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Hibiscus can grow well indoors

A reader provided tips for growing a hibiscus indoors. Special to Forum News Service

Q: The attached photo shows a $3 hibiscus rescued from Walmart several years ago. I'm growing it indoors in front of our deck doors, which face west, giving afternoon sun. — Gail Sjolander Olson, Fargo.

A: Thanks, Gail, for responding to my request to share your hibiscus tips, after I noticed your hibiscus photo on Facebook. Gail writes: "I'm growing my two hibiscuses indoors year-round now, because I had insect problems when I'd move them outdoors. I tried them on our west deck, but now grow them inside the deck doors, which gives them the same sunlight as outdoors.

"I repot only when they outgrow the current pot, and fertilize sporadically. I do give them cold coffee, and in the past, have used Miracle Gro and Epsom salts. I water once or twice a week. Occasionally one or two leaves fall off, but then new buds appear. Not moving the plants around seems to keep them healthier. I prune branches back when flowers fall off, as it seems the blooms come on long branches. The hibiscuses bloom two or three times each year."

Great job, Gail. Looks like the rescued plant appreciates your kindness!

Q: Rabbits started to gnaw the bark at the base of our young apple tree. As soon as I noticed it, I put mesh hardware cloth around the trunk. Is there anything I should treat the wound with, and do you think the tree will recover? — Jim Olson, Bismarck.

A: When rabbits chew into bark so the white wood is exposed, the thin, green cambium layer directly under the bark is destroyed, eliminating the tree's life-blood in that section. The extent of damage depends on how much of the trunk's circumference is eaten. Trees can recover from a small wound, but if the damage extends around more than about one-third or one-half of the trunk, there might not be enough cambium left to support life. Extensive research has shown that pruning paints or other wound treatments don't help and might hinder healing.

Q: I've noticed a lot of advertising for heirloom tomatoes. What's your opinion? Are these varieties something I should be trying? — B. Haysen, Fargo.

A: Heirloom varieties are older, non-hybrid types, generally that existed before about 1960, when plant breeders combined desirable traits into hybrid varieties. Hybridization can occur in nature when bees cross-pollinate two flowers. When plant breeders develop hybrid varieties, they take the place of bees, and purposely select parents for crossing to combine good characteristics.

Growing heirloom varieties is a personal preference; some gardeners like them, others don't. They tend to have less disease resistance, and some types are late for our growing season.

Some gardeners prefer their taste, although several years ago in a blind taste-test that we conducted, participants favored the flavor and texture of Big Beef, Celebrity and Sheyenne, all hybrids, over the six heirloom varieties. It's fun to experiment to see which you prefer.