Dear Master Gardener: I purchased a primrose at the grocery store. Can I put it in my garden when the weather is conducive to doing so?

Answer: Primula, or primrose, is a delightful indoor plant bringing a cheery blast of spring color to the indoors, as well as to your perennial garden. Primula come in a variety of colors and sizes, but all grow a rosette of green, oval-shaped leaves with the flowers standing above the foliage. To get the most from an indoor primula plant, keep it in a place that gets bright light, but not direct sunlight, and keep it evenly moist and cool. If you would like to try to keep it after it is done blooming, you can cut out the old flower stems, plant it in your garden and see if you happen to have the perennial variety. There are cold hardy perennial primulas that make great additions to the early spring garden and do well in our area. There are different species that come in a variety of sizes and colors. Primula auricula is an alpine primrose that is very cold tolerant. Primula denticulata, also known as drumstick primrose, reaches 8-12 inches and has a globular flower form. Primula polyantha reach 6-12 inches and make a nice addition to an outdoor miniature garden. These three Primula species are hardy in our zone 3. Plant primulas with lots of organic matter in a cool, partly shaded location.

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Dear Master Gardener: I have heard about indoor composting with worms, what is this and how do I get started?

Answer: Worm composting is using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil amendment called vermicompost, or worm compost. Worms eat food scraps, which are digested as they pass through the worm's body, breaking down into basic nutrients until they are eliminated in the feces. This vermicompost can now be used to fertilize your plants. Your garbage has turned into gardener’s gold!

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First, set up your bin. A large opaque Rubbermaid bin with a lid works great. Drill a bunch of holes around the top of the bin so the worms can get some air, and a few holes in the bottom so excess moisture can escape (the worms won’t).

Next you need some worms. The most common variety of composting worm is the red worm or red wiggler. They can be ordered online, although they won’t be shipped during our winter months since they might freeze along the way. Your best option is to find someone with a worm bin and offer to buy some, or ask them to share. Sometimes local plant sales have some red wigglers for sale too. Just make sure you don’t use Jumping Worms, a highly invasive species we need to keep out of the lakes area.

  1. Now make some worm bedding. This is where the worms will rest and what you will bury the food scraps under. Tear up strips of newspaper or junk mail (not the shiny inserts) or use dry leaves, paper egg cartons, shredded cardboard or coir. Wet the bedding until it is slightly damp, like a wrung-out sponge. Have at least 4-6 inches of fluffy bedding.

  2. Throw in a handful of fine sand or soil. The worms have gizzards and need this to grind their food.

  3. Add the worms. To help them get used to their new home, leave the lid off and shine a light toward the bin — worms avoid light, and will burrow down into the bedding.

  4. A day or two later, bury a few food scraps under one corner of the bedding. Don’t overfeed, especially at first. Feed the worms fruit and vegetable scraps that would normally be thrown away, such as peels, melon rinds, cores, etc. You can include tea bags (remove the staple), coffee filters, moldy refrigerator findings, a few pizza crusts, etc. Do not feed citrus peels or onions or garlic. Also, no meat, bones, oils or dairy products.

  5. Feed in a different part of the bin each time, gradually adding more as the worms multiply. The worms will also eat their bedding — add more so that there is always 4 inches covering the food. The bin shouldn’t smell at all — fluff up the bedding and add more if it’s too wet. Keep the bin in a spot between 55-75 degrees.

  6. For more information, read Mary Applehof’s book, “Worms Eat My Garbage,” Flowerfield Enterprises, 1997. Or watch for one of Jackie Burkey’s worm-composting classes to learn all the tricks and meet her wriggly little friends!

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Dear Master Gardener: A friend mentioned making jam from juneberries. What type of plant is it?

Answer: The juneberry (Amelanchier) is a large shrub or small tree commonly known as serviceberry or Saskatoon. Several serviceberry species are native to Minnesota and can be found growing on the edges of woods, moist ravines and in valleys. In the landscape they can serve as specimen or key plants, as well as in group plantings for borders and screens. Serviceberry provides year-round interest — in spring it sports white, five-petaled blossoms, in late June or July it bears edible, round berries that resemble blueberries, and in the fall the foliage turns a lovely yellow to red. Serviceberry grows in full sun to full shade, but cultivars grown for fruit will produce best in full sun. These plants prefer lightly moist to moist soils.

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You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at umnmastergardener@gmail.com and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.