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Ron Smith answers questions about plants, trees and gardens.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: We have two spiral junipers by the steps into the house. I don’t like them because they have grown very tall (7 feet) and block the view of our front door. The trees are healthy, so I would like to move them to the backyard. Is it possible to replant them? Is it very difficult? The landscaping person said he would replant them for $100. I am not sure it’s worth spending that much money. (e-mail reference)

A: If you can get some landscaper who knows what he or she is doing to transplant two 7-foot spiral junipers for $100, you have a bargain. In fact, it would be a bargain to have them completely removed for that price! Unless you like to do that sort of work, getting all scratched up by the needlelike foliage and sweaty, plus the possibility of getting a hernia lifting the heavy root balls, you have a very good price. Done right and with the proper care after replanting, the trees should survive.

Q: I've enjoyed reading your houseplant Web pages very much and have learned a lot! However, my question is a little different from anything I’ve seen on the site. I purchased a Christmas cactus from a grocery store. I know I've read that you're supposed to transplant plants from the pots they were purchased in after a few days, but this Christmas cactus is blooming like crazy, so it doesn’t seem like a good idea to repot while this is occurring. Can I keep it in its cruddy plastic container until it’s done blooming or do I repot now? I also read that African violet soil is good for Christmas cactus. Is this correct? (e-mail reference)

A: You are correct. Repotting while the plant is in bloom will guarantee an instant flower drop. Allow the plant to do its thing and then repot using African violet soil.

Q: This is my first winter with a hibiscus plant here in Ohio. I brought the plant into our enclosed back porch for the winter so it can get plenty of sunlight, but be in a warm environment. However, my dad smokes on the porch regularly, but there is no ventilation. I'm wondering if that amount of cigarette smoke is harmful to my hibiscus. It has been on the porch for about six weeks. It is producing blooms, but they are very small. I'm not sure if this is due to the smoke or from it being wintertime. (e-mail reference)

A: Fortunately, most houseplants are somewhat tolerant of cigarette smoke and other aerial pollutants unless he sits there and blows the smoke directly on the plant for hours at a time! The undersized flowers at this time of year are normal due to the reduced sunlight the plant receives. Given normal circumstances, the plant should perk back up again when summer finally rolls around.

Q: We have a row of old arborvitaes bordering the street here in downtown Hood River, Ore. I have no idea how long they have been there, but ground ivy around the bases is choking them. The bushes are thin in the middle sections, but the tops look lush. We keep trimming them down to preserve our view, but the sides seem to lose needles and new growth is not evident. Can you tell us what to do? Should we fertilize, water the plants more or sing to them? (e-mail reference)

A: Follow your suggestions and keep your fingers crossed! Unfortunately, arborvitaes seldom rethicken at this stage, so your frustration will not abate. Can you consider removing the bushes and replanting? The results would be striking and the purchase price of taller arborvitaes is not out of reach for most homeowners. Make yourself happier with a new planting. Life is too short to mess with something that isn't going to give satisfactory results in the end.

Q: I moved to Florida, but know very little about the plants that grow here. I purchased (about two months ago) a blue hibiscus plant that came as a small stalk with a few leaves growing on it. I potted the plant and then watered and fertilized it before moving it outside. It gets sun until about 1 p.m. The hibiscus never grew new growth and now all the leaves turned yellow and dropped off. Should I winterize it and cut back on the watering? Should I bring it indoors? If I bring it indoors, should I keep it in a sunny window? We occasionally get temperatures down to or close to freezing. (e-mail reference)

A: I urge you to make contact with someone locally who would be better able to assist you than I can. Go to to find the Florida Extension Service office where you live. The Extension office should have a horticulturist or be able to put you in touch with one who could assist you.

