FARGO — Have you ever tried leaving for a summer vacation with someone who enjoys vegetable gardening? While everyone else is busy packing the car, they're busy picking the last of the string beans. Maybe the cucumbers should be checked one more time because they'll stop bearing if they get too large. It'll only take a minute. An hour or two later, you're on your way.
Q: Here's a photo of plants I've found in two different flower beds around our yard. They're pretty, but look weed-like also. Are they a friend or foe? — Kathy Greener, Fargo. A: Pull the plants as fast as you can. They're weeds, very bad weeds, with the unusual names flower-of-an-hour, Venice mallow or shoo-fly. The botanical name is Hibiscus trionum. Although you can purchase the seed as a wildflower, it's really a weed in sheep's clothing, and is considered a noxious or invasive species in much of the United States.
Were your parents or grandparents raised during the Great Depression? My mom and dad were teenagers during the extreme drought decade of the 1930s, a lesson never forgotten, and even in their 90s treated water like a precious elixir. When I was a child growing up on the banks of the Sheyenne River in Lisbon, N.D., we pumped river water on our flower and vegetable gardens. Using "city water" for outdoor watering wasn't even a concept. After all, city water cost money.
Q: I'm trying to identify the tree in the photo. I've been told that the nuts are not edible. Can you help? — Scott Bundy
Q: What kind of berry is this? It's in the tree row with our chokecherries. It tastes like a chokecherry but is much sweeter. — Sharon Ulmer, Edgeley, N.D. A: The fruits in the photo are yellow chokecherries. Identifying characteristics of leaf shape, prominent white dots on the twigs, called lenticels, and the arrangement of the fruits in their cluster are all the same as the more common purple-black fruited chokecherry. The main difference is the fruit color (and probably sweetness), and yellow types are sometimes larger in size.
Whew! Everyone take five. We've planted, weeded, mulched, sprayed, sprinkled, scouted for pests and have been just plain busy. Let's take a few minutes to revel in midsummer's beauty. These weeks are a high point of flower gardening as annuals reach peak bloom, converging with perennials that bloom in midsummer, producing the largest flower show of the growing season.
Q: Our 10-year-old birch tree has a smaller trunk coming out of the main clump. When would be the best time to remove it, and should it be sealed after the cut? — Paul Thulen, Breckenridge, Minn. A: Removing the smaller fourth trunk from the clump birch is a good idea, as its position could severely squeeze the growth of the other three trunks and cause future trouble. It can be carefully pruned out now, removing it as flush as possible, without leaving a stump. It might take a bit of close surgery to saw it away without scraping the other trunks, but it looks possible.
FARGO — Remember back in high school when students would whine to the teacher, "Why do we have to memorize this? We're never going to use it in real life." I've got to admit I've rarely used the quadratic formula and I've survived without factoring equations for nearly half a century since. But some memorization in high school and college actually pays off, such as learning botanical names of plants.
Can you guess what gardening question I hear most frequently? At the top of the list is "What can I do about rabbits?" followed by preventing tomato blight and the best times to prune. Not far down the garden question list: "Is it too late to plant?" The last question is easier to solve than the rabbit dilemma. Just ask Elmer Fudd, especially since an elderly gentleman running through the neighborhood waving a shotgun after Bugs Bunny is no longer considered appropriate behavior.
Q: My peonies have powdery mildew and I'm wondering what I can do to get rid of it. What causes this? I'm planning to divide them this fall but I don't want to spread it into a different flower bed. — Pat Johnson, Valley City, N.D. A: Powdery mildew is a disease that causes a grayish-white coating commonly found in midsummer on the foliage of peonies, lilacs, zinnias, roses, vine crops and many other plants.