Fielding Questions: Readers seek info about key found in landscape soil and the right time to trim trees

In this week's Fielding Questions, Don Kinzler asks readers for help identifying a mystery key found in landscaping soil in north Fargo.

Key Mystery Nov. 19, 2022.jpg
Reader Jim E. asks gardening columnist Don Kinzler to help him identify a large key that he recently uncovered in landscape soil outside his north Fargo home.
Contributed / Jim E.
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Q: We are new to Fargo and to our home in north Fargo, which is near the Veterans Administration Hospital. Attached is a photo of a large key I found along our house foundation after my leaf blower blew dirt away from it. I know this isn’t your job, Don, and you need not reply, but I’m just bouncing it off you in case you know what may have burned down or was torn down in the area that used similar keys in Fargo's history. Thanks. – Jim E.

A: I’m always happy to help, because it’s fascinating what turns up in our yards, and I was intrigued by the large size of the key you found. Jim continues with more information: “The key is five inches long, the upper part is a little over two inches wide, and the flat bottom part is an inch wide. The upper part, or handle, has a five-pointed star surrounded by a clover-like curl.

“The key does stick to a magnet, and appears to be iron. It weighs four ounces. I looked online and found that similar large keys were used in churches in the 1800’s.

“Our house was built in 1949. The soil in which the key was found might be original to the house’s location, or maybe it was in fill dirt that was hauled in, meaning it could have come from anywhere in the Fargo region. Or maybe there were other buildings on our site, prior to our house being built.”

I’m happy to help solve the mystery of the soil-covered key, and I’m hoping one of you readers might have direct knowledge about keys of that size being used in our area, or maybe have a similar key with a history of its origin.


If anyone has information to help solve the mystery, please email me at .

Q: I know you’ve had articles on when to trim trees, and I’d like to share the information with my son in the Twin Cities. Is it March and April for all trees and shrubs? - Connie B.

A: Early spring is the preferred time to prune or trim most deciduous (leafy) trees and shrubs, after the coldest weather of winter is likely past, but before trees or shrubs begin new spring growth. March and early April are good months for pruning.

Two exceptions are birch and maple, which bleed from fresh pruning wounds as sap starts flowing in spring, so pruning is best delayed until after they've leafed out. Evergreens are best pruned in May and June.

Fall pruning of trees and shrubs is best avoided because pruning cuts don't seal as plant cells are shutting down at the season’s end, leaving open wounds for the long winter months. If woody plants are pruned in fall, it doesn’t mean they’ll automatically die, but there’s increased risk of branch dieback.

There are few, if any, advantages or reasons to prune in fall. Waiting to prune until closer to spring is safer, since the cell division that compartmentalizes pruning wounds will start soon after.

Many city forestry departments and commercial tree trimmers prune large street trees in winter because of the quantity they need to trim. But the trees they're trimming are usually very large ash, lindens, elm or oak that are extremely winter-hardy.

Their schedules don’t allow delaying all pruning until later in winter or early spring, so they trim trees earlier, and it works fine. Homeowners can easily delay our shrub and small tree trimming projects until closer to spring.


More gardening columns from Don Kinzler

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at . Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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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