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Don Kinzler, Published April 12 2013

Growing Together: A little practice, patience are seeds of great gardening

I chuckle how frequently people confess to me that they are killers of plants. They don’t think they have a green thumb.

Just between you and me, I think they’re wrong.

Some people can play piano instinctively with little or no training. The rest of us needed lessons. Likewise, some people instinctively give plants the care required to thrive.

But I believe everyone can learn basic principles that yield success.

Let’s call these lessons Green Thumbiculture.

Attitude

First, we need the proper attitude. Develop a “feel” for plant care. All plants operate in an environment of soil, water, light and fertility.

Soil

In vegetable gardens and flowerbeds, add organic material with a passion. Peat moss, compost and sheep manure are needed to mellow our heavy soils.

In pots, both indoors and out, my best results come from Miracle Gro Potting Mix and Schultz Mix. Don’t use cheap, heavy potting soils.

Light

Learn which shrubs and outdoor flowers favor sun and which prefer shade. Most vegetables want full day sun. Check which houseplants do well in a corner of a room and which need a spot in front of a sunny window.

Water

More plants are killed from improper watering than any other cause.

When watering potted plants indoors and out, apply enough to wet the entire soil mass.

Overwatering comes from keeping plants continually soggy, not from applying too much at one time. Use pots with bottom drainage holes.

Water lawns, gardens and flowerbeds deeply rather than in light, frequent sprinklings. Apply one inch of water per week during non-rain periods. An exception is a newly seeded lawn, which requires frequent daily watering to keep the seedbed moist until germinated grass is visible.

Fertilizer

Use it to keep plants healthy and vigorous.

“Miracle Gro will not resurrect a plant from the dead,” a phrase I’ve borrowed this great phrase from retired Cass County Horticulturist Dave DeCock.

Trees, shrubs

Check the hardiness zone on labels when buying plants. Much of North Dakota and the comparable region of Minnesota is now considered Hardiness Zone 4a. (Used to be Zone 3). The northern two tiers of counties are still Zone 3. South Dakota begins Zone 4b.

In the nursery section of local national chains I have seen non-hardy plant material being sold alongside well-adapted trees and shrubs. For example, I didn’t purchase the Camellia shrub I spotted because I am not planning to move to southern Georgia.

Don’t plant trees too deep, which causes major problems. The flared, widening region between trunk and roots should be visible after planting. Cover the roots, not the trunk, with soil.

Landscaping

Plan for both summer and winter beauty. Colored twigs and ornamental bark create great contrast against snow. This winter we could have used all the contrast possible.

If a landscape is past its prime, don’t hesitate to remove it, or rejuvenate it if possible.

Flowers

Perennials have specific bloom seasons of usually two to four weeks. Use different types with varying bloom times. Intersperse with annuals for season-long color.

Vegetable Gardens

A small well-kept garden is more productive than a large weedy mess. Consider raised beds and square- foot gardening.

Planting seeds too thickly is a common problem. Thin the rows out. Learn to identify vegetable seedlings so you can eliminate weeds while tiny.

Know our frost-free probability dates, and plant accordingly. These dates vary from around May 15 to May 25 for much of our region. I often plant the entire garden at one time between these dates, as my parents did. Some cold-hardy vegetables can be planted earlier. Don’t be fooled by early warm springs.

Lawns

Raise mowing height to three inches for lush lawns with less weed problems. Don’t bag clippings unless they are laying like hay on the surface. They provide fertilizer and water-saving mulch if allowed to filter into the turf.

Use weed spray judiciously. In summer, I smell much 2,4-D wafting through neighborhoods. I’m sure our lungs are now very weed-free.

Houseplants

Proper watering is the greatest challenge. Apply enough water to wet the entire soil. Discard drainage. Then allow the soil to dry before the next watering. Most houseplants in the Kinzler home need watering about every seven days. This varies with plant type, pot size, location, and season.

If a houseplant has slipped into a half-dead coma, let it go. It is often difficult to reverse near-death in plants. Choose another type and start fresh.

Fruit Trees

Prune to keep trees at easy-picking height. Wrap trunks to prevent damage from rodents and winter reflective sunscald.

Experience

The best professor of Green Thumbiculture is experience. Don’t fret with failure. Try again.

Just remember, the next time you tell me you don’t have a green thumb, expect me to chuckle and say, “Not for long – because we’re Growing Together!”

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Don Kinzler writes a weekly yard and gardening column in SheSays. Readers can reach him at donkinzler@msn.com.