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Don Kinzler's 30 favorite gardening tips

The "Growing Together" columnist shares his favorite gardening tips.

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Trying new things keeps gardening interesting, such as new hybrid daylilies.
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Do you know one of the best ways to learn gardening? By trowel and error.

Joking aside, gardening is a lifetime of learning, whether it’s houseplants, lawn care or raising vegetables. That keeps it ever new and exciting as we learn and share with one another.

The following are 30 favorite gardening tips I’d like to pass along.

  1. Fill houseplant pots and outdoor containers with potting mix to within a half inch of the rim. I’ve noticed a correlation between a too-deep “headspace” and plant problems.
  2. Lawns are healthiest with a mowing height of 3 inches. An easy guide is the human index finger. Each joint is about 1 inch in length, so grass after mowing should measure three finger joints when the index finger is poked into the lawn.
  3. Water lawns less frequently but deeper to encourage deep roots. One inch per week in one application is ideal.
  4. How long must a sprinkler run to apply 1 inch of water? Sprinkler brands vary in amounts applied, so locate a straight-sided soup or tuna can under your sprinkler and monitor for 1 inch.
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    For a healthy lawn, water deeply and less often.
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  5. Fertilize lawns around Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  6. Snow is nature’s winter insulator. Shovel extra on perennials and around roses.
  7. Hoe the garden when weeds are just barely breaking the soil surface.
  8. Organic material is the remedy for clay soil that’s too heavy and sandy soil that’s too light. Work 2 to 3 inches of peat moss, compost or manure into the soil.
  9. Fertilizer isn’t medicine for sick plants. If plants are ailing for other reasons, fertilizer won’t help plants snap out of it.
  10. Have your soil tested by sending a sample to North Dakota State University or the University of Minnesota. Without this benchmark, adding fertilizer to soil is like adding more salt to soup without first tasting.
  11. More houseplants are killed by overwatering than any other cause, which means keeping the soil continually too moist.
  12. Buy quality garden tools, even if they seem high-priced. They can last a lifetime if you keep the handles oiled and the metal free of dirt and rust.
  13. Nature rarely leaves soil bare, except in a desert. Mulch soil in vegetable and perennial gardens with organic products.
  14. Spinosad is one of the most intriguing newer insecticides for fruit and vegetable insect control, discovered as a byproduct from a tropical rum distillery.
  15. Most fungicides operate as preventatives, so they must be applied at the very earliest signs of disease to prevent further spread.
  16. The above-ground portions of most perennial flowers are best left intact during winter and removed in spring. Exceptions are peony, iris, daylily and hosta.
  17. For healthiest rhubarb and asparagus plants, discontinue harvest July 4.
  18. Wrap the trunks of fruit trees each fall and remove in spring. Winter bark sunscald is devastating to fruit trees.
  19. More young trees are killed by humans wielding string trimmers and lawnmowers than by insects and diseases. Circle trees with mulch to prevent the death spiral caused by bark scarring.
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    Humans damage more trees while mowing and trimming than insects and diseases combined.
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  20. The microclimate of a sheltered, well-established yard can successfully grow plants that might perish on a bare, windswept prairie hillside.
  21. Cross-pollination affects the seeds inside fruits, not the current fruit itself. Planting hot peppers next to sweet bell peppers won’t affect this year’s flavor of either.
  22. Locally owned garden centers are great sources of well-adapted plant material and provide an experience national chains can’t.
  23. Shrubs are best pruned in the spring. There’s really no good reason to prune in the fall, and plenty of reasons not to.
  24. Divide spring-blooming perennials in the fall, and fall-blooming perennials in the spring.
  25. The secret to successful grass seeding is keeping the seedbed continually dark-moist from seeding time until grass seedlings are well-established.
  26. Roses respond remarkably to fertilizer applied every two weeks from May 1 to July 4.
  27. There is no foolproof rabbit repellent elixir. Those with best likelihood of success are Liquid Fence, Plantskydd and Repellex.
  28. To prevent tomato blossom end rot, keep soil moisture more consistent by mulching around plants in late June.
  29. Crabgrass and quackgrass are two very different grassy weeds with very different controls. Crabgrass is an annual weed, while quackgrass is a perennial.
  30. Experience is the best gardening teacher. Experiment and try new things. Repeat what works and learn from what doesn’t.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.

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