Q: Our dwarf Colorado blue spruce is no longer dwarf. It's nearly five feet tall and probably just as wide. Can it be trimmed? If so, when is the best time to do this? - Shirley Smedshammer, Fargo. A: There are several dwarf varieties of Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens.) They stay relatively short compared to the 40-feet-tall parent, only growing a few inches every year. But the dwarf varieties can still become a large, mound-shaped plant, eventually reaching a height of 5 to 6 feet. Several newer varieties remain shorter.
Perennial flowers have come a long way since early pioneers beautified their homesteads with peonies, hollyhocks and old-style daylilies and iris. Planting rhubarb was probably the first priority, but perennials soon added spots of beauty to the stark new yards of prairie towns and farms.
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.
Q: Attached are photos that show damage caused to Ponderosa pines by huge winter snowdrifts in south central North Dakota. The weight of the snow bent and broke lower branches. Can any of the broken branches be salvaged by tying them up like a graft? — Margaret Bitz, Fargo
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: You recently mentioned Magnolia stellata, Star magnolia, for our region. Here's a photo of ours, planted about six years ago. It has been beautiful each spring, even though it hasn't really grown, and is probably getting a bit weaker each year. Still, fun to have. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of the plum, Mount Royal. Ours is beginning its fourth year. We harvested about four dozen last summer, and they were better tasting than any I have ever purchased. - Gerald Van Amburg, Moorhead.
In the past, I've described how gardening teaches patience, and quietly waiting for trees to mature, apple trees to bear and perennials to flower is a pleasant exercise in accepting nature's growth at its own measured stride. Well, forget all that when it comes to tomatoes. It's a race to the finish line. We've waited all winter for a homegrown tomato, and time is of the essence. Follow these guidelines for a bountiful crop of tomatoes, while cooperating with Mother Nature to speed it up a bit.
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.