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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 have an angel-wing begonia plant that I started from a
cutting about 3 1/2 years ago. I've started several other
plants from this plant and put them together in a large pot.
They never have flowered. It is located in a very "happy
place" on my kitchen island under a skylight. The plant grows
like crazy! I water it every other day with at least 1 to 1
1/2 cups of water. I've heard that the flowers are very
pretty, but have never seen them. Should I let it dry out
between watering? I tried an experiment by breaking off a
leaf, rooting it in a glass of water and put it in its own
small pot. It has sustained its own little life without
sprouting any other leaves or canes. Have you ever heard of
this? Will it be an eternal leaf? (e-mail reference)

A: Yes, it will be an eternal leaf. If you take the leaf or
another one and lay it across the media, while making small
slices across some veins, new plantlets eventually will grow
and the original leaf deteriorate. I am surprised that this
has not happened at the base of the leaf you have stuck in the
water. You are overwatering. You must have good drainage or
you would have rotted everything a long time ago. Allow the
soil media to dry before rewatering. This should slightly
stress the plant enough to bring it into flower.

Q: We have a cotoneaster hedge 4 to 4 1/2 feet tall that we
are thinking of cutting back to 3 feet. Is there a better time
of year to make such a drastic trim? The top of the hedge
tends to dry and turn yellow/brown. Does it need more/less
water or fertilizer? What suggestions do you have to keep it
healthy? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: Don't prune it down to just 3 feet. Cut it down to the
ground early next spring while it is still dormant. As to the
tips turning brown, I think it may be something else, such as
pear slugs (not really slugs and have nothing to do with
pears) that may be causing the problems. Heavy pruning next
spring will give you a better-looking hedge.

Q: I have a question about transplanting Norway pine
seedlings. My daughter and husband bought a home on a former
tree farm. They have many seedlings, so we would like to
transplant some of them. What is the best way to transplant
the seedlings? Also, how do you start pine trees from pine
cones? (e-mail reference)

A: Push a straight-edge spade into the ground, pull
horizontally on the handle to open a hole, drop the seedling
in and pull the spade out. The soil should flop down on top of
the roots of the seedling. Gently step on the soil plug to
make firm contact with the roots. I did it for two years for a
Christmas tree grower in New York state. Put paper bags over
the cones before they open up to collect the seeds. After the
seeds are collected in the bags, plant the seeds in the fall
for possible (and probable) germination the following spring.

Q: I put in a Kentucky blue turf lawn two years ago. The soil
is heavy clay. I am going to aerate it, but have received
several points of view on how it should be done. One person
mentioned aerating, raking up the plugs and doing nothing
else. Another said to aerate, leave the plugs and then
overseed. Does it hurt to leave the plugs? If I do the
overseeding, can I put a light layer of sand down using a
broadcast spreader? (e-mail reference)

A: You can do three things with the plugs. Let them stay where
they fall. Their presence won't hurt anything and they
eventually will disintegrate. You can rake them up and dispose
of them. You can run a power rake (dethatcher) over them,
which will pulverize most of the plugs. The pulverized plugs
will act as a top-dressing for your lawn. This last step is
the best option for your grass. Mow the grass short before
aerating. If it has been some time since a rainfall event,
water the lawn 24 hours before aerating. Aerate the lawn and
select one of the options above. Overseed and fertilize with a
winterizer fertilizer. After that, stand back and enjoy
watching the turf system respond. Do not top-dress with sand.
Sand and clay do not mix well, unless you want concrete.

Q: What can I do to my gladiola bulbs after I dig them up to
kill the thrips that have invaded my garden? Is there
something I can treat the bulbs with that will kill the
insects and their eggs without hurting the bulbs? I am afraid
there will be further damage during winter storage if I don't
fix the problem. (Valley City, N.D.)

A: Dust the bulbs with sulfur powder. Place the bulbs in a
paper bag with the sulfur and shake well to get it into the
openings. Store the bulbs in the bag. If the thrips survive,
move out!

Q: Someone wanted to know what to do with their tomatillos.
She wasn't even sure she was spelling the word correctly. The
plants have pods and are shaped like a Chinese lantern and the
inside is a sticky green. I've never heard of tomatillos and
couldn't find any information on the Internet. (Foster County,

A: Tomatillos can be used for making salsa. Go to for all the
information you would ever want on this tasty, useful fruit.

