Q: I wanted to share this picture of a huge mushroom we found at White Earth Lake, Minn., while clearing trees to make room for our new cabin. It measured 48 inches around and grew in one week's time. The wonders of nature! — Elaine Kluck.

A: Thanks for sharing the fascinating photo. In biology, all living organisms can be divided into one of five or six (depending on the source) “kingdoms,” namely animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and protists.

Mushrooms belong to the fungi kingdom, and are fascinating organisms. The visible part of these fungi, the mushroom, is the “fruiting body” of the organism that produces spores, which are tiny seedlike structures by which the fungi reproduce. Even when the fruiting body mushroom isn’t visible, the fungus is living invisibly underground or inside dead tree trunks with its network of rootlike mycelia, and the mushroom appears when its life cycle tells it to reproduce.

When mushrooms like yours are encountered, I’m often asked to identify them and indicate whether they are edible or poisonous. Horticulturists can politely decline and cheekily say that’s not our kingdom. We tend to stay in our own plant kingdom lane.

A reader found this huge mushroom while clearing trees near White Earth Lake, Minn. Special to The Forum
A reader found this huge mushroom while clearing trees near White Earth Lake, Minn. Special to The Forum

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In reality, there’s great danger in misidentifying mushrooms, especially if one intends to eat them, given that some are deadly. Some people are adept at identifying mushrooms on their own, but identifying mushrooms for someone else, especially through photos, can have liability concerns.

For anyone interested in identifying the mushrooms they encounter, the University of Minnesota Mycology Club has developed a set of photographic and descriptive flashcards that are a wonderful educational tool. The set of cards can be downloaded at http://mycology.cfans.umn.edu/id-cards.

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Q: I always seem to start my tomato plants too early and they get overgrown and spindly by the time May planting comes. I guess I get spring fever. What is the best date to start tomato seeds, if I want to plant them in the garden around May 25? — Roger M.

A: The recommended start date for tomato seeds is April 1. The rate at which a tomato seed germinates and grows depends greatly on soil temperature. Seed germination heat mats greatly speed sprouting, and for starting seeds indoors, I would greatly encourage buying one at a garden center or online. Alternatively, keep the seed tray in a warm spot so soil temperature stays around 75 degrees.

Seedlings need bright light or sun immediately when they first start emerging from the soil, so they stay husky. Seedlings will quickly stretch if light is low or lacking.

Everyone’s growing conditions indoors vary, so a year or two of experience helps each of us to modify the way we start seeds. Although April 1 is a general guideline for tomatoes, some gardeners might find they can start a week earlier. Common mistakes when starting seeds indoors are starting too early and having insufficient light.

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Q: Rabbits are eating my rose bushes, and some of the canes are eaten right down to snow level, which isn’t very deep this year. This is the first year for these bushes. Do you think they’ll grow back? — Linda M.

A: Rose bushes are like candy to rabbits. It seems strange because the canes are thorny, but roses are in the same plant family as apples, pears and plums, and maybe the canes taste like fresh fruit to a bunny.

On the upside, roses benefit greatly from pruning. Prune in early spring by reducing the height of long canes back to 12 to 18 inches, and remove the multitude of thin, weak canes while leaving the stronger, healthy branches.

When rabbits prune a rose more severely than preferred, the shrub will usually rebound. However, if it’s a grafted rose bush, as indicated by the large round knob between branches and roots, and the rabbits totally consume the above-graft part, the rose can be ruined. If that happens, spring growth that arises from below the graft is a non-flowering rootstock, and the bush is best removed.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.