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Ron Smith answers questions about plants, trees and gardens.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I noticed that a crepe myrtle tree was growing up through a holly bush in front of my house. The roots were tangled with the holly roots. When I tried to dig it up, I accidently broke the trunk near the roots. There only were a few tiny roots left to plant. The tree has been in the ground about a week and it is starting to shrivel. Is there anything I can do to help it root? (e-mail reference)

A: You have done all you can to establish the plant. All you can do is wait and see if it comes back next spring.

Q: I planted several trees this spring. Most are doing well, but three are not. Two are sugar maples that have very few leaves. The leaves are small and do not look healthy. The other tree is a northern red oak that leafed out, but the leaves have dried up and fallen off. There have been no leaves on it for the past few months. However, the tree is green and moist under the bark. Being the wonderful horticulturist that I am, I researched the proper way to plant a tree after the fact. I realized that I should have dug a much larger hole for the roots than I did. I am contemplating digging these trees up. Could this cause more harm than good for my trees? Something I should tell you is that I was late in getting the trees into the ground. I think the trees were planted the last part of May. I didn’t take the greatest care in keeping the roots moist. Could this be my problem? (e-mail reference)

A: Confessions are good for the soul. The trees definitely went into transplant shock. It doesn't take much to put them into a funk. If you cross the line, the grim reaper will make the harvest! Leave the trees that are doing well. For those trees that are not, but still showing life, give them another start because you have nothing to lose! If they don't make it, they were doomed anyway. If the trees start growing, you gave them a new lease on life.

Q: When is a good time to transplant crepe myrtle trees I found growing in my garden? I need to move the trees because they are not growing in a good location. How deep are the roots on small trees? (e-mail reference)

A: The depth of the roots and transplanting time should not be issues. I would suggest getting it done during the cooler part of your growing season to give the plants a chance to recover from transplant shock.

Q: My prize autumn blaze maple has been in my yard for about four years. It’s thrived and been a great tree. To my surprise and dismay, I woke up one morning about a week ago to find the bark on the trunk shredded. I thought a vehicle may have hit the tree or someone took a hatchet after it. As I got closer, I realized it was deer rubbing against the tree. My concern is the tree's survival. I quickly wrapped the wounded trunk. If there isn’t a solid, continuous piece of bark on the trunk, what are the odds of this tree surviving? I have since surrounded the tree trunk with a metal fence barrier. The leaves look erect and healthy, but they turned a dark red quite quickly this fall. Any hope for my maple? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: All you can do is wait to see if the tree releafs next spring. You have done all you can to try to save the tree and keep it from being damaged again. If it isn't completely girdled, there is a good chance the tree will survive.

Q: I brought Easter lilies home from church last spring and put them in a tub planter. There were four main bulbs and many smaller corms. They grew beautifully. What I want to do is keep the lilies so I can plant them in the yard next spring. How do I winterize the plants? It also looks like most of the smaller bulbs grew, but there are no buds. (Devils Lake, N.D.)

A: It has been my experience that Easter lilies are hardy in most of the state, so I would leave them where they are during the winter. If you are uncertain that they will make it, allow them to be nipped by a killing frost. Then bring the lilies indoors and put them in the crisper of your refrigerator until you are ready to move them outdoors.

Q: I’m having 29 trees planted. How should I care for them this winter? I’ve read that burlap bags may not be the best protection because mold may develop. One Web site recommends using multistrand netting. (Voorhees, N.J.)

A: In your climate (I used to live there), the humidity is quite high. Rather than wrapping them in burlap, I would construct a burlap or mesh screen to keep the winter wind and sun off the trees. Take the screen down next spring as the frost goes out. During the growing season, the trees will develop a “toughness" that should see them through the following winters. Don't overly pamper them with too much water and they should never need fertilizing.

Q: How low of a temperature will spider plants tolerate? I live in North Carolina and the nights are getting cooler. I don't want to lose this plant as I did another. I put it in my basement last year and it did OK, but sometimes I worry that my basement might even be too cold. How much should you water the plant during the winter? (e-mail reference)

A: I live in Fargo, but I still have our houseplants outdoors. We have had temperatures in the upper 30-degree range at night. We are planning to bring them indoors and repotting them, unless there is a frost in the forecast. We usually water the plants about once every two weeks during the winter. We have had some of our houseplants for more than 20 years.