Q: I saw your Hortiscope Web site and noticed that you were from NDSU. I attend NDSU. I was wondering if you could help me with my jade plant. I live in Dinan Hall with a south-facing window. For the first part of the semester, I had my jade on the windowsill. It was getting indirect light and light from the window. It seemed to be sad, but was doing fine. When it got cold outside, I felt the soil and noticed that it was cold, so I moved the plant down to my desk, where it gets very little natural light. We try to keep our dorm room warm. I think it’s around 75 degrees. However, the problem is that the jade is sprouting roots out of the stems and the leaves look wilted. It has brownish tan spots that look like someone scraped the green off. The stems are semisquishy, brown at the bottom, but green on top. Also, the leaves are thin and some have a reddish color underneath. Please tell me if this is normal or not. What can I do? I love my jade very much. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Some of what you describe is normal, while some is not. The roots coming from the stem is normal, but the squishy stems and brown spots on the leaves are not. I suggest that you get a plant light with a timer on it as soon as possible. Plant lights are not expensive. Keep the light on the plant for 13 to 14 hours a day. This should pull your plant out of its funk. If not, there is little to no hope for it. Most houseplants die or decline because they get too much water or too little light.

Q: My spider plant has brown streaks on some of the bigger leaves. However, the plant is in good health. I wonder what it could be. (e-mail reference)

A: The plant is getting too much water or not enough light. Take your pick. I've concluded that spider plants are characters with a personality. They will survive and even thrive in their own way. Many times spider plants do not survive the way we would like them to, but they somehow hang on and keep going like the Energizer Bunny. My suggestion is to concentrate on the season at hand and enjoy it because the spider plant will be OK. I promise!

Q: We purchased some common lilac trees and mailed them to our son who lives in the southwestern corner of Missouri. He has had very little success with them so far. They have had quite a lot of rain in the last two years. Is there another variety of lilac that would grow better at that location? (e-mail reference)

A: I have no way of knowing what the problem could be. I would suggest that you contact a nursery that is close to where your son lives to find out if it handles common lilacs or any that would thrive in his area. There should be many selections to choose from. You then could send him a gift certificate to get the lilacs from this local source. Too often, plants that are sent through the mail are undersized, have a limited root system or are improperly handled to the point that the plants never have a chance to become properly established. As you may guess, the selection just would not do well in that particular part of the country if they were from a nursery too far north of where your son lives.

Q: Where do I find a Christmas cactus that has thinner leaves? Does the width of the leaves vary with the age of the plant or do they vary in size because of the plant variety? (e-mail reference)

A: Forest cactus types are distinguished by the shapes of their leaves. What is referred to as the Christmas cactus, zygocactus (Schlumbergera truncata), has flattened, leaflike segments and bear pointed projections. The Easter cactus, Rhisalidopsis gaertneri and the smaller R. rosea, are shallow scalloped and not pointed. You cannot go wrong with either variety because both will blow you away when they are in full bloom.

Q: I inherited a schefflera plant from a co-worker who retired about 13 years ago. It has grown well through the years. I am getting ready to retire in a year and would like to take cuttings from the major stalks to start a plant for each of my co-workers (10 women). I do not have a green thumb, so I am not quite sure how to do it. Can I cut the stalks into certain lengths and start them in water until they root? When do I plant the roots in pots? (e-mail reference)

A: Here is a better idea. Go to for the “Home Propagation Techniques" publication I developed some years ago because of all the propagation questions I was getting. You can download it free in its entirety or just the sections you want. I would suggest giving a copy of the publication to your co-workers or at least giving them the site to download it themselves.

Q: I have an autumn blaze maple that I planted a year ago. It recently was damaged when a lawn mower bumped it and broke it off at ground level. Will it come back or should I replace it? (e-mail reference)

A: You need to replace it. If any growth emerged this spring, it would be very weak. Also, if the new growth came from beneath the graft, it would be an entirely different maple tree.

Q: My beautiful Christmas cactus has bloomed in different months for more than 20 years. However, this is the first December it is blooming. The plant has more buds than it ever has. I’d love to put it in my living room to it show it off, but I’m afraid to move it from the sunny and warm spot it has been located in for the past five years! Will it get temperamental and lose its blooms if I try to move it to another room? (e-mail reference)

A: You can move it unless the move requires you to walk outdoors. While Christmas cactus plants are fussy about location, they are not that fussy. My advice is to get it to a location where its beauty can be appreciated during the Christmas season. Just continue to give it the care you have in the past. However, be aware that any cold drafts will cause the flowers to drop.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: 5 Tips to Evaluate Health Information in a High-tech World  (2019-05-16)  Reliability and trustworthy information is important when making health decisions.  FULL STORY
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