You are here: Home Columns Hortiscope Hortiscope
Document Actions


Ron Smith answers questions about flowers, trees, gardens and shrubs.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I want to get a red delicious and winesap apple trees. I know the winesap has sterile pollen, so it will not help the delicious with producing fruit. However, I heard having a crabapple tree nearby would do the trick. Is this true? I heard a pink, purple or lavender crabapple tree will not help and that it is best to have a white crab. (e-mail reference)

A: A crabapple within one-fourth mile will serve as a good pollinator for edible apples as long as they are in flower at the same time, which most are. It has nothing to do with the flower color. If one of your neighbors has a crabapple tree, then you are all set to go. Enjoy!

Q: We just moved into our first country home last spring and immediately planted some Norway pines and blue spruce trees. I thought that if we could get them through the summer we were home free. Unfortunately, we had a cold and windy winter, so most of our trees have suffered. The blue spruce trees have brown needles on the tips and the entire bottom of the tree. The Norway pines lost most of their needles on the west side, which is where we had all our winds come from. Do you think they will grow back? Is there anything I can do to help them? (e-mail reference)

A: Knowing where you live might help me give you an answer that would be more accurate than just a guess. Generally, if the buds are still firm and alive on both the spruce and pine, the trees will recover. New growth should emerge in a few weeks. Freshly planted evergreens often suffer the first winter because they were pampered and protected by the nursery so that they would look their best at the time of sale. Usually, they come back, but it will take a little time, so be patient. If they were properly planted (not too deeply), they will be thriving for you by the middle of summer.

Q: I have a flowering crabapple tree. Two branches in the middle are much higher than the rest. Should I cut the branches down to the length of the rest to make it spread out more? (e-mail reference)

A: It sounds like a good plan.

Q: I just moved into a house with a large, established cherry tree next to an apple and peach tree. The peach and apple seem healthy, but the cherry appears to be dying. I believe it's a sargent cherry after viewing photos on the Net. It has seven or more main branches, but only two are still alive. The two good branches are lower and next to each other on the northwest side of the tree. There are big gobs of hardened sap hanging off the dead branches. Also, the south side of the trunk has a large, vertical crack in the bark. I hesitate to cut out the dead branches because that would leave a very lopsided tree. Can I save it or do I need to cut it down? What should I do? (Centerville, Utah)

A: Thanks for letting me know where it is you live! Backyard orchards typically will have a favorite tree that is half dead and looking horrible, while a couple of branches hang on in a somewhat grotesque way to produce a very tasty fruit. It sounds like borers may have attacked the tree. I'm afraid the borers will wipe out the remaining two living branches. You would be better off removing the tree and converting it to firewood. Keep an eye on the other two fruit-bearing trees for possible borer activity, especially the peach tree because it is in the same genus as the cherry.

Q: I love all the information on your Web site. I bought three flowering crabs when we bought our home three years ago. I planted them in front of the house in a row. They still look immature. They've grown a couple of feet taller, but the trunks of each tree still can be spanned with my hand. Is there any way I can help them grow faster and stronger? They are a heartier variety (forgot the variety name) with dark pink blossoms. The foliage turns bronze in the fall. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated! (e-mail reference)

A: Many times trees need a bit of encouragement to become organized and build caliper. If you have staked them, remove the stakes. If you never have pruned them, prune back the central leader to an adjacent branch. This often will help overcome the spindly characteristic and get the trees to "gain weight" around the middle (the same as humans when we get older), which will make them more wind resistant.

Q: My husband and I live in central Connecticut. We just bought two Cleveland pear trees. We planted one in the backyard and added potting soil for nutrients. Prior to planting, the leaves began wilting. The other tree is not planted and has less wilting leaves. I am wondering if the tree is damaged and should go back to the store or if it was lacking water and in need of planting. We are experiencing chilly weather (40 to 50 degree highs during the day) and have had lots of wind. When we purchased the trees, we had a couple of rainy days, so we did not water the trees. We have watered them each day since then. Should we bother planting the other tree or return them? Several of our neighbors have pear trees that seem to be growing well. (e-mail reference)

A: How were the trees transported to your home? Were the trees in the back of a pickup or open delivery truck? Were they placed in the trunk of your car? If it was of those methods, were the tops of the trees either wrapped in moist burlap or just exposed to the open air while going 30 to 50 miles per hour down the road? I assume the place you purchased these trees from has some kind of guarantee. If so, check with the store to see exactly what it is. If the trees are just now opening up and partially wilting, they should recover when planted and properly watered. Whatever you do, don't overwater the trees right now. Soaking the root balls every day without giving them a chance to dry down to dampness is not going to correct the problem. Give the trees ample moisture, but don’t create a swamp. Based on what you have told me, I think they will be OK as long as they are planted and watered properly.

