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Ron Smith answers questions about plants, trees and gardens.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have a beautiful rosebush here in the mountains of Arkansas. I would like more bushes from its cuttings. Can I do it from healthy cuttings off the original bush? How should I do this? Please tell me if it can be done. (e-mail reference)

A: Roses easily are propagated from cuttings. Once the bush has gone dormant and dropped all of its leaves or sometime between this and before it leafs out next spring, take cuttings from healthy canes. The cuttings should be 6 to 8 inches long. Dip the cut ends in a rooting hormone and place the cuttings in a mixture of sphagnum peat and sand. You need to keep it moist, but not soggy. Place the cuttings under grow lights for at least 12 hours a day. In six to eight weeks, you should have roots beginning to form. The cut end will form callus tissue from which roots eventually will form. When they get to 3 to 4 inches in length, you then can lift the cuttings from the rooting media carefully and plant them in containers or outside if the weather is conducive to doing so. You can get more propagation details from my publication at

Q: May I address the question asked last week about a jade plant losing leaves? Jades easily are sunburned. Jades will be OK if you gradually move them into more direct sunlight, but an abrupt move causes them to drop all their leaves. The leaves will come back, but they will look awful for a while. I put mine outside on my pergola in the summer, but I make sure they are in the shady parts at first. Mine usually are in a western- or southern-facing window when in the house. I also put lights on them for use as a Christmas tree. I have a jade that is more than 25 years old and it just loves the lights. It has even bloomed twice. After Christmas, I was taking decorations off and the white-flowered decor would not come off because it was attached! I have two offspring of this old plant that are doing fine even though they were blasted by a hailstorm last June. The leaves were pitiful and I didn't know what to do, so I did nothing. It seemed like in no time at all I had new leaves. Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing. (Alexander, N.D.)

A: You bet it makes sense! I try to preach patience to people on what they expect from their houseplants. I hope it sinks in. Sometimes carrying on as usual or doing nothing will give one the results one is looking for. Thanks for your letter!

Q: I received two potted crotons as a housewarming gift. I would like to know if I can plant them outside or if I need to keep them in pots so I can bring them in during the winter. Any advice you can give me would be appreciated because the crotons are beautiful and have great sentimental value. (Shreveport, La.)

A: They should be OK in your part of the country 98.5 percent of the time! The 1.5 percent of the time that you would be concerned with is if a frost or freeze happens. You should cover them with a sheet or something else for protection. In checking the weather data for your location, it appears the temperature in January never gets to freezing and has a mean reading of 46 degrees. If the temperature gets that low, it would be a good idea to cover the plants for the night or day. While these are warm-weather plants, they also are the toughest I have ever come across. All of this said, I would hate for you to follow this advice and then have them get wiped out by a winter blast! How about a compromise? Keep them in pots, but plunge them into the ground. Bring them in on those questionable days when the temperature is going to dip into the 40s. Check around your community to see if anyone else has had success planting them into their landscape.

Q: Thanks for the information on hollyhocks. One question I could not find an answer to was how large the first year’s growth should be. I planted seeds in late July to prevent the plants from trying to flower. As of November, in eastern Massachusetts, the plants are less than 3 inches tall and have very few leaves. The plants get full sun and are not crowded. I tried the hollyhocks after a visit to Saint Gaudens National Park in New Hampshire. They were very tall (12 feet) and putting out a wonderful show. However, it was a national park and the entire garden area was amazing. (e-mail reference)

A: If you planted the biennial or perennial form of hollyhock, then they are the size they should be. Annuals will be killed off by the winter temperatures. From what you tell me, it sounds like you might have the biennial form, which means they will bolt and grow, but only to the size genetically bred for the species. Unless identical to the ones you saw at Saint Gaudens, I doubt they will grow as tall. It sounds like the park personnel have a special species of hollyhock that is exclusive to them. I have never seen hollyhocks that tall.

Q: I live in Canada and have very large spruce trees on the edges of my lot. I love them, but my neighbor cut down two of the largest trees on his side of the fence, so now I am exposed to traffic on that side. There are four small spruce trees on that side. I am considering fertilizing the trees so they grow fast. Is this a reasonable plan or will I have to wait 20 years? Would I be better off planting a couple of 10- to 12-foot trees? (e-mail reference)

A: That sounds like a very thoughtless action by your neighbor! Actually, spruce trees are not easily pushed by forced fertilization. You are liable to create more problems than you would solve. You are better off purchasing some larger trees.

