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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: I discovered your Web page detailing questions about cactus plants. I wanted to post a query, if permitted, but was unable to figure out how to submit a post. Your page is more informative than all of the other sites that I perused. Surprisingly, the sites hosted by desert-connected folks or organizations lack educational content that would be helpful to a novice. If you find this e-mail intrusive, please delete and accept my apologies. I have a home outside of Palm Springs, Calif. Several years ago, I purchased a couple of cactus plants on a lark. Only one failed to thrive, but the others have done very well and have provided lots of enjoyment. We have had unbelievable growth spurts and some unusual and beautiful flowers. In the last few months, I have noticed a potential problem with one plant. It has tan/brown ringlike circles on three ridges. There is one lone circle at the base and the rest are at the top. Is there something that I should be doing to prevent further destruction? Oddly enough, I did not expect to find a cactus resource hosted by someone in North Dakota. I have never visited your campus, but my brother-in-law is a member of the football coaching staff. It is a very small world. (e-mail reference)

A: You have a home in Palm Springs and a brother-in-law on our Bison football coaching staff. What a nicely tangled web! Your e-mail is not intrusive and thanks for being so concerned and polite. It is nice to see that people can be that way. I suspect, from what you have told me, that your cactus might have a systemic fungus infection. If you could send some photos, it would make my guess more certain. To put your mind at ease, I did spend some time in Texas, Saudi Arabia and Arizona, so I have experienced hot and dry weather. During those periods, I got acquainted with cactus culture and some of the problems. I recall what was called Texas root rot as being tagged a major cause of decline of some species, but I don't think that would be true in your case. Send me a couple of photos and I'll see if I can help.

Q: I just discovered your Web site from a search on the Web. Your Web site was first on the list of good Web locations! I've read through every post on Christmas cactus and found some terrific information, but still have several lingering questions. When you talk about a rest period and letting the plant dry, how dry are you talking about? Is there a general length of time to withhold or cut back on watering? From reading the posts, I understand that the plant likes to be rootbound. Is there such a thing as the plant being too rootbound? If so, how does a person know? When is the best time to take cuttings off the plant? My plant is blooming right now. (e-mail reference)

A: Generally, the rest period comes after the blooming cycle. The air will dry during the winter months as the central heating system starts being used a lot. Drying out a plant enough is sometimes more of an art than a science. If the stems start to shrivel, then you are not providing enough water. Christmas cactus is a rainforest species, not a desert plant, so you don’t want to push the drying out too far. I don't think I've ever seen a too rootbound Christmas cactus, so I wouldn't worry about it. Generally, repotting is an emotional thing, which is done when people think it is the right time. If you are concerned, I'd do it every two to three years. If that is too long an interval, repot in late spring or early summer. Cuttings are taken while the plant is in an active growth phase, but not flowering. Remove two or three pads of stems when making the cuttings. Allow the cuttings to cure for a day or two before sticking them in moist potting media.

Q: My children gave me a beautiful gloxinia plant a year ago. I am so surprised that I haven’t killed the poor thing. However, the stems of the plant look like vines. Should I cut off the stems? I should tell you that the plant is going into a rest period for the first time. (e-mail reference)

A: Allow the plant to dry for the dormancy period. Sometime in March, repot and see if the plant begins to grow. It probably will, unless it is one that was bred to behave as an annual. If that is the case, it will be obvious and you can dump the plant. The vining characteristic could be an indication of the light level being too low or the duration of the lighting is too short.

Q: I have read through many people's jade plant concerns on your Web site, but haven’t found an answer to my problem. My jade plant lives above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. After reading through many questions on your Web site, I realize that my plant is in dire need of sunlight. That will be corrected when I'm through with this e-mail. The other problem is that the bottom leaves are turning yellow, watery looking and dropping off. Could the problem also stem from a lack of sunlight? The plant is sitting above a baseboard heater. Could that be a problem? The other thing that's happening is that the leaves are pointing straight down toward the soil. What is happening? (e-mail reference)

A: The baseboard heat will dry the atmosphere around the plant down to near desert levels, so it would be a good idea to move it somewhere else. I am assuming that you are providing the plant artificial light for at least 12 hours a day. That probably would correct the problem of the drooping leaves and those that are turning yellow and dropping off. Make sure that you get the light source close enough to the plant and that it covers all the foliage. This might necessitate getting two plant lights. The two major causes of plant failure are overwatering and underlighting. If you think the needs to be watered, wait another day before doing so.

