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Ask the Master Gardener: What can you tell me about puffball mushrooms?

Other questions regard best shade tree to plant, best spruce tree, how to know when to harvest Brussels sprouts, can hops be grown in a home garden, and can a grapefruit or tangerine tree be started

A round puffball mushroom sits on the forest floor.
There are a number of puffball species and most mature in late summer or autumn. Be very careful to identify it correctly because there are poisonous look-a-likes.
Contributed / Diane Froehlick
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Dear Master Gardener:

I have puffball mushrooms the size of volleyballs in my yard. What can you tell me about them?

There are a number of puffball species and most mature in late summer or autumn. They can range in size from 3 inches in diameter to the size of a basketball. The huge one is known as the giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea). Puffball mushrooms grow in open pastures, woods, and lawns. Yes, they are edible and prized by wild food foragers. Be very careful to identify it correctly because there are poisonous look-a-likes, such as the deadly destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera)! When you cut the mushroom in half, the inside should be solid and pure white – it should look like a marshmallow. To be safe, have an experienced mushroom forager identify it before tasting!

A decayed puffball mushroom resembles a boulder in a yard
A decayed puffball mushroom resembles a boulder in a yard landscape. When you cut the mushroom in half, the inside should be solid and pure white – it should look like a marshmallow.
Contributed / Diane Froehlick

Dear Master Gardener:

I would like to plant a shade tree in my front yard. Is a honey locust a good choice?

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It depends on the size of your front yard. A honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) reaches a mature height and width of 60-80 feet. It was one of the most popular trees planted after the loss of American elms. One negative characteristic is the branches have long, sharp thorns, which can be harmful or even dangerous. However, there is a thornless variety (Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis) that is recommended for urban landscapes. Unfortunately, the honey locust is very susceptible to numerous diseases and insect pests, with cankers and root collar rot being the two major ones. If you decide to plant one, it prefers full sun with moist, well-drained soil.

Dear Master Gardener:

I heard that the Colorado blue spruce is no longer recommended. What is the best spruce tree to plant?

The black spruce (Picea mariana) and white spruce (Picea glauca) are native to Minnesota. Planting trees that are native to our state is a great idea! They are typically easier to grow than non-native varieties because they are already adapted to our soil and climate. The Norway spruce (Picea abies) is native to Europe and is not quite as desirable as the other two, but grows well in Minnesota. It also shows resistance to the infectious Rhizosphaera needle cast disease. The Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) is no longer recommended for Minnesota landscapes because it is very susceptible to Rhizosphaera needle cast and Cytospora canker, two devastating spruce diseases

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Dear Master Gardener:

I planted Brussels sprouts for the first time this year, how do I know when to harvest them?

To speed up the development of the sprouts, remove the growing tip about three weeks before harvest. Do not pluck off the leaves of the plant as it is growing, the more leaves on the plant the more energy they produce and the bigger the sprouts will grow. Harvest the sprouts from the bottom up when they are about an inch in diameter and firm. The cooler temperatures, even a light frost, result in better flavor.

Dear Master Gardener:

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With the popularity of craft beers and breweries, are more people growing hops? Can they be grown in a home garden?

With the increase in Minnesota breweries has come an increase in growing hops. It’s a crop not widely grown in this state, but a primary ingredient of beer. According to Angela Orshinsky, a University of Minnesota Extension plant pathologist, there are 75 hop growers in Minnesota. She is conducting hops research to help Minnesota hops producers grow the crop in a state where plant diseases that affect the vines spread rapidly. According to Orshinsky, downy mildew and fusarium fungi are the biggest problems for growers. Yes, the hop plant can be grown in a home garden. It is a perennial hardy in zones 3-8 that dies down to the ground each winter. The vines grow 12-20 feet during the growing season. There are male and female plants, but only the female plants produce the cone-like structures called strobiles. Plant the rhizomes in the spring. You can check to see if local nurseries carry them. My son ordered his rhizomes online. Plant them in full sun, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0, and in an area protected from wind. They are vines and will need a support system. These plants require a lot of care and proper fertilization in order to maintain proper growth.

Dear Master Gardener:

Can I start a grapefruit or tangerine tree from the seeds in the fruit I bought at the grocery store?

You can, but keep in mind that the seed you plant may not be the same as the fruit or tree it came from. The offspring from the seeds of hybrids don’t always look and taste like their parents. Think of it as an experiment and give it a try! If nothing else, you may have a nice houseplant. With proper care, there are several fruit species that can be successfully grown as houseplants, then set outside to enjoy our summer sun. You will probably need to order them from a catalog or online. The calamondin orange (Citrofortunella mitis) is the most common fruit tree grown indoors. Its fruits are small and sour but can be used for marmalade. The Otaheite orange (Citrus limonia) is not an orange as the name implies, it is a cross between a lemon and a tangerine. Tangerines (Citrus reticulata) are another good choice with Satsuma oranges (really tangerines) having fragrant flowers and tasty fruit! Two varieties of lemons may be grown as houseplants: Ponderosa and Meyer.

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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