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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: Do you have any information on trumpet vines (Campsis radicans)? A friend gave me some pods, but I am not sure what to do. I assume I need to crack the pods open, but I’m not sure if I need to do more. Should I start growing the seeds in the house for the winter and replant outside in the spring? I didn't find any information on your Web site, but I may have looked under the wrong category. I live in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. I remember you are from Snyder, so you know our weather. Can you help me get started with these pods? (Lancaster, N.Y.)

A: Believe it or not, trumpet vine seed is one of the easiest to propagate. If the ground isn’t frozen, get the seeds out of the pod and plant them where you want. This is a cold stratification process that Mother Nature can do better than humans. You should see fairly good germination next spring. If the soil is frozen, then store the seeds in damp sphagnum moss in the crisper of your refrigerator until you are ready to plant next spring. I remember Lancaster quite well. As a teen on the Amherst High football team, we played them once. Those tough guys flayed us like we were fresh meat in a pool of piranhas! Good luck with your trumpet vines!

Q: How can we dry gourds so that you can use them to make birdhouse feeders? So far, we are batting zero! Hope you can help! (e-mail reference)

A: I'm no expert on the subject. Drill small holes in the blossom ends and hang them to dry in a cool basement. When the seed inside rattles, you have succeeded. Put a coat of wax or shellac on the gourds after that.

Q: I am in desperate need of help with my blue spruce. The tree was well-established and gorgeous when we bought our home. There has been extensive growth during the last several years, but now the tree is overgrown for the area. I anticipate problems in the future because the tree is located on the corner of my house, so I am afraid roof damage may occur. I have been told they cannot be pruned, but hear from others that they can. I hired a certified arborist, but he said he wouldn't touch it for fear it might die. I live in Oklahoma, so I am hoping you might be able to help because blue spruce is more abundant in your state. If I can't prune it, I will need to cut it down. Please help. (e-mail reference)

A: The answer is simple. If you don't do anything, the tree will continue to grow and become an increasing hazard. If it is pruned properly, chances are it will survive. If it doesn't, it wouldn't matter anyway because all you did is accelerate the time of removal. I would get another opinion. The person you talked to probably doesn't like pruning evergreens and perhaps is more comfortable with deciduous trees. If you can't find a certified arborist who will do the trimming, tell the arborist that you will not hold him responsible if the tree dies. If a decent pruning job can give you another 10 to 15 years of pleasure, it’s worth the risk.

Q: I just inherited a jade plant from a family friend. The plant belonged to the lady’s grandmother. Is there a way of telling how old the plant is? I would like to prune it to make it more in the shape of a tree, but I’m afraid it will be very slow to grow back. Also, it has not been repotted in at least 10 years. On a final note, the plant has very sticky leaves. There are no bugs or spider mites on the plant. I don’t know if there is any solution to stopping the leaves from releasing so much sap. (e-mail reference)

A: You can prune the plant and reroot the cuttings and leaves. The fact that the leaves are sticky is a sure symptom that something is eating your plant and secreting honeydew. Look carefully on the stems for scale insects or aphids. I'm betting scale insects are causing the problem. As for repotting, I'm sure it needs it from a physical standpoint, but don't do it if the plant is doing well. Repotting sometimes leads to problems that were not present before the operation. Without destructive action, there is no way to determine the age of the jade.

Q: I just purchased two emerald arborvitaes. We are experiencing a severe drought here in Georgia. Since it hasn't rained in so long, I've been watering the trees every five to seven days. However, they are turning brown. I assume I'm overwatering. How often and how much should I be watering the plants? (e-mail reference)

A: It is tough to advise you about watering without knowing what type of soil you have. Going into the winter, you need to back off on the watering to about once every two weeks or more. When you do water, give the plants a good soaking and check the soil before watering again.

Q: I just bought a house and realized too late that chinaberry trees are deadly to dogs. I am trying to find something that I can plant that will be dog-friendly and quick-growing in our climate. I have two small oak trees in the front and hope their leaves won't hurt the dogs. Do you have any suggestions? (Justin, Texas)

A: There are plenty of dogs and oak trees where I have lived and did not see dogs die from being around the leaves, which are not high on the edible list anyway. I suggest that you contact the Extension Service where you live and get a listing of safe landscape plants for your region.

Q: What are the chances that my trees will live because they have not been planted and we have had one frost? The trees have been watered, but are in the containers from the nursery. I live in Virginia, which has had little rain this year. Due to a border dispute, I'm waiting on a survey to be completed before I can get them in the ground. The tree balls are wrapped in burlap. Should I take the burlap off? (e-mail reference)

A: If the trees are in containers and the roots wrapped in burlap, let them stay where they are, but keep the roots watered until you plant. The trees should survive in your mild winter climate, but get them in the ground as soon as possible.

Q: I live on a river where it's very windy. My apple tree is leaning to one side. Can I bring back some of the branches with ropes without breaking any of the branches or the tree? For fertilizer, I use fruit tree spikes every fall and spring, but I don't want to overfertilize. (Winslow, Maine)

A: It is possible, but you need patience. Gradual tension is needed on the branches and tree for at least a couple of years. A lot depends on the type of soil you have and the crown size of the tree. Forget using tree spikes for fertilizer because you are wasting money. If you do fertilize, do it in early spring as new growth is breaking out. I'm sure there is a certified arborist in your area who can assist you in getting your tree back to vertical.

Q: I have three, large, containerized hibiscus plants on our deck that flourished all summer, but I know I need to bring them inside for the winter. Can they be covered and stored in our garage? I'd hate for these plants to die because they are so beautiful. (Crown Point, Ind.)

A: I would encourage you to bring the plants indoors and try growing them as houseplants. Place them in a sunny location or under grow lights. You also can do what you suggested. Cover the plants with a sheet after giving them a hard cutting back. If you plan to go that route, the plants need to be nipped by a frost first.

Q: Our carrots were a disaster this year. They had many white hairs and were red in color. They also were not good to eat. What could have been the problem? (e-mail reference)

A: The hair was probably the result of a pythium root disease damaging the growing tip. If the red color of the carrot was not a variety characteristic, then I don't know what caused that problem. Perhaps a reader of this column will be able to assist in providing an answer.

Q: We have a cactus that flourished outdoors this summer here in Ohio. It is three times the size it was initially. However, it sat outside during a freeze before my wife brought it inside. The new growth has turned almost black. It does get some indirect sunlight. Is there a way to save this plant? The new growth is almost crunchy. Do we cut at that spot? Should I water the plant more or less? (e-mail reference)

A: It probably will survive, but it depends on the variety of the cactus. It would be good if you could cut away the frosted sections or parts. Cut back to fresh tissue. Desert cactus plants often are subjected to freezing temperatures, but fully recover. The questionable part of your cactus is the root system. If the roots reached a lethal temperature, it is done for. Don't water more than necessary and allow the soil to completely dry between watering.

Q: I used Miracle-Gro on my arborvitaes. I used the type that you put into the water hose attachment. I still had half the container left over, so I poured it over my arborvitaes. The next day the branches turned blue or black. I watered them for the next couple of days, but now the branches are turning brown and falling off. Will the branches ever grow back to green? (e-mail reference)

A: If the cambial tissue was not killed, the plants may survive. Only time will tell. Sorry I cannot forecast the future!

NDSU Agriculture Communication

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