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Ron Smith answers readers' questions about the world of plants and gardening.

Ronald C. Smith, Horticulturist
NDSU Extension Service

Q: I am having trouble locating a particular houseplant that
my mother kept when I was young. We called it "the pregnant
plant" because it reproduced by making a "baby plant" grow on
the end of the leaf. The baby plant would drop into the soil
(roots and all). I asked the folks back in Nebraska where I
grew up if they remembered the plant. They remembered, but
couldn't come up with the actual name of the plant. Could you
tell me the name of the plant? (Cresbard, S.D.)

A: No problem. I've been fascinated by this plant since the
first time I saw it! It is called Kalanchoe spp., K. pinnata,
K. daigre-montiana or K. tubiflora. Get one and enjoy!

Q: We have June-bearing and everbearing strawberries. They
started out fine this year, bearing large, tasty berries, but
now most of the berries look like buttons. I have had this
problem before. They have a knob in the center of the bottom
or are otherwise misshapen. I was told that this is caused by
lygus bugs, also known as the tarnished plant bug. If this is
the cause, what treatment should be used on them? (Britton,

A: Someone gave you a very good probability of the cause. It
is too late now to do anything. I would suggest that early
next spring you mow the foliage off the plants and collect the
clippings in the mower bag. Then, as the blossoms are forming,
spray with an insecticide approved for strawberries to control
lygus bugs. Be sure to do it in the early morning or evening
hours when the bees are not active.

Q: We have a mugo pine that has grown quite large. What is the
best technique and the best time of year to prune this
particular pine? I've enjoyed reading your column. (e-mail

A: You just missed the opportunity to prune them for this
year, unless you want to reduce their size by removing
selected spreading branches. If that is the case, then do it
now. In the spring, pines grow by what are called "candles."
To somewhat retain the tree's size, this growth can be pruned
before it hardens off. Some folks go after it with electric
shears, which builds a nice, tight, globe-shaped specimen.
Otherwise, selectively remove or prune back the candles by
hand, snipping to develop a plant with "character." Thank you
for the nice comments about the column!

Q: Could you help me find a place that sells wildflower mixes
and a native grass seed that only gets about four inches tall
and does not need mowing? (Carrington, N.D.)

A: I will give you two sources. The first is Prairie Nursery
at P.O. Box 306, Westfield, WI 53964. It can be reached by
phone at (800) 476-9453 or on the Web at The other source is Prairie
Restorations. Its address is P.O. Box 327, Princeton, MN
55371. Its phone number is (800) 837-5986. It also can be
reached on the Web at

Q: You often comment in your column about cyclamens and you
frequently advise readers to discard their plants once they
have bloomed because they are so difficult to maintain. I have
been extremely fortunate with my plants and want to share my
experience with you. Some years ago, the janitor in our
building fished a potted cyclamen out of the dumpster and gave
it to me. I nursed it back to health and it has flourished for
years. It frequently blooms throughout the year. I have
counted as many as 30 blooms at once, with as many buds still
to bloom. I was curious about how the plant could be
propagated. When the plant was in full bloom, I took a Q-tip
and swabbed the inside of all the blooms several times a day.
Many blooms set seed pods that produced about a tablespoon of
seeds. I planted the seeds and about 20 produced plants. I
potted three of the best looking plants and now these plants
are producing blooms. What is even more unusual is the fact
that the original plant was in a 5-inch pot and in time, the
bulb grew to cover the surface area of the pot. Last spring,
when my wife was repotting some of her houseplants, I asked
her to repot my cyclamen. Unfortunately, she misunderstood my
instructions. She took off some stems, potted them and
discarded the bulb. The stems, of course, died. However, late
in November while I was cleaning out the dead growth of a
large bed of lily of the valley on the east side of our
garage, lying on the surface was the original cyclamen bulb.
It had survived the summer, several killing frosts and
neglect. The bulb had several healthy leaves and stems. I
repotted the bulb and it is again blooming nicely. It now has
about 20 buds.

I keep the plants near a west-facing window. I keep my office
cool, barely over 60 degrees during the winter. I water from
the bottom and lightly fertilize once a month. (Grand Forks,

A: You have an amazing success story! You either have the
golden touch with plants or are very lucky. Have you tried the
lottery? Thanks for sharing an interesting story.

Q: I have several bags of cocoa bean mulch that I plan to use
on my flowerbeds. Since then, a friend told me it isn't good
for all plants and that it is poisonous for dogs. I don't have
a dog, but do have outdoor cats. I can't find any information
that says anything about cats. Do you know if it is bad for
cats and what plants it shouldn't be used for? (e-mail

A: It is lethal to dogs and cats. It smells like chocolate,
which really attracts dogs. They will ingest it and die. It is
the theobromine in chocolate mulch that makes it so attractive
to dogs. Theobromine acts as a stimulant, similar to caffeine.
Dogs will eat anything short of a discarded tire. Cats are
little more selective, but may use the mulch as a litter box.
It is a shame that cocoa bean mulch has this toxicity.

