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Christmas centerpiece made on the fly

Submitted photo

Q: When I read your recent article about making Christmas centerpieces, I thought of some I've made and wish to share a photo of one that has a little story behind it. — Jack Fuller, West Fargo.

A: Thanks, Jack for a great Christmas story. Jack writes, "My wife, Jan, asked me to make a centerpiece for her Christmas table, as I've made many for all seasons. So, I went to Northport Shopping Center in Fargo, and began looking for the ingredients. I found what looked like a good base to start with and placed it in my cart. As I found more and more Christmas decorations I just started building it right in the cart. When I got to the checkout, the lady asked, 'Where did you find that!' I laughed and told her I just built it, so she would have to scan each part separately. She told her supervisor, who was impressed, and hinted that I should make them for the store. No, just a hobby."

Q: The soil in my houseplants tends to settle over time. Should I add more, or just leave it? Right now, it looks a little low in the pots. — B. Hendersen, Dickinson, N.D.

A: The space between the pot's rim and the soil surface is called the 'headspace,' and the ideal is about one-half inch. At that level, air currents can move across the soil surface, making a healthier soil atmosphere that's less prone to overwatering and rot problems.

If soil is too low in a pot, there's more chance houseplants remain too wet in the sunken soil. It's usually safe to add at least an inch of additional quality potting mix to raise the soil level. If soil is too low and soggy, it might be best to repot into fresh mix and raise the entire soil ball in the process.

Q: You've mentioned in the past that trees of the apple variety SweeTango aren't available for home gardeners to buy and plant. I've seen SweeTango apple fruit for sale in the grocery store. Can I collect the seed from inside the apples and start a tree that way? — Sam Olsby, Bismarck.

A: Unfortunately, apples don't 'come true' from seed, meaning that a tree that grows from an apple seed is usually very different from the parent, usually inferior. To produce apple varieties, researchers carefully cross-pollinate trees and test-grow the resulting seeds. They test tens of thousands of seed-grown trees in the hopes of finding one that might be an improvement. Most seedlings are lesser quality. That's why when a new apple variety is finally discovered, it's cloned through grafting, so all the resulting trees are identical to the new discovery.

Q: I'd like to start an African violet from a leaf cutting. How long does it take before a new plant blooms? — Linda S., Alexandria, Minn.

A: Depending on how ideal the growing conditions are, African violets form a plant large enough to flower in about eight to twelve months from a cutting.