Q: Can you tell what type of pumpkin or gourd the greenish-gray one at the front of the photo is? I planted seeds for the gourds behind it and don't know where the gray or pink ones came from. Any clues? Are they edible? - Jody Bendel.
A: Both the gray-green and pink pumpkin-shaped items are edible heirloom squash, and the gray-green is likely the Jarrahdale variety. Gourd seed is usually a mixture of shapes and colors, and sometimes squash or pumpkin seed is inadvertently mixed in by the supplier.
Heirloom vegetables are non-hybrid types that originated before about 1940. There's been increased interest in planting heirloom squash, available in dozens of shapes, colors and sizes from sources like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Many of these squash types have long winter storage lives and interesting flavors.
Q: Is it too late to plant bulbs like crocus, tulips and daffodils? - Jennifer Wanek, Breckenridge, Minn.
A: Although earlier planting is better, tulips are usually very successful planted later, even in mid- to late October. Crocus are usually fine, also. Daffodils and hyacinths require a longer establishment period in fall, so are best planted in September for generous spring bloom. But if you've already purchased these bulbs, it's definitely best to plant them now in late October, instead of trying to store them over winter.
Water well after planting to firm the soil around the bulbs, even though the soil might already be wet from fall rains. When bulbs are planted later in fall than the preferred time, cover the bulb bed right after planting with at least 12 inches of leaves or straw. That will prevent the soil from freezing as rapidly, giving the bulbs several extra weeks to establish themselves as they root into the soil this fall in preparation for next spring.
Q: I have a wooden raised planter box, 4 feet wide and 7 feet long, with two Tango weigela in it. The soil in the raised planter is about 1 foot deep. Will I need to add winter protection for these shrubs? - Kay Hogetvedt, Felton, Minn.
A: When otherwise winter-hardy plants are raised above the natural soil level in above-ground planters, the root systems are exposed to much colder temperatures than they would be at normal ground level, because cold temperatures penetrate through the exposed sides of the raised bed. The roots of shrubs are more cold-sensitive than the above-ground branches.
Shrubs vary in their tolerance to the extra cold that roots will take in raised beds. For extra protection, pack bags full of leaves around the perimeter and top. Or, if you don't mind an experiment, leave them as is and see what happens, although you risk needing to replace them.
Q: My lawn is about 3 inches long. Should I mow again, or leave it until spring? - Florence Brownlee, Fargo.
A: Three inches is the preferred height for lawn grass throughout summer, but it's recommended to gradually reduce the mowing height to 1.5 or 2 inches by late October. The shorter mowing height cleans up the grass and reduces the habitat for voles. Mowing next spring is also easier if the grass has been shortened in fall.