Frequently Asked Questions

Question:
How do I store salsify?
Answer:

Harvest salsify in mid- to late November as cool fall temperatures enhance the oyster-like flavor of the roots.  After harvest, trim off the foliage 1 inch above the roots and store the salsify at a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a...

Question:
Are there any trees or shrubs that bloom in winter?
Answer:

While most trees and shrubs bloom in spring or summer, witch hazels are a notable exception. Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms from mid-October to early December.  Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and...

Question:
Is canned pumpkin actually made from a mixture of butternut and other squashes?
Answer:

The terms pumpkin and squash are rather confusing.  Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes squashes, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelons, and gourds.  A pumpkin is actually a type of squash.  The...

Question:
Are there ornamental grasses with colorful fall foliage?
Answer:

Several ornamental grasses develop good fall color.  Switchgrass (Panicum spp.) cultivars with colorful fall foliage include ‘Rehbraun’ (reddish brown), ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ (burgundy red), and ‘Prairie Fire’ (wine red).  In fall,...

Question:
I planted fountain grass in the garden this spring. Will it survive the winter?
Answer:

There are several species of fountain grass.  Perennial fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is a perennial grass.  It is hardy in much of Iowa.  Annual fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a widely grown...

Question:
How do I store parsnips?
Answer:

Harvest parsnips in mid- to late November as cool fall temperatures convert starch to sugar and give parsnips their distinctive flavor.  After harvest, trim the foliage back to within 1 inch of the roots.  Store parsnips at a...

Question:
When is the best time to plant lilies?
Answer:

Early fall is an excellent time to plant Asiatic, Oriental, and other garden lilies.  Plant lily bulbs at a depth equal to three times their diameter.  Container-grown lilies can also be planted in spring and summer.  Plant...

Question:
How long does it take a compost pile to break down?
Answer:

The rate of decomposition depends upon the composition of the compost pile, level of management, and other factors. A well-managed compost pile (one that is watered and turned regularly) containing a mixture of shredded plant material should be...

Question:
Can I put disease-infested plant material in my compost pile?
Answer:

Temperatures of 150 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit are required to kill most plant disease pathogens. Unfortunately, the internal temperatures of most home compost piles don’t reach this level and the disease organisms are not destroyed. For many home...

Question:
Will a compost pile produce objectionable odors?
Answer:

A properly prepared and maintained compost pile will generate little, if any, objectionable odors.  Unpleasant odors may arise if the compost pile contains excessive amounts of wet plant materials (such as fruit or grass clippings), is kept...

Question:
When can I cut back my asparagus foliage?
Answer:

The asparagus foliage can be cut back to the ground after it has been destroyed by cold temperatures in fall.  However, it is generally recommended that the dead foliage be allowed to stand over winter.  The dead debris will catch and...

Question:
What types of materials should not be added to a compost pile?
Answer:

Because of the possibility of the transmission of certain diseases, human, dog, and cat feces should not be placed in the compost pile. It's advisable not to add diseased plant material or weeds that have gone to seed to the compost pile....

Question:
How do I harvest and store sweet potatoes?
Answer:

Harvest sweet potatoes immediately before or after a vine killing frost.  When harvesting sweet potatoes, dig carefully to avoid cutting or bruising the roots.  After harvest, cure the sweet potatoes for 1 week at a temperature of 80 to...

Question:
This fall some of the needles on my white pines have turned yellow and begun dropping to the ground. Is this a problem?
Answer:

The loss of needles is probably due to seasonal needle drop. Deciduous trees, such as maple and ash, drop all of their leaves in fall. Though it largely goes unnoticed, evergreens also lose a portion of their foliage (needles) on a yearly basis....

Question:
When can I cut back rhubarb plants?
Answer:

Don’t cut back the rhubarb until the foliage and stalks have been destroyed by a hard freeze.  To produce a good crop next spring, rhubarb plants must manufacture and store adequate levels of food in their roots.  The foliage continues...

Question:
When can I stop mowing the lawn in the fall?
Answer:

Continue to mow the lawn until the grass stops growing in the fall.  The foliage of cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, stops growing when daytime high temperatures are consistently below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  In central...

Question:
When is the best time to apply a broadleaf herbicide to the lawn?
Answer:

Fall (mid-September to early November) is the best time to control perennial broadleaf weeds in the lawn with broadleaf herbicides.  In fall, perennial broadleaf weeds are transporting food (carbohydrates) from their foliage to their roots...

Question:
Do I need to remove the leaves on my lawn?
Answer:

Turfgrass plants utilize light, water, and nutrients to manufacture food.  In fall, lawn areas beneath large trees are often completely covered with leaves.  The leaf debris prevents the turfgrass plants from manufacturing and storing...

Question:
When should I cut back my ornamental grasses?
Answer:

Many ornamental grasses provide color, sound, and movement to the winter landscape.  Because of these winter features, cut back ornamental grasses in April in Iowa.  Cut back the grasses to within 2 to 4 inches of the ground with hand...

Question:
I planted some fountain grass in the garden this spring. Will it survive the winter?
Answer:

There are several species of fountain grass.  Perennial fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is a perennial grass.  It is hardy in much of Iowa.  Annual fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a widely grown...

Question:
How do I overwinter tuberous begonias?
Answer:

Carefully dig up the tuberous begonias within a few days of a killing frost.  Leave a small amount of soil around each tuber.  Cut off the stems about 1 inch above the tubers.  Place the tubers in a cool, dry area to cure for 2 to...

Question:
How do I over-winter dahlias?
Answer:

Cut back the plants to within 2 to 4 inches of the ground within three or four days of a killing frost.  After cutting back the plants, leave the dahlias in the ground for an additional six or seven days to “cure.”  Then carefully dig...

Question:
How do I overwinter gladiolus bulbs?
Answer:

Carefully dig up the plants with a spade in late summer/early fall.  Gently shake off the soil from the bulb-like corms.  Then cut off the foliage 1 to 2 inches above the corms.  Dry the corms for 2 to 3 weeks in a warm, dry, well-...

Question:
How do I pot up an amaryllis bulb?
Answer:

When planting an amaryllis bulb, select a pot which is approximately 1 to 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb.  The container may be clay, ceramic or plastic, but should have drainage holes in the bottom.  Plant the bulb in...

Question:
What should I do with my amaryllis after it is done blooming?
Answer:

Some individuals discard their amaryllis after it is done blooming.  However, it’s possible to save the amaryllis and force it to flower again next year. 

Proper cultural practices must be followed to successfully grow and...

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