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Ask the Master Gardener: Aside from the seeds, jack o’lantern pumpkins are not usually eaten

People generally do not eat the pumpkins grown for jack o’lanterns because they are stringy and tasteless.

Pumpkins stacked on wagons.
People generally do not eat the pumpkins grown for jack o’lanterns because they are stringy and tasteless.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service
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Dear Master Gardener: Are the pumpkins and gourds that are for sale around Halloween edible?

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Answer: There are two species of pumpkins. Cucurbita pepo are usually the jack o’lanterns and some pie pumpkins and Cucurbita maxima are the giant ones grown for competition and decoration. People generally do not eat the pumpkins grown for jack o’lanterns because they are stringy and tasteless; however, the seeds are good roasted. There are three species of edible winter squash: Cucurbita pepo is the acorn and spaghetti squash, Cucurbita moshata is the butternut type, and Cucurbita maxima include the hubbard, kaboch, turban and buttercup types.

Dear Master Gardener: Should I cut my Hydrangea back this fall or wait until spring?

Answer: Hydrangea arborescens (Annabelle, Bounty, Incrediball, Grandiflora) and Hydrangea paniculata (Limelight, Quick Fire, Pinky Winky, Tardiva, White Diamonds, etc) bloom on new wood of the current season. They can either be cut back in late winter or early spring. Flowering is actually enhanced by cutting back all stems to about 12 inches from the soil line. Some hydrangeas flop after a rain. One way to alleviate flopping and strengthen the stems is to cut stems to a height of 18-24 inches to provide a framework to support new growth. Some Hydrangea paniculata can grow quite large so cutting it back can help you manage its size. If size is of no concern to you, then just remove spent blossoms and any broken stems.

Dear Master Gardener: Can I bring my begonias in and keep them as a houseplant until next summer?

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Answer: It depends on what type of begonia you have. Tuberous begonias should be dug up and stored indoors in a cool place during the winter like calla lilies, cannas, dahlias, and gladioli. Dig them up after the first light frost, spread the tubers on newspaper and let them dry for about a week. Then cut off any remaining foliage and gently shake off excess soil. All of the aforementioned bulbs/tubers can be dusted with sulfur powder to prevent disease while overwintering. Store them in paper bags or a cardboard box in a cool, dark, dry place.

Rhizomatous begonias are the easiest to grow indoors as a houseplant. To figure out if yours is a rhizomatous begonia, look for a rhizome (looks like a thick stem) that is right around the soil surface. Place your plant in an area where it gets bright light, but not direct sunlight and keep it slightly moist and fertilized. Cane type begonias, like Angel Wings and the dragon wing types can also be kept as houseplants. They need the same requirements as rhizomatous. Rex begonias are a little trickier as a houseplant because they need high humidity. They like constant moderate moisture, high humidity, regular fertilization and bright (but not direct) light.

When bringing any plant inside for the winter make sure they are free of insects or disease. Inspect them carefully. Clean off the foliage and put a systemic insecticide in the soil.

Dear Master Gardener: When I’ve been out walking, I’ve seen some beautiful shrubs with fall color. What can I plant so I have gorgeous fall color in my yard next year?

Answer: Here are some shrubs you can add to your landscape to add autumn color and interest:

  • Tiger Eyes cutleaf staghorn sumac is a cultivar that is smaller and less aggressive than the native staghorn sumac, which gets 16 feet tall and 20 feet wide and suckers like crazy. Tiger Eyes reaches 6 feet by 6 feet at maturity, has beautiful golden to chartreuse foliage and pink leaf stems. Autumn is when it is in its glory — with its foliage changing to yellow, orange, and intense scarlet. It can be used as an accent plant or in mass plantings. Tiger Eyes should be planted in full sun to part shade and tolerates a wide range of soil. It is hardy to zone 4, but many successfully grow it here in zone 3.
  • Black chokeberry (Aronia) is a Minnesota native that has showy white flower clusters in spring and vibrant foliage colors of red, orange, and purple in autumn. It reaches three to six feet tall and wide at maturity. It is often used in mass plantings or for erosion control because of its suckering habit. The purplish-black berries are edible and high in antioxidants. They are too astringent to eat raw, but are used to make jams, jellies, syrup, and wine. The fruit can persist into winter and serve as a food source for birds.
  • Serviceberry is a shrub or small tree that has five-petaled clusters of white flowers in the spring, clusters of small, dark purple berries in June, and gorgeous yellow, orange, or red fall color (depending on the cultivar). The berries are edible and can be eaten fresh or used in jams, jellies, or pies. Serviceberries attract pollinators and birds. Regent gets 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide, is drought-tolerant, and has yellow and red fall color. Autumn Brilliance gets 25 feet tall by 15 feet wide and has red fall color. Standing Ovation reaches 15 feet tall by 4 feet wide and has orange fall color.
  • Burning bush has been a popular landscape plant, but it is such a prolific seeder that it may be added to the Minnesota control list in the future. It does have brilliant red autumn foliage but you may want to avoid it due to its invasive nature.
  • Red Osier dogwood isn’t known for its beautiful autumn colors, but the colorful red or yellow bark (depending on the cultivar) provide great winter color and interest. It is native to Minnesota and extremely versatile as a landscape plant. Its berries are enjoyed by birds.

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.

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