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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have a customer in Grafton whose cotoneaster hedge has been hit hard by oyster scales the last few years. He wants to cut it back and put something on it to take care of the problem. He was wondering about a bleach/water combination. I'm guessing that the bleach is not a good idea, but I can't find anything definitive on it. Some say it will kill plants, some say it won't. I was going to suggest he cut it back to 2 to 3 inches in late March or early April and then spray the stubs with dormant oil and lime/sulfur, as you suggest on your Web site. Think that will do the trick? (e-mail reference)

A: A heavy cutting back is the best, first recommendation. The cutting should take place before the buds break in the spring. Using bleach is a bad idea. There are less drastic and toxic materials, such as dormant oil, that can be used. If he doesn't have hundreds of feet of hedge, he also might consider adding a systemic insecticide, such as Bayer Advanced Tree or Shrub Insect Control, for effective scale control. It is taken in by the vascular system, so when an insect begins feeding, the insecticide ends up being its last meal! The insecticide lasts about 12 months, so it should take care of any late arrivals.

Q: I have some small jade plants. They are growing well, but are tall and need to be supported. I've tried pinching the top growth to promote stemming below, but it just continues up from the pinch, although it does sometimes branch from there. Do I keep pinching? Can I make a small cut or remove a leaf to promote growth below? I also realize that it might be the lighting because I'm in a basement apartment and use plant lights. The distance from the smallest plant and the light is about a foot. If there is not enough light, would that force the plant to go up and avoid growing to the sides? (e-mail reference)

A: Your problem could be insufficient light. Plant light bulbs are effective for about a year and then quickly lose potency, even though they still come on. Your distance from the light to the plant should be good enough for the plant to grow in the direction of the light source. If you can, flood the site with bright lighting, as well as using plant lights. That will help grow a well-rounded plant. Sometimes plants are obstinate to our best efforts, so you are better off taking cuttings or leaves and rooting them to get the plant you want. Don't overfertilize because the combination of fertilizer and low light will contribute to a leggy plant that will tend to topple.

Q: One of the questions on your Web site was about tulip flowers emerging without stems. There are some species, such as tarda, that do this. They emerge early in the spring and do not have the long stem we associate with the more common cultivated varieties. Also, another person asked about the life expectancy of tulips. Depending on the species, tulips will re-emerge every year and include some with long stems, but the cultivated varieties will produce flowers for only two to three years. We replace thousands of bulbs every year so that we can guarantee a spectacular show every spring. (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the information and education! I had never heard of the tarda species.

Q: I am a North Dakota native, but now live in the Twin Cities. I have a few questions about my American arborvitaes. We planted 23 seedlings this spring along the back of our fence to help shield us from the road. With winter quickly approaching, what is the best way to care for them during the winter? Should I put mulch around the plants? Do I need to fertilize with Miracle-Gro? Should I wrap them in burlap? Any tips you have on how to help them survive the winter would be appreciated! (e-mail reference)

A: If you can, put a chicken wire fence around or over the plants to protect them from nibblers. Seedlings are a temptation to many rodents during the long winter months. If you could add a coarse burlap screen around the plants, that also would help get them through the winter. These trees have survived and thrived for eons without any help from us, so don't overdo your care and I'm sure they will be OK.

Q: My lovely spider plant spent the summer outside hanging on a pole under a tree. It thrived! The leaves got large and green and produced many spiderettes. It also developed many clusters of brown seeds (I think). What do they do? I thought propagation was from the spiderettes. (e-mail reference)

A: Asexual propagation is from the spiderettes, while sexual propagation is from the seeds. Collect the seeds and store in a cool, dark, dry envelope for the winter and then plant them in a pot using pasteurized soil. You should get anywhere from 50 percent to 75 percent germination. Keep in mind that all spider plants started out as green-leafed plants, but then a chimera (somatic mutation) took place, so the plants were propagated asexually from the emerging spiderettes. Since then, spider plants have exploded in popularity. I might be a little rusty on the history of this occurrence, but it was in the neighborhood of some 200 years ago that this was observed and that person took advantage of it!

Q: I have gathered chestnut seeds from two trees that my grandfather planted in Underwood, N. D. I was wondering what would be the best way to try to plant these seeds. (e-mail reference)

A: Plant the seeds about 6 inches deep where you want them to grow. If the seeds are viable and the squirrels don't get them, they will come up for you next spring.

Q: What is the best way to plant chestnut seeds? Do you have to store them at a certain temperature and wait for spring or can you plant the seeds this fall? (e-mail reference)

A: Plant them this fall and let Mother Nature do all the work! However, protect the seeds from squirrels!

Q: I have a problem with a flowering crabapple tree. As usual, it bloomed beautifully this year, but there were no apples on the tree. This the first time this has happened. There are things that look like ant piles around the tree. The tree itself has big growths on it that almost look like burls and are hard. We do have web worms in our area. (e-mail reference)

A: What you have on the tree could be galls, which usually are harmless to the functional health of the plant. You might try contacting the Extension Service in your state to see if someone can assist you. Go to and click on your state to find the county office near you. Someone locally should be able to assist you better than I can.

Q: I would like to plant a weeping willow about 40 feet from the house and 60 feet from the septic line. Is that far enough away or should I abandon the idea? (e-mail reference)

A: That should be far enough away so that you, your children and possibly your grandchildren won’t have to worry about any problems. Enjoy!

