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Ron Smith answers questions about plants, trees and gardens.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: From roots, I planted a Santa Rosa plum tree given to me by a Japanese family. The first year, it had leaves and flowers while living in a pot. The following year, I planted it outside, but it did not produce leaves or flowers. The Japanese family said I have to graft it. I understood I didn't need to do that. (e-mail reference)

A: If I understand you correctly, you were given a sucker from the root of a Santa Rosa plum tree. If so, what you are seeing growing and producing leaves and flowers is from the rootstock and not the scion (bud) wood. If this is the case, then the Japanese family is correct. You need to get a bud or branch and graft it to the tree. This is not easily achieved because it takes years of practice to become good at this.

Q: A windstorm blew over our old arborvitae. Before I knew it, it had been cut up and most of it taken away. I wonder if it is possible to take cuttings from the small branches that were left on the ground. It was a very sentimental tree. (e-mail reference)

A: You have nothing to lose by trying, so go for it!

Q: We live west of Grand Forks. We have alkaline soil and a rather high water table (near the English Coulee). We'd like to plant a few autumn blaze maple trees, but we're worried that they might not hold up in this type of soil. (Grand Forks, N.D.)

A: They might be a challenge to grow, but I suggest checking with Steve Sagaser, Grand Forks County Extension Service horticulturist. He would be in a better position to know how they hold up in your region. He is getting a copy of this e-mail, so he should be getting in touch with you shortly.

Q: When I was a child, my grandmother grew red and black raspberries that did very well at producing fruit. Can you help me find a good plant to grow in North Dakota? (Minot, N.D.)

A: We can grow some very good-tasting raspberries in North Dakota! Go to for the publication on selecting and growing raspberries. Enjoy!

Q: I want to plant a 100-foot tree row to be used as a privacy screen. I want the trees to grow as quickly as possible and last all year. After some research on the Internet, it looks like arborvitae trees may work for me. I was wondering if you could help me select a variety. My local nursery was not interested in arborvitae trees for our area because of winter burn. After reading some of the information on your Web site, it looks like they are useable for this climate. I also read that you recommend using a product such as Wilt-Pruf to aid in winter hardiness. Would it be necessary to cover them in the winter with plastic or burlap? (Rapid City, S.D.)

A: Arborvitae should grow in Rapid City! Look for emerald, nigra, techny or wintergreen to give you hardiness and a decent spread at maturity. Forget about using the Wilt-Pruf. Research has spoofed the effectiveness of this product for winter burn protection. In fact, it is now advised not to use this product or others similar to it on arborvitae. The biggest reason for winter burn seems to be from an insufficient hardening-off prior to winter's arrival. Don't overwater or fertilize after Aug. 1. In fact, they should not need fertilizer unless they are growing in almost pure sand. Another problem is Chinook winds in late February or March while the ground is still frozen. Chinook winds have elevated temperatures that can draw the moisture out of the foliage. With the soil still frozen, the plants are unable to replace the lost moisture. To protect against winter burn, erect a burlap screen on the side of the plant that is exposed to the wind and direct sunlight. This usually is needed during the first two to three years after the plants are installed. From that point on, they usually are tough enough to tolerate what Mother Nature can throw at them.

Q: I've got a spiderplant that I want to make sure survives my move from North Carolina to California. It was my dad's, but he has passed away. I will have to fly, so I'm not sure I can transport the whole plant. Unfortunately, the plant has no spiderettes. I think it is in too large a pot. I have tried to take off some leaves at the roots and put them in water to grow. Are there other ways I can propagate the plant without spiderettes? (e-mail reference)

A: You need to get two things checked out before even worrying about the plant. Get in touch with the California Department of Agriculture to be sure you can bring a live plant into the state from North Carolina. Check with the airline to see how it would suggest transporting the plant. Perhaps it can be transported in a couple of plastic bags with the roots wrapped in moist sphagnum moss. That is the best way of transporting the plant. Leaves from the plant will not root, so stop wasting your time on something that will not give the desired results. The only other way of propagation is by division of the crown with a sharp knife. However, get it potted up as soon as you arrive and in a much smaller pot. In California, you are bound to have more direct sunlight available that will make a big difference on the plant's ability to produce spiderettes.

