Mother Nature has tested our patience this spring. The season started nicely until cold winds the last half of May made tomato plants shiver and suffer. Then she changed her mind and ushered in June with a week of hot wind more typical of August. And much of the region is very dry, missing out on normal spring rains. Even though nature can be quirky, what other endeavor gives fresh food, good exercise and a major sense of accomplishment? Here's a June to-do list for vegetable gardening:
Q: Our lilac is beautiful, but I fear it will eventually just have flowers at the top like some I've seen. Each year we've removed three or four of the largest branches, but haven't cut any at the top. How can we best maintain this spring focal point? - Jeanne Alm, Hendrum, Minn.
Old gardening humor describes the best way to tell whether a newly emerging spring plant is a weed or a valuable perennial. Tug on it. If it pulls out easily, it was a valuable perennial. If it remains stubbornly in place, it's a weed. As important as recognizing weeds from perennials is separating adapted trees and shrubs from non-adapted. Everyone wants their trees and shrubs to survive and flourish, especially those we've just bought and planted. Unfortunately, some plants sold in the Upper Midwest are not winter-hardy or adapted to our conditions.
Have you ever noticed that people who enjoy their yards and gardens like talking about plants nearly as much as they enjoy growing them? Striking up a conversation is easy. Just ask "Have you ever tried... (fill in the blank with the name of any plant)?" Plant-growing discussions don't always involve brand-new varieties, but maybe older types that we're trying for the first time. One of gardening's fascinations is the endless number of plant possibilities, and we're nearing the peak of the garden center shopping season. Personally, I'd like at least one of everything.
Q: I live in a condo without space to plant a large garden. I love sugar peas and I'm wondering if they could be successfully grown in planters and trained as vines up my patio railing. If so, should I plant them soon and what is the best soil to use?—Gen E., Fargo A: Patio Pride is a great pea variety that won an All-America Selections award for its ability to grow in containers. Sweet, tender pods are ready to harvest in about 40 days from seeding. A short trellis between the pot and patio railing will give good support to the compact vines.
Deciding among apple varieties can be confusing. We all know what happened to Adam and Eve. They obviously chose poorly when deciding which apple tree to harvest. There's a big difference in apples. Once America's most popular variety, the Red Delicious apple is going the way of the buggy whip, sidelined by more flavorful types. We needn't worry, because Red Delicious isn't winter hardy for our region anyway. Besides, we've got better tasting types that are well-suited to our climate. In fact, we've got so many options it's difficult to pick a preference.
No plant says Easter like the lily. Behind each potted paschal plant is an interesting mix of history and culture. Lilies didn't always begin life as potted plants. Did you know: • Although the Bible describes lilies growing in Palestine, the large, white lily we recognize today didn't become common in churches until the 1800s, when popular tradition gave them the nickname Easter lily. • Lilium longiflorum is the botanical species of Easter lily, which is native to Japan's Ryukyu Islands.
According to recent surveys, 18- to 34-year-old millennials are the largest group of new gardeners. Of the six million people who took up yard and garden activities for the first-time last year, five million were in this age group, growing vegetables, planting flowers and beautifying spaces. For a new gardener, there's a whole plant world to discover and much to learn. How does one start accumulating knowledge? By listening, learning and experiencing. Following are lessons that an old gardener might pass along to a new gardener.
Q: I bought dahlia bulbs and want to jump start them in peat pots. How soon do you think I should plant them? If we plant dahlias directly in the ground in May, they barely start blooming when fall frost is near.—Faye Waloch, Gwinner, N.D. A: Dahlias are best started indoors four to six weeks before the desired outdoor planting date. For our region, that means planting the tuberous roots during the first half of April.
Have you ever wondered why Martha Stewart is always so perky? It's because she enjoys gardening. And gardening and springtime go together like Martha and color-coordinated garden hose. Let's take a walk around the yard and plan our approach to spring tasks. Late March • Prune fruit trees before bud-break, which is the term for buds beginning to expand. • Deciduous (leafy) trees and shrubs are best pruned in March and April before new growth begins. Wait to prune evergreens until May and June.