FARGO — It sounds like an interesting riddle: When is a pine cone not a pine cone? The answer: When it's growing on a spruce. In last week's Fielding Questions, I missed a great opportunity to mention the importance of differentiating between evergreens, which resulted in spruce cones being called pine cones. If you recall, we were discussing the heavy cone production on a transplanted spruce tree. In the original question, the cones were generically referred to as pine cones, as all cones are often nicknamed, and I replied simply used the word "cones."
FARGO — Have you ever struggled with a some-assembly-required item, and hours later concluded that whoever wrote the instructions obviously never actually put one together? That's the way I felt the other day when I simply wanted to add fertilizer around our arborvitae. I even decided to read the directions. The bag of 10-10-10 was headlined for trees, shrubs and flowers and said to apply 1 pound per 100 feet of row. But I don't have 100 feet of arborvitae. Just tell me how big of a scoop to sprinkle around each, as in how many cups.
Q: We had 17 spruce transplanted a few years ago into our new lot. They are about 10 feet tall. What do all the pine cones mean? — Pamela Sweeney, Abercrombie, N.D. A: Transplanting trees that are relatively large in size, say any spruce over 5 or 6 feet, is a shock to their system. Roots spread outward from the trunk at least as far as the tree is tall, usually more, and when trees are moved a large percentage of roots are lost. It takes several seasons for trees to recover lost roots.
Which category of gardener are you? We fall into two groups when anxiously surveying our plantings every spring to see if shrubs, perennials and trees safely navigated winter. Some gardeners take it all in stride with a most-plants-are-replaceable, let's-wait-and-see attitude, while some of us need to lie down with a cold compress while waiting for signs of life on a $2 hosta. How do you tell if a perennial or shrub is slow to regrow, or if it's dead, especially following a slow-to-arrive spring like this? Let's take a walk around the yard.
Being sixty-something is a fun age. Young people think you're old and old people think you're young. You now have an excuse for wandering the Walmart parking lot trying to remember where you parked, while acting nonchalant. The ways we receive gardening information have changed greatly over the years, yet plant care itself remains timeless as plants are oblivious to Pinterest, Facebook and the only tweets come from birds perched close by. The same gardening guidelines of past generations serve us well today, as we keep long-time gardening wisdom alive.
Q: What is the best grass seed to use for bare spots in a lawn? Last year I planted some grass seed and it grew, but the grass is dead in that area this year. I think it was a cheaper seed. I'd like something with longevity. - Julie Nelson, Fargo. A: You're right about cheap seed. When surveying grass seed packages and comparing prices, inexpensive types are poor investments because their ingredients aren't best-suited for long-term lawn beauty.
FARGO — I'm not one to question Mother Nature's good intentions, but have you ever wondered how she arrived at some of her rules? An uncharitable person might suggest some of her confusing laws of nature were formulated after a night on the town. Why, for example, is it best to plant tomatoes deeply, burying the stems, but if you do the same with pepper plants, tomato's close cousins, the stems rot? Mastering how deeply to plant is perhaps gardening's most basic secret of success. The following demonstrate how varied the rules of planting depth can be.
Q: Is it possible to grow rutabagas in Minnesota? We love rutabagas, but the ones in the stores are often stringy and old tasting. How do you plant them? - Ayn Locklear, Glyndon, Minn. A: Rutabagas are a root crop that was more popular during the days when every homestead had a basement root cellar, and they grow very nicely in Minnesota, North Dakota and other Midwestern states. Like many nutritious vegetables, rutabagas are enjoying newfound popularity.
Q: My mom has an orchid plant that has bloomed continuously, but the plant is growing up out of the dirt, exposing the roots. The plant is so healthy we hesitate to repot it but wonder if that's what we should do. — Sue and Arlene Gibson, Lisbon, N.D. A: Orchid roots that are growing from the plant outside the potting mix are called aerial roots, or air roots, and are completely natural, used in their native tropical habitats to absorb moisture and nutrients. Aerial roots are a sign the plant is happy, and it's best to allow them to develop undisturbed.
FARGO — Do you enjoy watching what's happening around town? I don't mean peering out from behind the drapes to see what quality of furniture is being delivered to the neighbors. No, I'm referring to the beautiful plantings that grace people's homes, which are a visual gift to all who drive by.