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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I'm interested in getting some fig leaves. Where can I find them? I needed the fig leaves to wrap some salmon for a recipe I have. (Chicago, Ill.)

A: I have no idea, but I'm sending a copy of your request to Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist. If Julie has any suggestions, she will get back to you. Garden-Robinson response: I think your best bet would be to check at a Whole Foods Market. I looked on the Web and found five of the stores in the Chicago area. For more information, go to Usually fig leaves are sold pickled/preserved in jars. Other grocery stores may carry them fresh, but I've only seen the preserved type. I hope that helps. If you're wrapping salmon in fig leaves, you must be a gourmand.

Q: My dieffenbachia plant is under a fluorescent light, so it gets a lot of light. I also water it regularly. The leaves are getting so big that the stems can’t hold them up anymore. I repotted the plant about six weeks ago. Should I let the stems hang over the sides so that new leaves can grow up from the middle or should I tie the stems up so the leaves reach toward the light? How can I strengthen the stems of the plant to support the big leaves? Please help! (e-mail reference)

A: Stems develop caliper as they grow and move in the wind. It could be natural wind or created by a fan. Since the stems have developed in a weak manner, there is nothing you can do to thicken them up at this point. You can cut the stems back to 4-inch stubs. Take the cut stems and section them into 6-inch lengths. Lay them in damp sphagnum peat moss and barely cover them. Make sure there is plenty of light and keep the moss damp, but not soggy. In six to eight weeks, leaves will appear at one end and roots at the other end. Remove them from the peat moss and plant in pots. The mother plant also should have begun sprouting by that time. Place an oscillating fan near the plant so the stems are mildly stressed as they develop.

Q: I ordered a harglow apricot to be planted at the end of next month. It seems you almost always recommend that apricot trees be planted with a cross-pollinator. This is a problem for me unless I can convince my neighbor to let me plant something in their yard. I planted a Bali cherry last spring that seems to be doing very well. Will the apricot and cherry cross-pollinate? If so, will they reach a fruit-bearing age at the same time? Will the two trees pollinate at the same time? (northwestern, Wisconsin)

A: You are home free. No pollinator is needed for the apricot tree because the one you have is self-pollinating. Both trees should top out somewhere around 8 feet in height. The Bali cherry is from Canada and can survive temperatures to minus 54 degrees. Talk about these tasty, delicious fruits is making me hungry!

Q: We have several mature soap weeds (Yucca glauca). Deer ate quite a few of the pointed leaves off this winter. What should I do to give the plants the best chance of regrowing? Also, is there any kind of deer repellant that works? We have used Liquid Fence, but it doesn't seem to work. We enjoy watching the deer, so we don't want to hurt them. (e-mail reference)

A: Every company that makes deer repellent would like us to think its product works. They all do to a certain point, but then the deer just ignore the smell or taste and eat the plants. Deer have amazing digestive systems to consume all that they do. About the only thing I can suggest is a fence around the plants you value the most. In this instance, the yucca will recover and should have spring growth coming in a few weeks. You really don't need to do anything in particular right now.

Q: I came across your Web site while searching for how to take care of Japanese red maples. I have a big tree in front of my house that was planted 27 to 30 years ago. Each year, new seedlings grow out of the mulch surrounding the tree, but usually die a few weeks after breaking ground. I don't really have a place to allow them to grow, but there are three trees growing in the front yard about 50 feet from the tree. One of them was growing in a rock wall, so I moved it to a different spot. I never intended for it to be there permanently because my neighbor was supposed to take it last fall, but we both forgot. Can I move it now or do I need to wait until next fall? In either case, what should I do to help them survive? All I've ever done was sprinkle some Scott’s Tree Food over the trees each spring. (Boston, Mass.)

A: Sounds like the ideal location for growing a Japanese red maple! The tree can be moved in early spring while it’s still dormant. Forget the fertilizer because the trees don't need it most of the time. You never will get all of the roots, so don't fret about the few you leave behind. However, don't cut the top of the tree back during the transplanting process because the tree will need as much leaf area as possible to make food for new root growth.

Q: We planted a willow tree (I do not know the variety) last year. A few months later, I noticed large, circular areas of the trunk turning a bright orange yellow. The twigs began dying and turning black. New branches grow, but then die. What is the problem? I assume we will have to rip out the tree and plant another one. Could the cause of this problem be in the soil? Is it possible that we might contaminate the planting site when we remove the tree? Should we shift the location of the replacement tree a few feet? Would it be possible to take a healthy shoot as a cutting to grow a new one or would it be contaminated? (e-mail reference)

A: The healthy twig tissue could be taken and stuck in the ground for rooting and continued growth. It sounds like a localized canker has taken over the tree's trunk. It is always a good idea to do a little relocation when any plant succumbs to a pathogen because the spores may remain active in the soil and waiting for another host.

Q: I am looking for a vine that we can grow over a fence to hide it. We need the fence to keep people from driving where they aren't supposed to. A living fence would add some color to the area. I thought about grapes, but I’m not sure. We have sandy soil and it is usually dry where we live. I would like something that grows quickly and is resistant to diseases, drought and critters. Is there such a plant? If you have any suggestions, I would appreciate it. (Tappen, N.D.)

A: What I would suggest is Parthenocissus quinquifolia/Virginia creeper. It is a member of the grape family. You will need to do some timely watering the first season, but after that all you need to do is watch it grow if you don't want to limit growth. The grapelike fruits will attract birds and the fall color usually is a burnt orange.

