Interest in gardening has grown as more people stay at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And budding gardeners tend to grow questions as much as vegetables and flowers.

A pair of master gardeners -- Beth Plaetzer and Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick -- fielded a variety of gardening questions Saturday through an online forum provided by Rochester Public Library

Here’s a few thoughts they shared:

1. Flowers are needed in the garden

“Flowers are really, to me, essential if you really want to have a diverse group of pollinators,” Plaetzer said, pointing out that heirloom flowers have stood the test of time and been proven to attract butterflies and bees.

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Kirkpatrick said the pollinators are required for productive growing.

“We’re finding our crops are not yielding what they used to,” she said. “We’re finding we don’t have enough pollinators to go around.”

2. It’s OK to plant old seeds.

While some seeds are viable for only a year after harvesting, the master gardeners said it doesn’t hurt to save leftover seeds to see if they will be good in a year.

“If you are keeping them in a cool, dry place, they are probably going to be OK,” Plaetzer said. “Don’t leave them out in the garage.”

She suggested testing germination by putting about 10 seeds in a wet paper towel, which is placed in a back and warm location. After a week, if at least half the seeds are germinated, they are likely good to use.

3. Squash blooms were hurt by temperatures this year

Some gardeners seeking a hearty squash crop may be disappointed this year.

Kirkpatrick said the plants have male and female flowers, which need to cross-pollinate to grow fruit.

“What’s happening this year is we spiked such high, high temperatures at the beginning of our growing season, it stressed the plants out and they are producing a lot of male flowers,” she said.

4. Barriers are the best approach to handling deer.

The master gardeners said “deer resistant” plants don’t necessarily keep deer away and that physical barriers are the best way to keep deer from your plants.

Plaetzer said she’s found the best approach is something she’s helped install at the heirloom demonstration garden at the History Center of Olmsted County.

“We put up an 8-foot fence of netting, and then about 2.5 feet out from that we put rabbit fencing,” she said, adding that flowers were planted between the two fences, which help discourage the deer.

5. You need to pick those Japanese beetles

The beetles, which are attracted to fruit trees and other fruit plants, have been common in recent years, according to the master gardeners, and the hands-on approach to getting rid of them is the most effective.

“Go out in the morning, early morning and early evening, with a little pan, the wider the better, of soapy water … and scoop them off. They are mostly kind of turgid, slow, at those times and it’s less likely that they will fly off until you can get them into the soapy water,” Plaetzer said.


The video from the two-hour Q&A with the master gardeners is expected to be available on the Rochester Public Library YouTube channel at

Additional gardening information is available on the library’s seed library site at