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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: My neighbor never cleans up the apple mess around his trees in the fall, so we have what looks like little trees popping up everywhere in our lawn, flowerbeds and garden. I tried some Roundup, but now we have dead spots in the lawn. Is there anything else I can use to get rid of all the unwanted little trees? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: A simple broadleaf herbicide, such as Weed-B-Gon, will do the job without harming the grass.

Q: We have a newly seeded lawn. It is doing well, but has rust on the south side of the house. When we walk, we get rust on our shoes. Is this from too much watering or rain? Could it be from mowing when wet with dew? It is quite thick in places, so we thought maybe we did not wait long enough for all the dew to dry off. I would appreciate your thoughts on this problem. I read your column every week. (West Fargo, N.D.)

A: The rust that attacks turfgrass in our region is not lethal and usually is confined to immature turfgrass plants. Give the grass a year to become mature. After that, the grass shouldn’t be vulnerable to this problem. You are right in saying that mowing the turf while the dew still is on the foliage is not a good idea. It doesn't cause the rust fungus to appear, but it does spread around what is there. If you can bag the clippings when mowing, that will help remove the inoculum and encourage new, healthy growth to take place.

Q: I know most authorities recommend a north-facing window for indoor ferns. I'd like to move mine to the bathroom so it gets some humidity, but it has a southern exosure. The window is high and the fern would not receive any direct sunlight. Is that OK? (e-mail reference)

A: That location in the bathroom would be just fine for the fern. Go for it!

Q: I noticed my lawn was turning brown and assumed that it was drying up. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that it has developed rust on the blades. This lawn was newly hydroseeded back in May. For the most part, it has done OK. I am watering it about once a week and have cut my lawn four times since being seeded. Is there anything I can do for it at this time and will this rust kill my lawn? Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: Rust on turfgrass is not lethal and is common on immature lawn grass, so it will outgrow this malady. You can accelerate it by collecting the clippings as long as the spores are present. Next year, the rust should not show up as most cultivars of Kentucky blue grass are bred for rust resistance.

Q: I have visited with you about asparagus and our inability to grow it. Maybe you have that conversation a lot, but it makes me smile to know I am in such good company. This time my question is about grass. My front yard is torn up because we want to plant grass seed. However, as the heat continues, I am rethinking that idea. What would you recommend that I plant instead of lawn seed? We have a very good well and I am not afraid of trying new and different plants. A mixture of native plants and grasses would be ideal. Also, I don't care if it goes into winter not planted, so I am wide open to being a test case for you. (Dickinson, N.D.)

A: I would recommend going to the Prairie Nursery Web site at or give the company a call at (800) 476-9453. Making recommendations and trying to decide what someone will like are two different approaches. You have told me that you want something unconventional for a front yard. I have seen plenty of ideas used. Some I liked, others not. The folks at Prairie Nursery have plenty to choose from and are good advisers. You can have a meadow of wildflowers blooming at different times of the year along with some permanent prairie grasses. The choices are mindboggling. It should be your mind that gets boggled, not mine. My mind is in bad enough shape as it is!

Q: I have a small dahlia in a pot on the patio. Can I bring the plant into our sunroom with my houseplants to keep it alive through the winter? It has bloomed nicely during the summer. The plant is not very big. (Hastings, Minn.)

A: People have succeeded at more difficult tasks, so try it. You have nothing to lose. You might have to get a plant light to keep it growing as the days get shorter and darker.

Q: I hope you can help me. I inherited a jade plant that I was told is 50-plus years old. The plant now has root rot. From what I have read, there is nothing that I can do to save the plant. I am sure that I was watering it too often. Now that I have made this horrible mistake and probably lost the friend who gave it to me, I want to at least save some of its cuttings. How do I know if a branch is OK to use or if it has root rot? I have read that I should pot it after the branch is callused. I also have read that you can just lay it in potting soil. Is this information correct? What is the best way? (e-mail reference)

A: The cuttings will root either way, but the chance for the stem rotting is reduced somewhat if callusing is allowed to take place first. Select only firm, healthy stock for propagation purposes.

Q: Do you have any idea what would cause brown spots on my lawn? I questioned the chemical/fertilizer applicator about a spill or a having a leaky vehicle, but didn't get a confession. A camper was parked on the lawn earlier this summer, but hasn't been there for the past two weeks. Could sunburn be the problem? (e-mail reference)

A: Something happened, such as an air conditioner water discharge, ice water dumped from a tub holding beer or fumes from a burner of some kind. No disease fits this pattern. Check the crown to see if there is any evidence of green leaves attempting to emerge. If so, the lawn should recover. If not, get set for the weeds to move in.