Q: I’ve had deer come into my yard and eat the green parts off my arborvitae trees that I use as a windbreak. Will they regrow? (Walker, Minn.)

A: If there is absolutely no green leaf tissue remaining, then the likelihood of them regreening is minimal to none. Sorry!

Q: I have a ficus tree that I bought a month ago. Its leaves have a yellow, pinkish edge. I have it sitting on the floor where it gets a couple of hours of bright light. I water it so it is moderately wet. It is sitting on pebbles. It does seem to be kind of root bound. It is developing brown spots on the leaves that continue to expand. What can I do to stop this? (e-mail reference)

A: Stop watering. Ficus doesn't need to be kept moderately wet. It can tolerate the drying down of the soil somewhat before watering again. If the spots are limited to just a few leaves, remove them. If the spots are on all the leaves and expanding, you might want to consider dumping the plant and starting over. Generally, leaf spot diseases lead to the defoliation of the entire plant, which certainly is not something one wants in his or her home.

Q: My fiance bought me a miniature rose plant for Valentine's Day. When I received it, the plant was very hearty, had many flowers and lots of stems and leaves. I placed it by a window in my bedroom and watered it every few days. It did great at first, but about a week ago I noticed it was starting to thin. Most of the stems are gone. A few of the leaves are turning pale green or yellow and then fall off after you barely touch it. I'm afraid my miniature rose is on its last leg! What's wrong with it? Is there anything I can do to make it healthy again? (e-mail reference)

A: Miniature roses are very sensitive to cold water. If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line, the tap water is cold! Another possibility is that your rose is in a nondraining container. Miniature roses are sensitive to waterlogged soil. It can knock a miniature rose down in the time you indicated. Finally, cold drafts from the window at night or during the day could cause the symptoms you are describing. If one of the above scenarios fit, then eliminate it or all of what you are doing and hope for the best. If root rot has not set in and the plant is getting enough light from the window or from your room interior lights, then it might recover.

Q: I have two apple, two plum, one pear and two peach trees. I also have a Niagara grape. It's the end of February. When is a good time to spray with lime-turf and oil? How do you suggest doing it and do I have to spray all of the trees? I live in zone 7b. (e-mail reference)

A: You need not spray anything unless you have been having disease and insect problems in previous years. It makes no sense to put anything toxic, even these relatively benign materials, into the environment unless it is needed. Keep in mind what each product does. The lime-sulfur controls some fungal diseases, while the dormant oil controls overwintering insects or their immature stages of pupation or eggs. If disease or insect problems have not been a cause for concern, then I'd suggest forgetting it.

Q: I was reading the information about hackberry trees on your Web site. I have a rather large tree. I must confess I am a little confused. Two other sources say that hackberry trees have very soft wood with no commercial use. You indicate it has very hard wood. My experience validates your position (pick ax didn’t dent a broken limb). Is there more than one variety? (e-mail reference)

A: There is celtis occidentalis, which is the common hackberry tree I am most familiar with. However, I know little or nothing about 70 other species! The next most commonly known hackberry is the sugar hackberry. I learned about it while attending the University of Georgia and working in Texas. It has sweet fruits that are quickly consumed by birds. My statement of it being a hard wood came from cutting many logs and chopping wood when I was younger. It could be that other references were making note of some of the other species that I am unfamiliar with. This often happens within a tree species. The best example is maple trees. Sugar maple has hard wood, but the silver maple has soft wood.

Q: My husband and I are starting some grapevines. I heard that I can use the cuttings from pruning to grow new vines. One person told me that you can, but the vine must be old enough and have produced grapes. Another person told me I can, but don't have to wait until the vine produces grapes. I'd sure like to know which one to believe. (e-mail reference)

A: The second answer you got is correct unless the first responder knows something that I don't! Perhaps it doesn't make a difference. Anyway, I know that it works without the plant producing grapes. There is an article at from a woman in South Dakota who has had success in rooting valiant grape cuttings.

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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