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March Mania

Hibiscus update, dormant seeding carrots and wilted poinsettia

Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum1 / 2
A reader's hibiscus is looking good this winter after pruning it back. Special to The Forum2 / 2

Q: About a year ago, I sent you a picture of my hibiscus and asked what to do with it for the winter, as it hadn’t done well that summer. You suggested pruning it way back, and it did get really bushy after that. I thought you might enjoy seeing it this winter! — Anne Buchanan, Fargo.

A: Thanks for the update. Isn’t it amazing what a good cutback will do?

Anne gives more details: “Last fall I cut the hibiscus back to half its size, and by spring it had all new shoots over 12 inches long. I let those bloom in the house and then trimmed them so the plant was more rounded. I moved it outside when the weather started getting above 50 degrees. With this past spring’s cold weather near freezing, I covered it with a comforter whenever it got too cool.

“When the weather finally started to improve, I fertilized it. Then we got those really scorching hot days, and it suffered sunburn on the leaves, which I removed. It hasn't been repotted in about three years, but it seems to do so well I hate to bother the roots, and it’s almost too big to handle. I use a two-wheel dolly to get it in the house in the fall.”

Wow, Anne! You and your hibiscus have been through a lot together. Best wishes for continued plant health, and thanks for keeping us posted.

Q: I thought your readers might be interested in a carrot-planting tip that has worked very well for me. Two years ago I decided to try dormant seeding of our carrots in the fall, and it has worked better for us than spring planting. — John Ringsrud, Fargo.

A: Many gardeners, including me, sometimes find carrot germination to be less than ideal, resulting in a poor stand.

I asked John to describe the fall planting method he’s tried, and he replied, “We lived in Lakota, N.D., for 30 years. After having difficulty with carrot germination, I decided to try planting them in late October after the soil was cold, to be certain they wouldn’t sprout before winter. I planted them the usual way, and marked the location of the rows, to be sure I knew where they were the next spring, so I wouldn’t rototill them up.

“We had great results with this method, two years in a row. The carrots came up thickly, which we thinned to the appropriate spacing. Neighbors who planted in the spring had less success, under similar weather and soil circumstances.”

There’s actually a rationale for dormant seeding some things. Carrots are a biennial plant, growing the first year, and then flowering and producing seed the second summer if the root is left in the ground over winter. In nature, carrot seed drops in the fall, lays dormant over winter and sprouts in the spring. Fall dormant seeding of some plant types can be considered nature’s way of seeding. I’m curious to try this myself, although I’m too late for this year. Thanks for an interesting suggestion.

Q: My poinsettia wilted, and won’t recover even after watering. Any idea what went wrong? — Linda M., Casselton, N.D.

A: When poinsettias wilt, the most common causes are chill injury and soil that remained too wet. Poinsettias are tropical natives and can suffer irreversible chill-induced wilting, if exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees during transport.

Poinsettias also quickly develop root rot if kept continually wet. Rot-damaged roots prevent further water uptake, causing the plant to wilt even though the soil is wet. Poinsettias, with their succulent, water-retaining stems, would rather be kept on the dry side, letting the potting mix dry well between thorough waterings. Cut a hole in decorative foil pot wrappings so excess water can drain and be discarded.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.