Q: Do you know what this weed is? It’s the first time I’ve come across it. The little thorns must have some type of poison. My fingers became tingly for about a day, and at times the fingertips felt like I had burned them. — Cory P., West Fargo.
A: The plant has various common names, including stinging nettle and itch weed, with the botanical name Urtica dioica. Yes, it definitely contains a compound that can cause skin irritation ranging from itching to blistering, depending on the individual.
Stinging nettle is commonly believed to be a European native that was brought to North America as a medicinal plant. It's a perennial, winter-hardy plant in the Upper Midwest, and often forms clumps. Since the term weed is defined as any plant growing out of place, in most situations stinging nettle is considered a weed. Its square, angled stems aid identification.
The prickly hairs on stinging nettle consist of tiny structures that break off after contact with skin and expose a needlelike point. When the tip contacts and penetrates the skin, it injects irritating substances under the skin. Gloves are definitely recommended. Stinging nettle can be controlled by digging or by safe use of herbicides.
Young stinging nettle plants reportedly taste much like asparagus, and are eaten by some. Washing and cooking removes the stinging mechanisms. I must admit, I’ve been stung enough times by this weed that I lost my appetite for consuming it.
Q: If we send you a photo of our apple tree, can you tell what type of apple we have? We’d like to know the variety. — Ben H., Harwood, N.D.
A: It’s difficult to identify apple varieties until the fruit is fully ripe. Then, a close-up photo of a representative sample of about four apples, showing the apples from the side, top and bottom, can give clues to the apple type. Cultivars tend to vary in shape, background color, prominence of “bumps” on the bottom and similar characteristics.
A good clue to apple identification is the date the apples are fully ripe, indicated by the seeds inside turning from light tan to brown-black, and when apples begin dislodging themselves from the twigs to which they were attached. Apple cultivars differ greatly as to when they ripen, whether in August, September or October, which immediately narrows the identification choices. An apple that ripens in August won’t be a Haralson, and an apple that waits until October won’t be a Hazen.
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Q: My wife and I are disagreeing about my mowing habits. I like to vary the direction in which I mow, going in a different way each time. She thinks I’m being overly fussy. Who’s right? — Ted N., Fargo.
A: When lighthearted discussions involve differing opinions, I strive to find ways both parties are partially right. To your wife’s point, your lawn won’t necessarily die if you mow in the same direction each time.
To your point, lawngrass can develop a “grain,” where the grass leans at a slight angle after mowing, in response to the direction in which the mower blade was cutting. Varying the mowing pattern in opposite directions, or at right angles to the previous time, prevents the grass from developing a grain.
If a really crisp-looking lawn is desired, sharpen the mower blade frequently. A dull blade shreds every grass tip, giving a dull appearance to the entire lawn. A sharp mower blade cuts cleanly, giving a visible improvement to the lawn.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.