Q: I wanted to share a photo of the beautiful orchids my sister got our Mom for Valentine's Day. They are still looking nice in their vase of water. - Susan Gibson, Lisbon, N.D.
A: Thanks for sharing about long-lasting orchid flowers, which hold their beauty well both on and off the plant. As a cut flower, orchids in a vase can easily last from seven to 21 days, sometimes longer.
Cut-flower life can be extended by using the floral preservative packets that usually accompany bouquets, replacing the water if it becomes cloudy or off-odor, and keeping flowers cool and away from hot air drafts. Potted orchids often remain blooming for months.
Q: A broken pelvis kept me out of yard work for two months this past fall, so I missed the usual fall trimming of asters, potentillas, roses, etc. When would be the best time to do the necessary trimming this spring? - Al Bartz, Moorhead.
A: No need to worry that you didn't get it done last fall, because spring pruning and cleanup is preferred for many things anyway. In very cold 'test winters,' perennials and shrubs can suffer damage more readily if pruning and cleanup are done in fall. Pruning wounds heal better in spring, and perennial tops left intact during winter catch insulating snow.
Prune trees and shrubs any time in early spring before 'bud break,' which means before new growth begins. Perennial flower tops should be cut down and cleaned up before new shoots start emerging from the soil. Some perennial types that are better cut back in fall include peonies, daylilies, iris and hosta: peonies for disease preventions, and the others because the tops become mushy by spring. If they weren't cut back in fall, spring works also; it's just easier in fall.
Q: Grubs have ruined our garden potatoes two years running ... any solution? The damage is on the tubers themselves. - Jeff Samson, Fargo.
A: Although grubs can attack potatoes, I'm suspecting it's something else. I've received many emails about a very common problem with garden potatoes being chewed, which is discovered when digging, and I've had this problem in our own garden for several years as well.
Almost every inquiry I get about insects eating potato tubers turns out to be voles instead of insects. Voles commonly go unnoticed, because they quietly scurry along, sometimes underground. These brownish-gray tailless field mice chew potato tubers, with the wounds varying from surface chewing to half-eaten tubers. Some tubers in the potato patch are left undamaged. Voles are also responsible for eating the shoulders from the top portion of carrot and beet roots.
Voles can be trapped, or baited where appropriate, following label directions. Gardeners have reported successful results with vole repellents containing castor oil as the active ingredient.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.