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Always cover Norfolk Island Pine after purchase

Norfolk Island Pine is a tropical plant, so be sure it is covered before exposing it to cold outdoor temperatures. Special to The Forum

Q: I've noticed a lot of potted Norfolk Pines being sold in the chain stores decorated for Christmas, and I see many of them carried outside without covering. Is it okay to do that? I thought they were supposed to be covered. - Lynn Anders, Alexandria, Minn.

A: You're right. Norfolk Island Pines might look somewhat like cold-hardy spruce trees, but they're very different. Norfolk Pines are natives of tropical islands and are easily damaged when exposed to temperatures below about 45 to 50 degrees. Even if temperatures are above freezing, these tropical natives can be damaged between the store and your vehicle during the trip across the parking lot. To protect a newly purchased Norfolk pine, insist on it being bagged.

Q: I enjoy starting our own tomato plants from seed indoors, but they always get so spindly and weak by the time we're ready to plant outdoors. Any suggestions? - R. Nelson, Bismarck, N.D.

A: When seedlings become spindly indoors, inadequate light is almost always the problem. Growing them in a sunny window can be a challenge, unless the window is large and the seedlings receive direct sun for most of the day. A more successful method is to use a simple fluorescent light system. Locate seedlings very close to the lights, within one to two inches of the bulbs. Avoid starting seedlings any earlier than necessary, as they easily become overly large and weak if kept indoors too long. Tomatoes are best seeded between March 15 and April 1.

Q: I always bring in our herb plants in the fall, pot them up and grow them on our windowsill. The chives, parsley and thyme are doing well, but I have trouble keeping basil alive. Do you know what I'm doing wrong? - Kathy Barns, Grand Forks, N.D.

A: Basil is one of the more difficult herbs to bring indoors. The plants tend to become more woody and weak as they get older, becoming more susceptible to root rots and other disorders. For winter use, it's more successful to grow fresh, young, new basil plants potted in the fall. Some garden centers sell small starter plants in fall for this purpose. Many other herbs are easier to bring indoors for winter, like the chives, parsley and thyme you mentioned.

Q: I would like to grow one of the new apple varieties developed by the University of Minnesota called SweeTango, but I can't find any trees for sale. Do you know of a source? - Dan Lensen, Dickinson, N.D.

A: SweeTango is a cross between Honeycrisp and Zestar,and is reportedly earlier and more flavorful even than Honeycrisp. Unfortunately, the University of Minnesota developed it under a special licensing agreement, and trees are only available to orchardists who will sell the fruit. Propagating the trees for sale to home gardeners is not allowed, so we'll have to buy the fruit, rather than being able to grow our own.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.