Dear Master Gardener: I purchased a plant called a Curcuma this week. I’ve never seen one before and it didn’t come with instructions on how to care for it. Please advise.

Answer: Curcuma is a perennial plant in the ginger family that is native to tropical parts of Asia — turmeric is also in this family. Although it is in the ginger family it is not edible. You will find Curcuma in the houseplant section of nurseries or big box stores. They produce a spectacular display of purple or pink flowers on tall stems. Place your plant in a window where it will receive bright light and keep it evenly moist. If you let it dry out it will lose its leaves and stop flowering. Fertilize it every two weeks at half-strength during the summer while it is blooming. If you have your plant outside, you will need to bring it in before temperatures drop below 65 degrees, as it is very intolerant of cold temperatures. Because Curcumas are perennial, they will go dormant just like northern perennials. Let your plant rest during the winter. While it is dormant discontinue watering and fertilizing it. In spring, place your dormant plant in a sunny window and water it lightly until green foliage appears.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Tips for fending off a garden-destroying fiend

Dear Master Gardener: I heard there is a decline in the monarch butterfly population. What can I plant in my yard to help monarch butterflies?

Answer: Monarch butterflies are probably the most well-known and beloved of all the butterflies. Unfortunately, the monarch butterfly population in North America has declined by about 80% since the mid-1990s due to destruction of habitats, spread of invasive species, widespread use of pesticides and global climate change. In fact, according to the University of Illinois, the yearly count of monarchs decreased by 53% in 2019 from the previous year and this continuous decline can be attributed specifically to a lack of Asclepias (milkweed) for larvae.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Deterring deer from treating your garden like a smorgasbord

When flying over gardens butterflies locate and identify their host plant through a combination of sight and scent. Asclepias (milkweed) is the only host plant for the monarch butterfly, so having these plants available is crucial to their survival. Asclepias is the only plant that monarchs lay their eggs on and the only food source for the larvae. It is also a nectar source for the adult monarch. Asclepias incarnata and Asclepias tuberosa are great additions to the perennial garden. Asclepias incarnata is pink and Asclepias tuberosa is orange. Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) is a native Minnesota wildflower that supports the monarch butterfly; however, it can be a little weedy-looking and aggressive for the home garden.

Try to include some Asclepias in your garden. Every added milkweed plant will help! And, one of the most important conservation decisions we can all make is to avoid the use of broad-spectrum pesticides sprayed around the yard.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Girdling roots can be harmful to trees

Dear Master Gardener: I have some space in my vegetable garden where I pulled out some plants. Are there some vegetables I can plant now for a fall harvest?

Answer: Yes! You can plant lettuce and other salad greens such as arugula, spinach, and kale. Bush beans, turnips, and radishes can also be planted.

Dear Master Gardener: I’ve got some pretty flowers this year I’d like to show at the Crow Wing County Fair. What do I have to do to enter?

Answer: The Crow Wing County Fair starts Aug. 3 and runs through Aug. 7. Entry day to bring your flower, vegetable, and grain exhibits to the Horticulture Building is 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2, though 4 p.m. is the cutoff time if you haven’t pre-registered. Judging begins at 6:30 p.m. so ribbons will be attached when the fair opens Tuesday morning. Blue Ribbon first place pays $4, Red Ribbon second place gets $3, and White Ribbon third place receives $2. There is also a separate Youth Category for kids under 16.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Our lawns can survive this dry spell

To make things simple for you, and especially the fair staff, enter online by Friday, July 30, any of your plants that you think you might want to enter. If you change your mind, it’s a lot easier to not use the tags that will be pre-printed than to fill out all the paperwork on entry day.

You may enter cut flowers, potted plants, container gardens, hanging plants, hostas, herbs, floral arrangements, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. Just be sure to read, and re-read carefully exactly what is needed for your specimen to be judged. Sometimes multiple stems or blooms are required — even a perfect flower won’t be judged if there were supposed to be three of them. Get out your ruler, too — many categories are by size and a flower or hosta in the wrong size category won’t be judged either.

There are a few hints to help you be successful. First of all, pick all your flowers the night before and condition them by placing them in a solution that is 1 gallon warm water with 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon bleach added. Place the freshly cut flowers in the warm solution, then keep them in a cool, dark place until it’s time to go. For some magical reason, this makes the specimens stay fresher for judging and they look better for days, even when the Horticulture Building gets really hot.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Heat can be harmful to hostas

Brush or wipe clean the leaves and petals of all your entries. Manicure scissors can trim edges a teeny bit if necessary. Remove all leaves that would be underwater. Bring some packing peanuts, cardboard, or other small things to wedge into the display bottles so your specimen stands up straight. Bottles are available at the fair if you don’t have any small, clear, thin-necked bottles. No fancy containers are allowed except for the floral arrangement division.

Don’t wait until the last minute to bring your entries, it’s usually pretty hectic. Make sure you attach your official entry tag which will be waiting for you in the Horticulture Building. Brainerd Garden Club members will be there to help you and will get your entry placed in the correct spot.

Get a copy of the 2021 Crow Wing County Fair handbook, or go online to crowwingcountyfair.com and look under the Events tab. Page 70 is the start of the Department 90 rules and regulations for horticultural exhibits. The link for entering online is also under the Events tab. Look through the whole booklet though — you might want to exhibit lots of other things or enter the Demo Derby!

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: How you can keep animals from grazing on your garden

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.