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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I had many day lilies after I dug them up last spring, so I gave them away as gifts to family and neighbors. The five I kept were planted in pots. They bloomed beautifully all summer on our patio. Now I am wondering how to keep them through the winter. Will it work if I place them together in a sheltered spot and put bags full of leaves around them? Will the clay pots break because of frost? Should I plant them in the garden and repot them in the spring? I loved the look they gave to our patio, so I really want to keep them. (southeastern, North Dakota)

A: You are better off getting the day lilies into the soil this fall. If you keep the plants in pots, you could end up with cracked pots and dead plants. It is nice that you are willing to share these plants with your family and neighbors.

Q: I have a hydrangea in my yard. For two years, it had beautiful, big, full blooms. I moved it about 150 yards from its original spot four years ago. It has not bloomed since then. It has beautiful foliage, but no blooms. Can you tell me why this is and how to correct it? (e-mail reference)

A: I have a short list of why a plant doesn't bloom. It might not get enough sunlight, is planted too deeply, gets excessive fertilizer (especially nitrogen) or is improperly pruned (least likely in your instance). Not knowing where you live and the kind of hydrangea you are talking about, this is the best I can come up with.

Q: I have a dieffenbachia maculta. One of the leaves fell off, so I wrapped it in moss. Will it root? Also, I separated the dieffenbachia and some of the roots fell off. I planted them, but I am not sure a new plant will grow. (e-mail reference)

A: The answer to both questions is no. They can be propagated through stem cuttings, but not through the leaves or roots.

Q: I keep getting bright, yellow mushroom/fungi growing in my houseplants. They crop up in new and old soil. Do you know what these are? Are they harmful? Is there a way to get rid of them or should I just leave them alone? Also, I am going to try to attach a picture of a plant that was given to me four years ago. I haven't been able to find out what kind of plant it is, so I don't know how to care for it (although it seems to be doing pretty well without any special attention). I think I should repot it, but I might need an engine hoist at this point to do that. The thing I would most like to know about is the flower that it puts out every three to six months. It is a rather phallic looking thing that has a leaflike hood that opens to reveal something inside that looks a little like a corncob. It lasts a few weeks, then falls over and dies. Is there something I should or can do with this growth? Is it something that I could plant or something I should trim? (e-mail reference)

A: The visible mushroom growth you are seeing is just a harmless saprophytic fungus that is digesting the organic matter in the soil. Try looking for pasteurized or sterilized potting soil in the future. The mushrooms are not harming the plant at all and can be picked off and thrown away. The plant in the photo is a Monstera deliciosa. It also is known as a Swiss cheese plant. This spadix is a reproductive structure more for ornamentation than propagation. They are propagated by stem or tip cuttings. There probably is some way of propagating it sexually, but I don't know how it would be done.

Q: Last year, we had three emerald arborvitae planted at three corners of our deck. They did fine and survived their first Michigan winter. This spring, they started producing loads of seeds that have weighed down the branches. What do you suggest that I do? I did not prune the tree in the spring or early summer because there were so many seeds that pruning the plants would have removed a large percentage of the foliage. Of course, now the seeds have ripened and so there are large clumps of brown seeds all over the trees. (e-mail reference)

A: Your trees are in trouble with that heavy a load of seed. I'm willing to bet a couple of things are going on. They may have been planted too deeply. There may be landscape fabric or black plastic under the soil or they may have been overwatered. Judging from the photo you sent, I suggest starting over and correcting for one or all of the above “sins of commission” that commonly hit these trees.

Q: I have a mature peony hedge that is in stress. I first noticed that some leaves had curled up. Then I heard the rustling of dead leaves and discovered the spindly new growth inside the plant was sickly. Also, parts of the new growth were dry and brittle. This happened about two weeks after a neighbor aggressively sprayed some sort of herbicide on a chokecherry grove less than 20 feet away. I am wondering if this is herbicide drift. Can anything be done to reverse the damage? If not herbicide drift, what can it be? I never have had any problems with these peony bushes. They are more than 10 years old. Help! (e-mail reference)

A: This does sound like herbicide damage. As long as it was not directly sprayed on the plant, it should come out of it and grow normally next year. Peonies that old are hard to kill!

Q: I have a hanging pot of impatiens that were doing great. However, now the plant is full of buds, but they fall off before they bloom. I don't know what to do. I have been watering them with a bloom booster flower food. This does not seem to be helping. (e-mail reference)

A: What you are describing is called blossom blast. Most often, it comes about from a fungus known as Botrytis. It is caused by water splash from an overhead irrigation system or rain splash. Generally, once the symptoms that you describe happen, there is not much one can do except to dig out the infected plants. Preventative fungicide applications can be made in the future before the problem shows up.

