Q. We grew birdhouse gourds and harvested quite a few this fall. How do we turn them into birdhouses?
A. Birdhouse gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are hard-shelled gourds with a bulbous base and long neck. When dried, they can be used to make bird houses, bird feeders, water dippers and bowls.
These and other decorative gourds should be harvested and handled very carefully to avoid bruises and nicks that can serve as an entry point for rot. Washing the gourds gently with a mild bleach solution may help. Dry the gourds thoroughly, then place them on newspapers in a warm area with good air circulation. A small fan can help keep the air moving and aid in the drying process. Check the gourds regularly and turn them occasionally. Any gourd that shows signs of rot should be discarded right away.
It may take more than a month for the gourds to dry completely. They will become lighter, and eventually you should be able to hear the seeds rattling inside when you shake the gourds.
To make a birdhouse from a dry gourd, cut a hole in the midsection of the bulbous part. The diameter of the hole will determine what species of bird can use the house. Small birds, such as chickadees, can fit into a hole as small as 1 1/8 inch in diameter. If you don't care which bird species use the birdhouse you can cut a hole up to 3 inches in diameter.
Use a drill or a cutting tool to form the hole, then sand the edges to smooth the opening. Scrape and shake out the seeds and other dried material from inside the gourd. It's a good idea to drill small drain holes in the bottom of the gourd, so rain won't collect in it.
To see plans for more substantial bird houses and feeders check out the books "Wild about Birds" and "Woodworking for Wildlife" by Carrol Henderson of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Q. Please help me identify a plant that I bought last year. The plant, which grew to about 5 feet tall, has large leaves. The flower buds are large, similar to bird-of-paradise buds, and the purple flowers look a little like giant allium. This plant was supposed to be good for shade gardens. Can you place it?
A. I think what you have is Korean angelica (Angelica gigas), an unusual herbaceous plant that grows as a biennial or a short-lived (3 to 4 years) perennial. It grows well in shade or partial shade and likes plenty of soil moisture.
Korean angelica grows 4 to 5 feet tall and has bold, coarsely toothed foliage. It has very distinctive purplish leaf sheaths around the developing flower cluster. The flower clusters are dome shaped and consist of many small, stalked, deep red-purple flowers. Korean angelica blooms in late summer and early fall. This plant produces lots of seeds, so you may find many seedlings coming up in the garden this spring.
Korean angelica belongs to the same plant family as dill, carrot and the noxious weed wild parsnip. You can see the family resemblance in the flower structures, technically known as umbels.
Nancy Rose is a horticulturist, writer and photographer. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-9073 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.