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Don Kinzler

Fielding Questions: An Easter lily rebloom, taking on plum disease and making sure rhubarb is safe to eat

Q: Your article a week ago described how we can try planting Easter lilies outdoors. Attached is a picture of an Easter lily we transplanted about three years ago. The first year the lily never amounted to anything, but the second year it bloomed beautifully. Unfortunately, it didn’t come back after that. — Jerry and Marlene Olson, Fargo.

A: Thanks for the photo and describing your experience. I count about nine blossoms and flower buds on the Easter lily in your flower garden. Planting these lilies into a perennial bed is a fun project, as there’s little to lose, and it’s exciting when they bloom.

As I mentioned previously, Easter lilies are about hardiness zone 5, which is out of step in our region, so they should be planted in a sunny, but protected, microclimate within the yard. Then mulch in early November each year with 1 to 2 feet of leaves or straw to give them an edge in winter survival.

Q: We had a fair amount of fruit set on our Mount Royal Plum, but they shriveled up and looked moldy. Any thoughts or remedy for this? — Faye Waloch, Gwinner, N.D.

A: Your description sounds like the common disease called plum pockets. Caused by the Taphrina fungus, it begins as small blisters on developing fruit a month or two after blossoming. Infected fruit becomes puffy, spongy and eventually hollow. As the disease progresses, the deformed fruits turn into dry, brown mummies, covered with spores and clinging to the tree.

According to North Dakota State University, "Taphrina diseases have only one infection cycle per year and infection sources include spores that lay dormant on or near buds plus mummified fruits that disseminate spores via rain splash and wind."

For control, the university recommends removing and destroying mummified fruits, and applying Bordeaux mixture or fungicides containing chlorothalonil to all parts of the tree in early spring when temperatures are above freezing but before buds begin to swell.

Q: I'd like to cook rhubarb from my yard but I'm wondering if the chemicals from the lawn company would affect my health? — Gini Duval, Fargo.

A: First, one would need to know what chemicals are being applied to the lawn, and the lawn company can provide that information. Commonly it's a mixture of fertilizer and weed killer.

When properly and cautiously applied, lawn chemicals shouldn’t drift onto rhubarb or other yard plants. If lawn chemicals did drift onto rhubarb, the fertilizer component would be of less concern than the herbicide ingredient. Weed-killing herbicide portions of lawn chemicals would likely be damaging to the rhubarb on contact, and could have human health concerns if eaten.

Herbicide damage to vegetables, rhubarb and other desirables is usually revealed when leaves and stems become twisted, gnarled, yellowed or misshapen. So, if the rhubarb looks normal, with sturdy stems and healthy looking leaves, and if you have no indication that herbicide contacted the leaves and stems, there should be no danger in eating it.

You might voice your concerns to the lawn care company and thank them for their future diligence in never allowing spray drift to contact your rhubarb and other trees, shrubs and flowers in your yard, while staying a reasonable distance away for safety.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.