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Published February 07 2014

Fielding questions

Q I purchased a brand name potting soil, complete with nutrients, and transplanted my beloved Boston fern. When I watered it, the water floated on top of the soil and spilled over the edge of the pot. Next, I went to a hardware store and bought a cheap bag of dirt. Later I noticed flying insects in my house and in the open bag of soil. Meanwhile, my fern died. Why is finding qualify potting soil so difficult?

– Monica Stich, Fargo

A Even name-brand potting soils can be difficult to re-wet if they become dry. Some contain wetting agents to help water absorption. Before using any of the packaged mixes, it helps to open the bag, add water, stir, then allow to sit overnight. Check labels to be sure mixes are pasteurized to prevent insects from hatching.

Locally owned garden centers are good potting soil sources because often they sell the same top-notch mixes used in their own greenhouse production.

Q I’m going to renew my Arbor Day Foundation membership, and I get 10 free trees. Which would you recommend for survival in Fargo? The choices are Colorado blue spruce, redbud, white fir, Douglas fir or a combo pack with redbuds, crabapples, Washington Hawthorns, and arrowwood viburnum. Any advice on how to ensure survival?

– Laura Pladson, Fargo

A The Arbor Day Foundation website supplies plant choices based on your zip code. I double-checked Fargo’s and was given the same choices you list.

However, redbud, white fir, Douglas fir, and Washington Hawthorn are not fully recommended for this area, partly due to hardiness problems and partly due to soil incompatibility.

The best choice would be Colorado blue spruce, which becomes a nice pyramidal 35 feet high and 15 feet wide at the base.

If the arrowwood viburnum can be ordered separately from the combo pack it would make a hardy landscape shrub growing to about 6 or 8 feet high and wide. Because the plants you receive are usually about 6 to 12 inches high, protect them with a 2 foot diameter mulch circle after planting. Encroaching lawn grass can be a tiny tree’s worst enemy.

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.