Q: I found a small mountain ash growing more than 25 feet away from another mountain ash. Is this a true tree or just a sprout? Can we transplant the little tree? (e-mail reference)

A: Mountain ash is not known for sprouting from the root system, but nature is full of exceptions! This could be a seedling coming up from seed that has passed through the digestive system of a bird or some other wildlife. The best way to find out is to gently probe into the soil around the new tree to see if it has its own root system or coming off a lateral root from a nearby tree. My bet is that that the tree is establishing its own roots. If that is true, you should be able to transplant the tree. If the tree has lost its leaves, you can do it now. Water it well and transplanting the tree and protect it from nibbling rodents. As long as the soil temperature stays above 40 degrees, root activity continues and benefits the tree's establishment chances. If the tree is still in full foliage, then wait until the leaves turn yellow or drop off. You also can move it next spring after the frost is out of the ground.

Q: We have seven healthy poplar trees that form a nice privacy fence and give us shade for our yard. I believe they are hybrid poplar trees. The trees are 25 to 30 years old and about 65 feet tall. Our concern is the possible dangerous situation if one of the trees falls on the neighbor's house. We realize that removing the trees would solve the problem, but we really like the shade and privacy. Is it possible to cap them off at about 25 feet and still have a healthy and attractive tree? (Stanton, N.D.)

A: Topping trees actually creates more problems than if left alone. I would suggest getting someone who is a certified arborist to look at the trees. He or she can tell you if the trees pose a hazard to your neighbor. If done correctly, the branches that could pose a hazard can be removed.

Q: I have two large silver maples in my backyard. As expected, there are a many surface roots. I would like to cut back a few and cover the area with soil so that I can reseed my yard. Is that OK? (e-mail reference)

A: It depends on so many variables that I cannot give you an answer to hang your hat on. However, if you remove too many of the surface roots, you will be compromising the stability of the tree. That could cause a tree to fall over during a storm.

Q: I just returned to California with tulip bulbs I purchased in Holland. I'm hoping that the bulbs will produce flowers that equal the gorgeous pictures on the packets! However, I am a nervous and inexperienced gardener, so I need help. Should the bulbs be refrigerated? If so, for how long? Do you recommend planting them in the ground or in pots? My intention was to plant some in pots to give as gifts. The packages say "bulbs grown from cultivated stock" and "product of Holland." Can I expect them to flower after the first year? (e-mail reference)

A: Do you know if the bulbs were cold treated? Are you in an area of California that gets freezing weather? If you are uncertain, I would suggest placing the bulbs in the refrigerator for about 60 days just to be sure. I suspect they were not cold treated. If the bulbs don't get an annual cold treatment, they will not flower. These plants should be treated as annuals, so they should be dug up every year and refrigerated before replanting.

Q: I was given a goldfish plant in the spring. I have kept it on the deck underneath an awning. It has done very well. I live in Richmond, Virginia. Can it survive outdoors this winter? Should I bring it in? (e-mail reference)

A: If your winter temperature goes below 50 degrees, it will probably kill the plant. With what little I know of the Richmond climate, I would say you should keep it indoors during the winter months.

Q: I lost two aristocrat pear trees during hurricane Ike. The trees split, so I cut the rest down because they looked bad. I liked the trees, but I’m concerned about fire blight. Two of the trees had it when I bought them. I trimmed them down to next to nothing, but they seemed to do OK for about 15 years. If I grind the stumps, do I need to worry about fire blight possibly spreading to another ornamental pear tree if I plant one close to the area? (Cincinnati, Ohio)

A: Fire blight is a bacterial disease that spreads by wind, rain, insects, birds and humans. Some trees are more susceptible to the disease. The trees that show resistance have the ability to stop it from spreading. Some soft, sucker growth will be affected, but not the mainline or scaffold branching system. In planning your planting, it is best to give the tree enough room for air and sunlight to be able to penetrate the canopy of the trees. Planting in a crowded environment is a major contributor to the establishment of fire blight.

Q: For some reason, my fall mums that I planted last year grew to be enormous, so I need to transplant them. Do I need to wait until they stop blooming? I'm afraid that the ground will freeze before then. (West Fargo, N.D.)

A: One very nice thing about mums is that they are easy to transplant, especially at this time of year. A common practice is to grow them somewhere out of the way until they start flowering and then move them to a showier spot. Go ahead and get them moved before winter weather closes in on us!

Q: I was looking at some information on arborvitaes on the Web and came across your name. I purchased 17 green emerald arborvitaes to use as a privacy screen. I just realized there is an old tree stump in the same area. Will planting the arborvitaes near the stump be a problem? We are going to have the stump removed. However, with all the other remodeling right now, it is not our main priority! (e-mail reference)

A: Planting near old stumps should not create a problem for the arborvitaes. Be sure to give yourself enough room for the future removal of the stump. You didn't say how large a stump you have. I have never come across a stump that is easy to remove by either digging or using a stump grinder!

NDSU Agriculture Communication

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