Q: I planted three linden trees in the latter part of June.
Right after planting, the leaves started browning and almost
all the leaves fell off. The limbs seem to be alive and
pliable. I will appreciate any help you can give me.
(Portland, N.D.)

A: I suggest that you check the planting depth because many
trees are planted too deeply. The crown should be even with
the surrounding soil surface, not below it. If this is the
case, pull the soil back to the crown. The fact that the stems
are still green and flexible is a good sign that they may
releaf next spring.

Q: I have tried to change the color of our white hydrangea
from white to purple/blue using aluminum sulfate, but have had
no luck. Please advise me on how much aluminum sulfate to use
and the application procedure. (Detroit Lakes, Minn.)

A: It is not going to work, so give up trying. The hydrangea
species it works on, the bigleaf hydrangea, is not hardy to
our area.

Q: A woman called about curled leaves on her tree. After she
looked closer, she saw shiny cobwebs covering the whole tree.
What should she spray on the tree? Can the tree be saved? Can
mums be put out now or should she wait until spring?
(Wahpeton, N.D.)

A: Tell her to clean up all fallen leaves this autumn. Spray
the tree with dormant oil next spring, before the leaves come
out. That should take care of any overwintering cocoons or
pupae that remain on the tree. She also should be vigilant
about monitoring the tree during the summer. If there is any
evidence of the webworm returning, she should spray
immediately with Orthene. About the mums, many folks grow them
in an inconspicuous part of their garden or property and then
move them to a more visible area as the summer annuals begin

Q: Is it possible to dig up small dogwood saplings and store
them over the winter? If so, how would we do it so that we
could replant them in the spring? Thanks for your help. We
enjoy your column every week in the paper! (e-mail reference)

A: If you want to dig up the dogwood seedlings this fall,
rather than early next spring, then wait until they have been
hit by a couple of frosts. Thanks for being a loyal reader of
the column!

Q: When do you stop watering fall-planted shrubs? The customer
planted an assortment, including mountain ash, hydrangea,
spirea and lilac. (e-mail reference)

A: With newly planted trees and shrubs, it is a good idea to
continue watering until just before freeze-up. The root-zone
soil should go into winter with some moisture, but not soggy.
After the first good frost, back off on the frequency and
duration of watering. After that, monitor the shrubs until
freeze-up, with occasional watering during extended dry

Q: I never miss reading Hortiscope. I have noted many
questions about trees in strawberry beds. I have used Poast on
trees in an asparagus and rhubarb bed that is 60 years old.
Poast, plus crop oil, does a good job on brome and
pigeongrass. (Miller, S.D.)

A: Thank you for the information! Everyone will appreciate
your sharing of this information.

Q: You appear to be an expert on blue spruce. My sixth-grade
students want to know why blue spruce trees blow over in big
winds. (e-mail reference)

A: Two things make them vulnerable to high wind. The huge
surface area they present to the wind's force acts as a sail
that catches it almost perfectly. High-wind events usually are
accompanied by heavy rains, which soften the soil and allow
the trees to be more prone to toppling. Keep in mind that the
rain adds weight to the already top-heavy part of the tree,
which contributes to toppling susceptibility. Good question
and thanks for asking.

Q: I planted three wine and roses wiegela bushes around my
pond. My concern is that they will grow too large. Can you
tell me how tall and how big around they normally get? I'm not
sure I have them planted in the right place to allow for
growth. (e-mail reference)

A: They get to 4 or 5 feet tall and about as wide. They easily
are kept in bounds with selective pruning. Wiegela are nice,
compact plants.

Q: The cucumbers that I liked the most this year only had
"cucumbers" listed on the nursery stake. I want to have some
again next year. How do I dry and store the seeds for sowing
next year? I do have a food dehydrator. (e-mail reference)

A: Using a dehydrator is not recommended. Allow the seeds to
dry by spreading the seeds on blotting paper or paper towels.
Keep the seeds away from humid locations, such as a bathroom
or kitchen, and make sure the room has good air circulation.
When the seeds are completely dry, put them in a paper
envelope, and seal it to keep the seeds cool and dry.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

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

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