Q: What do you know about the cold-hardy kiwi that is said to be fast-growing and can live in North Dakota? Also, does Hall's honeysuckle grow here? How about Robin Hood rose living fence? I want something that is fast-growing and will live through our frigid temperatures. (e-mail reference)

A: Cold-hardy kiwi would survive, but not thrive or produce fruit. A honeysuckle vine would survive and, depending on the location, might even thrive. As for the Robin Hood living rose fence, I don't think it would do much of anything except be killed off by severe winter weather each year.

Q: I am looking for a large willow that will survive in zone 3b to 4 and tolerate sandy soil. I would like to plant the willows as shore trees. I guess any type of tree with large root systems that could survive our cold temperatures would be an option. Any suggestions? (e-mail reference)

A: Weeping willows, elms, ash, maple and river birch trees are just some species that one would find close to the shoreline of a river or lake in our cold climate.

Q: I read your column religiously every week in the Jamestown Sun. I work eight weeks each spring in a local garden center. I try to glean information for my customers or refer them to your Web site. My husband and I are planning to build a new home in Jamestown on a hillside lot. The lot had an old home on it that we tore down. The lot has some terracing that we will be redoing. We would like to plant a privacy hedge along the north side of the lot. I am wondering about planting thuja wintergreen arborvitae. I found it through the Thuja Nursery in North Carolina. We would like an evergreen hedge for winter privacy and easy maintenance. What is your opinion? Would something else be a better choice? (e-mail reference)

A: I have no direct experience with this particular cultivar of arborvitae. However, from my references, it sounds like the ideal plant for your purposes. I would feel a little better if you were making the purchase closer to home, but that is just my opinion and has nothing to do with your question.

Q: Is it possible to take shoots from wild chokecherries and transplant them in a home garden setting? Are they fast- or slow-growing? If possible, when is the best time to transplant? If it is possible, how long would it take for the plants to bear fruit? (e-mail reference)

A: If what you mean is the shoots that sucker from the root system, the answer is yes. The best time to transplant is while the suckers are dormant in the spring. Typically, wild chokecherries are pretty fast-growing. However, think twice before you do something like this because wild chokecherries eventually will sucker in your garden and surrounding landscape.

Q: I noticed yesterday that our schefflera was dropping leaves. There is a honeylike substance on the wood floor, window shutter and back of a chair. I remember something about honeydew, but I can’t find anything in my gardening book. Do you know what my problem is? (e-mail reference)

A: Honeydew is a kind name for insect excrement, which could be coming from aphids. It should be visible on the stems of the plant. The problem also could be spider mites. If this is the case, you will see small, fine webbing that is barely visible. These pests inhabit the underside of leaves. They insert their piercing, sucking mouth parts into the tissue cells of the leaves to extract the carbohydrate-rich fluids as a food source. Unchecked, these pests can destroy a plant and leave a mess around the plant. If you can't see either of these pests, then look for lumps or white dabs of cottony mass at the leaf junctions. If this is happening, you have some species of scale insect that is causing the problem. You can get systemic insecticides that will provide some control over these pests. Give the plant a close examination with rubber gloves so that your hands don't get covered with honeydew. If by chance the problem is isolated to just one or two branches or leaves, removing them would go a long way to providing quick control.

Q: I have a Janet Craig dracaena that put out a very tall shoot. Can I transplant the shoot into its own pot? What is the best way to do this without damaging the main plant? If the whole ensemble is moved to a larger pot, will the two plants be OK? The plant is in a large, north-facing window where it seems to be thriving. Is it OK to stake the main plant because it is starting to lean a little? Also, my Christmas cactus is very old, but never has been repotted. It blooms a few times a year and has nice, healthy leaves. Will it be OK if we transplant it? It has done so well in its original pot that I’m afraid it will be harmed if we try to move it. It is finishing flowering for the second time this winter. If we do transplant, how long should we wait after flowering? Both plants are very healthy, so I’m worried about upsetting them with any changes. (Lennox, S.D.)

A: I would suggest letting the dracaena grow as is. A bushy plant is more attractive than a single stem in my opinion. If you wish, you can propagate new growth by cutting one of the canes back at any height. New leaf clusters will grow just below where the cane was cut. You then can slice the cut-off canes into 6-inch lengths and root them as stem cuttings. You can repot dracaena every two to three years without having problems. As for the Christmas cactus, I'm through giving specific protocol for what to do with these plants. I've heard from too many people who have some blooming no matter what they do or don't do, while others can get them to bloom only by following very specific recommendations. Some follow the recommendations, but still can't get them to bloom. Apparently the art of growing these plants comes into play more than I realized. If the plant is doing what you want it to do, leave well enough alone.

Readers: The Southeast Wisconsin Master Gardeners will host a Gardening Through the Continuum of Life conference July 16-19. The theme of the conference refers to addressing the needs of gardeners of all ages and capabilities. It will be an entertaining and educational event, with tours and featured speakers, such as Michael Weishan (Public Broadcasting Service’s “The Victory Garden” program). There also will be great tours, terrific educational breakout sessions, a silent auction, vendors and raffles. The conference will be held at the Wyndham Airport Hotel and Conference Center in Milwaukee. For more information and to register, go to

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: A Taste of Brazil is Worth Trying  (2019-07-18)  Give beans a try on your menu.  FULL STORY
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