Q: I saw a display rack of seed packets, all at a price well below the seed from other companies. What is going on?
A: Sometimes these are last year's seed. Most of them still will be alive, but the percentage of live seed will be lower, and the plants that come from the seed may not be as vigorous as those from fresh seed. Sometimes these are seeds which did not pass the quality test of a wholesaler. When a gardener buys these bargain price seeds, he is not cheated. However, the plants that result will not equal those from more expensive seed.
For many years there was a small New England seed company that specialized in seeds for small gardens. They offered packets of just a few seeds at a low price. The company name still exists, but ownership has changed. Gardeners are finding their current seed quality disappointing.
I have learned over the years not to put too much emphasis on seed price. Hybrid seeds will cost more than open-pollinated ones because the hybrids require hand labor. New varieties often are more expensive than old ones. I look carefully at days to maturity because our season is so short. I notice whether flavor is mentioned because taste is important to me. I try to remember that even the most expensive seeds cost a tiny percentage of the value of their crop.
Q: An orchid that was given to me two years ago has sent out a wild collection of roots. They hang out in the air all around the pot and are longer than the leaves. The orchid seems okay and is blooming again. Should I do something about the roots?
A: If you remember that many kinds of orchids grow not in the ground but on tree branches, you will worry less about your orchid. Its pot simply offers it a place to cling and to stand upright. The roots outside the pot are hunting for somewhere to hang on. If the collection of aerial roots grows huge and the crown of the plant pops up above the pot, it is time for a bigger pot. All is well in the meantime.
If some of the roots have become dry and shriveled, they have died. Since they no longer help the orchid, it is safe to cut them off. That may improve the orchid's appearance. The fact that it is blooming is a signal that it is a happy plant.
Q: What are thornless raspberries?
A: I know of no raspberry without any thorns, but a few varieties have that unofficial name because their thorns are widely spaced and smaller than average. That certainly makes for fewer moments of pain when one is picking the berries or pruning the plants. The "thornless" variety usually grown around here is Canby. The berry quality is excellent, but the plants are less hardy than others grown in Montana. If you garden in a sheltered microclimate, Canby might be a good choice. In cold gardens like mine, Boyne is a safer one. Although it has a generous supply of prickles, it also produces big and tasty berries on very hardy plants.
Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.