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Ron Smith answers questions about plants, trees and gardens.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: Last fall, I planted 20 tulip bulbs. In the last month, we have had several long power outages and now are considering getting a generator. The electrician came last week and guess where he wants to place the generator? Of course, right on top of my tulip bed. If I dig up these bulbs, can they be transplanted immediately or how long do I wait? I live in central Illinois. (e-mail reference)

A: Carefully dig them up and get them transplanted as soon as possible. Be careful not to damage any roots or stems that have started to emerge. Give the plants a good watering to settle the soil around them to prevent dehydration. They should flower normally for you this spring.

Q: I bought a jade plant 15 to 20 years ago. Since I live in the San Francisco Bay area, I potted the plant and left it outside. Through the years, all I have done is water it. If a leaf or branch falls off, I throw it on top of some dirt in a pot and have new plants before long. I still have the mother plant and so many jade plants that I keep giving them away. At this time, I have three large plants on my porch and many scattered throughout my yard. All the plants are in pots. I have very seldom protected them from frost. Only a few times when it got into the 20s did they get frostbite. After that happens, I break off the part that was frozen. All of my plants bloom several times a year. If I keep them in the shade or partial sun, they become lush and green. If I keep them in full sun, the leaves are tinged with red. I usually water once or twice a week in the summer and don't water in the winter unless we go for a long period with no rain. I think most people baby their plants too much. I do not have a green thumb. If I can grow jade plants, anyone can. (e-mail reference)

A: What you describe is exactly the reason why jade plants are so popular. In almost every success story I have heard, people treat them about the same way you described. You lack a green thumb? No problem, living in the San Francisco Bay area corrects for that many times over. The challenge comes when one lives in a place such as North Dakota or Minnesota where the temperature hovers around zero or lower most of the winter. This forces the central heating system to run almost continuously. This dries the interior air to less than 10 percent. Along with that, we have little sunshine, but most people are loath to purchase a plant light, so problems begin to pop up. I've seen some beautiful jade plants (trees!) in Southern California and Arizona, as well as a few in courthouses and malls up here in the tundra land where the care is nothing special. Thanks for writing about your experiences with this beautiful plant! Enjoy your life in one of America's most beautiful climates!

Q: I bought a plant that supposedly is a Snow White. I was told to water it once a week. However, its leaves started turning brown after two weeks. I went online to find out what was wrong with it. It turns out the plant is not a Snow White. From what I found on the Web, the plant looks like it is a spider plant. I took the online advice and started watering it with purified water once a week. It seemed to work for a while, but then it stopped working. The leaves turn brown at the tips and every week I lose about three leaves. Help! Is it even a spider plant? The plant has never produced babies. (e-mail reference)

A: This is a spider plant or the best imitator of one I've ever seen. It looks like you are watering it in an enclosed planter. That leads to salts accumulating in the soil, as is shown by the white crusting on the soil surface. Repot the plant in a free-draining container and water it sparingly during the winter months. When you do water the plant, do it so the water comes out of the bottom of the container and into a saucer. Dump the water in the saucer within 20 minutes or so after watering. Don't water the plant again until the soil is dry. Provide as much natural or artificial light as possible. Eventually, the plant should produce new shoots that you can propagate.

Q: We have three beautiful oak trees near our back deck. On Sunday, a woodpecker decided to try to chop them down. How can I stop this? What can I do to save the trees because a couple of the holes are 3 to 4 inches deep? Any help or suggestions would be appreciated. By the way, this is on Big Cormorant Lake near Detroit Lakes, Minn. (e-mail reference)

A: Try applying some Tanglefoot around the area where the woodpecker has been active. Wear gloves you can throw away and old clothes as well because it is messy stuff to work with. I guarantee the woodpecker doesn't like it, either. Once he experiences the sticky stuff on his feet, he'll move on. The damage done to date on the tree is not critical. The wound should heal naturally, but I’m assuming the tree is otherwise healthy.

Q: I bought a spider plant last autumn that was a few inches high and had two spiderettes. During my college winter break, I took it with me to my parents’ home. It was repotted and given a much nicer climate. The plant apparently liked it because it was growing very rapidly. However, it lost a little vibrancy when I brought it back to college with me, but it was healthy. Unfortunately, last night I left the plant outside. The temperature dropped to 19 degrees. Now my poor spider plant is limp and the leaves have gone waxy, but not brown. I moved it to the bathroom, where I have a fluorescent warming light. I shaded the plant and left it to dry. Is there anything else I can do beside hope? (Lubbock, Texas)

A: Unfortunately, there is little chance of your spider plant making it after an overnight exposure to 19 degrees. However, not all hope should be abandoned. If the exposure to the subfreezing was for a short time, the plant tissue in the crown may not have been completely killed. Keep the lights on it 12 hours a day. Do not water or fertilize during this time, except when the soil is completely dry. If the plant is going to recover, it should start showing some life in six to eight weeks. If nothing is showing by then, the plant is dead. Sorry!

