20 questions that have puzzled gardeners for decades

Gardening columnist Don Kinzler wonders how raccoons know when you're planning to harvest sweet corn the next day, why "lily" is included in the name daylily when they aren't even in the lily family, and other mysteries.

Why raccoons usually beat gardeners to ripe sweet corn is an interesting question.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum
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FARGO — Have you ever puzzled about certain yard and garden questions, like why the 150 feet of hose you dragged to the far corner of the garden always kinks way back at the spigot and never within reach of where you’re standing?

Some questions have been well-studied with firm answers. We know lawns are healthier when mowed at a height of 3 inches, for example. Other questions defy logic.

Here are some questions that have puzzled me for decades, and probably other gardeners as well.

More gardening columns from Don Kinzler

  1. How do raccoons know you’re going to harvest ripe sweet corn the next day, so they raid the corn patch the night before?
  2. Why do string beans set the finest crop the morning you’re loading the car for a two-week vacation?
  3. Who included “lily” in the name daylily, when they aren’t even in the lily family, and the care is very different?
    Although daylilies have "lily" in their name, they aren't in the lily family.
    Michael Vosburg / The Forum
  4. Why do rabbits crave arborvitae shrubs, often eating the soft foliage to nubs, when arborvitae doesn’t easily rebound from such damage? If they ate dogwood with such abandon, the shrubs would regrow better than before.
  5. When a plant in a hedgerow dies, why is it always one near the middle, instead of the end, where a young replacement would be less noticeable?
  6. Why don’t carrots grow as fast as the weeds that attempt to smother the young seedlings?
  7. Why are carrots so slow and weak to emerge, while radishes poke through the soil as quickly as a chipmunk looking for a peanut?
  8. When I was a lad, sap beetles and spotted winged drosophila larvae were unheard of in raspberries. Now they make the crop a challenge to produce. What changed?
  9. Why do rabbits look so cute while they’re devastating yards and gardens? If they looked more like alligators, we’d be inclined to take tougher control measures.
  10. Have you ever wondered what cultivar apple Adam and Eve enjoyed? I know Haralson wasn’t invented yet.
    Why some apple varieties ripen at a younger age remains a mystery.
    Michael Vosburg / The Forum
  11. Why do some apple cultivars ripen in August, yet other cultivars are never ripe until October?
  12. When the first dandelions were brought to America in the 1600s, I wonder if the importer ever imagined their ability to spread to every lawn across the continent?
  13. Why can the Deep South grow beautiful camellias, gardenias and magnolias, yet they can’t grow a decent hill of rhubarb?
  14. Why does blossom end rot attack the first tomatoes of the season, when those are the ones for which we’re most hungry?
  15. Wouldn’t it be fun if a tomato left on the vine would grow as big as a zucchini left on the vine?
  16. I know all plants have a purpose, even weeds, but could someone remind me of the purpose of Canada thistle?
  17. Stinging nettle is among weeds listed as edible. I’d try them, but I envision an allergic reaction causing my head to expand like a hot air balloon.
  18. It sounds reasonable to add sand to heavy clay soil to loosen the soil texture, until one realizes that clay plus sand is used to make bricks.
  19. Who first decided to create houseplants from outdoor plants? Were caves so dreary that cave dwellers decided plants would enhance the decor?
  20. If weeds didn’t grow in garden and flower beds, what would I do with all the excess free time?
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
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