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Growing Together: Summer of gardening efforts well spent

FARGO -- If a shoemaker's sons go barefoot, how does a columnist's garden grow? Sometimes I feel I know you much better than you know me. I know you've suffered tomato blight, had holes in your rose leaves and aren't exactly sure whether to mow t...

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Dragon Wing begonia blooms beautifully in shade or filtered sun. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO -- If a shoemaker's sons go barefoot, how does a columnist's garden grow?

Sometimes I feel I know you much better than you know me. I know you've suffered tomato blight, had holes in your rose leaves and aren't exactly sure whether to mow the lawn short in the fall or just let it go. You've wondered if two Honeycrisps will pollinate each other, why your Autumn Blaze has trunk cracks, and should we leave the tops on the asparagus over winter?

If you're curious how my growing season went, pour yourself another coffee and let's visit.

Here are my observations about the Kinzlers' gardening season.

1. Bambi wore out his welcome after years of freeloading in our garden. I finally fenced, but not high enough. If you saw a crazed gardener waving a broomstick in south Fargo, it was just me shooing the persistent pest back outside. I then raised the fence to 7 feet.

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2. The watermelon crop was fantastic, but melons didn't ripen until mid-September. I didn't lay clear plastic down and plant into it, as I usually do. Clear plastic warms the soil with a greenhouse effect, speeding the growth of warm-loving crops. This tried-and-true method produces ripe melons two weeks earlier.

3. Muskmelons did well, but heat in early September caused most to ripen all on the same day. It gave my wife, Mary, the chance to voice her all-purpose "uff da."

4. Buttercup squash produced nicely. I dusted the base of the plants in early July with Sevin insecticide to thwart squash vine borers. Foliage went downhill earlier than I'd like with gray powdery mildew. Next year I'll spray leaves preventatively with fungicide, but we still harvested lots of squash for winter storage.

5. Our carrots are still in the ground. We're waiting for cooler temperatures, but I'd like to dig them before fall rains make harvesting difficult in Fargo's heavy soil.

6. Speaking of soil, Fargo clay (which is the official soil type name for Red River Valley gumbo) has two phases: unworkably gooey and baked brick. I need to add more peat moss and compost.

7. The poinsettia that we repotted and grew outdoors during summer is huge. Since Oct. 1, we're putting the plant in a dark closet each afternoon at 5 and moving it back into a sunny window the next morning at 8. Keep your fingers crossed. We'll keep this up for at least eight weeks until bracts are well-colored.

8. Non-stop begonias are one of our shade favorites. But I burnt the leaves and blossoms with fertilizer while using a Miracle-Gro hose-end feeder. Other plants benefit from "foliar feeding" plus soil fertilization, but begonia, impatiens and coleus foliage is too tender.

9. We planted eight tomato varieties. The heirloom variety developed internal fruit rot as tomatoes ripened. I won't plant that one again. Our Celebrity, Big Beef and Sheyenne bore beautifully. I like heirloom varieties, but most don't have much disease resistance.

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10. Our mandevilla plant has summered outdoors and wintered indoors for three years now. The trumpet-shaped flowers were beautiful all summer. It doesn't bloom for us indoors even in a sunny window, but it maintains itself well if we treat preemptively for insects.

11. When we bought Fireworks ornamental grass last spring (a type that doesn't survive winter outdoors) we divided each plant for extra mileage in a long flowerbed. It's the first time we've grown Fireworks. Now we'll pot it up and bring indoors for winter. I'm not sure whether to cut it back and keep it growing in a sunny window, or let it "rest" in a pot of barely dampened soil in a cool part of the basement. I'll try some each way to preserve until next spring.

12. Dragon Wing begonias have become one of our favorite outdoor plants in shade or filtered sun/shade. A relatively new variety, their clusters of red or pink flowers hang gracefully from fresh waxy green foliage. I've enjoyed bringing them indoors, where they like a sunny window with winter's weaker sunshine.

13. Our potted amaryllis plant has been growing all spring and summer since blooming after Christmas. A common method to coax rebloom is to give the plant a rest by letting it dry out in a cool location for eight weeks as the plant goes dormant. But they can also rebloom if kept "evergreen" in continuous growth. That's what I'm doing, and I'm curious to see when it will bloom again.

14. We seeded old-fashioned fragrant-flowered sweet pea vines at the base of the garden fence. They are best planted in April as soon as the ground is workable because they grow better in cool weather.

I enjoyed our visit, and I enjoyed another good gardening season.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Tune in to his weekly radio segment from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WDAY Radio 970. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com .

Related Topics: DON KINZLERGARDENING
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