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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I am wondering if it is too late to transplant an apple tree that is 6 or 7 years old. It is more than 10 feet tall. There are apples on the tree. Also, is it too late to transplant a Ponderosa tree? I don't know how old it is, but is about 12 feet tall. (Battleview, N.D.)

A: While they can be planted now, it definitely would be better if you waited until a good frost shuts everything down for the season. The lingering heat in the soil will help keep the root system active, but will not stimulate new growth. I hope you are going to employ someone who is handy with a tree spade. These are large trees to be moving by hand and having any success in doing so.

Q: How do I get rid of chokecherry tree borers? My tree is dead and has been cut down. However, the trunk that remains is full of these creatures. I am concerned about other trees becoming infested. (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: A couple of approaches can be used, but it depends on where you live. Drill some holes in the stump and then pour kerosene into the holes to burn it slowly. You can get a stump grinder to get rid of the stump. Haul away the sawdust and other debris when finished.

Q: I have a Haralson apple tree. I usually wait until after a light frost to pick the apples. Now I hear from some people that you should not wait that long. When should I pick the apples? (e-mail reference)

A: Pick them when they taste good to you. Waiting for a frost is not necessary.

Q: Thanks for your advice earlier in the season. Our arborvitaes are recovering nicely after following your advice. We are going to wrap them with burlap this winter. Do you recommend using treated or untreated burlap? I understand that treated burlap can irritate sensitive plants. Would this be considered a sensitive plant or does it not matter what kind of burlap I buy? (e-mail reference)

A: You don't want to wrap the arborvitaes in burlap. Just put up a screen of burlap to protect the plants from the direct rays of the sun and wind. Use coarse, untreated burlap. It should be available in an old-fashioned hardware, garden or farm supply store.

Q: Any ideas why apples drop off the tree before they are ripe? In the past, the tree has been loaded with apples, but they start to drop off around mid-July. Most are on the ground by September. Thinning through the summer doesn’t seem to slow the drop. (e-mail reference)

A: Several critters out there are known to cause premature apple drop. All feed beneath the skin of the apple and cause the apples to drop in July. You can control the pest by using traps that are available in most garden outlets. Sprays also are available. Spraying should start at the beginning of the apple blossom pink stage and continue every two weeks until three applications have been applied.

Q: Can I move a rose bush at this time of year? If not, when is the best time? (LaMoure, N.D.)

A: A rose or any plant can be moved whenever needed, but the best time is in the spring followed by early fall.

Q: How do I clean up my hollyhock bed for next year? I need to control quack grass and other weeds. (e-mail reference)

A: Quack grass will need to be treated with Roundup. You can use Treflan or Casoron for other weed control depending on what the problem weeds are. Check the labels for accepted crops before using.

Q: I have an iris bed that is getting very dense. When should I divide the bulbs? (e-mail reference)

A: It’s best to do it late in the summer or early fall.

Q: It seems like I remember reading in Hortiscope some information on drying gourds. If I am correct, could you refresh my memory on the proper procedure to dry gourds that will be used for decorative purposes? (e-mail reference)

A: You did read it some time ago. Harvest the mature gourds, drill a small hole in the blossom end and hang them up to dry in an appropriate location, such as a basement or garage. It is a good idea to wipe them down with a solution of rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to remove any possible surface spores that may cause mischief later on. When the seeds inside sound like a dry rattle, they are dry. Painting them with clear shellac also protects them for longer preservation. If shellac is not wanted, then a high-quality wax can be used.

Q: I am wondering about storing potatoes. My wife said she read that potatoes and apples should be stored together to inhibit sprouts from forming on the potatoes. She also read that they should not be stored together. Any thoughts on the issue? (e-mail reference)

A: Store potatoes away from apples and pears because these fruits release ethylene, which hastens sprouting. Potatoes may rot faster when stored with onions, but that is because onions store better at warmer temperatures than potatoes.

Q: We got a spider plant about six years ago. It has multiplied through the years. We currently are taking care of a baby squirrel that we found. Its cage is next to one of the larger spider plants. Is the spider plant poisonous to the squirrel? (e-mail reference)

A: It shouldn't be poisonous. We hang ours outdoors during the summer months and the squirrels use it as a cool resting spot and launching pad to get to the bird feeder. I have no official listing of it in my texts as being poisonous, so it should be safe.

Q: My dahlias are in pots. Do I need to remove them from the pots for the winter or can they just be brought inside and kept in a cool, dark location? Also, should I wait until a frost has turned the top foliage dark? Any suggestions about geraniums? I have two pots of geraniums that are really nice. (e-mail reference)

A: You can leave the dahlias in pots and possibly get away with it. However, I suspect the possibility of the plants catching a disease would be higher under those circumstances. I always wait until a frost blackens the tops before moving them indoors. With your geraniums, you can attempt to bring them indoors and put them under plant lights on a 12-hour cycle to keep them through the winter. You also can prune them back, dig them up and then shake off the excess soil. Place the geraniums in a dark, dry location to try to hold them through the winter. Repot the plants in late February or early March and get them under plant lights on a 12-hour cycle.

Q: I have a 2-year-old apple tree that is bearing fruit. After thinning, about 15 apples remained. Three apples fell off before ripening and now five have fallen off after ripening. I also have three with bird pecks in them. These apples are very large, by the way. Can this problem be prevented? Any suggestions on deterring bird damage? (e-mail reference)

A: The dropped apples might be infested with apple maggot larvae. Cut into them to see if one is there or has been there. Birds are going to be a problem every year. You can try various tactics that some people swear by, such as scare balloons, motion-sensed water spray, fireworks and netting. Try any or all to see what works!

Q: My wife planted yarrow in her flowerbed. It is now spreading into our grass. How do we get rid of it? (Froid, Mont.)

A: Yarrow is a tough weed to get under control. Applying a three-way herbicide, such as Trimec, that contains 2, 4-D, MCCP and dicamba at this time of year should do a pretty good job of bringing it under control. It probably will take a second application next spring as new flushes of growth emerge. Catching it at this tender stage will take out the remainder.

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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