Q: I plan to grow potatoes in my garden for the first time this spring. Are there varieties that do better than others in our region? - T. Hanson, Dilworth, Minn.
A: North Dakota State University has been doing potato research since the late 1800s and has developed great varieties well-suited to the Upper Midwest. NDSU varieties have always been my garden favorites, although I've grown others, like red Pontiac, white Kennebec and Yukon Gold. Many gardeners have personal preferences, and many potato varieties do fine.
NDSU's red Norland remains one of the most popular garden potatoes with its smooth skin, shallow eyes, reliable yield, vigorous plants and versatility in cooking. Other NDSU favorites include russet Norkotah, white Dakota Pearl and red Viking. Several newer types I haven't yet tried are Dakota Diamond and Dakota Ruby.
Q: Do you have any tips about watering houseplants with tap water? I usually let it sit overnight so the chlorine can evaporate and it can come to room temperature. Is that a good idea? I understand rainwater is the best to use, but when it's not available (like in winter), is osmosis treated water from the grocery store a better choice? - Rick Henderson, Moorhead.
A: Key factors in houseplant water quality are minerals and chemicals like chlorine, fluorine and soluble salts. Plants vary in reaction, with types like peace lily and spider plant frequently developing brown leaf tips in response to fluorine, chlorine and other minerals. Many university Extension Services recommend letting water stand overnight as you mention, in the hopes chlorine will evaporate. University of Maryland says some minerals will settle out, so discard the bottom several inches in the holding container.
Rainwater is excellent. My mother always used melted snow in winter. Water from a dehumidifier is good, as is reverse osmosis water from the grocery store. Totally avoid softened water. Leach plants suspected of salt buildup and always discard drainage water promptly before the salty solution reabsorbs.
Q: My husband brought me a box of Triumph tulip bulbs from the Netherlands. What should I do with them? I eventually want to plant them outside. - Laurie Silewski, Valley City, N.D.
A: The tulip bulbs will probably not store until the normal planting time next fall. Bulbs are living and breathing structures, even if they aren't visibly active. If stored longer than 'normal,' bulbs run out of internal energy, shrivel and die.
A preferred method for bulbs that arrive too late for fall planting is to store the bulbs at refrigerated temperatures (35 to 40 degrees) and then plant outdoors as soon as you can in spring when the ground thaws, and the soil is workable, the earlier the better. Water well immediately after planting, and with a little luck the bulbs will bloom this spring. If not, they'll produce only leaves this year, and hopefully bloom the following.
For best results, fertilize the bulbs when planting, and again when the leaves are actively growing with a granular fertilizer or water-soluble type. This nutrition is important to maintain the healthy size and energy of the bulbs, or they'll diminish in strength.
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.