Q: I have had a lot of landscaping done by a local nursery.
The yellow carpet roses that were put in 10 days ago looked
beautiful, but now all the interior leaves are yellow with
black spots. The roses receive partial sun. What can I do?
(e-mail reference)

A: The local nursery should have known better than to plant
them in a partial sun location. Get them moved to a full sun
location and stop watering from overhead. Overhead watering
sets the stage for black spot fungus to move in and defoliate
the plant. In the meantime, spray the roses with a fungicide,
such as Funginex or a rose specific fungicide that will
control black spot.

Q: We have a dwarf Haroldson apple tree that has produced very
nice apples every other year. Last year it was loaded, so this
year we didn't think it would have any, but it is loaded
again. Is it OK to have apples two years in a row? If not,
what do we do? (e-mail reference)

A: Enjoy them. As long as the tree is healthy, don't worry
about it! Next year, if the production is scant, you will know
that this was the heavy year and the tree needs to recover.

Q: We recently planted a hawthorn tree. It was healthy when we
bought it, but now it has developed orange spots on many of
its leaves. What is this and what can we do? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: The orange spots are probably cedar-apple rust. There isn't
a lot you can do this year except clean up the fallen foliage.
Next spring, before new growth emerges, spray the tree with
lime-sulfur. During the pink bud stage, spray with something
containing zineb or ferbam. Spray again at petal drop with the
same material. Funginex or a Bordeaux mixture also will give
you some control.

Q: What causes newly planted spirea to wilt? The leaves seem
to be turning black from the tip down. Three of the four
plants I have are impacted. (e-mail reference)

A: The spirea could have been planted too deeply, kept too wet
so the soil is anaerobic or root rot existed and was
exacerbated by the watering recommendations following

Q: I have a huge anthill at the base of my lilac. Do you have
any suggestions as to what I might do to get rid of the ants,
but not harm the lilac? Will the ants harm the lilac? (e-mail

A: I've never known any North American ant species that would
hurt woody plants, so I think the lilac is safe. The ants may
have taken up residency there because of an infestation of
aphids on the lilac at one time or even now. Try Tempo or
Bayer Advanced Garden Multi-Insect Killer. These and other
products are available in national chain stores or at good
quality local garden center outlets.

Q: I read a question and answer on your Web site that sounded
like perennials were not as desirable as biennials in the
hollyhock family. Is this true and why? (e-mail reference)

A: Desirability is in the eyes of the beholder and where you
live. Hollyhocks mostly are classified as a biennial, but in
some cases are classified as a perennial. Frankly, the
classification is confusing, but I will attempt to clear it
up. The Malva alcea, known by the common name hollyhock
mallow, is classed as a perennial. We all associate the
indestructible plant with our grandparents or
great-grandparents' homes. They appear to tolerate just about
any environmental conditions outside of the Arctic Circle to
the Tropic of Cancer! The Althaea rosea is classed as simply a
hollyhock. While the Malva alcea flowers from June to
September, the Althaea rosea flowers from early July through
September. There is not a lot of difference, but the Althaea
rosea species is said to be able to will survive as a
perennial in mild climates. It also is high on the list of
desirable plants to eat by Japanese beetles. Apparently, the
dependability of this species to be a perennial is in question
because it self-seeds, which gives the gardener the impression
that it is a perennial, but is behaving like an annual. To add
to the confusion, in some instances the plants are biennial
because the seed will germinate in the spring, remain as a
vegetative rosette that summer and then bolt and flower the
following year.

Hence, the desirability of the Malva spp., which is classed as
perennial and the more desirable one because of its consistent
growth habits. Hope this helps clear up any confusion.

Q: Someone called my office and said his potatoes were
blooming like crazy, but was told to cut off the blooms. Does
that sound right to you? (e-mail reference)

A: You get the best tubers if you leave the blossoms.
Flowering does not take away from the quality of the tuber. In
fact, leaving the blossoms on actually contributes to quality,
according to Susan Thompson, our NDSU potato specialist.

Q: I have a lipstick plant that hasn't bloomed since I bought
it last spring. I have it in the south hallway of my house.
The hallway has floor to ceiling glass doors and windows. It
gets light, but not direct sunshine. Should I give it more
light? I water it when it gets dry. (e-mail reference)

A: These plants require a little patience to get them to
flower. They need bright light, but not direct sunlight. They
also need to be kept watered well during the spring and summer
months and watered sparingly in winter. Mist the foliage when
the air is dry or temperatures are very high. Repot the plant
every two to three years.


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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