Topics for our weekly garden column often originate from what's happening in our own gardening life. My wife, Mary, recently experienced the passing of her mother, Betty Schouviller. At the funeral, Mary received houseplants, a dish garden and a spring bulb garden among the many floral gifts. As we took the live plants home, it occurred to me that many people are similarly faced with how best to care for these houseplants after a funeral or a hospital stay.
Q: We stopped planting impatiens four years ago because they all died, and I read of a disease becoming prevalent. Everything I read indicated not to plant impatiens for a while after. Should we continue to avoid impatiens and are there other precautions or remedies? - Pat McDaniel, Valley City, N.D.
My wife, Mary, and I enjoy road trips with our family. In locations where the maps and GPS fail us, Mary usually suggests I just stop and ask directions. But I'd rather drive blindly up and down streets, preferring almost anything to the dreaded stop for directions. That's why I like buying plants. Instead of making us ask for directions, well-marked plants come with information-filled tags, labels or catalog descriptions. Sometimes there's much verbiage about how wonderful the plant is, but there's valuable specific information contained on labels or in descriptions.
Q: I saved several coleus plants from last summer's outdoor planters, and I've been growing them indoors this winter. I'd like to start cuttings from them so I'll have more coleus for spring planting, as they did so well on my shaded deck. I've heard it's easy to start cuttings in water. - M. Larson, Hillsboro, N.D. A: Coleus are fun and easy to start from cuttings, and it's also a great children's gardening project. Yes, coleus will root easily in a glass of water, and I've used that method frequently, but there's a better way.
By now, most of us who enjoy working in our yards and gardens have had our fill of winter. If you're ready for a hefty helping of spring fever, read on. If there's one thing gardeners enjoy as much as gardening, it's learning even more about the topic. Four cities around the region are hosting different one-day educational gardening programs, with a topic range sure to hit everyone's spring fever trigger, whether we're old gardeners or new. Everyone's invited.
Q: I wanted to share a photo of the beautiful orchids my sister got our Mom for Valentine's Day. They are still looking nice in their vase of water. - Susan Gibson, Lisbon, N.D. A: Thanks for sharing about long-lasting orchid flowers, which hold their beauty well both on and off the plant. As a cut flower, orchids in a vase can easily last from seven to 21 days, sometimes longer.
FARGO — Gardeners experience a common conundrum. Each year seed companies fill catalogs with hot new flowers and vegetables, tempting gardeners away from varieties they've come to know and love. What's a gardener to do? Do we plant our favorite old reliables, or try eye-catching new varieties instead, especially if limited space doesn't allow both? New types might become our new and improved favorites, or an entire growing season could be wasted, wishing we had stuck with past preferences.
Q: I plan to grow potatoes in my garden for the first time this spring. Are there varieties that do better than others in our region? - T. Hanson, Dilworth, Minn. A: North Dakota State University has been doing potato research since the late 1800s and has developed great varieties well-suited to the Upper Midwest. NDSU varieties have always been my garden favorites, although I've grown others, like red Pontiac, white Kennebec and Yukon Gold. Many gardeners have personal preferences, and many potato varieties do fine.
Q: My variegated rubber plant loses its lower leaves and just when I'm ready to throw it away, gorgeous pink leaves open on every stem during this cold, cold Fargo weather. Is there any way to keep those lower leaves from falling off? — Mary Jo McClellan, Fargo. A: Knowing a houseplant's native habit and form give important clues to their preferred care and habit. Rubber plant, Ficus elastica, including its variegated form, is native to India, Burma, Malaysia and similar tropical regions.
In a recent column about long-lived houseplants, I invited readers to share stories about their own older-than-average plants. Houseplants become part of the family, and responses came from states north, south, east and west as people were eager to tell their plant histories.