Q: Our petunias have been blooming for several weeks, thanks to our AeroGarden. — Nancy Edmonds Hanson, Moorhead.

A: When I saw Nancy’s recent day-brightening post on Facebook, showing an indoor garden of healthy, full-flowered petunias on a drab, not-yet-spring day, I had to have details, and she shared the following.

“We've grown a variety of hydroponic crops in this little AeroGarden unit — herbs, lots of flowers and even a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. We order kits of six cone-shaped pre-planted seed pods, lower the LED light bar, and fill the tank with water and the liquid fertilizer that's provided. These friendly little flowers burst into bloom about six weeks later.”

Thanks, Nancy, for describing what has been a successful growing kit for many who have tried it, based on your report and many others I’ve received.

Q: I’d like to try growing potatoes this year. I remember my dad growing them, so I know you cut up a potato into pieces and plant the chunks. I have some potatoes left in a bag I bought from the grocery store, so was thinking about using those to plant. Will that work? — Dan L., Fargo.

A: Someday I’ll write a book about gardening terminology, because it isn’t always self-explanatory. Although potatoes are planted from pieces of the tuber, as you mentioned, the tubers used for planting are called “seed potatoes,” which could be confusing if we envision the seed being like carrot, bean or radish seed.

Food-type potatoes from the grocery store should not normally be used as seed potatoes for garden planting. Most commercially produced potatoes are grown with sprout inhibitors, which explains why they can be stored in the grocery store at room temperatures without sprouting. If planted in the garden, the sprout inhibitors interfere with normal growth.

Instead, buy certified seed potatoes, labeled as such and available from garden centers or other stores, which have been grown specifically for planting. These potatoes have been tested and certified to be free from diseases that can decimate a potato patch. That’s why it’s best not to use our own leftover homegrown potatoes as seed potatoes the following spring. It can work if no other seed potatoes are available, and I’ve done it in the past, but you run a great risk of transmitting diseases to your new potato patch through the infected pieces you plant.

When planting potatoes, cut large seed potato tubers into pieces, each containing at least several “eyes” from which the new sprouts grow. Egg-sized tubers can be planted whole, without cutting. Allowing cut pieces to heal, by placing them in a shallow layer for at least two days before planting and up to two weeks at 55 degrees helps to prevent rot, in a process called suberization.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Fielding Questions columns

Q: I remember you mentioning that plastic can be used to make muskmelon and watermelon ripen quicker, but I don’t recall if it’s better to use black plastic or clear. I tried researching it, but I’m finding mixed answers on national websites. Can you refresh my memory? — Elmer S., West Fargo.

A: Using plastic mulch greatly speeds the growth and ripening of melons, making it possible to harvest these heat-loving vines within our growing season.

Research on growing melons was conducted at North Dakota State University in the 1970s, which set the standard for melon production in northern climates. Research showed that using clear plastic 3 or 4 feet wide, laid directly on the soil in rows, with pre-started melon plants transplanted into openings cut into the plastic, greatly outpaced other growing methods, including black plastic.

Black plastic warms up nicely on its surface as it collects sunshine, but it doesn’t transmit heat readily to the shaded, cool soil below. Clear plastic allows sunshine to radiate through, creating a warm, greenhouse effect on the soil below, collecting heat and stimulating melon growth.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.