Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you a tale of two headlines.
Last week’s gardening column featured the title “New Perennials for 2020” in an article illustrating, “We’re living in good gardening times…(and) plant breeders have been prolific,” as we described new flower bed beauties.
I’m certainly not one to bite the hand that publishes, but I chuckled at a banner headline on The Forum newspaper’s front page promoting the gardening column located further within the paper. The promotional headline read “Ready, Set, Grow; New perennials for 2020 have a chance of surviving the region’s harsh weather.”
I might be splitting rhubarb here, but I’ve always enjoyed promoting a can-do, positive gardening attitude. Describing flowering perennials as having “a chance of surviving the region’s harsh weather,” isn’t as uplifting or motivating as I might hope.
There are four words I never use when discussing our gardening region: "severe," "harsh," "difficult" and "challenging." Do you know why? I avoid these negative terms in describing our territory, because I’ve seen them used for most other parts of the United States as well.
Challenges are not unique to our growing season, and we don’t need to run ourselves down. For example, the University of Georgia Extension says, “Roses are one of the most popular plants among Georgia gardeners, even though growing roses in Georgia’s climate is challenging.”
Colorado State University says, “Rapid and extreme weather changes and frequently poor soil conditions make it challenging to grow plants in our climate.”
Even Arizona writes, “Vegetable gardening in Arizona can be challenging, with its unique climate.”
The point is that all geographic areas have distinct benefits and challenges. Instead of verbalizing negative adjectives when we talk about our region’s gardening, let’s work with the methods and plant materials that give success.
We can find what works in our region, and run with it. Sure, we can't grow a gardenia or a swamp cypress in Fargo, but Southern states struggle to grow peonies and lilacs. Imagine what life must be like for our Southern neighbors who can’t grow rhubarb. Our Northern winters provide the chilling these plants require to thrive.
Do you know why a Minnesota or North Dakota Honeycrisp apple tastes better than one grown farther south? Our cooler fall temperatures promote sugar buildup, making things like apples and carrots more flavorful in northern climates. Some parts of the South can’t grow apples at all, and since we can’t grow oranges in the North, maybe that makes us even.
A northern growing season has definite advantages. Gardens and flower beds thrive in the clear sunshine of our long summer days. Colors become intense with our bright skies coupled with nights that are generally cool.
The green lawns Northerners take for granted are the envy of many regions. Did you know a wide swath extending across the central United States is known as the “crabgrass belt?” That’s the nickname for the region that’s a transition zone between grass types, because it’s too warm for lush, cool season Northern lawn grasses, yet too cold for Southern lawngrass types. Because neither desirable lawn type grows well across the middle of the country, lawns are troublesome, and crabgrass is a common invader.
Our solid winters eliminate many insect and disease problems, and generous snow cover provides a natural insulation for plants. And I've never seen a python slither out of our raspberries.
So instead of using terms like "harsh," "difficult," "severe" and "challenging," let’s focus on the positive yard and garden accomplishments our region offers. There’s more than enough successful gardening here to keep us busy for a lifetime.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707.