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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: We just planted a semidwarf apricot tree. It has two fruits on it, but no additional flowers. How do we take care of a new tree? How often do we water it? Do we need to worry about worms? Our tree is supposed to be self-pollinating, but our neighbors have a peach tree about 10 feet away. Will that make a difference? Thank you very much for your advice. (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

A: I'm sure that in your beautiful environment there are some other neighbors within a quarter of a mile who have an apricot tree, so pollination should not be a problem. I'm surprised you have fruit on it already. The tree should be very productive for you as it matures in your ideal climate. Use common sense, such as not overwatering, which is one of the biggest problems other than trees being planted too deeply. If it doesn't rain for several days, give the roots a good soaking. If your soil is very sandy, you will have to do that up to three times a week. If the soil has clay, then once a week should be sufficient. Monitor the growth of the tree. If it appears to be putting on new growth every spring and there is no evidence of insect damage to the foliage, then don't worry. Follow good sanitation practices, clean up fallen blossoms and fruit, as well as leaves in the fall. If peach borers are troublesome on your neighbor's tree, then it is likely they also will find your tree tasty.

Q: I planted two honey crisp trees last year next to a Cortland and a golden delicious. The Cortland and the delicious have blossomed, but the honey crisp has not. I know it has been cold and rainy, but the other trees have done well. Any ideas? (e-mail reference)

A: Have patience. A new tree needs a few years to become established a little. It probably will be at least three years before you see any significant fruit set.

Q: I bought four endless summer hydrangeas and planted them about 2 feet apart. As I read more about them, I am sure that they are planted too close together. It seems they are a shrub that gets much larger than I anticipated. What options do I have now? (Kindred, N.D.)

A: Don’t worry because the planting will make a nice, dense stand. Keep in mind that the kind of growth you read about was not in our state. It was somewhere much milder, so the weather conditions will not keep them in check. If they are too overgrown for you, go ahead and prune them back. Hydrangeas of just about all stripes thrive with pruning. This cultivar will flower on both old and new wood.

Q: I have two old junipers on my ocean-front property that are turning very brown. It happened all of a sudden this year. I’m not sure what variety they are. I have not sprayed, but I did use calcium carbonate on the nearby walkway during the winter. (e-mail reference)

A: Ocean spray with salty water equals the demise of the juniper. It could be a combination of salt spray hitting the foliage and saturating the soil with salts.

Q: I hear a lot about ash trees that will be infected with a beetle in the near future. How effective is an injection into the tree and how expensive is it? Are all the ash trees in danger? (Wahpeton, N.D.)

A: At this time, all ash trees are in danger. Emerald ash borer can be controlled with systemic insecticides, such as Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Insect Control, if the directions on the label are followed. The material costs $30 to $35 for 32 ounces. Research is being conducted by major universities (NDSU included) across the northern part of the country to see what can be done to stop this very destructive pest. Millions of ash trees will be impacted if some economical control cannot be found.

Q: Daisies are taking over my lawn. The only thing we can think of to do is till the lawn and seed. Is this the right way to go? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: Tilling will pull more weed seed up to the surface for germination. Get everything killed off with Roundup applied by a professional. When it is all brown, mow it as short as possible and collect everything in the bagger for disposal. Go back over the mowed areas with a power rake to create niches for the seed to germinate. After seeding, drag everything in and turn on the water. Follow a light and frequent watering schedule to get the seed up. If you follow these directions, you will have a nice looking lawn by the end of the summer. This is a lot less work than tilling everything up. You should till only if you have very poor grades or topography that you want to correct.

