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Potato Berries – Toxic!

By Staff | Aug 30, 2013

Our potato vines are producing loads of potato berries this year. The fruits look like unripe cherry tomatoes and may be full of seeds. Potato berries are toxic. They contain solanine and should not be eaten. Children and the elderly can be especially sensitive. It’s natural for potato vines to produce fruits, but this year we seem to be seeing more than usual. Mild temperatures through the early summer may have contributed to more fruit setting.

Some cultivars (including ‘Yukon Gold’) produce lots of berries and some cultivars produce few. You can leave the berries alone, or pick and discard them. Do not save the seeds inside the berries. Potatoes grown from seeds develop only tiny tubers the first year.

Also, potato seeds do not “breed true.” To illustrate the point, let’s say you save seeds from a ‘Yukon Gold’ plant. We know the mother of the seed is ‘Yukon Gold’, but we don’t know where the pollen came from (potato flowers are pollinated by bees). It could have come from a ‘Russian Banana’ flower, for example. The combination could be a disaster. On the other hand, the combination could be amazing and this is how new cultivars are developed.

Unless you are the adventurous type, it’s best to purchase certified disease-free potato “seed” (eyes) from a commercial seed company next spring. This will lead to healthy vines, a good crop, and no surprises when you dig up the tubers. If you plant ‘Red Norland’ potato eyes in

spring, you will definitely harvest ‘Red Norland’ tubers in fall.

Now is Best Time

to Sow Grass Seed

Now until September 15 is the best time to sow grass seed. The soil is warm and the seed will germinate quickly. Weed seeds won’t germinate in fall so our lawn seedlings can get off to an unimpeded start. Our young turf will also benefit from the cool temperatures and refreshing dews of autumn nights.

Selecting the right seed can make a big difference. Popular grass types in North Dakota include Kentucky bluegrass, the fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass. Each of these types has advantages and disadvantages. Kentucky bluegrass is very hardy, durable, and will develop a thick turf. Most quality lawns in our state (and all sodded lawns) are composed mainly of Kentucky bluegrass. The drawbacks of bluegrass include it cannot tolerate shade or a salty soil.

The fine fescues include chewings red, creeping red, and hard fescues. These skinny-leaf types tolerate shade better than bluegrass but are not as vigorous. Perennial ryegrass germinates quickly. It can get established in 5 days, compared to 21 days for Kentucky bluegrass. The drawback of perennial ryegrass is its marginal hardiness. Since these grasses all have strengths and weaknesses, a blend of grass types will give you the most reliable results. Likewise, a blend of cultivars within these grass types will protect you from diseases and other stresses that may damage one cultivar but not the others in the lawn. You need to match the grass seed to the environment you are growing it in and the way you plan on using the lawn.

There are a lot of low-input gardeners in our state. These people just want some healthy green grass in the backyard. They don’t want to irrigate the lawn and they don’t want to mow more than once a week. They won’t fertilize their lawn more than once a year; and maybe not at all. This approach to lawn care is called Low Input Lawn Care (LILaC). For a SUNNY area, LILaC gardeners can choose at least a couple “common” Kentucky bluegrass cultivars. Among the most widely available are ‘Kenblue’, ‘Newport’, ‘Park’,’South Dakota Certified’, ‘Ram I’ and ‘Monopoly’. Kentucky bluegrass should be 5060% of the mix. Add a couple cultivars of fine fescue. Recommended cultivars include ‘Pennlawn’, ‘Dawson’, ‘Cindy’,’Ruby’, ‘Jamestown Chewings’, ‘Scaldis’ and ‘Reliant’. Fine fescues will make up 2040% of the mix. Every mix will benefit from about 1020% perennial ryegrass. This quick germinating grass will stabilize and shade the soil, helping the other grasses get established. If the lawn is partially SHADY, fine fescue should be the dominant seed in the mix. Kentucky bluegrass will take a lesser role. Add the perennial ryegrass to get the turf off to a strong start.

Some gardeners take lawn care more seriously. They irrigate the lawn all summer and will feed it up to five times a year. They mow it regularly. Under these management conditions, the “improved” Kentucky bluegrass varieties will thrive and give you a thicker, richer green turf than what is possible in a lawn of “common” Kentucky bluegrass. Most Kentucky bluegrass cultivars not mentioned previously are improved types. A quality fine fescue like ‘Pennlawn’ can be added to the mix (about 25%) and a little perennial ryegrass (about 15%) will nurse the young planting along. As stated earlier, Kentucky bluegrass cannot tolerate salty soil. Crested wheatgrass is a good substitute for Kentucky bluegrass in such soils and for droughty sites. The most popular cultivars include ‘Fairway’ and ‘Ephraim’. Native grasses such as blue grama grass and buffalograss are low-maintenance and drought tolerant. These grasses will look best in summer, but are slow to warm up in spring and turn yellowish in fall.

Planting Trees in Fall

Fall can be a great time to plant trees. Temperatures cool off, thereby reducing heat stress and transplanting shock to the trees. The soil is warm and not too wet, making it easy to work with. Lastly, there can be some great bargains in the fall as some nurseries sell out their stock before winter sets in. Winter is coming and we want to give our trees as much time as possible to get well rooted before the bitter cold weather arrives. Ideally, give your trees at least four weeks of time to grow new roots and begin their recovery from transplanting.

Tree roots will grow as long as temperatures stay in the 40s. Soils will stay this warm until early October in the northwest corner of the state and until late October in the warmest regions. Therefore, try to get your trees planted by mid-September in the northwest part of the state and late September to early October in the warmest parts of ND.

When planting trees in fall, the quality of the nursery where you purchase the trees makes a big difference. These trees have been sitting in containers or in burlap-covered balls all summer long. A quality nursery can take proper care of its trees over summer, but a not-so-quality nursery could have caused severe stress to its planting stock over this time. Be cautious.

Some tree species are more sensitive to fall planting than others. Evergreens in general are sensitive. Their needles will be exposed to drying winds all winter, making these plants especially subject to injury. Try to get your evergreens planted by the end of September. This is especially true for arborvitae, a broad-needled evergreen. Among the most sensitive leafy trees include red maple, birch, poplar, cherry, plum, willow and many oaks. These trees generally have a less fibrous root system than others. Make sure you get a good bargain before planting these trees and try to get a 1-year guarantee from the nursery. Hackberry is reported to transplant better in fall than in spring.

Avoid planting large trees in fall. Big trees may lose 75% or more of their feeding roots in the transplanting process and suffer from severe transplanting shock. Plant them in spring when they have a full growing season to recover before they face their first winter. Water your newly planted trees regularly until the ground freezes. Most trees need one inch of water per week. This is about 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter at breast height. Make sure you are watering several inches deep. Put some wood mulch around the tree to conserve moisture and protect the root system from extreme soil temperatures. Extreme temperatures cause repeated freezing and thawing of the soil, which can cause the soil to shift and damage the roots. Wrap leafy trees or place a white tree guard around the trunk to protect the young plants from sunscald and wildlife.

For more information on any of these topics you may contact the NDSU Extension Service Pierce County office by calling 776-6234 ext. 5 or by email at yolanda.goodman@ndsu.edu.

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