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Don Kinzler, Published March 07 2014

Growing Together: Local garden centers provide hope for winter-weary gardeners

Considering the recent winter, I decided I needed either a blood transfusion or a trip to a garden center. I chose the latter. Let’s call it spring therapy.

Usually our home’s windows are filled with houseplants that surround me with greenery. But following our house fire, we’re living in a temporary apartment with plants limited to a poinsettia that’s still blooming and an orchid plant I bought Mary for Valentine’s Day. Both are thriving, but they don’t provide the necessary uplift of plants en masse.

I ventured to several garden centers seeking therapy. Upon entering, I was greeted by warm sunshine, humidity, and the earthy-moist aroma of greenhouse potting soil. Estee Lauder is missing a marketing opportunity in overlooking this fragrance.

Always desiring to observe and learn, I collected a few thoughts during my garden center therapy session.

1. Well-stocked seed racks gave me the urge to start seedlings. Assortments of trays, potting mixes, and starting supplies make the process convenient. Heating pads to set seed trays can provide soil warmth crucial for germination.

2. I’d like to try the “Sunblaster High Output” compact fluorescent screw-in bulb I saw. It’s wide spectrum light range indicated it worked well as a plant-grow light. I can imagine this bulb inside a reflector-type shade used over several plants or seedlings in dim room corners instead of fluorescent shop-type lights.

3. Small herb plants offered for sale would be great transplanted into larger pots now. As they grow on the kitchen windowsill they can be trimmed for culinary use and then moved outdoors during summer.

4. Have you tried growing “microgreens?” Tender young leaves and stems are harvested when 1 to 3 inches long and are eaten with salads or sandwiches. The seed mix was a nice blend, and I’ve added this to my list of must-tries.

5. Garden centers have the best gardening books and magazines. The titles you find locally are usually tailored to our upper Midwest climate and the information is more reliable than books and magazines published nationally.

6. I was encouraged by the generous supply of affordable starter-size houseplants in small pots. Early spring is ideal for increasing houseplant numbers. Plants detect the season’s increased sun intensity and day length and respond with increasing vigor and growth. Repotting into larger containers is a great way to involve children as they watch small plants grow into beautiful houseplants.

7. I want to start a cacti/

succulent collection. I caught the bug when I saw the wide variety being sold.

8. An English ivy trained around a circular wire hoop reminded me of one I grew while in high school that took several years to perfect. It was a fun challenge I want to experience again.

9. With the popularity of outdoor planters, I was intrigued by one type of container that looked like high quality copper metal. Closer study showed them to be vinyl, lightweight but sturdy, and high quality in appearance.

10. The pretty African violets for sale reminded me of my resolve to start a small collection under fluorescent lights where they always perform well, when we’re back in our repaired home.

11. One of the most unique items I encountered was a simple gadget for watering houseplants while on vacation. It attaches to the mouth of a wine bottle. It becomes a self-waterer when the bottle is inverted and inserted into the soil of a plant. It was being demonstrated successfully on several houseplants. I’m assuming you drink the wine first; otherwise I’m not sure if Boston ferns prefer riesling or a nice chardonnay.

12. One Million Square Feet Garden Challenge. Rory Biel directs a healthy living initiative called CassClayAlive! for Dakota Medical Foundation. It includes organizations working to change our culture to make it easier for individuals to be physically active and to eat well.

On March 13 the group is unveiling a metrowide gardening program: the 1 million square feet gardening challenge, to help improve access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The website www.fmgardensalive.org has been created for individuals and community gardeners to log the dimensions of their gardens (including containers) and their number of fruit trees to achieve 1 million square feet in 2014. They have already compiled the dimensions of community gardens in the metro from last fall and have entered 318,000 square feet.

The website contains a running tally, so we can monitor progress. The website is very easy to use. When the weather improves shortly I’ll measure our vegetable garden and berry patches and enter the square footage. This is a good way to encourage gardening. Let’s all join in.

The program’s official kick-off is March 13, 11 a.m. at Baker Garden & Gift, 2733 S. University Drive, Fargo.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com