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Ron Smith answers questions about plants, trees and gardens.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q.We have large flocks of wild turkeys that come to our yard through the woods. We feed them corn in copious amounts. In the last few months, the turkeys have been eating the lower branch needles off our lovely spruce trees. We transplanted these trees about 10 years ago. The lower half to two-thirds of some trees are now stripped! Will the needles regrow or is all growth from the top? (Ontario, Canada)

A.Some thanks for your kindness by the turkeys! If they have done the stripping job I think they do, which includes the buds for new growth, the trees will be bare to the turkeys’ uppermost feeding point. If you have any trees that have not been stripped, get something to protect the trees, such as fencing, some kind of repellent or a sign in “turkey speak” telling them their corn rations will be reduced if they touch your spruce trees again! Sorry to hear about the damage. I had no idea that turkeys feed on spruce needles.

Q.I planted 12 emerald greens several years ago. During this time, at least five have been replaced. I think I have narrowed it down to an uphill neighbor who aggressively waters during the summer months. While reading your columns, I have heard several people refer to fertilizing with Miracle-Gro. However, I haven't found the actual directions you provided. I have 12 of these shrubs that make up two privacy screens. My parents were impressed enough to go out and plant eight of their own. I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of your fertilizing advice so that I can utilize it myself and pass on the information to them. (Kansas City, Kan.)

A.Actually, the Miracle-Gro (or a similar product on the market) directions are on the label. You purchase the kit, which includes the applicator that attaches to the hose end and the water-soluble product. You then apply it. This should be done as new growth starts to show. This gives it a kind of boost for the season and keeps it looking good. In spite of what the directions might say about a reapplication during the season, ignore it! Keep in mind that the companies want to sell product. While it will not hurt the evergreens if the directions are properly followed, the additional applications are not needed, so save your money. It is during the initial year or two during plant establishment that the plants may benefit from fertilization.

Q.I have white and red poinsettia plants. I want to plant them in the ground. Would they survive in our warm climate? If so, where would I plant them? We already have many plants on the north side of our house, so I would like to plant something on the south side if you think they will survive. How often do they bloom? Will they bloom throughout the year? (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

A.Poinsettias will survive and grow into beautiful bushes in your semitropical climate. If you ever should get anything approaching a frost in your area, just throw a sheet over them to keep the branches from being nipped. Poinsettias are a day-length-sensitive plant, so they will flower under shorter hours of daylight. The plant requires about 13 hours of continuous darkness to set the buds. Street lights can keep that from happening, so when you want them to flower around the Christmas season, cover them around 6 p.m. with a light cover and leave them that way until around 7 a.m. Continue with this procedure until you see the bracts starting to color up. After that, you can stop with the nightly covering. Having said all of this, they may just do it on their own cycle, but it depends on the location of the surrounding lights. As for getting them to flower all year long, that is out of the question. It simply won't happen. Poinsettia cuttings also root relatively easily, so if you want to create a hedge of poinsettias, you will have ample propagation stock to work with after each pruning.

Q.I live in Maui at about 3,500 feet. I would like to try a couple of acres of blueberries and maybe thornless raspberries. Temperatures where I’m at in Hawaii stay around 75 degrees during the day and 50 to 60 degrees at night. During the winter, we often get down to 40 degrees at night for a short time, but it can go down to 30 degrees. I will have the soil tested by the university. It is lava soil, so I am betting it is acidic. My land was a waddle forest and the chips are about 3 years old, so weeds grow fine! I have access to some land higher up at about 4,200 to 4,500 feet. It would be considerably colder and wetter there. Could I grow blueberries on that land? Can you suggest some programs that will help me get started financially on a farm? I am a 65-year-old woman. (e-mail reference)

A.Thanks for your inquiry. You're never too old to start a new venture that you're interested in! I would suggest that you contact the University of Hawaii Extension Service. Go to and make an inquiry to one of the horticulturists on staff. I know Hawaii is very particular about what it wants to grow in its state because life often is too good for the wrong species, so they become invasive pests.

Q.In August 2008, I cut live brush on my farmstead near Leonard. The brush pile includes lilac, box elder, green ash, maple and others. I am planning to chip this material during the winter and then use it as mulch for new garden plantings/trees in the spring. Are there any compatibility issues regarding freshly chipped mulch that I should consider for this project? Does standing dead brush make better mulch than live brush? (Fargo, N.D.)

A.Generally, dead brush does make better mulch. You can use the new chips as mulch, but you need to be aware of the potential tie-up of nitrogen if applied too heavily. This can be corrected by applying a high-nitrogen fertilizer, which normally would not be a concern with the already dead plant material.

Q.We have a large backyard we want to close up by growing American arborvitae. How fast growing are these trees? (e-mail reference)

A.American arborvitae is considered moderate to fast growing. It depends on the location (north, south, east or west), microclimate they are in, amount of water available and soil conditions.

