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Ron Smith answers questions about plants, trees and gardens.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: My neighbor would like to know why he had mushrooms in his lawn this year. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: There are several reasons, such as high water levels in the soil, lots of organic matter in the soil or heavy thatch. There also could be some old, decaying lumber or tree stumps that were covered by soil after construction. The mushrooms are nothing to worry about unless there are toddlers present who might pop them in their mouth. Mushrooms give a golfer an opportunity to work on his or her swing without the ball flying away and hitting something it shouldn't.

Q: I have some nice strawberry plants that I've grown in containers. How can I store the plants so I can replant them next spring? The containers are an old cattle watering tank and half of a whiskey barrel, so they are too heavy to drag inside. I thought I'd dig the plants up, cut off the foliage and store them in our garage. The garage is heated, but the temperature is set at 35 degrees. (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: Generally, what you are asking is a bad idea. Mulch the strawberry plants with plenty of straw and encourage snow cover. Once the straw is in place, cover it with Remay (frost blanket) to hold the straw from blowing away during the winter. I assume you have planted hardy strawberries that are adapted to Sioux Falls. If you did, the plants should come through the winter months with the basic protection that I suggested.

Q: I would like to know if it is too late to transplant rhubarb and bleeding hearts. Should we mulch everything that has been transplanted? (West Fargo, N.D.)

A: With all the moisture in the soil and the fact that they are completely dormant from the light frosts, I would say go ahead and get it done as soon as possible. Yes, mulch everything after the soil freezes.

Q: I have two hosta plants that were in containers all spring, summer and into fall. Before the first frost, I brought them inside and put them in our basement. The leaves have started to turn yellow and brown. I am afraid they will die. They were healthy outside. Do you know what is wrong with them? How should I proceed with their care? (e-mail reference)

A: Assuming you live somewhere in the upper Midwest, take the plants outside and plunge them (pots and all) into the soil. Hosta plants are temperate-zone plants, so they have to go through the seasonal cycles. They will die if you keep them at their current location.

Q: I have an apple tree (honeycrisp) that produces many apples. The problem this year is that the inside of the apple is brownish. We’ve had to discard 50 percent or more of the apples. What is wrong and what do I do to prevent this from happening again? (e-mail reference)

A: Your problem could be railroad worm, which is the larval stage of the apple maggot fly. You have two approaches you can use to control the problem. Clean up and dispose of all fallen plant and fruit litter this fall. Get a sticky apple, which is a false apple that can be purchased at most garden store outlets. The female will be attracted to the sticky apple in an attempt to lay her eggs, but will die after being stuck on the apple. You can spray the apple tree as soon as the blossoms begin to drop. Do the spraying while the bees are not active, which is early in the morning or late afternoon before sunset. Repeat the process in about 10 days. Use Sevin insecticide for the spray material.

Q: I moved to a new home and put a jade plant in a sunny spot next to a south-facing window. Almost all of its leaves dropped off. Why did this happen? Could I have prevented it? (e-mail reference)

A: The problem could be plant shock due to movement, cold (depending on where you live), water temperature or light intensity. I would leave the plant where it is as long as there is some foliage left to see if it releafs for you. Usually, houseplants will go through this transitional adjustment and then stabilize in the current environment. Hang in there for about six weeks, but don’t overwater or fertilize, to see if some new foliage starts to emerge.

Q: I visited your Web site and found a lot of information about birch trees. We have a 5-year-old paper birch in our backyard that my husband backed into and caused at least a 2-inch cut to the trunk. Is there anything we can do to save the tree at this time of year? (Brookings, S.D.)

A: The best thing to do is get a pocketknife and cut the loosened bark back to where it is attached to the trunk. The healing process will begin next spring. The tree should be OK if it was healthy before this incident. Don't cover it or apply any tree wound dressing. Trees have a better method of handling a minor crisis like this than we can provide.

