What to look for in plants and herbs

QWhen I buy plants this spring, what should I be looking for? I want to buy herbs, which I have not done before, as well as vegetable plants.

ALook for healthy, dark green plants that show no sign of insects or disease, are not too tall or spindly, and that do show new signs of growth. If you are buying herbs that you want to use in cooking, smell them or take a tiny taste of a leaf to make sure you like the flavor.

QWill our winters support a cherry tree?

AWe are in Zone 4 here, and generally cherry trees can be grown in Zones 4-9, but sweet cherries are more demanding than sour varieties. Depending on the variety, sweet cherries need at least 800 hours of white chills and cannot withstand high summer temperatures. Significant rainfall in the weeks before harvest can make the fruit split. Humid climates are not favorable to sweet cherries, nor is foggy weather. Sour cherries are easier to grow and make better preserves and pies and when tree-ripened can be delicious eaten fresh with a taste more tart and sweet than sour. We are borderline here, but you could try a North Star, which is a sour cherry dwarf and has large light red fruit with red flesh and juice. Most of the other varieties I am familiar with are zones 5 and above and would not do well here.

QWhen should I prune my fruit trees, mostly apple?


ANow while the tree is still dormant and before buds begin to swell. Do not prune when the tree is actively growing. Thin out the weak, unproductive and tangled branches to allow sunlight to penetrate to the center of the trees. Remove old spurs by cutting back the branches they are on. If you want to regulate the tree’s height, cut back upper branches to short lateral branches.

QWhat is the plant with rosy purple flowers that resembles gloriosa daisy?

APurple cornflower, I would guess. It is native to our prairies and woodlands and adapts well to our gardens. It is hardy to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit with stiff three-to-four-foot plants bearing daisy-life flowers with downward pending petals from July until frost. They need full sun and average garden soils. They are real spreaders and are propagated by division. This is a very common plant in many perennial gardens in Minnesota.

Keith Stangler of Byron is a horticulturist. If you have a question for him, e-mail it to

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