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Ask the Master Gardener: That late autumn putrid smell? It was probably from ginkgo trees

Female ginkgo trees drop their foul-smelling, fleshy fruit following the first frost. The embryos within the fruit continue to mature on the ground for up to two months.

A ginko tree.
A ginkgo tree in autumn.
Contributed / Shutterstock
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Dear Master Gardener: A few weeks ago, there was a terrible smell outside and a friend told me the putrid smell came from gingko trees. Can this be true or was he pulling my leg?

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Answer: He probably wasn’t pulling your leg. Unfortunately, in late autumn the female ginkgo trees drop their foul-smelling, fleshy fruit following the first frost. The embryos within the fruit continue to mature on the ground for up to two months. Anyone unfortunate enough to step on the fruit during that time is exposed to its powerful odor. Cars also run over and crush them, releasing the stench, which to me smells like manure. Use caution when choosing ginkgo trees for landscape ornamentals since there is no way to tell a male from a female at the seedling state.

Dear Master Gardener: Is the peace lily houseplant poisonous?

Answer: The peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is a very popular and easy to grow houseplant, but it’s also the one most commonly called into poison control centers. The plant contains calcium oxalate crystals that can cause immediate skin irritations, burning of the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and/or nausea. If a person (most likely a child) nibbles on any part of the plant and his or her lips or tongue become swollen or if there is difficulty breathing or swallowing, seek medical attention right away. Peace lilies are toxic to dogs and cats.

Dear Master Gardener: Last winter something ate my yews almost to skeletons. They made a modest comeback this summer and I would like to protect them this winter. What do you recommend?

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Answer: Both rabbits and deer are fond of yews and are likely the culprits. A combination of repellants and restrictions is probably your best course of action. Any commercial deer and rabbit repellent can be used, but be sure the product is labeled for those critters and is used according to instructions. Applications throughout the winter will be necessary. Restriction can be accomplished by making circular cages of hardware cloth or other fencing material with no larger than 1 inch mesh openings. The cages should be 4 feet tall and wide enough to allow for use in the future as the plant grows. Secure cage bottoms several inches into the soil. Two or 3 ¾-inch diameter metal or bamboo rods woven vertically down the cages and shoved into the soil will anchor them during winter winds and storms. Similar cages can be used to protect other valuable and susceptible shrubs from animals.

Dear Master Gardener: I thought it would be fun to do a horticultural project with my children and was wondering if growing a pineapple plant from one purchased at the grocery store is hard to do?

Answer: It is relatively easy to grow a pineapple plant in your home. Purchase a pineapple, then when it is ripe and ready to eat, cut or twist off the crown (the leafy top). Make sure to remove any pineapple flesh sticking to the base, otherwise it will rot. Next, cut the bottom of the crown until you see the small, round root buds around the edge of the stem base. Remove the first set of leaves until you have about 3/4 inch of stem. Place the crown in a dry, dark place for one week to let the end harden. Plant your pineapple crown in an 8-inch clay pot with a potting soil high in organic matter. When it outgrows this pot, replant it in a 12-inch clay pot.

Water once a week, being very careful not to over water. Fertilize every three months. Keep your plant near a sunny window but make sure when it gets cold to move it away from the window at night, as it is cold-sensitive. It will take about two to three years before your plant will produce fruit. My neighbor grew a pineapple plant from one she purchased at the grocery store and it produced a pineapple a little over two years later.

Dear Master Gardener: I’ve seen pictures using Annabelle Hydrangea flowers to decorate wreaths and Christmas trees and I was wondering how to dry them so I can use them to decorate for Christmas?

Answer: Hydrangea flowers are frequently used for indoor arrangements and decorating. Cutting the blooms at the right time is the key to success. Although it’s tempting to cut them when they’re at peak color, it's best to cut them when they have matured and begun drying on the shrub. When cutting them from your shrub it is best to keep the stems shorter than 18 inches and cut them at an angle. 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 your flowers are dry, you can use them to arrange in vases, decorate wreaths or on Christmas trees, or weave them among evergreen stems to decorate window boxes.

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.

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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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