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.
FARGO — What's the best part about the spritely colored potted mums sold in late summer at every national chain, hardware store and garden center? Yes, they beautify front steps and porches cheerfully, but they also keep Halloween decorations at bay for a few weeks, so jack-o'-lanterns and black cat decor don't appear in early September, which rushes the season a bit.
Q: What is this growing in my planter of dahlias? — Edye Nye, North Ferrisburgh, Vt. A: What an interesting plant and flower. It's Nicandra physalodes, known simply as Nicandra or apple-of-Peru. It's considered a weedy member of the nightshade family, a weed being any plant out of place. Other members of this huge Solanaceae family include tomato, potato, pepper, husk-tomato and tomatillo, along with highly poisonous nightshades.
Q: Our Autumn Blaze maples had iron chlorosis last year. An article you wrote prompted us to take action. We bought Medicap iron capsules made for trees online. Following the directions, we drilled holes and pounded the capsules into the trunks of our five trees. Here's a photo of the worst tree we had. You can see it's still lighter but not nearly as yellow as the year before. Our other trees that were slightly less chlorotic last year didn't turn yellow at all this year. The photo on the left is July 2017, the one on the right July 2018. — Deb Faber, Fargo.
FARGO — What type of lawn care provider are you? Do you mow only when you need to find where you left the wheelbarrow? At the opposite end of the grassy spectrum, do you fret if your mowing pattern doesn't look precisely even, causing you to lay down with a cold compress until the stress passes? Or maybe like most of us, you just want your lawn green, dense and weed-free.
Classic humor bears repeating. How can you tell if a newly emerging, unidentified plant in your flower garden is a weed or your new high-priced perennial? Simply give it a tug. If it pulls out easily, it was the high-priced perennial. If it won't pull, it's a weed. If you check Scripture, God never said, "Let there be weeds." The definition of a weed is "any plant out of place." Did you know dandelion, quackgrass, purslane and most of the "plants out of place" that we battle weren't originally here, but were instead imported into the United States?
Q: I just had to report that after planting milkweed two years ago, it has successfully attracted at least three monarch caterpillars this summer. Just doing my part to help the monarch butterfly! — BeAnn Canton, West Fargo.
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.