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Master Gardeners of Douglas County: Frequent Gardening Questions

May: Gardening Questions

Q: When can I expect the last frost in Douglas County? When will it be safe to plant my vegetables and flowers?

A: There is a lot of confusion over this question so it comes up year after year. Usually the question is asked in terms of the average last frost. The problem is, as any local resident knows, when it comes to the weather there really is no such thing as an average year in Minnesota!

When they ask the question, most people are expecting a specific date which they can use to guide their planting. A better approach is probably to keep a couple of dates generally in mind and apply an underlying principle to guide specific planning.

For Douglas County (Chandler Field in Alexandria) the 50% chance for a last freeze date is May 1st. The 90% chance for last freeze date comes on May 16th. Using the idea of “average � really suggests a planting date that would lead to exposing plants to a freeze half the time. Obviously this is unacceptable. Waiting for no potential frost exposure is not practical either. So what to do?

The best idea is to use May 16th or so as a suggested time for you to take a look at the long range weather forcast and make an educated guess based on the projected trends at that time. There is a lot of variation from year to year, so there is no set date you can count on.

A related issue concerns the hardiness qualities of the plants. Using the frost date appropriately means applying it differently to different plants. Some plants like pansy, snapdragons, or broccoli like colder weather and can be planted around May 1st while plants like tomatoes or cucumbers are quite tender and must be planted only after any frost is unlikely. It all calls for good judgement and a willingness to accept occasional loses.

April: Gardening Questions

This summer I would like to try composting. What kind of composter should I use?

While there are many composters available on the market, few of them meet the basic requirements for effective composting. To get efficient composting you need to have a compost pile about 4 feet wide and tall. Smaller composters will work but they take longer to process your compost.

There are many ways to construct a simple enclosure for your compost. One of the easiest is to simply secure a ring of fencing with ties to form a circle 4-5 feet in diameter.

It is also easy to stack concrete blocks. There is no need for mortar. Often these structures are only three sided for easy access.

Of course, a square bin of wood or a wood frame with wire fencing

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March: Gardening Questions

I have a beautiful amaryllis blooming right now. I heard that your can keep them from year to year. How can I do that?

Enjoy the plant thoroughly while it is in bloom. It doesn’t last long but it is truly spectacular and well worth preserving for years to come. After the plant finishes blooming cut off the flower stalk.

Maintain the plant with water and fertilizer throughout the summer. As the leaves die down they will feed the bulb. When the plant dies down in the late fall (stop watering to force it to do so if it doesn't by November) cut off the dead leaves. Then store the plant in a cool place like a heated garage (up to about 50 degrees), for example.

Late next winter, perhaps the first of February, bring the plant out into bright light and water. You should have another beautiful plant next year.

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