Q: My roses had some aphids, so our gardener sprayed them with an oil-based product. Two days later, all of the bushes in the bed developed more problems. The new growth is now wilted and turned downward and the leaves are small and curling, as well as having spots. I don't know if this is just a coincidence or possibly something else. (e-mail reference)

A: The application of an oil-based product is not recommended after plants have leafed out. Some so-called light-weight summer oils are not supposed to be toxic to a plant that is in full leaf. However, they typically are difficult to find on the market, so homeowners give up in frustration and apply the standard dormant oil with the results you describe. Temperature plays a role in this as well. If the temperatures were in the upper 70s or more at the time of spraying or shortly after application, the impact of the oil would be multiplied in its effect on the plant. I'm sorry to say there are no remedies. Wait to see if the plants recover as the season moves on. In the meantime, give the roses normal care.

Q: I landscaped my entire front yard using a beautiful Japanese maple as the focal point. Three days later, we had the high, cool winds that lasted for two days. However, I'm sure the temperature never dipped below 55 degrees. The side of the tree that caught the wind now has leaves that have dried and shriveled up, although all the branches seem healthy. What can I do to nurse this tree back into shape? (e-mail reference)

A: Just give the poor thing a good watering once or twice a week, but don't overdo it.

Q: I’ve had a wisteria for six years, but it is has never blossomed. I am going to move it to see if I can get it to bloom. It usually has stems about 12 feet long. I tried trimming it last year because I read somewhere that might help it to bloom, but it didn`t. Do you have any suggestions? (e-mail reference)

A: If you don't have to move wisteria, don't do it because it does not transplant well. To get it to bloom in its present location, back off on the nitrogen fertilization and try some indiscriminate root pruning. This usually shocks the plant into flower production.

Q: My twin-trunk river birch is old, but very healthy. It is planted less than 10 feet from my asphalt driveway that now has extensive root damage. I have two questions. When replacing the driveway, can I cut off the roots that are doing the damage? It didn't damage the foundation, but veered off to start a path under the driveway. (e-mail reference)

A: I consider this a rather unusual occurrence, but roots will follow the path of least resistance. There must have been some kind of micro-channel in the soil and under the drive that contributed to this happening. Knowing the root system of birches as I do, I would remove the damaging roots and place a copper screen along the edge of the drive where the roots penetrated. This will discourage the tree from doing it again.

Q: I just purchased some tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. They are in bloom in the pots, so I would like to plant them. What would happen if I were to plant them now (April)? Would they bloom next year? (e-mail reference)

A: Plant them now using the pots and all. If you try removing them from the pots to plant, I'm afraid they will start wilting. After they are finished blooming and the foliage has died naturally, remove the plants from the pots and plant them where you want. They should bloom next year, unless you live inside the Arctic Circle!

Q: I decided to uproot a lilac tree and put it in a pot. I am wondering if transplanting it will affect the plant’s health. (Port Hope, Ontario)

A: If this is a mature lilac you will be uprooting, you might be wiping out too much of the root system to keep the plant alive in the container. Feeder roots for mature plants are concentrated at or toward the growing tips. The larger, woody roots function mostly as support and transport of the water and nutrients these fine root hairs pick up and send to the growing regions of the plant. I would think twice about transplanting because you don't unintentionally want to kill the plant. If you want a potted lilac, buy one in a container from a local nursery.

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,
Renewable Accounts: Renewable Accounts: E15 fuel could help you, the environment and N.D. farmers  (2019-06-06)  The EPA now allows E15 fuel to be sold year-round.  FULL STORY
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: Enjoy Lounging Outdoors With a Refreshing Beverage  (2019-06-13)  If plain water is kind of boring, try infusing it with fruit and/or herbs.  FULL STORY
Use of Releases
The news media and others may use these news releases in their entirety. If the articles are edited, the sources and NDSU must be given credit.

Powered by Plone, the Open Source Content Management System