Many of us have heard the apple and the worm joke before, but old humor bears repeating for enjoyment by the next generation. What's worse than biting into an apple and seeing a worm? Biting into an apple and seeing half a worm. Instead of leaving apple trees to their own devices until harvest, only to find worm-damaged fruit, we can mitigate problems starting in June. If you've experienced apple trees so laden with fruit you're afraid the branches will snap, the problem can also be remedied in June. Apple maggot
Q: I have phlox plants in my back yard and every year about this time the leaves start turning yellow from the bottom up. The tops of the plants are fine and they eventually bloom. What is causing this and what can I do about it? The variety is called Miss Mary. - Walt Meidinger, Fargo.
Mother Nature has tested our patience this spring. The season started nicely until cold winds the last half of May made tomato plants shiver and suffer. Then she changed her mind and ushered in June with a week of hot wind more typical of August. And much of the region is very dry, missing out on normal spring rains. Even though nature can be quirky, what other endeavor gives fresh food, good exercise and a major sense of accomplishment? Here's a June to-do list for vegetable gardening:
Q: Our lilac is beautiful, but I fear it will eventually just have flowers at the top like some I've seen. Each year we've removed three or four of the largest branches, but haven't cut any at the top. How can we best maintain this spring focal point? - Jeanne Alm, Hendrum, Minn.
It's the morning of a long-planned road trip and the vehicle is packed and ready. Everyone waits patiently while you water the outdoor planters one last time. Oh, and the hydrangea you planted last week really should be soaked one more time. You're concerned because the neighbors might not understand your watering instructions, and you'll be disappointed if everything is dead when you return. Sound familiar? Knowing how often to water and how much to give can seem confusing, especially for new plantings.
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.