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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: Some of the roots on my birch trees are above ground. Some roots are high enough to hit the deck of my lawnmower. They also are pushing up the bricks we have around the trees. Can I trim some of the highest roots without damaging the trees? (e-mail reference)

A: I would suggest that you contact an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist to do the work. Go to http://www.isa-arbor.com/findArborist/findarborist.aspx and follow the prompts to find an arborist close to your home. Be sure the contact is familiar with root pruning and check the person’s credentials. Random removal of roots without understanding the consequences of doing so could result in the tree becoming a potential hazard in high winds.

Q: We had a very large hackberry tree cut down because it lost some limbs during an ice storm. The limbs started to break away from the main trunk and the tree split down the middle. It was obvious the tree would not survive. I am trying to split the wood, but it is very difficult. If the hackberry is so tough, why did the large limbs crack off during the ice storm? Do you have any suggestions to make it easier to split, such as letting it dry out? I will try using a wedge to split the wood as soon as the snow goes away. (e-mail reference)

A: Hackberry is very hard wood. If steel plating had not been developed, this wood would be an excellent candidate for consideration! You also probably are dealing with somewhat frozen wood. Why not give the tree company that took down the tree a call? The tree company has powerful chain saws. As to ice breaking the large limbs, the weight is well beyond what almost any limb can withstand. Keep in mind that the aircraft industry is paranoid about the slightest bit of ice formation on the wings or body of the plane because of the heavy weight.

Q: Someone gave me a cactus plant that was supposed to bloom around Christmas. It is now well past Christmas and the plant has not bloomed. What is wrong and what type of cactus is it? (e-mail reference)

A: From the photo you sent, it looks like a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera species). The reason for nonflowering likely is due to it not having the required number of hours of short days (long nights). The plant should receive 13 or more hours of continuous darkness starting around the end of September or the beginning of October. This action sets the flower buds after about six weeks. For extended blooming, try to keep the plant in a cool setting away from forced-air heating vents or any sudden cold drafts from open windows or doors.

Q: I bought a hibiscus this summer and placed it outdoors. It bloomed beautifully until I brought it in before the winter cold set in. Within a couple of days, all the blooms and buds fell off and it hasn't bloomed since. Do I have to wait until summer for it to flower again or can I get it to bloom while I have it indoors? (e-mail reference)

A: The bloom and flower bud drop is a result of a change in the environment. The environmental change usually is the drier air from your furnace. Quite likely, the plant will rebloom for you this summer after you place it outdoors. Unless you can provide more indoor light and humidity right now, I doubt that it will bloom this winter.

Q: I had a client inquire about growing Marquette grapes (MN 1211) in the Bismarck area. Have you heard of anyone having success growing this new variety? Should I recommend that she stick with a Beta or Valiant? (e-mail reference)

A: I would take a chance on this one, unless the client is going into heavy grape growing. If we stay with the same old varieties, we'll never progress! Here is a write-up describing Marquette. “Marquette is a promising new red wine variety from the University of Minnesota that combines high levels of cold hardiness and disease resistance with excellent wine quality. Marquette has withstood temperatures as low as minus 36 without serious injury. Resistance to common grape diseases, such as downy and powdery mildew and black rot, has been excellent and the vine only requires a minimal spray program. Resistance to infestation by foliar phylloxera has been moderate. The open and orderly growth habit of Marquette is considered highly desirable. Sugar levels have been high, averaging 26.1 brix. Acid levels averaged 1.21 percent lower than that of Frontenac. Yields have averaged 5.46 Kg per vine or 3.6 tons per acre. Tasters have noted an attractive, deep red color, desirable aromas of cherry, black pepper, spice and berry, plus a substantial tannin structure rarely found in hybrid wines.” My vote is to go for it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Q: So far, I have received six unrequested seed catalogs for flowers, vegetables, trees and shrubs. I am sure more are on the way! What can you tell me about making a choice as to which catalog to purchase from? They seem to have similar or identical varieties and a wide variation in prices. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Welcome to the fold! I have a file full of garden catalogs. Of course, there is no way to order from all of them. Jot down what it is you want in your garden this year along with the quantities you want. Order just that and nothing more! Americans are a very gullible lot, so typically we order at least twice as much as we need. Most catalog companies have good quality products, so pick one or two that seem to have products that are the most pleasing to your tastes.

Q: I have a fence problem with my neighbor. The neighbor is nosy and the fence is ugly. I need something that will cover the fence quickly to keep him from looking so easily into my yard and making unwanted comments about my activities or lack of them! (e-mail reference)

A: You didn't say if the fence ran along the property line or if it is on the neighbor's property. If it is the latter, you had better check with your neighbor to be sure that what you plant will not be yanked out of the ground. I'll give you a couple of answers and you can decide what action to take based on the location of the fence. If the fence is located right on the property line and your neighbor has paid to have the fence put up, you might try a tactful approach first to see if there is any objection to your planting a vine or two along your side. Assuming a positive confirmation, you could plant Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) that grows like Jack's bean stalk. The Virginia creeper would cover the fence in no time. Depending on the length of the fence, you would want to space the vines about 10 to 12 feet apart. If the fence is inside his property line, then you can plant a hedgerow along the fence, but inside your property line. Woody plants, such as lilac, dogwood, Juneberry, viburnum and spirea, are good neighbor plantings that both of you would benefit from. All are hardy and should be available at your local garden center.

