Dear master gardener: My mom is a gardener and I would like to give her something "gardeny" for Christmas. Do you have any suggestions?
Books and tools and plants all make good gifts. Bookstores have many good gardening books, but make sure they are appropriate for our climate, which is zone 3. Books such as Melinda Myers' Month-by-Month Gardening in Minnesota would fit that criterion. So would a magazine such as Northern Gardener, published by the Minnesota State Horticulture Society.
Good quality hand tools, such as a hand pruner, a lopper or a sturdy "claw" or dandelion digger might be welcome. Larger tools such as spades, potato forks, edgers, etc., may also fill a need.
Other possibilities would be a membership to the Northland Arboretum, kneeling pads or stools, close-fitting half-rubberized gloves or a pail fitted with a canvas lining with slots and pockets for garden tools and supplies. A gift certificate to a seed catalog company or garden store would always be appreciated, too.
Dear master gardener: A friend gave me a blooming amaryllis as a gift. How do I take care of it?
An amaryllis is a beautiful flowering houseplant that has large trumpet-shaped flowers on 1- to 2-foot stalks. They come in red, salmon, pink, apricot, white or bi-color. While your amaryllis is blooming, you will want to prolong the life of the flowers by keeping it out of direct sunlight. After your plant is finished blooming, cut the faded flowers off, being careful not to remove the flower stalk until it has turned yellow. After it has finished blooming, keep your amaryllis in the brightest spot in your house and continue watering and fertilizing it regularly. Make sure the water drains from the pot so your plant does not get root rot.
Next spring or early summer, when all danger of frost is gone, place your amaryllis outside. Keep it in a shaded area at first, then slowly move it to a place in your garden that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily. Sink the pot into the ground and fertilize it all summer.
Bring it back indoors before the first frost in the fall and store it in a cool, dark place and do not water it. Remove the foliage when it has become dry and shriveled. The bulbs can be forced into bloom again after your plant has rested for eight to 12 weeks. When you see new growth, set your amaryllis back into bright light and begin watering it again. You will see the stalks appear and the flowers will follow about four to six weeks later. Amaryllis like to be pot bound, so you will only have to repot it about every three to four years.
Dear master gardener: The soil in my houseplants is turning white and crusty on top. Also, I have a few clay pots that have white around the rim. What is this?
It sounds like the soil in your pots has a build-up of soluble salts. These salts accumulate on top of the soil, forming a white crust. You also may see a ring of salt deposits around the top edge of your pots and on the outside of clay pots. You can prevent soluble salts from building up by proper watering.
If at all possible, do not use softened water to water your plants because it adds chemical salts to the soil, which can build up and potentially injure the roots of your plants, just like fertilizer can.
You can flush most of the salts out by holding your pot over a sink and watering your plant heavily, allowing the water to run out of the drainage holes. Discard any water left in the saucer so the salts you just leached out are not reabsorbed back into the soil through the drainage holes or walls of the clay pot. If there is a layer of salts on the top of your soil, remove it before you begin leaching.
If the soluble salt level is very high, you may want to repot the plant. When you repot a plant, choose a container with drain holes so water can drain freely from the soil. Layering pebbles in the bottom of a solid container will not help soil drainage.
CROW WING MASTER GARDENERS are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension Service. All information given in this column is based on research and information provided by the university. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 824-1000, extension 4040, and leave a message. A master gardener will return your call.