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This wintering method will give you beautiful geraniums year after year

"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also hears from readers about Norfolk Island pine problems and the ripening dates for tomatoes.

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A reader used Don Kinzler's directions to move these geraniums indoors last winter and then bring back outside in flower pots in the summer. Special to The Forum
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Q: I’ve used your directions for keeping geraniums over winter, with last winter being the first time I’ve done this. Attached is a photo of how nice the flower pots of geraniums looked this summer. In October, I moved these Calliope geraniums back indoors for another winter. Thanks for all of the helpful information. — Evan H.

A: Your geraniums are beautiful. This wintering method really does work well, and thanks for sharing your experience.

To summarize the method, geraniums are taken out of the outdoor containers before frost, brought indoors, cut back severely to about 3 inches above the previous soil level, and repotted into 4-inch diameter pots, similar to the pot size used when purchasing greenhouse-grown geraniums.

The geraniums are then grown as houseplants in a sunny window or under lights. Another pinch or cutback is given on March 1, biweekly fertilizer started, and the plants are husky, well-branched plants by the time outdoor planting time arrives in late May.

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Q: I bought a Norfolk Island pine a year ago at Christmas time and it’s been a nice houseplant. It put out new growth and looked good until a month ago, when some of the branches started turning dull green and eventually became brown. Do you know what could be causing this, and what I can do? — Cathy L.

A: Norfolk Island pine is a tropical island native that thrives in high humidity, and can become a very large tree in its natural surroundings. They do make beautiful houseplants and can be enjoyed for many years before they’ll reach ceiling height.

To duplicate their native island habitat, Norfolk Island pines require generous humidity. Winter’s dry, furnace-heated air can cause the symptoms you describe. Foliage will remain healthiest if winter humidity is kept high by frequent misting the foliage or locating the pot on a pebble-filled saucer of water, with the pot’s bottom kept above water level.

Norfolk Island pines are also very attractive to spider mites, which are tiny, speck-sized, insectlike creatures that suck sap from the pine’s needles, causing the needles to turn dull, grayish green and eventually brown. Spider mite infestations are common on Norfolk pines and can be another cause of the symptoms you describe.

To control spider mites, foliage can be gently washed with lukewarm water and a shower-type faucet attachment. Insecticidal soap or neem oil can be applied following label instructions.

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Q: I’m looking at the seed catalogs that have already started coming in the mail and would like to try some new tomato varieties. All the types list the number of days to maturity. I don’t want any that ripen so late in the season. What number of days is best for a good all-around tomato? — Ben T.

A: Tomato varieties can be grouped by early, midseason and late. Many gardeners plant a few from each category to extend the ripening season. When catalog descriptions or plant tags list the days to maturity, it’s a general guideline for the time length required from transplanting the plants into the garden until first fruits are harvested.

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It’s fun to have a plant or two of an early-ripening type, because we’re all anxious for the first vine-ripened tomato. Early varieties are those listed as requiring 45 to 65 days until harvestable fruits. They’re usually smaller than types that ripen later.

Midseason tomatoes are good choices for your main crop. Fruits are generally larger than early types, and they ripen in the heart of gardening season. Midseason or main-season tomato varieties are those listed as 65 to 78 days to maturity.

Late-season tomato varieties are those requiring 80 to 100 days to ripen. Many types produce very large fruits. Because some of these varieties don’t ripen until September, it’s important to plant early and midseason types in combination, so you can enjoy ripe tomatoes during the peak of summer.

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

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Don Kinzler, "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions" columnist.

Don Kinzler column mug.jpg
Don Kinzler, "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions" columnist.

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