FARGO — A headline contest would have been fun this week. Readers could submit titles like "Take it or leaf it," "Leaf well enough alone," "Leaf no trace" or "Don't leaf me this way." What kind of leaf-raker are you? Do you fastidiously sweep every leaf from the lawn as it falls, or do you let them accumulate until a stiff wind blows your leaves in the direction of a neighbor who enjoys yardwork? Raking autumn leaves is a Norman Rockwell-like tradition. Or alternatively, letting the lawnmower suck up leaves into the bagging attachment for removal.
Q: Can you help me figure out what these are? I thought they were tomatoes even though I didn't remember buying yellow ones this year. They're a bit heavier than a tomato, full of flat seeds, and kind of tasteless and punky inside. — Ann Prestrude.
Q: What's the best advice for pruning hydrangeas, as I have six very large plants. Can I trim them down this fall? — Sharon Dubois. A: The pruning method of hydrangeas depends to which of the two well-adapted types they belong. Hydrangea arborescens types, like Annabelle with the large, round, white flower clusters, grow from near ground level each spring, so the dead above-ground branches are best pruned back to 6 inches or less each spring.
What's a good gardening topic for October? Harvesting pumpkins? Fall foliage color? Cutting back frost-killed peony tops? How about blooming roses? A discussion of roses seems out of place when our seasonal theme should be more Halloween-like, but October is the perfect time to talk roses. June might be National Rose Month, but roses often get lost in the June gardening shuffle. Roses still blooming in October cause us to notice, having survived light frosts while other flowers have shrunk away.
Q: I should have listened to your advice about thinning apple trees. The main horizontal limb on our Haralson apple tree broke halfway through under the heavy load of apples. I mowed around that tree so many times thinking I should thin those apples, but always got sidetracked on another project. — Jody Bendel.
What's your reaction to fall's first frost? Do the neighbors question whether all the white sheets in your yard are Halloween decorations or just you covering your tomatoes and geraniums again? Do you struggle to squeeze into your car because any extra space in the garage is filled with trays of yet-to-ripen tomatoes and you've moved all the still-beautiful pots and planters into the garage on frosty nights, because you might want to winter some indoors?
FARGO — What's the first thought that comes to mind if someone mentions cutting back? Fewer trips through the buffet line? Less snacking between meals? Gardening has a dialect all its own with words like pinching, deadheading, slip, crown and cutting back. So, when a questioner asked about cutting back, I knew they weren't reducing their caffeine consumption.
Q: What is this bush with the black berries that's growing right next to some chokecherry trees? — Judy and Tim Hansen, Sabin, Minn. A: Thanks for the chance to discuss one of the most invasive, yet unrecognized plants in the Upper Midwest. It's common buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, which becomes a small tree or large shrub, growing 10 to 24 feet high. When I was with the Extension Service, this was the plant most commonly submitted for identification because it pops up in unexpected places as birds deposit the seed after eating the berries.
FARGO — Have you ever read a newspaper headline that was an eyebrow-raiser? Last week I saw such a phrase, and guess where it was? It was the headline of our own gardening column. The topic was mums, and the headline read "Fall favorite can be perennial, even up here." Each week I submit a possible headline to accompany the column, and I couldn't resist "Mum's the word." Then creative artists adjust the headline or add phrases that are more descriptive, appropriate or appealing. That's when "Fall favorite can be perennial, even up here" was added as a subheadline.
Q: Do you know what these berries are? Are they good for jelly, or should I leave them alone? They were on large shrubs or trees about 12 feet tall growing at Rollag, Minn. — Jean Siirila, Wadena, Minn. A: Thanks for the wonderful photo. It's Silver Buffaloberry, Shepherdia argentea. The berries are very edible, commonly used now for jelly-making. It's been a long time since I nibbled a buffaloberry, but as I recall, they are a little tart until fully ripe. Native Americans used them extensively, combined with buffalo meat.