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Ron Smith answers reader's questions about the world of plants and gardening.

By Ronald C. Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I live in Casper, Wyo., and will soon be moving across town. It's about 50 degrees, so I dug up my tulip and daffodil bulbs and am keeping them in my fridge. I am going to plant them as soon as we move to the other house. I have about 50 bulbs. What should I do with them? I have them in plastic bags. Should I put wet paper towels in with the bulbs? I need to know what to do to make sure the bulbs live. Thanks! (e-mail reference)

A: You are doing all you can. Be sure you don't let the roots dry out, so keeping the bulbs covered with wetted paper towels is the way to go. Be sure to keep the plastic bags unsealed so the respiration gases can escape. Plant the bulbs as quickly and carefully as possible at the new location and then keep your fingers crossed that they recover.

Q: My autumn blaze maple tree was planted in clay soil three years ago. It has done well and the trunk diameter has doubled in size. The weather is starting to warm up and the snow is melting rather fast, which is leaving a lot of water at the root system. I have noticed for a few weeks that the trunk of the tree is shedding a lot of water from the area where the branches shoot out and is running down the outside of the trunk. It's almost like a faucet. Is this something to be concerned about? (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

A: I think what you are describing is normal sap flow coming from the tree. In spite of all the snow you folks had, the soil was not frozen to any great depth. Typically, trees such as maples and birches will "bleed sap" in the spring from openings or wounds in the aerial parts of the tree. Unlike humans, the tree will not bleed to death. Once the foliage elongates, the sap stops flowing.

Q: We are having our sewer mound removed this spring. Instead of reseeding with grass, the site would be a perfect area for a large vegetable, herb, annual and perennial garden. New dirt will be hauled in. Is it safe to plant edible produce where this mound used to be? (Minot, N.D.)

A: No problem with planting a garden on the old site as long as there is no direct contact with human waste. Plant and enjoy!

Q: I found your column on the Web and am hoping you can answer a question for me. I have six hybrid poplar trees in my backyard about 25 to 30 feet from my foundation. After eight years, the trees are quite large (more height than width). All of the trees have shallow roots growing in all directions and at least two of these trees have shallow roots that have grown close to my house. I was told that these roots follow the path of least resistance, so the roots will turn when they reach my foundation. Is that true or do I need to be worried? I can see the shallow roots that are spreading, but are there more underground that I can't see? (e-mail reference)

A: You received the correct advice. Roots will develop only in a soil system where there is a balance of air and water. Dry or compacted soil will stop the roots. Think of the root system as a "mining system" where the roots pull moisture and nutrients out of the soil in the presence of air. If the foundation of your house is not broken and leaking water, the roots will not damage it, especially at 25 feet away. There are a lot more roots to these poplars than you see. Other than having problems with the surface roots making mowing difficult, you likely will have more trouble with the branches as the trees continue to mature than the root systems causing foundation problems.

Q: I have a bunch of pine trees that have pine wilt. I am going to cut the trees down to stop the disease. I am planning or wanting to go to a friend's pasture to dig up some eastern red cedar trees to replace the pines. How large of a cedar can I dig up without too much trouble? I am of the understanding that they have a substantial tap root. How big would the tap root be in respect to the tree? This might give me an idea of how large of a tree to go after. (e-mail reference)

A: I have no idea. Why not dig up some smaller trees to see what the size of the tap root is? In any tree transplanting operation, the chance of greater success stays with the smaller individuals. The smaller trees will establish faster and grow with greater vigor.

Q: I am a faithful reader of your column. I'm hoping you can give me some tips on what ground cover plants to grow. I'm looking for vibrant colors, so I am thinking a spreading sumac of some sort would work best. The area faces south and the soil is clay and sand. Thank you. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Sumac would be a perfect plant for that setting. Try to locate the dwarf sumac Rhus copalina or the low-growing one called Rhus aromatica. There also is the tiger eyes sumac, so you have several choices. Thanks for being a loyal reader of the column!

Q: With spring coming, we are gearing up to put a lattice privacy fence on the north side of our front deck. Do you have any suggestions for a quick-growing vine? We look forward to your column in the local paper and read it faithfully. (Turtle Lake, N.D.)

A: For a perennial vine, nothing beats the Virginia creeper. It quickly grows in sun or shade and has red fall color. There is the hops vine (Humulus lupulus) that is a very fast grower, but unlike the Virginia creeper, dies back each winter and re-emerges with a vengeance the following spring. A vine that can do with less sun is the annual canary vine (Trapaeolum peregrinum). The yellow flowers will brighten up a shady north side. It prefers a moist soil and will grow to 8 or 10 feet. Not knowing what you have in mind, you might want to consider a combination of vines because it will produce an interesting visual impact. The green of the hops vine will intermingle with the flowers of the canary vine, which, by the way, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Thank you for being a loyal reader and the nice comment about the column!

