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PRAIRIE GARDENER: Geraniums are good for beginner gardeners to grow

While there's no official poll, it's a safe bet to assume geraniums are America's favorite bedding plant. Nothing signals the arrival of summer more than a window box of scarlet geraniums. And if scarlet isn't your favorite color, there are numer...

While there's no official poll, it's a safe bet to assume geraniums are America's favorite bedding plant. Nothing signals the arrival of summer more than a window box of scarlet geraniums. And if scarlet isn't your favorite color, there are numerous other shades to choose from including soft pastels.

Geraniums don't take much frost, so normally plants are purchased around Memorial Day for summer planting. Some gardeners have saved their geraniums from last autumn, and those plants can also be taken outdoors. If we do get a few chilly nights in early June, cover these beauties with an old sheet or blanket.

The name "geranium" was in use long before the flowers we usually call "geraniums" were known to the West. What we refer to as a "geranium" is actually a pelargonium, a genius of plants originally found in South Africa. The true geranium is a hardy perennial we know as "cranes bill." That's today's horticulture lesson.

Geraniums have been continually hybridized since there discovery in the late 1700s. They make a perfect bedding plant for a beginner. They are inexpensive, easy to grow and propagate. The free-flowering plants, which boast thick branching stems and lush foliage, will provide blooms throughout the summer, providing you give them an occasional shot of fertilizer, water and remove spent blossoms.

There are many bloom types from which you can select. Some have cactus-like flowers, others are double or semi-double, have rosebud blooms, are single-flowered or are fancy-leaved. Traditional varieties include the scented-leaf geraniums and the Martha Washington, popular for cemetery planting.

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Geranium tips

- For optimum flowering, provide full sun. However, geraniums will tolerate sites with partial sun, but expect fewer blooms. If you have them in containers, move them out of the hot afternoon sun if possible. Space plants about a foot apart. Otherwise you could end up with mildew-type diseases from over-crowding.

- Geraniums do best in moist, loamy, well-drained soil with regular applications of a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Apply about once a month. They require watering, but don't overwater. Check the soil daily to determine if it's slightly moist. Make sure you have drain holes in containers or window boxes so excess water can be eliminated.

- To ensure bloom until the first killing frost, deadhead faded blossoms and remove damaged leaves. An occasional pinching of growth points prevents stems from becoming leggy.

- You don't have to bid farewell to your geraniums in autumn either. If frost looms, bring your plants indoors or take cuttings. You also can take them downstairs to the basement and place under grow lights or let them go dormant. They will revive in spring.

- If you have overwintered geraniums, it will take time to get them up and running. You may want to buy blooming geraniums for prominent display and use the overwintered plants for background color. It takes them several weeks before they began to bloom in earnest. However, they will provide lots of color well into autumn.

Tomatoes

What's a garden without tomatoes? Nothing is better in summer than enjoying a ripe tomato right off the vine. Homegrown tomatoes are a real treat after nearly a year of the store-bought kind. However, the season is short before another frost rings down the curtain on these red orbs of summer.

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If you end up with extra tomatoes, the can be canned or processed into relishes, jams ands catsups. In a pinch, they can even be frozen for soups, stews or chili. However, they do lose something in the process.

There are many varieties of tomatoes from which to make a selection. Patio, cherry and grape tomatoes work well in limited space, such as a flower bed border or in containers. The large-fruited tomatoes do better with more space. There are two kinds of tomatoes: determinate and inderminate. The determinate only get so large and bear fruit that ripens all at once while the inderminate varieties ramble all over the garden setting fruit up to the final frost.

The Prairie Gardener purchases variety packs of tomatoes, attempting to squeeze in as many different varieties as possible to ensure a long crop. Tomatoes are tender, so set out after Memorial Day. Allow lots of space, placing them 3 to 4 feet apart in the row with 5 feet between rows. Place each in an old tire, which will help keep the fruit off the ground. Tomatoes require six hours of sun. Protect from cutworms with newspaper collars. Avoid overhead sprinkling.

Veggie tips

- If you don't get your garden started until early June, you can still plant vegetables and expect success most seasons.

- Think small. A small weed-free garden will produce more and better vegetables than a large, unkempt garden.

- "Plant 'em thick and thin 'em quick" is an old garden rule. This is especially true if you raise carrots, beets, lettuce or parsnips. In the case of beets and lettuce, those thinned can be used for salads.

- Fertilizers commonly used for vegetable growing are complete, meaning they contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Some of the more common fertilizers would be 5-10-5, 5-10-10 and 18-24-6. Each number indicates the ratio beginning with nitrogen and followed by phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen should not be used heavily in vegetable gardens or you will end up with excessive vegetative growth. Lawn fertilizers will have a higher first number such as 20-10-10.

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Garden tour

Be sure and mark June 28 on your calendar for that date marks the 24th annual garden tour sponsored by the Grand Forks Horticultural Society. This year, the date was moved up about a month and it has been cut to one day instead of two. The event will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with free coffee and doughnuts for the early birds. Volunteers are needed. If you can assist, call Zona at (218) 773-9180.

In addition to the garden tour, there will be the plant sale. Members will pot up surplus plants for those attend. There also will be the gardeners' garage sale. This will mark the second year for the garage sale. Funds obtained will go toward community beautification and education. Stay tuned for additional information.

In other news, the Grand Forks Horticultural Society will host a bus tour July 14 to outlying area gardens and greenhouses. The all-day event begins at 7 a.m., concluding by 6 p.m. Cost is $25. For info, call Karon at (701) 772-2835.

Busy month

- May has been a busy month for the Prairie Gardener. His first grandchild, Wyatt Owen Stav, arrived May 6. The Prairie Gardener and his wife, Peggy, celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary May 26 and today (May 31) marks his 50th anniversary of his high school graduation from New York Mills, Minn.

- Marilyn Hagerty observed her birthday May 30. Years ago, this was the date we observed as Memorial or Decoration Day before it became a movable holiday. If you haven't extended your greeting yet, please do so. Marilyn is an inspiration to all of us here at the Grand Forks Herald.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. His column is published every other Saturday. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly gardening show airing at 4:10 p.m. Thursdays on KNOX 1310 (A.M.).

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