Q: Can you help us identify these houseplants? Thanks. — Brittany Neva.

A: Thanks for sending the photos. The plant on the left is called haworthia, and is often nicknamed zebra plant. Haworthias, which are cousins of aloe, are a large group of succulents native to South Africa, where they grow in sandy and rocky soil. Their native soil habitat makes them prefer a cactus-type potting mix high in aggregate.

The plant on the right is bird’s nest sansevieria, also called bird’s nest or dwarf snake plant. It’s a close relative of the taller, more common version, with nearly identical care. Native to the tropics, these waxy-leaved plants naturally retain water, allowing them to go for longer periods between waterings, like other succulents. Grown best in well-drained mixes, it’s always better to err on the dry side, if debating how often to water.

Q: I’d like to start my cucumbers, squash, zucchini and muskmelons indoors so they’ll ripen earlier. In the past I’ve bought starter plants, but thought it would be fun to try starting my own. When should I plant the seeds? — Bob F., Fargo.

A: All of these “vine crops,” also known as cucurbits, love warm weather and require warm soil to germinate, grow and thrive. Starting melon plants early is almost a necessity, as they require a long, warm season. Cucumbers, zucchini, squash and pumpkins can yield earlier crops if we start them indoors, although direct seeding outdoors works also — they just ripen later.

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Peat pots are useful, because you can plant pot-and-all into the garden with less transplant shock, as these vine crops are sensitive to having their roots disturbed. The preferred peat pot size is 3 or 4 inches in diameter, as these crops quickly produce large root systems. The time to start is May 1 with the intent of transplanting into the garden about May 25.

Fill peat pots to the brim with seed-starting mix that you’ve pre-moistened. Place three or four seeds on the surface and press down into the mix, covering about 1 inch. Then water again, and cover with clear plastic. Locate in a warm spot, and seeds should germinate in five to seven days. Immediately provide intense light when you see sprouts.

On sunny days, the plants can be located outdoors in a warm spot, such as along the south-facing foundation and moved indoors in the evening. Outdoor sunshine produces the best plants. Thin seedlings to two or three plants per pot.

Q: I live in Fargo, but I garden about 50 miles away. If I plant small seeds like carrots, the soil dries out so quickly that germination can be difficult. I’ve found it works well to cover the carrot row with just enough grass clippings to hold the moisture in, and I’ve had good results the past few years. The grass clippings of course can’t be from a lawn that’s sprayed with weed killer. — Don Andersen, Fargo.

A: Thanks, Don, for a great tip. Carrots can be a challenge for many of us, because the tiny seed is planted so shallowly. If the soil surface isn’t kept moist during germination, the seed can begin to sprout, and then fry if the soil surface turns dry and windswept. If the soil becomes crusted after watering, fine seed has difficulty breaking through the soil surface.

Covering the row with a light coating of grass clippings is a great idea, just enough to keep the soil from drying out. The old-timers sometimes laid boards down on the newly seeded carrot rows to keep the soil moist and crust-free. Carrots needed to be checked daily, and boards removed as soon as sprouts appeared. I like your idea of grass clippings better.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Fielding Questions columns

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.