Q: I just planted some emerald green arborvitaes. The roots were very root bound in the small containers they came in. I broke apart some of the roots and even had to cut the roots to separate them on a few. Did I do more damage than good by doing this to the roots? (e-mail reference)

A: No and don't lose sleep over this. If the trees were planted and watered properly and the roots not allowed to dry out, they should be OK. Next spring, you should witness a good, healthy surge of new growth. Don't overwater or fertilize.

Q: If possible, can you direct me to information on how to start a red maple from the seeds that fall off the tree? I'd like to give it a shot to see if I can start one on my own. (e-mail reference)

A: Pick them up and plant them this fall where you want them to grow. You should get some results from that simple effort. Take the other seeds and stratify them in damp sphagnum moss for 60 days. Plant the seeds after that. Since I don't know where you live, I would suggest that you store the seeds in a cool, dark location until you are about 60 days from planting outdoors in the spring.

Q: A tree service trimmed my large linden away from my house. However, the tree service cut back half the tree. Almost all the limbs on half the tree from the roofline and below were cut back to the trunk. It looks ridiculous. I used to look out onto a beautiful linden, but now I see a tree trunk and my neighbor's deck. The arborist is claiming it will fill in next spring. Is that correct? Will it sprout new growth on the bare half? (Evanston, Ill.)

A: It all depends on how much you believe in miracles. Generally, they don't fill in, at least the lindens I have seen. All I can tell you is wait to see what happens next spring. If there is no new growth, get in touch with the tree service to have someone come out and see the result of the pruning job.

Q: I live in upstate New York and have five black walnut trees. This year, we had a ton of walnuts. Is it possible to take the nuts, plant them in some potting soil and let them grow inside for the winter? If so, how often should I water the nut? How long will it take before I see the nut sprout? I would love to grow a couple of seedlings to plant in the yard. (e-mail reference)

A: Take the nuts and plant them somewhere outside this fall. The soil has not frozen yet, so you should be able to get them planted. Plant the nuts 4 to 6 inches deep and put a stake right by where you have them planted so that you can locate them next spring. These nuts need to go through a cold stratification for 60 to 90 days before they will sprout. There is no better place for that to take place than in Mother Earth! Just be sure you select the heaviest nuts and those without a pinhole in them.

Q: My parents have a long hedge of blue arrow junipers (derived from skyrocket junipers). The west-facing side of the trees is green and healthy. The east-facing side of the trees is grey/brown and dead. Why? I should note that the west-facing side has a nursery. Could he have sprayed his crops with something and it hit the one side of the hedge and not the other? He also waters with a huge spray irrigation system that might hit that side of the root system. We've had a horticulturalist look at the junipers, but he is stumped. Can we prune away the dead material and see what happens? Can you take out the leader on top in hopes that the healthy green will fill out and compensate for the cut-out dead branches? Isn't this the strangest thing you've heard of? What kind of craziness is going on with these junipers? Please help! (e-mail reference)

A: As far as crazy or strange things go, you wouldn't believe what I have seen or heard in my lifetime. This doesn't even come close! If the water is affecting the side of the junipers that appears to be dead, then doing anything other than stopping it will not take care of the problem. As for spraying a pesticide, it is unlikely that it would affect only one side of the planting. I assume these plants get sunlight on both sides. If you can trim them back to where the stem tissue shows green under the bark, then there is a chance they might recover next spring with a fresh flush of growth. You also can (I suggest this as the first option) send a sample to the land-grant university in your state. All land-grant universities have plant diagnostic labs.

Q: I have a dieffenbachia I put outside in the sun because it looked like it needed it. When I took it inside, it had yellow and brown places on it. I waited to see if it was going to go away, but it spread. I cut the spots off, but they came back and spread again! What should I do? (e-mail reference)

A: Sounds like a bad case of sunburn. It probably will recover if you have enough patience. Don't do anything drastic such as overwatering or trying to push it with fertilizer.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

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