Q: I am an Ohio State fan (in spite of their poor showing against the Florida Gators!) and would like to plant an Ohio Buckeye tree. Someone told me that a horse chestnut is basically the same tree. Is that correct? I don't want to regret planting the wrong tree years down the road. (e-mail reference)

A: It is good of you to remain loyal to the Buckeyes! They will redeem themselves in future games, I'm sure. The difference between a horse chestnut and an Ohio Buckeye is about as big as the difference between a spider monkey and King Kong. The horse chestnut will grow to 60 to 80 feet with a spread half that or more. It is a huge tree that is intended for use in large parks or commercial sites. As an ornamental, the Ohio Buckeye is prized for its compound foliage, panicles of yellow flowers and the delightful combination of orange-red foliage and beige fruit in the fall. Buckeye is seed propagated, so there is considerable variation among individual trees. Fall color ranges from scarlet red to more subtle tones of orange and yellow. Although Ohio Buckeye typically has been propagated by seed, North Dakota State University recently has named a clonal cultivar of Buckeye known as Prairie Torch. This hardy selection has a dense, globose form with a mature height of 20 to 28 feet. The leaves turn a brilliant orange red in the fall. It was developed by NDSU's woody plant researcher, Dale Herman. Autumn Splendor, another superior cultivar of Ohio Buckeye, was developed by the University of Minnesota. It has many of the same superior characteristics of the Prairie Torch. One or both should be available in most garden centers this spring. However, a word of caution. The nuts are considered toxic and can cause paralysis, vomiting and more. Native Americans used the nut ground into powder to scatter on ponds to stun fish.

Q: I am looking for a mail order nursery that grows organically grown, hardy fruit trees for the upper Midwest. I believe you have mentioned it in the past in your column, but I cannot locate any mention of it in the copies I have kept. How good is your memory? Thanks! (e-mail reference)

A: My memory only is fair most of the time, but on this matter it is pretty good because I just received the nursery’s 2007 catalog! It is the St. Lawrence Nursery in Potsdam, N.Y. It has good stuff that is well-adapted to our region. It is a husband-and-wife organization that has a group of very talented and dedicated employees. The address is 325 State Highway 345, Potsdam, NY, 13676. You might be better off calling for a catalog to get faster service. The nursery can be reached at (315) 265-0778.

Q: I did leaf propagation from my existing gloxinia plant and it is growing well at the moment. It is approximately 15 centimeters tall, but it looks fragile. How do I get it to be as strong as my fully-grown gloxinia plant? (e-mail reference)

A: This relative of the African violet has undergone some changes recently. It used to be the standard fare to allow the plant to dry down after blooming for three months. The tuberous root was replanted in fresh potting soil. It then regrew and flowered again, much to the delight of the owner. These days, many of the gloxinias are hybrids that are bred to bloom quickly and profusely and then die down, but without a viable tuberous root that is capable of providing the vigorous blooms that were so attractive. Your particular plant may be one of the new hybrids, so it may be lacking enough vigor to push up any decent blooms. I don't know for sure because this is the first question that I’ve had involving leaf propagation of this plant species. My best advice is to be sure the plant is getting adequate light. The light should be direct, bright sunlight (but filtered) or better yet, light from an artificial source for 12 hours a day. Keep the soil evenly moist without getting the leaves wet and fertilize with a material that is high in phosphorus, such as 10-30-10 or something similar, but definitely not high in nitrogen (the first number).

Q: I live in Missouri, where we just had a bad ice storm and no electricity for a week. All my peace lilies leaves died. What can I do to save them? (e-mail reference)

A: Assuming you had the lilies indoors and the temperatures got close to freezing, I don't think there is anything that can be done. If the foliage has turned brown or blackened, you should cut it back and allow the crown to dry out. As spring comes on, set the containers in a well-lit or high-light area where indirect sunlight is available. Begin watering again and see if any new growth emerges during the next two to three weeks. If new growth does not take place, then the plants are dead and should be discarded.

Q: I live in Mayville. I'm interested in knowing about any bushes or trees that would be a good bet for growing nuts that humans would enjoy eating, such as filberts or hazelnuts. I'm just a novice at growing things. Any recommendations? (e-mail reference)

A: There are just two trees that I am aware of that would meet your needs. The two are black walnut trees, Juglans nigra and possibly Juglans cinerea. I don't know of any nut producing shrubs that would be hardy in your area.

Q: I have a red twig dogwood that has become overgrown. It is now about 12 feet tall and the limbs are bending over and in my way when I mow. My intentions are to trim it way back sometime in March. I am thinking of taking out the older stalks and cutting the rest back to around 3 feet. I am not concerned about how it will look at first. Will this severe pruning kill the plant? (Dent, Minn.)

A: Prune to your heart’s content. You could prune it back to the ground with all of the branches. It will surge with a flush of growth this spring that you can shape to your liking.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161, ron.smith@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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