We’ve pruned together. We’ve planted together. We’ve even battled insects and disease together. This spring marks the eight-year anniversary of our gardening columns for The Forum, and that’s 800 articles between "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions."
Eight years isn’t a long time in the whole scheme of things, but we’ve been through a lot together, and I’ve appreciated our weekly opportunities to chat. I look forward to many more years together.
After a few months of a single weekly column, readers were emailing gardening questions, and I suggested to The Forum that we begin a question-and-answer column, as sharing the responses might be of interest to others with similar queries. "Fielding Questions" was born.
Do you know I watch very carefully which of the topics and columns you’re reading? No one knows, of course, what people are reading in the printed newspaper edition, but weekly data does show the total number of readers who have opened the garden columns online, and how long they’ve spent reading each. This data tells me which yard and garden topics readers find interesting, and which of my columns are duds.
What topics have been most popular? Hands down, the column that garnered the most readers was this October 2019 article describing why there’s no need to rake leaves in the fall, because research proved a lawn becomes healthier if you simply mow over the leaves, mulching them back in.
Next in popularity was heritage houseplants. I asked readers to submit comments about houseplants that had been in their families for generations, and others enjoyed reading about the plants, some of which were well over a hundred years old.
New trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables are always of interest, which is why I feature a segment every January about new plants, including All-America Selections award winners. North Dakota State University tree and shrub introductions are always hot topics with readers, as people know these new varieties are well-adapted to our growing conditions.
Besides the “how-to” of yard and garden tasks, the “when” is nearly as important. Readers have responded positively to reminders and checklists of tasks to be completed each season.
I’m often asked how, or where, I get ideas for gardening column topics. More than a career choice for me, horticulture is my main hobby and pastime. When I’m out working in the yard or garden and see powdery mildew on the peonies or blight on the tomatoes, it reminds me that we should discuss it in our weekly garden chats. We truly are all in this together.
When the columns began in 2013, my wife, Mary, and I had discontinued our greenhouse business a few years prior. After six years as a freelancer, in 2019 I restarted employment with North Dakota State University, back again with Extension where I worked 35 years before. I now write the garden columns as part of my Cass County Horticulturist position.
Here’s to many more years of gardening together.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.