Q.I enjoy your column and have used your Web site to get answers to my questions. We saw a Korean fir in a Spring Hill catalogue, but are wondering if it is hardy enough to grow in the Crookston area. (e-mail reference)

A.As beautiful as it is, Korean fir likely will not survive in your part of Minnesota. The dependable hardiness range is zone 5, which is well outside of your area. Set your sights and heart on something else or move to somewhere warmer!

Q.I have a praying hands plant that was thriving and getting much too big for its pot. Not being much of a green thumb, I assumed the best thing to do before transplanting was to allow the plant to dry out a little. Sadly, I may have allowed the plant to dry out too much because the leaves are rolled up and limp since I transplanted it. I gave the plant a good watering and allowed the water to drain out of the pot, but the plant is still the same. This was a special plant and I am upset that I may have killed it. Do you think there is any hope of reviving it? If so, what should I do? (e-mail reference)

A.Based on what you have told me, it sounds like the plant reached a permanent wilting point, which is a point of no return. Sorry!

Q.I have a question about my tulips (queen of the night) and daffodils (pippit). I planted my bulbs in early November and I guess they are doing just fine. However, now I need to move to another city that is eight hours away. May I take them with me? I don't want to leave them behind. (e-mail reference)

A.It wasn't until I noted your e-mail address (United Kingdom) that I realized that you were not writing from a place that is under a lot of snow this winter. In your case, I would recommend trying it. Carefully dig down and remove them, but keep as much of the soil around the roots and bulbs as possible. Get the plants gently set into the new site as quickly as possible. They should make it!

Q.I have a wild plum of some sort that I dug up from a suckling about two years ago. It’s been in a large clay pot the whole time. This year it’s covered in blooms. Our winters usually are mild (Atlanta), but we’ve been getting down into the teens and 20s recently. My goal is to plant it in the ground this spring. In the meantime, I pulled it into my daylight basement to protect it from the extreme cold. Would the temperatures I mentioned freeze the buds? If so, is there a way of manually self-pollinating the tree while still in my basement? I know it’s a bizarre question, but I’d hate to wait another year for it to bear fruit. (e-mail reference)

A.Some self-fertility may exist. Take a small artist's paintbrush and try dusting the pollen from one flower to another or simply shake the branches a little when the pollen is ripe and easily loosened. Don't expect much in the way of fruit set, as even those that are self-fertile will do better with cross-pollination.

Q.Someone in my office building left three poinsettias outside for several days in 20-degree weather. When I realized that the plants were being left for dead, I took one. How can I bring this plant back to life? I was going to trim it, but it is only the beginning of January, so I thought it might be too soon. Any help you could give me would be great! (e-mail reference)

A.If the plants were left outside for several days with the temperatures anywhere near 20 degrees, I assure you they are dead. Being dead means nothing can be done about it, so the plants will make a nice contribution to the compost pile. Sorry! When they are purchased from florists during the holiday season, it is advised to have them double bagged and the car warmed before moving them from the store to the car because it takes just a few seconds of exposure to subfreezing weather to do them in.

Q.I bought some tulips that came in clear, plastic pots so you can watch the flowers grow from the root up. There is no soil in the pots, just the bulbs. The pots have a clear plastic dish with holes in it that allow the roots to grow under it and the stems to sprout into flowers. I bought the flowers while they were midway through their growth, so I don't know how they were started from the bulb. How do I get them to start over again inside the plastic pots now that the flowers have reached their peak? I want to see the process over again from scratch. Also, if you are forcing the bulbs (I do not want to plant them outside), can they bloom multiple times in a year or is it once a year? I want to watch these beautiful flowers bloom indoors again in the same plastic pots with no soil. Do they have to start in soil and then be transplanted after the roots start growing? Can I put the bulbs in the refrigerator without soil or peat moss? (e-mail reference)

A.The grower very cleverly allowed the bulbs to go through a cooling period sufficient to get them to bloom. A tulip bulb has all the nutrients within it to flower, but just once. After flowering, the energy is spent and the foliage whithers. If this is done outdoors, the foliage deteriorates slowly. During the process, the plant carries on photosynthesis that restores the energy needed to get the plant to rebloom the following spring, assuming the required cold period is met. If you visit the southern part of the U.S. where winter temperatures get down to the mid-40s, they don't have enough of a sufficient cold period for the reblooming to take place. Also, the sun gets the temperatures too hot too fast for the plants to make more carbs for reblooming. In a nutshell, you'd be better off just dumping what you have, and this fall purchase more bulbs that have been cold treated or place them in the refrigerator vegetable crisper for six to eight weeks. When new growth is observed at the tip, move them to the plastic holder you describe.

To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail

NDSU Agriculture Communication

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