Q: My father-in-law gave me some small blue Colorado spruce trees. I planted the trees in my yard two weeks ago. They already are turning brown from the top to halfway down the trees. I live in northern Georgia. Should I dig the trees up and take them inside before they die completely? (e-mail reference)

A: You can give it a try. It will at least please your father-in-law that you tried your best to get the trees to grow. I doubt that the trees will live, so brace yourself for probable disappointment.

Q: I have two spider plants that were rooted this spring. I water them weekly until the baskets drain. They have been doing well and have lots of babies (more than 20). There is no leaf discoloration or wilting, but some of the babies are dropping leaves. They look like they have been cut by a caterpillar or something else, but I can’t find any. I have sprayed them with Safer Insecticidal Soap. Is there anything else that could be causing my problem? (e-mail reference)

A: With all the questions I have had on spider plants, I never have had this one. I can't give you an answer, especially if you can't see any visible evidence of a caterpillar doing the damage. Do you have any cats? My cats like to attack the spiderettes and sometimes knock off some leaves. If you don't have cats, then I can't think of a cause to this problem. Sorry!

Q: We have two chokecherry trees planted about 80 feet apart. I’ve had them for about 10 years. They are covered with blossoms each spring, but they do not produce very many berries. I’ve read that we are not supposed to put the pits in our jelly, but we have been making chokecherry jelly for more than 40 years and always grind the pits when we make it. It hasn't killed us yet. (e-mail reference)

A: That's good! I don't expect that you would tell me if it did kill you, either! All I can tell you is what is said by credible references. I also can tell you that you are not the first person to tell me this. I guess after 40 years, continue to enjoy! The lack of fruit set could be due to a lack of pollinators being active at the time the pollen is ready because of cold, wet or windy weather. It also could be insecticide use in the area that is killing most of the pollinating insects.

Q: We live in northeastern Wisconsin next to the Upper Peninsula. We planted a number of Norway spruce trees along our driveway. Do these trees need winter protection? (e-mail reference)

A: As long as the roots and surrounding soil do not go into the winter months dry and you've been diligent about watering them since planting, they should not need any other protection. I hope the trees were planted balled in burlap.

Q: I am trying to establish a small business selling woody and everlasting florals. Some of the material I'm growing is red twig dogwood, pussy willow, corkscrew willow, bittersweet, winterberry, PG hydrangea and yarrow. I'm just starting out, so I’m doing some market research. There are two wholesale florists in Grand Forks, but both are just distribution points for Twin Cities wholesalers. They have no authority to purchase materials themselves. The retail florists have little interest in woody and everlasting florals. Do you have any suggestions on how to market these products? I'm not really a craftsperson. My primary interest is growing, though I could add value by making wreaths and arrangements if there is a better market for these items than for bunches and bundles. I've heard there is a cooperative in Minnesota that markets woody florals. Have you heard anything about that operation or know about anything similar in the area? Any specific information you could give me would be appreciated. (Grand Forks, N.D.)

A: I'm sorry, I don't know of a good connection for you, but I wouldn't give up if you have a genuine interest. I would suggest marketing them on eBay. I don't know what the regulations are for selling your product on eBay. I'm sure the folks at eBay also have some standards as well that you would need to follow. Unfortunately, when you are starting out in something like this, established retailers want to skin you alive pricewise. You might try contacting the Pride of North Dakota folks in Bismarck to see if they can offer suggestions. The Pride of North Dakota Web site is at They are usually gung-ho about marketing anything that originates in North Dakota!

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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