Dear master gardener, I have a forsythia bush and would like to know how to force blooms.
Forced bloom can add color to your home in what sometimes seems like an endless winter, and doing so is not difficult. March is the ideal month in which to do it. On a day when temperatures are above freezing, cut branches that are less than 3 feet long with a sharp pruner. Bring the shoots indoors and plunge them into a bucket of lukewarm water. Keeping the ends submerged under water, make an angled cut about an inch from the bottom, which will encourage the uptake of water. Cover the branches with plastic to retain humidity and let them soak several hours or overnight. Then change the water and, again under water, recut the stems. Place them in bright, indirect light and, depending upon temperature, humidity and light, they should bloom within a couple of weeks. Pussy willows and Nanking cherries can be similarly forced. When pussy willows have reached the desired fullness, they can be removed from water and will dry for use indefinitely.
Dear master gardener, I'm trying to save money this year and want to start both vegetable and flower seeds. What can I plant now?
March gardening tips
In early spring, about the first or second week in April in Minnesota, cut ornamental grasses back to the ground to remove the previous year's growth. Spring growth is delayed if ornamental grasses are not cut back.
If trees are bent over from heavy snow, leave the snow alone or carefully remove it with a broom and the trees should return to their normal shape. Do not try to remove ice.
Remove protective mulch from roses and perennial flowers as it loosens and thaws, usually later in April. Re-cover perennials with mulch if there is a threat of frost.
You may resume fertilizing your houseplants in the spring. Wash dust build-up from plant leaves because not only is it unattractive, it encourages insect pests and filters the light that ultimately reaches leaf tissue for photosynthesis. Clean leaves with a soft rag dampened with lukewarm water containing a few drops of mild dishwashing soap.
Starting seeds will indeed save you money over commercially grown plants. Stores have a full seed selection now, so it is a good time to buy. As always, read the instructions on the seed packets carefully and follow them. Vegetables to plant now are leeks, peppers, eggplant, parsley, broccoli, lettuce, early cabbage and celery. Flowers to plant now are sweet alyssum, Bells of Ireland, scabiosa, salvia, nicotiana, coleus, snapdragons and dusty miller. You will have your best results under shop lights placed about an inch above the emergent plants for 18 hours a day (a timer is useful). The plants listed require a longer growing season than Crow Wing County provides so they do not work well when you seed them directly into the garden. A word of caution: March is really too early to plant tomato seeds because they will tend to be leggy and weak. Wait until April 1 to start them.
Dear master gardener, Last year I missed the Crow Wing County Garden Expo and don't want to miss it again. When and where will it be?
We, master gardeners, who put on the Expo, don't want you to miss it, either! This year it will be on April 4 at Lakewood Evangelical Free Church at 6284 Fairview Road in Baxter. It runs from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and will cost $25. There will be morning and afternoon keynote speakers whose topics will be How Professionals Keep a Polished Look All Season Long and Perennials from A to Z. Breakout session topics will be Drought-Tolerant Plants, Growing and Using Herbs, Lakescaping and Native Plants, Shade Gardening, Growing Orchids and Starting from Seeds. In addition there will be vendors, exhibits, lunch, door prizes and a silent auction. You can register by calling (218) 454-6924 with a Visa or MasterCard only.
Registration deadline is March 27.
Dear master gardener:
I have been looking at books on shrubs and would like to get some planted in the spring. I also have some existing shrubs I would like to move to another location in my yard. When is the best time to plant and transplant shrubs?
An excellent time to plant shrubs (and trees) is right after the frost goes out of the ground in April. It is also the perfect time to move shrubs. Before planting shrubs or trees, check the roots and prune out any that are diseased or damaged. Planting trees and shrubs at the proper depth is very important. The first major root should just be below the surface of the soil. This is also a good time to plant conifers. If you are moving an evergreen from one location in your yard to another, make sure the soil does not fall off and expose the roots, as they will dry out very quickly.
Dear master gardener:
I have an area under some trees where grass won't grow. What ground covers do you recommend?
It depends on what type of trees and how much shade the area gets. Hostas work well as a ground cover under just about any tree, even black walnuts. Hostas come in various sizes and there are many varieties to accommodate different shade levels. Ferns, Ajuga bugleweed, Asarum ginger, Vinca, Tiarella foamflower, Lily-of-the-Valley, lamium and pachysandra are other possible ground covers that tolerate shade.
Crow Wing County 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, ext. 4040, and leave a recorded message. A master gardener will return your call.
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