Dear Master Gardener: Are the pumpkins and gourds that are for sale now edible?

Answer: The terms pumpkin, gourd, and squash can be confusing. These plants are all members of the cucurbit family, which also include summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers and melons. People generally do not eat the pumpkins grown for jack-o’-lanterns because they are stringy and tasteless; however, the seeds are good roasted. Pie pumpkins are smaller and have sweeter fruit. Pumpkins bred for eating have good flavor and color and contain many vitamins and minerals.

Gourds typically are the hard-skinned, nonedible members of the cucurbit family used for ornamental purposes. Native Americans used them as utensils, ladles, and storage containers. Today they are used for autumn displays on Thanksgiving tables, whistles, rattles and birdhouses. There are many species of gourds that come in all kinds of strange sizes and shapes.

There are three species of edible winter squash: Cucurbita pepo is the acorn, delicata and spaghetti squash; Cucurbita moshata is the butternut type; and Cucurbita maxima include the hubbard, kaboch, turban and buttercup types.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: With the right care, orchids can rebloom for decades

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Dear Master Gardener: My rose bush is blooming again and I was wondering if I should just leave it alone and let it freeze naturally, or should I nip it off? Also, will it hurt the bush to be blooming so late?

Answer: If you prune now, it will signal the plant to grow. New shoots are tender and cold weather will kill them. It is best not to prune roses after mid-August, but you can deadhead to prevent the rose bush from expending energy developing rose hips. At this time of the year, you can leave the flowers on the bush because they will freeze before being able to make rose hips, or you can just snip off the flower. Blooming now will not hurt the bush.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Getting your garden ready for winter

Dear Master Gardener: Our barberry shrubs in one area made it through last winter fine, but four out of five barberry shrubs in the boulder wall died. Does it have something to do with growing among boulders? What should we do to protect the new ones in the boulder wall?

Answer: Japanese barberry is hardy to USDA cold hardiness zone 4 and the Brainerd area is zone 3b. Although Japanese barberry is quite cold tolerant (to 30 degrees below zero), it prefers to be sheltered from strong winds. If your boulder wall is on the north side of your house, the strong, cold winter winds may have been the cause of those shrubs not surviving. You can protect them this winter by wrapping burlap around wooden stakes to make a barrier and keep your barberry shrubs safe from wind.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: A few tips for overwintering geraniums

Dear Master Gardener: I would like to use hydrangea flowers for decorating? How do I preserve them?

Answer: Hydrangea flowers can be dried and used for indoor arrangements and decorating. It is best to let them stay on the bush past their prime and cut them when they begin to dry naturally toward the end of the season. When cutting them from your shrub, keep the stems shorter than 18 inches and cut them at an angle. Drying accentuates imperfections in the blossoms, so pick the best flowers to dry. One method of drying hydrangea flowers is to air dry them. Simply remove the leaves from the stem and hang them in a cool, dry place. Another method is to dry them upright in a vase or jar. Cut the flowers by cutting the stems at an angle, strip the leaves off and place them in water. If you are drying several flowers in one vase you may want to stagger the lengths so the flower heads do not touch each other, as they benefit from good air circulation for them to dry properly. Place the stems in a vase or jar with a few inches of water and keep them out of direct sunlight. Let the water evaporate. If the flowers still are not dry when the water evaporates, add a little more water and give the flowers more drying time until you feel they are adequately dried. Once the flowers are dry, you can use them to arrange in vases, or use them to decorate wreaths, Christmas trees, topiaries, and window boxes.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Hyacinths can fill your home with fragrance

Dear Master Gardener: Someone told me that Irish Spring soap will keep deer away. Is it true?

Answer: Experiments conducted by Swihart and Conover (1990) at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found that an area about 1 meter from the soap will be protected from deer; although it’s not 100% foolproof. Their experiments also concluded that no particular bar soap was better than another for repelling deer.

Dear Master Gardener: I just repotted my aloe vera plant and the leaves are soft and bendable. What is wrong with my plant?

Answer: Aloe vera plants will thrive as long as they are watered properly and receive enough sunlight. A south-facing window is perfect for growing aloe. Overwatering is one of the most common causes of the demise of an aloe plant. It’s important to let the soil completely dry out between watering sessions. Did you repot your plant with a well-drained potting mix with added sand or perlite, or a mix specifically for cacti and succulents? Does the pot have at least one drainage hole? Adequate drainage will help guard against overwatering. Usually, the leaves of an aloe vera plant get soft when there is too much water around the roots. Let your plant dry out and place it in a sunny window.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Oleanders can be houseplants, but be wary of their toxicity

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 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.