Q: I have a miniature orange tree that I have had since 1987. It has lived most of its life here in Vermont. I put it outside in the summer and it grows like crazy. Before the frost hits, I bring it inside where it begins to wither and lose most of its leaves. This year, the leaves are curling up almost as if they are dehydrated. I keep it fully hydrated and I have a humidifier on it. I am at a loss on what to do. The house it kept at 66 to 70 degrees. It is next to a window, but only gets late afternoon sun. I am open to any ideas to keep this tree as healthy in the winter as it is in the summer. (e-mail reference)

A: You are the expert in this instance. Twenty-one successful years of growing this tree makes you so. It is something I have never done. All I can suggest is to use the old thumbnail and see if there is any green cambial tissue under the bark on any of the stems. If so, then there is a very good chance the tree will recover. If there is no green coloration, then the tree probably is history. From what you have told me, it sounds like the tree might have been nipped by low temperatures. This doesn't usually kill the tree outright, but it does cause the symptoms you describe. This wouldn't be the frostbite that we see on annuals that are caught outside late in the season. Also, it could be from what might have been cold, but not freezing, wind that is causing this dehydrated appearance. I suggest being patient. Get a plant light on the tree. Do not overwater because doing so will encourage root rot. Wait to see what happens during the next six to eight weeks. I'm willing to bet that some new growth will happen, but I’m assuming that the cambium is still alive.

Q: In 1972, a neighbor gave me a ficus tree that was about 8 feet tall. From what I've found, it’s likely the weeping fig variety. I have no clue as to how old it was at that time, but I would suspect at least 25 years because of the history he told me about. This makes the tree at least 60 years old. What is the life expectancy of a ficus tree? The tree hasn't grown much since I got it back in 1972. It's about 10 feet tall and has bushed out to about 8 feet across. It lives inside and receives very little care. I give it a little water, plant food twice a year and an occasional shower in the summer with the hose to get the dust off the leaves. We don't prune it. Is this about as large as it will get or has something stunted it? (e-mail reference)

A: Under the right conditions, a ficus tree has no preprogrammed mortality line. A ficus can live 10 years or more than 100. It usually isn't old age that kills the tree. It usually is a disease, the environment or insects that do them in. The reason yours is staying pretty much the same size is the limitation placed on the root system in the container. Having said this, I don't mean to imply that you should go ahead and repot it. Obviously, the indifferent care you have given it through the years suits it just fine. Getting righteous and giving it what it should have may kill the plant. My guess is that the roots have encircled the inside of the container many times (assuming you have not repotted it any time recently), so you are getting slow growth. This is a type of bonsai growing, except that you are not keeping it tabletop size, but living room size. My best advice is to keep on doing what you have been, which has obviously resulted in the successful perpetuation of this plant. In nature, these trees can exceed 50 feet and are tolerant of abuse from man-made and natural environments.

Q: We just moved a blue spruce today. The tree mover said there was not a problem moving a tree at this time of year. Today was in the 50s, but this coming week we could have highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s. I live in Iowa. After reading other Web sites, I'm confused about watering. It says to water the tree once a week or just keep it moist. If the ground freezes, should I stop watering? The tree stands alone and could be subjected to wind damage. Should I stake it? (e-mail reference)

A: No problem moving the tree at this time of year as long as the soil isn't frozen. Give it a good soaking and let it go at that. It might be a good idea to stake it for the one growing season so the roots can become established somewhat, but remove the stakes before this time next year. Enjoy!

Q: I received a Christmas cactus plant last spring. It has a northeastern window exposure. Two weeks ago, the plant grew a large bud that developed into a beautiful flower. I watered it during that time, but let the water drain out of the pot. I noticed several more red buds at the end of the leaves, but they have disappeared and the ends of the leaves now look like they have scabs. What did I do or not do? (e-mail reference)

A: My best guess is that you might have overwatered it, gave it water that was too cold or both. It could be the buds were hit by a draft of hot, dry air from a forced-air furnace. During the winter months, the plant does best if kept on the barely dry side and in a cool environment. It should get ample natural or artificial light. Reflect on what you did and where it is located. Doing that usually kicks the light on in the head as to what went wrong.

Q: I have (or had) a beautiful, twisted hoya plant. It bloomed all summer long. In the fall, it fell twice. The second time it fell, the pot cracked. I had it replanted by a florist because I was afraid of doing it myself. Since then, its leaves have been coming off and now branches are drying up! There are still a few branches left that seem to be OK for now. What do I do? Can it be saved? (e-mail reference)

A: Assuming your plant is in the same location that it was during its flowering period, I think the plant will recover with normal care, Do not overwater or overfertilize it. These plants do not like being transplanted any more than necessary. Being dropped twice didn't do the plant much good. I suggest having patience for the next six to eight weeks to see if the plant starts to show new life somewhere by releafing. If not, then I suggest getting rid of it and starting over. Sorry1

NDSU Agriculture Communication

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