Q: We purchased a crimson dwarf maple (don’t know the name) in late June of this year. The tree looks healthy, but there has been no growth to date. Is this normal for its first year? I didn't expect much growth, but to see nothing has me concerned. We followed the planting instructions very closely because we have heavy clay soil. We have been concerned with overwatering because of the poor drainage of our soil. Could this be a factor in our no-growth problem? We also have been told to stop watering early in the fall in order to encourage the tree to drop its leaves. Do we need to stop watering the maple earlier than we do for our other shrubs and junipers? (e-mail reference)

A: Remain calm. Maples typically will not go beyond their spring surge of growth. You are smart to be concerned about overwatering. Be sure you put a week between good soakings. At the end of this month, back off on the watering to encourage fall leaf drop processes to begin setting up. You should see some new growth next spring, which I'm sure will please you. Sorry, I can't come up with the name of your tree because there are too many cultivars of Norway maple to keep track of!

Q: My daughter and I would like to put in a vegetable garden in her yard next spring. The space on the side of her garage has an east, south and west exposure. To our knowledge, the space has never been gardened. Currently, weeds and grass occupy the space. I'm wondering where to start. I've been thinking we should till the space this fall. We wouldn’t remove the weeds or grass, but we would apply some fertilizer and then retill in the spring. Is this an appropriate approach or should we get rid of the grass and weeds this fall? We will be adding some soil in the spring as well because the area could use a lift. Your advice or recommendations would be appreciated. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: I would advise making it into a square-foot garden. A book on how to do that is available at good book stores in the area. This would give you a good opportunity to raise the area somewhat and import the soil you want from a local nursery. I would suggest killing everything off with Roundup this fall, no matter what type of garden you choose to develop. Fall turnover of the soil is a good idea because it gets the weed seed and any soil insects exposed to the winter elements. My wife and I have been using square-foot gardening practices for the last 24 years and have been rewarded with excellent vegetable and fruit production.

Q: We planted a white swamp oak a few years ago. It is growing rapidly and looks very healthy. When can we trim the lower limbs so we will be able to walk under it? (e-mail reference)

A: Fall going into winter is a good time to prune. You can remove (right back to the trunk) any branches that interfere with your being able to walk around or under the tree. Never leave any stubs when pruning. After the limb removal, practice minimal maintenance pruning.

Q: Thank you for the information on getting blackbirds out of my marigolds. I went on the Web and found a recipe for mace. I mixed up a concoction of Tabasco, baby oil and rubbing alcohol. I sprayed it on the new buds and found out the concoction works. I can’t believe how many flowers I have on my marigolds! Also, it doesn't seem like rain washes off the concoction. Thank you very much. I read your advice in The Forum every week. (e-mail reference)

A: Glad everything worked out OK. Thanks for being a loyal reader of the column!

Q: I read your column today and was interested in your answer to the woman who had four jade plants that her cats liked to chew on. I have a cat and a large jade plant, along with a number of other plants. My cat does not bother my plants because of two plants that I keep. One is cat grass that I plant for her. It can be found at most pet stores or in the pet departments of some larger stores. I also have planted some catnip. I keep the grass by the cat’s water dish and the catnip sits right next to my jade. It works great for me and the cat loves it. (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the tips! We have catnip that we grow in our garden and bring in for the cats as a treat from time to time. The cats go crazy over it! We dry it for winter treats as well, so it keeps our purring beasts happy!

Q: I live in western North Dakota near Bismarck. About five years ago, we planted a hedge of red twigged dogwood along the edge of our property. The soil is not good and there was no supplemental watering, so the result was a very uneven, sparse and unattractive hedge. We are considering ripping it out and replacing it with a common lilac hedge using the twigs available through the Soil Conservation Service. The lilacs on our property do seem hardier, but I am wondering if that is true in general or just a coincidence based on placement. Will we have any better luck with common lilac? (e-mail reference)

A: Your success with lilacs appears to be better, but the red twigged dogwoods usually are easy and successful transplants as well. It could have been a timing problem that led to the poor establishment of the dogwoods. It is hard to say. If the lilacs don't get established this time to your satisfaction, I don't know what else to suggest.

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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