Don Kinzler, Published September 27 2013
Fielding questionsQ What soil should I use for my strawberry begonia houseplant? They are not cheap, and now I have killed another one. I use the same potting soil as I do for my other houseplants. How often should I water it? How much sun?
– Diane Widhalm, Fargo
A The common name is interesting because the plant is neither a strawberry nor a begonia.
I have the best success with Miracle Gro Potting Mix for all our houseplants. My worst experiences have come from the cheap, heavy, bargain potting soils.
Strawberry begonias are susceptible to crown rot. Watering from the bottom is safest using lukewarm water. Watering frequency depends on many factors, but once a week is common.
The amount of sun desired by houseplants varies with the season of the year. During summer, the sun entering a window is too intense for many houseplants, and they need to be moved away from the window a little. In winter, when the sun is low on the horizon and less intense, most houseplants appreciate all the sun they can get, although some types tolerate less.
Strawberry begonia prefers sunlight in winter, but only filtered sun in summer. They also like extra humidity in winter. Once you hit the right formula, they are a prolific houseplant.
Q For many years we have been putting compost on our garden. Several years ago we took out the bin and I put compost that wasn’t fully decayed on the garden. Since then many shallow root plants like beets are small, and many plants do not have a rich green color like they used to. What can we do to get the soil back into shape?
– Merlin Kirschenman, Moorhead
A During the decaying process, bacteria and microorganisms use nitrogen as they break down plant material. When composting is complete and the organisms die, some of the nitrogen is released back into the compost.
If raw plant material is added to the garden without first being composted, it will still decay in the garden soil, but the organisms use some of the soil’s nitrogen in the process. This causes depletion in nitrogen, which can result in smaller vegetables and weaker green colors as you’ve noticed.
The nitrogen depletion is usually temporary until the plant material is fully decayed. To remedy the situation, apply a well-balanced vegetable garden fertilizer this fall or next spring and rototill into the soil.
Bags of composted sheep manure spread in a layer three inches deep and rototilled is a good non-chemical, natural way of getting the soil nutrients back in balance.
Q Is there a book you recommend that will help a new gardener get the low-down on what and how to grow in this area?
– Corey Askin, Lake Park, Minn.
A I’ve got several for you.
“Flowers Between the Frosts: How to Grow Great Gardens in Short Seasons.” was written by my predecessor and friend Dorothy Collins, who was The Forum’s garden columnist for many years.
“Gardening in the Upper Midwest” is a classic written by Leon Snyder, former head of the Horticulture Department at the University of Minnesota.
Gardening informational bulletins are available for download from the Extension Services of North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota: www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/lawns-gardens-trees and www1.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city, and state for appropriate advice.