Q: We just purchased a weeping birch at a garden show and plan on planting it in the front yard. We have three other birches in the front yard. How tall should I expect this weeping birch to get? Are there any special planting tips that you could give me? (e-mail reference)

A: Like so many people who write to me for advice, you gave me no clue as to what part of the country you live in. In most instances in a decent landscape setting, these trees will top out at 35 to 40 feet. Keep in mind how the tree spreads as it matures. The tree will do best if you can "bed" it, which means building a large mulched area around the base of the tree to keep the roots cool. You might want to consider planting some herbaceous ground cover under the canopy of the tree. Plants, such as hosta, sedum and creeping phlox, will help keep the roots cool when combined with organic mulch. Soil compaction and heat stress on the roots predispose this beautiful tree to being attacked by the bronze birch borer. I have had one growing in my front yard for the past 20 years and absolutely love it!

Q: I have a 9-year-old river birch in my front yard. After I pruned it this week, water started leaking out of the cut branches. I know people have mentioned leaking sap in your column, but this was not like any sap I've ever seen before. It was clear and not sticky. The sap was running out so much that I could catch it in the palm of my hand. This lasted for about 45 minutes. It has been pruned before, but I've never seen anything like this! Any suggestions on what it might be and should I be concerned about it? (e-mail reference)

A: There is a reason why we don't recommend early spring (or late winter) pruning of certain tree species. It causes unnecessary concern for folks like you. What you are seeing is indeed sap flow that is caused by the high turgor pressure in the vascular system of the tree. Elms and maples would respond the same way if pruned at this time of year. All of these "bleeders" should be pruned later in the season. Pruning should take place once the leaves have elongated and pruned only when absolutely necessary. No harm will come to the tree from this, I assure you, but expect the area under the cut branches to be a little sticky for a while!

Q: I saw your question-and-answer page on the Web while trying to find an answer to a question. I got a cactus as a gift and it was looking great. However, for the past few months, it has been growing a lot. The new growth is a much brighter green than the original growth and it doesn't have sharp thorns, just stubby, soft thorns. Should I be worried? (e-mail reference)

A: Don't be worried. The original foliage developed under different environmental conditions (most likely a greenhouse with full access to sunlight) than that of your home location. The new growth is reflecting that environmental change.

Q: Can you suggest a pyramidal arborvitae variety that will be useful for a hedgerow in an area that sees light to medium shade from large oaks nearby? (e-mail reference)

A: No, I can't because I have no idea what part of the country you are talking about. It also is very unlikely that the shade from the oaks will remain light to medium, which will cause the arborvitae to decline and possibly die. If where you live will support them, Canadian hemlocks may be the better choice.

Q: I am thinking of purchasing a dwarf weeping pussy willow tree for my small flower garden. I know that regular willow trees are very invasive to water lines and septic systems. Are the dwarf types also invasive? I want a small, ornamental tree for the spot in my garden. Any suggestions? (e-mail reference)

A: Where in the world is this spot you are talking about? Without more detailed information as to where you are, all I can tell you is to go ahead and use the pussy willow. It gets about 6 to 10 feet tall and is not known to have invasive roots. This is assuming that your location is within the hardiness zone range of this plant.

Q: Does all the bleeding advice you give on river birch pruning also apply to the roots of the tree? I cut a root that has wept for seven days. Should I do anything other than cover it up with dirt? (e-mail reference)

A: Yes, the advice also applies to the roots. There is nothing you can do about it and you don’t need to worry about it. I would cover the root with soil. It eventually will stop weeping as spring continues to arrive in your area of the country.

Q: Perhaps you can help us or direct us to someone who can help us. We have moved into a small town in southwestern North Dakota. The lots we purchased are very uneven. There are no trees and the grass is bromegrass with some alfalfa mixed in. We would like to renovate the lots so that we have a nice lawn and some trees and shrubs for shade and diverting the strong northwest winds. Where do we begin? What trees or grass can we use? What won't grow here? Any insight you can provide us would be greatly appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: You need to get in touch with the NDSU Extension agent in your county. That person may or may not be able to direct you to a reputable local landscaper who can advise you in designing a plan and making proper plant selections. The scaled plan is the most important starting point because without it you will have little continuity and harmony. The county agent should be able to give you a couple of publications on home landscape design ideas. Since you live in the southwestern part of the state, I would suggest working from the xeriscape publication for the most part. If you wish, you can download the publication from "Landscape Ideas for North Dakota Homeowners" (H-958) is another publication that is available, but you will have to get it from the county agent because it is not available on the Web. These publications should get you off to a good start.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: De-stress with Gardening  (2019-05-23)  According to researchers, gardening can be beneficial for mental, physical and social health.  FULL STORY
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