Q: Could a dwarf venous orange tree planted in a container produce more than just a few oranges? Also, is it easy to take care of such a plant and would it do well in a south-facing window during the winter months? I live in southern North DakotA: (e-mail reference)

A: Is it worth the trouble? That depends on what you consider the hassle breaking point. For some, it is neat to work at getting a citrus to survive and produce a couple of oranges indoors. For others, it isn't worth their time and effort. It should grow as a tree in a south-facing window. Give the tree normal houseplant care. As to producing fruit, that is something I cannot say will happen for sure. Even without the fruit, a citrus tree makes an attractive houseplant.

Q: I’m wondering what the best way is to get rid of or prevent a problem we had last year. I’m not sure if we had a vole or whatever, but some small creature took bites out of lots of our potatoes. The creature never ate a whole potato. I think it even bothered our zucchini and some of the tomatoes that were near the ground. How do we stop this problem? Also, how do you prevent blight on tomatoes? We do rotate them in the garden, but last year seemed especially bad. (Lennox, S.D.)

A: This could be the work of slugs or grubs. It depends on whether there is any other physical evidence to the contrary, such as droppings or footprints in the soil. Definitely rotate your crops, but not from potatoes to tomatoes or peppers. Plant a different species of vegetable entirely, such as beans or peas. Look for tomato varieties that are listed as being resistant to the various maladies that normally afflict this crop. Another suggestion is to stake your tomato plants to get the fruits off the ground. You also could do this with squash. For potatoes, I would encourage you to relocate them. If you are convinced that the problem is vole activity, set up some traps or place a physical barrier around the plants.

Q: We bought a live Norway spruce for Christmas with the hope of keeping it alive to plant after the holidays. We did not realize how heavy it would be, so we built a wood box to keep the dirt and roots in, plus keep the tree standing up. We did not take off the metal wire wrapping because we thought we would be planting it outside very soon. However, we soon learned that we needed to keep it in the house until spring. We moved it into our entry, where we have very high ceilings and the temperature was not that bad. At first, we thought we killed it because it was dropping needles. However, because it was so dense, we did not see some broken branches. Now we have more needles dropping off and the bottom branches are turning a very greenish yellow. It seems like the bottom branches are starting to die. We have been giving it about two wine bottles of water every other day. Twice a month, I give the tree 1 tablespoon of Miracle-Gro mixed with a gallon of water. The house temperature is 60 degrees at night and 66 to 68 degrees during the day. Is my tree dying? Am I giving it enough water or too much? What can I do to keep it alive? (Goshen, N.Y.)

A: You were given some incorrect advice. The tree should have been placed outdoors right after the holidays. Keeping a plant indoors that requires a cold treatment to survive will end up dying. If you can, attempt to move it outdoors now. You have nothing to lose because the tree will die where you have it now. Assuming the tree survives until spring thaw or the frost is out of the ground, plant it and hope for the best! More than 33 years ago, I planted a Norway spruce for my parents after they used the tree for holiday purposes. The tree (actually three of them for three consecutive years) is big and gorgeous!

Q: I purchased some (various kinds) daisies that I want to plant and use as background flowers for my wedding. I read in one of your answers that I’d be better off to buy the daisies for a wedding. Since I just want to plant them outside among the trees in our backyard for photos, would this still be OK? What would I have to do to have daises growing by May 30? Do I have to start growing them indoors because I live in Michigan? Could I plant the daisies in April and keep that area covered at night to protect them from frost? (e-mail reference)

A: You should be able to purchase daisies from a local garden center or nursery before that time and have them in the ground and mostly flowering by May 30. Normally, most daisies will flower in mid to late June or July. It depends on their microclimate. In most cases, garden centers and nurseries know that plant material sells better if the plants are in flower rather than in a vegetative state with the promise of flowering in the near future. Consequently, they push them a little to get them to flower. Don't fret. Survey the garden centers and nurseries in your area and I'm sure you'll find some that are stocking up on these beautiful flowers. Good luck and enjoy your wedding!

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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