upward.

8. Organic materials, like peatmoss, compost and manure, work wonders on heavy soil while enriching light, sandy types.

9. Allowing lawn clippings to filter into the lawn instead of bagging adds nutrients equivalent to one fertilizing per year as clippings decompose.

10. The preferred mowing height of lawngrass is 3 inches.

11. Young trees will grow twice as rapidly without lawngrass's hungry competition by placing wood-product mulch 5 inches thick in a 5-foot diameter circle, keeping the mulch 5 inches away from the trunk.

12. Deciduous (leafy) shrubs and trees are best pruned in early spring before leaf-out.

13. Most perennial tops are best left intact during winter and cut back in spring.

14. Late-season apples and carrots become sweeter when exposed to cool fall temperatures, which trigger an increase in sugar content.

15. July 4 is Independence Day for gardeners, as harvest of asparagus and rhubarb is best halted, as is fertilization of trees and shrubs.

16. I've received more questions about Autumn Blaze Maple problems than any other plant. Its sensitivity to pockets of heavy clay alkaline soil causes near-death in some locations, while doing fine a block away.

17. Roots that circle around a newly purchased tree's rootball should be cut in four places to prevent the circling roots from becoming a below-ground chokehold.

18. Botanical names, often in plant description fine print, are keys to information.

19. Locally owned garden centers are precious resources whose trust is rarely duplicated by national chains.

20. "Hot New Garden Trends" makes a flashy headline, but a fascinating and fulfilling lifetime of gardening comes from experiencing gardening's basics with all the quiet mistakes and happy successes.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at " target="_blank">growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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