Q: I’m the librarian here at Lidgerwood, and I wanted to tell you about a local man, Larry Haus, who has grown what we believe is a record-setting hollyhock, at least for our state, and we’re sending you a photo. The hollyhock measures 14 feet, 2 inches to the top. — Kathy Mojicu, Lidgerwood, N.D.
A: Thanks for an interesting story, Kathy. I enjoyed a phone visit with Larry Haus, who said the hollyhocks were planted about 50 years ago by his mother at the farm on which Larry still lives. The hollyhocks always do well, but this year one plant just kept growing.
I asked Larry if his plants ever succumb to the foliage diseases that often blight the appearance of hollyhock leaves. He said the leaves look green and healthy, and I learned that he waters, when needed, with a soaker hose. Avoiding overhead sprinkling, as Larry does, is one key to preventing foliage disease and having healthy hollyhocks.
Guinness World Records lists a 19-foot hollyhock grown in England in 1978 as the record-holder, soon to be replaced by a 22-foot Australian specimen, if verified. At over 14 feet, I think we might consider Larry’s hollyhock to be the record-setter in the United States, possibly North America, unless we hear otherwise.
Q: What might cause the skin of Kennebec potatoes to turn green when they have not been exposed to sun, which I know causes greening? These potatoes were grown in a raised bed, plants were hilled significantly and the heavy plant growth shaded the ground. Potatoes were dug from 2-6 inches deep, and skins were light or lime green, in some cases over the entire potato, with no difference as to the depth of the potato. Cutting into the potato showed no green flesh. Does the green solanine effect have causes other than exposure to sunlight? — Len Leikas, Fargo.
A: When potatoes turn green, the pigment responsible is chlorophyll, which forms in the presence of light. Direct sunshine isn’t needed, as even indirect light is enough to stimulate chlorophyll production in some white, thin-skinned potato types.
The University of Nebraska says, “Light intensity as low as 5 foot-candles and light durations as short as 12 hours can cause greening of a few potato varieties such as Kennebec. This is related to skin thickness and color.”
So why did your white-skinned Kennebec potatoes turn green, even though they're well-protected by soil? There must have been enough light, even though it was low-level, that penetrated into the soil to stimulate chlorophyll production. Also linked to increased chlorophyll are higher soil temperatures, which are common in raised beds compared to in-ground gardens. Green chlorophyll and a bitter toxin called solanine often form in conjunction, which is why the green parts of potatoes should never be eaten. Green peelings should be cut away and the interior taste-tested and not used if the inside of the tuber tastes bitter.
Q: This spring, I planted an elephant plant bulb, and the directions said it would grow very tall but would be an annual in our climate unless brought in for the winter. I’ve enjoyed the plant, although it didn’t get very large, and I'd like to save the bulb. Should I take the bulb out and cut off the stems, or should I leave it in the pot and let the whole thing dry down? — Andrea Rud, Moorhead.
A: Elephant ears are considered tender bulbs, meaning they must be stored indoors during winter, as we would store gladiolus corms, dahlia roots, canna rhizomes and others.
To overwinter the tubers, dig up the plants about the time of our first fall frost. Cut off the foliage down to about 3 inches, dry the tubers in a warm location for a week or two, then bury the tubers in peat moss or vermiculite, kept just barely damp at a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. Elephant ears will grow larger if started early indoors by potting April 1 and placing in a sunny window.