Q: My October glory maple tree is beginning to turn a beautiful red. Is it too soon for it to be doing that? I thought it would happen in late October or early November. I see other trees beginning to turn also. Does that mean a colder winter? We also have an autumn blaze, but it isn't turning color. (e-mail reference)

A: Differences could be due to minor factors, such as planting depth, drainage problems or droughty or compacted soil. All of the trees in your photo appear to be doing OK where they are, so I don't think you have anything to worry about. Sort of keep track of the time and weather conditions leading up to the fall season in future years to find out if you can get any kind of correlation between the leaves turning color and the weather conditions.

Q: We have two box elder trees in the backyard. During the past few years, they seem to be losing their leaves prematurely. There is nothing noticeably wrong with the trees and they seem very healthy for being partially shaded by many large ash trees. Is there any reason why they would start to turn so early? Is this typical behavior? August has been relatively dry the past few years. I was thinking that this might be a potential reason for the early turn. (Columbus, Ohio)

A: Dry August weather can cause the early defoliation of any tree. It is part of a tree's defensive mechanism to stay alive. If there is no water, it will drop the parts of the plant that are using the most, which are the leaves. Since these are established trees and otherwise healthy, they should not suffer, except for a slowdown in growth during drought times.

Q: We found out that roots went through our sewer line. Is it possible that our lilac bush could have done this? (e-mail reference)

A: It is possible, but not likely, unless the bush is very old and right over the sewer line. More likely culprits would be mature deciduous trees, such as elms, oaks, poplars and willows.

Q: I had two cottonwood trees growing under my porch. Both have maneuvered their way up through the steps to get some sunlight. I transplanted them and then found out this is not a good time to do that because they both drooped and looked awful. They have lost most of their leaves, but their trunks still have some green, so I'm thinking they are still alive. What do I do now? I put a sheet over them during the day when the sun is hot. I also am watering them a lot, but trying not to water them too much. (e-mail reference)

A: They probably will survive. Keep the soil moist and don't do anything else. As long as the cambium remains green, there is every chance that they will come back next spring.

Q: I removed several bushes that left an area of approximately 500 square feet. It is ready for seed right now. However, I thought I should wait and see how many weed seeds germinate from now until the first frost. Is it better to seed now and get the new grass started while the ground is warm or should I wait? In the past, I have done the latter. October seeding works OK, if I can keep the deer out of the seeds. Thanks for your advice in advance. (Carrington N.D.)

A: Both systems work. Late fall or dormant seeding typically is done by contractors who cannot get to their sites any sooner or because a typical spring is too wet and unpredictable. Actually, with the soil being warm and the nights cooling down to the dew point, now is the ideal time of year for seeding lawns. Any weed seed that is going to germinate for you will get it done for the most part within a two-week period. Any weeds that germinate after you seed the area probably will be killed off by the autumn frosts, but the grass seedlings will remain untouched. When the weather warms up next spring, the grass seedlings will take off and be very competitive with any remaining weeds. Go for it!

Q: When is the best time to divide dahlias after summer growth? (e-mail reference)

A: Dig them up after the tops have been killed back by a frost. Dust the tubers with floured sulfur and store them in a cool, dry location in the basement. Divide them next spring prior to planting. Be sure there is at least one eye (bud) with each tuber planted.

Q: I won’t be able to water my indoor plants for a period of four months. Would a makeshift greenhouse (plastic bag) work to keep them healthy? I have many plants. (e-mail reference)

A: It would help, but I doubt that it would provide any protection beyond 30 days, if even that long. You'd be better off hiring someone to look after them while you are away.

Q: We have several dried apricot pits from this summer. We want to plant them to give as gifts at a family reunion next summer. Can you tell us the best procedure for this type of planting? (e-mail reference)

A: I am assuming that the seeds still are in the stony endocarp and that they have been stored under typical household conditions this past summer. The best thing to do is to stratify the pits in a damp, cool environment, such as the crisper of your refrigerator, for at least 90 days. They then be removed and potted. Also, you can sow the seed right now into prepared beds (you didn't tell me where you live). With the coming cooler weather and eventual winter, the seed will go through the same basic treatment. Germination would take place the following spring. At that time, you could dig them up and plant in pots. If you are insecure about digging and potting them, plant the seed now in containers and plunge them into the soil for stratification treatment. When they germinate next spring, you will not be disturbing the roots. Just dig up the containers and your gift is ready!

Q: I have two old Canada red cherry trees. They do not appear to have the black knot fungus, but the bark around the base of the tree is splitting. The bark on one tree is splitting so badly that the tree is exposed. Could this be from overwatering? The sprinkler system is hitting this tree directly. Both these of trees are spectacular and I would hate to see them die. (Bozeman, Mont.)

A: Lawn sprinklers directly hitting tree trunks eventually will lead to problems. This could be one of them. The nozzle or nozzles that are affecting the trees can be retooled or replaced so water won’t hit the tree. I suggest getting that done at your earliest convenience. I also suggest a close examination of the affected area. If the bark is loose, cut it back to where the bark is attached to the trunk. This will facilitate healing and cut down on the possibility of disease organisms getting a foothold in that area. However, get the sprinkler heads reworked before doctoring the tree.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

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