Q: I purchased my first jade plant about three weeks ago. I had no idea that jade plants require a lot of light until I went to your Web site and began learning about how to take care of this beautiful plant. I have moved the plant to a table that is lighted by halogen lights. Is this adequate lighting for my plant? Can you give me any other advice on how to properly care for this plant so I can enjoy it for many years to come? (e-mail reference)

A: Years of work have gone into the jade plant Web site. I suggest you use whatever spare time you have to read through it to glean the finer points needed to care for this plant. Overwatering and underlighting are the two biggest mistakes made by folks who try to take care of houseplants. One mistake is as bad as the other. The halogen lamp is better than nothing. I suggest leaving it on for 12 hours a day if that is the only source of light for the plant. Jade and most other houseplants also benefit from being summered outdoors in dappled shade.

Q: What is the origin of the lumina pumpkin? Is it the only white variety? What are the similarities to other varieties? For example, can you make a pie from a lumina pumpkin? (e-mail reference)

A: There are at least one and probably more white varieties of pumpkin. Baby boo and lumina are in the same boat. They can be used for pies, but are not bred for it. These two were bred to be scary for Halloween. Go to for more information on growing pumpkins and squash.

Q: I bought a house last year that has an enormous weeping willow. We’ve trimmed the dead branches out, but it’s getting unsightly again and a lot of it hangs over our roof. I’ve read that you can cut a willow down to the stump and it will sprout new trees, which wouldn’t be bad. Would the root system get a lot bigger if we did this? I don’t think we have any water lines in that part of the yard, but it has to be getting close to our foundation. The foundation shows no sign of it, but I don’t want to encourage new growth if you think the root system will spread further. Also, if I cut the main trunk off about 10 feet up, would it sprout nicely or would I have a bare trunk in my yard? I love the tree and don’t want to get rid of it, but it’s becoming a bit of a nuisance. (e-mail reference)

A: Knowing that you want to keep this tree, find an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist in your area to do some pruning. Mature willows can stand annual pruning very easily. If you cut the tree down, the result likely would be something that you wouldn't like. There will be suckers sprouting from the trunk and root system all over your yard. Removing the aerial part of a tree doesn't make the roots more aggressive. It simply converts the stored energy into new vegetative growth in an attempt to make more carbohydrates for survival. To find an ISA certified arborist, go to Ask for references and check credentials before allowing any work to be carried out.

Q: I’m trying to find out the name of the apple tree I found while hunting in the Barnesville, Minn. area. The tree has dark green leaves and the apples are about the size of a 50-cent piece and dark red. The apples are very sweet, which I’m sure is why the deer were eating them. I would like to plant a few of them on my property. (e-mail reference)

A: The only idea I can come up with is that it is a dolgo crab. The only reason I say that is because I grew one, but it fits the description. Think carefully before going off the deep end and planting them on your property because I ended up ripping mine out. On private property, the apples probably will not be eaten by deer, but gradually will drop to the ground and make a mess when trying to mow. The apples also will rot on the ground and attract wasps. If you have a lot of space on your property, you might get away with planting this species if mowing is of little or no consequence and you don’t mind attracting wasps. On a positive note, if you are interested in making applesauce, this cultivar makes awesome sauce. While our kids were small, they helped pick the apples. After they moved out, we lost interest in the tree and its fruit, so out it came!

Q: I would like to know what strawberry varieties are best for the North Dakota and Minnesota area. Also, can you help me find a supplier for Sheyenne tomatoes? (e-mail reference)

A: You can download my publication on strawberries at I doubt that you will find any Sheyenne tomato seeds, except from a hobbyist. I haven't seen this variety on the market for 10 years, if not longer.

Q: I’ve had a jade plant for a few years that has been growing like crazy. It always looks healthy and vibrant. This summer, the stalks started bending away from each other and hanging over the pot. It continues to look healthy and grow, but the stalks seem somewhat bendable. I am experiencing no leaf drop and all the leaves are bright green. I thought it was a watering problem and made sure I spaced out the watering to every three to four weeks. However, the problem continues. I tried tying a rubber band around the base so all the stalks are pulling each other straight. That seemed to help for a short period. The stalks started leaning again and finally the entire plant fell over. The plant fell about 5 feet. Surprisingly, the damage was minimal. I think the problem is that there are too many stalks, so they can't all fit straight up. Is this common? I really want to save this plant because I lost a favorite rose plant to bugs, so I don't think my green thumb can take another enormous setback. (e-mail reference)

A: Your jade just needs to be pruned to keep it in shape. Like any other houseplant or outdoor plant, most will need some trimming to look decent and fit the space we have available. You may need to repot the plant, which doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do. Get some pasteurized soil (African violet mix is best) and set it in the larger pot. Trim it like you would any other shrub. The material you trim is a good source for new plants by vegetative propagation. You can just stick leaves or stems in a 50/50 mix of peat moss and sand. Keep it moist and in about six to eight weeks you should have plenty of roots. You also might consider getting a plant light for the winter months. Get a timer for the light and set it for 12 hours a day between now and April. That usually improves the quality of the plant by keeping the tissue firm and strong.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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