Ask the Master Gardener: Learning the ways of proper plant watering

An African violet. Photo by Jennifer Knutson

Dear Master Gardener: I just purchased an African violet but it didn’t come with instructions on how to water it. A friend said it should be watered from the bottom. What is the correct method of watering?

Answer: African violets are easy to grow houseplants. They reliably bloom several times a year when cared for properly. To water your plant, use room temperature distilled or rain water-- never use softened or chlorinated water. Keep the potting mix moist at all times but not soggy. As with all houseplants, never let your African violet sit in water. Root rot from overwatering is one of the most common causes of the plant’s demise. Here are two options:

  1. Water from the top using a baster or watering can with a narrow spout. Carefully water the potting medium only and avoid getting any water on the leaves. If you get water droplets on the leaves, gently brush or shake them off.

  2. Water from the bottom by setting the pot in a bowl of room temperature water, one-inch deep. When the soil surface feels moist, remove the plant from the bowl of water and allow excess water to drain from the pot.

Dear Master Gardener: I know I should prune my apple trees soon, but the snow is so deep I don’t know if I can get to them. When and how should my apple trees be pruned?

Answer: The best time to prune fruit trees is late winter or early spring when it will least affect your tree’s health. Prune apple trees when the coldest weather is past because if extremely cold temperatures occur after pruning it can lead to a slight, short-term reduction in winter hardiness and winter injury. It is preferable to prune before new growth has begun. Keep pruning to a minimum, especially with young trees because excessive pruning will delay or reduce fruiting and create too much leafy growth. The University of Minnesota recommends removing any diseased, broken, dead, or downward-growing branches. If two limbs are crossed, entangled, or otherwise competing, remove one of them completely at its base. Remove any limbs along the trunk that are bigger in diameter than the trunk. In addition, remove suckers and watersprouts that grow straight up. Make pruning cuts close to the branch collar at the base of the limb.

Dear Master Gardener: Plant tags and books say part shade, filtered shade, full shade, part sun, and full sun, but what does it actually mean?


Answer: It can be quite confusing indeed! Books and plant tags vary in the terminology they use to describe a plant’s light requirements. Choosing the right plants for the amount of light in your garden is very important for the success of your plants. Most sources agree that full sun is six or more hours of direct sunlight per day, partial sun is four to six hours, partial shade is two to four hours, and shade is less than two hours. With that said, you may also come across various terms for shade. Light shade is usually defined as receiving three to five hours of direct sunlight per day. Filtered shade is an area under tree canopies that seems shaded, but receives shafts of sunlight throughout the day. Dense shade receives no sunlight.

Dear Master Gardener: My Kalanchoe has become quite leggy. Will cutting it back be the best way to make it more compact?

Answer: Kalanchoe is a colorful, easy-care houseplant typically found for sale at this time. It grows best in a sunny, south or west-facing window and will get leggy in low light conditions. After flowering, cut back tall growth and old flower stems to help it to rebloom next year. If your plant has become tall and leggy, you can cut it back to about half of its height.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. All information given in this column is based on university research. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 218-454-GROW (4769) and leave a recorded message. A Master Gardener will return your call.
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