Q: I have some questions about planting moonflower seeds that my mother gave me. She said she wasn’t sure about how to plant the seeds. How deep should I plant the seeds? How tall does moonflower grow? Should it be planted in shade, partial shade or full sun? (e-mail reference)

A: The moonflower I assume you are referring to is the Ipomoea alba, which is a morning glory relative. It is a vine that will get 8 to 10 feet in length and loves full sun. The best way to get it growing is to soak the seed overnight in tepid water. After that, plant the seeds where you want them. If given no fence or trellis to climb, the vine will languish in its setting. In some cases, it is attractive to do it. I would suggest coplanting with some morning glory seed to attract hummingbirds during the day and provide some additional color as the moonflower closes up with the morning sun. To plant, poke your index finger into the soil up to your second knuckle, drop the seed in, cover, water and stand back to allow nature to take its course during the summer!

Q: I have a spider plant that I have had for the last five years. The first two years or so, it did very well. It had many runners and it flowered. Since then, it has stopped doing both. It is very green and looks to be in good shape. Do you have any ideas on what is going on or what I can do? (e-mail reference)

A: It will get around to flowering and producing babies when it is good and ready to do so! This is triggered by carbohydrate accumulation and being pot-bound. The more light the plant gets (you can summer it outside), the more apt it is to get into a reproductive stage. Be patient. Don't overfertilize and do let it become pot-bound.

Q: We have two ornamental plum trees that are well-established but look pathetic now that spring has sprung. About 50 percent of the tree blossomed and has leaves. Was this a tough winter for this type of tree? Is there anything we can do to encourage them along? They were beautiful at one time. As always, I value your opinion because you haven't steered me wrong. (Turtle Lake, N.D.)

A: What you tell me doesn't leave much room for optimism. A leafless tree at this time of year is a good indication of there being no life in those branches without foliage. While the winter was bad, it shouldn't have been so bad that established plum trees would die. I suspect one of two problems. Either a canker has girdled those branches or there is borer activity. Check closely to see if there is any evidence of either. Cankers symptoms are discolored sunken areas on the branches and, in all likelihood, will be girdling the branch. Borers or bark beetles leave small holes about the diameter of pencil lead (bark beetles) or a backward D-shaped exit hole about the size of a sipping straw. If you see these pests, take a pocketknife and peel the bark back to check on channeling left by the grub larvae feeding on the cambium. If this is an insect problem, get some Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Insect Control and apply it according to the directions. This systemic material is applied around the base of the tree and translocated through the vascular system. It kills any future feeders for up to 12 months after application. If it is a canker disease, then a sample needs to be sent to a plant diagnostic clinic for analysis and recommendations.

Q: I planted eight hybrid roses. They are opening into very nice buds. However, one of the buds looks deformed. Why would that be? (e-mail reference)

A: This could be from thrip or aphid damage. Look closely to see if there are any of these varmints around. If so, take corrective action using an insecticide.

Q: Is it a good idea to prune my lilac bush down to the ground and start over? My lilac bush only has leaves and flowers at the top. The rest of the bush has nothing. (e-mail reference)

A: If the lilac has leafed out and started flowering, it is too late for this season. I'm afraid that pruning after leafing out would render the plant too weak for any significant regrowth. You would need to do this before leafing out takes place, such as early April. It will not flower the first year after that, but should in subsequent years.

Q: I have a question about a lilac tree that a friend gave my husband and me. He was nice enough to dig it up from his place and plant it in our backyard. It gets good sunlight during the day and good shade in the evening. After two months, one of the lilacs is leaning toward the bigger one and the leaves on it are looking a little limp. I water it in the morning, but by the evening hours, the leaves on the smaller tree are limp again. The taller lilac is doing really well. How far apart do these trees need to be? (e-mail reference)

A: I don't think you have anything to worry about because the leaves eventually will stop drooping. This is a reaction from the roots being cut back.

Q: Does it make a difference if a garden is planted north to south or east to west? (e-mail reference)

A: It makes no difference as long as the garden is in full sun. What is good planning is to minimize shade from crops, such as corn, that would be casting too much shade on plants, such as peppers or tomatoes, by virtue of their orientation in the garden. Direct sunlight for six hours a day will yield a decent crop from most plantings.

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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