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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I moved to a home with an unkempt garden, so I am trying to figure out what happened to some of the roses. One of the rose bushes does not produce flowers. I keep cutting it back to the base. There is new growth, but it only produces stems and leaves. Another bush produces a beautiful cluster of flowers that look like climbers, but I'm not sure if it is a climber because I found a tag that classifies it as a grandiflora. Has this bush somehow turned into a different type due to the lack of care? If so, what should I do? (e mail reference)

A: The one bush that is producing new growth and no flowers is sending up rootstock growth. The flowering part of the rose (scion wood) died, but the root system lives on by sending up these blind shoots. Unless you like the rampant growth of these shoots for some reason, I would suggest taking this plant out. As for the grandiflora rose, I cannot find it in any of my references and a Google search turns up nothing, so I am unable to help you with this one.

Q: We planted several plum trees a few years ago, but this is the first year they have had much fruit. One of the trees grew three trunks that were loaded with fruit. Last night, the raccoons helped themselves and, in the process, tore one of the trunks down and left a huge gash down to the bark on another. Should we cut it down or is it possible to repair the tree? Should something be put on the gash? (e mail reference)

A: Good old raccoons! I'd say go ahead, cut the broken trunk out and clean up the scratches by cutting back with a pocketknife to where the bark is attached. Just before freeze-up, wrap the trunk of the tree for the winter up to the lower branches. No wound dressing is needed.

Q: My wife likes cutting flowers (lilies, gladiolus and tulips) to display in the house. Will it affect the reproduction of the bulbs for next year? (e mail reference)

A: Not unless she cuts the foliage back each time. Flowers are meant to be admired. Picking the flowers at or just before their peak of beauty does not hurt their reproductive capacity for the following year. Enjoy!

Q: We have several buckeye trees in the neighborhood. My wife collects buckeye nuts on her daily walks. We have in excess of 200 of these beauties. What can be done with them other than having them sit around looking pretty? (e mail reference)

A: Let me count the ways. Actually, they make nice necklaces or wrist ornaments. As kids, we used to drive a nail through them and hang them on a long sneaker shoelace with a knot on the end and challenge each other to see whose buckeye could break the other one. The one that didn't break was given the title of "kinger" and went on to challenge others. Each victory added to the "kinger" status. For example, if the kinger nut broke 10 others, it would be a 10 kinger. If it got smashed in an ensuing challenge, the victor could take over the 10 kinger title and add it to however many it had broken before.

Q: How do you control slugs in a garden? I have tried beer traps with some success and the product called Sluggetta, but I don't like using chemicals in my garden. Are there other options? If I have to use chemicals, what are they and are they safe? (e mail reference)

A: There are many ways to fight slug invasions. A series of shallow dishes filled with beer or decaying fruit, such as banana peels, are good. Set the dishes at ground level so the slugs are not challenged to get in them. This is probably the most effective. With the beer, the slugs drown and have a happy death. With the decaying fruit, they think they have found slug heaven and congregate in large numbers. The beer trap kills them, while the fruit just traps them. Diatomaceous earth spread in 1/2 inch bands around plants will do them in by lacerating their soft body tissue. Forget crushed eggshells because the idea doesn't work despite the many references to the contrary. One would think it should work, but it doesn't, so don't waste your time. Wood ash and hydrated lime (handle with gloves and don't inhale!) spread around garden plants will discourage slug activity. Both materials cause dehydration and burning sensations on their soft tissue. Finally, the best way to control them is to alter their environment. Slugs like cool, dark and moist locations. Prune, replant or do whatever you can to dry and heat up the location where they seem to be the most troublesome. Persistence is necessary to win the battle with slugs because one slug can produce young without fertilization.

Q: What is the best time of the year to split and replant peonies? (e mail reference)

A: A good rule of thumb to follow is to divide and transplant spring flowering perennials in the fall and fall flowering perennials in the spring. Midsummer flowering perennials can be divided and transplanted in the spring or fall. Peonies are in the fall transplanting schedule.

Q: I need help with my apple tree. Every branch is loaded with apples. I am thinking of cutting some of the lower branches off to lighten the load. In years past, I would have to prop up the lower branches. Would it be all right to cut those branches now? (e mail reference)

A: That is not a good idea. Pruning now would open the tree to a host of fungal, bacterial and virus disease problems. Prune the tree early next spring when it is still leafless (dormant). In the meantime, boost the heavy branches with a prop!

Q: We have two ornamental crab trees in our backyard that have been losing leaves all summer and are almost bare. What is the problem and how do we treat it? We would hate to lose these trees! (Milbank, S.D.)

A: Your tree has apple scab (Ventura inequalis), which is brought on by rainy, humid weather and host susceptibility. Clean up all the fallen leaves and fruit this fall. Next spring, before leaf¬-out, spray with lime sulfur. After leaf out, begin a program of spraying with Benomyl or Captan on a 10 to 14 day cycle during vulnerable periods of wet, humid weather. If all of this is too much, then simply replace the tree with a resistant cultivar. There are plenty to choose from.

Q: Outside an east window, I have a bush growing that I believe is a hydrangea, although I have always called it a snowball. It does bloom whether or not I cut it back in the fall, but the blossoms are very small. Last fall, I cut it back and this year there are only two tiny blooms, unlike those of my neighbors. Of greater concern is the fact that the bush has spread out, devouring some peony plants that always do well in that location. Would it be OK to offer these suckers to anyone who wants to dig them up but leave the original plant? If so, when is the proper time to do so? Does cutting it back in the fall increase the chances for it to spread? I live in south Fargo and the original plant is probably 20 years old. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: The best time is when it is dormant. Do it this fall after the leaves drop or early next spring just before the leaves open. Cutting back in the fall or spring makes little difference to the character of the spread. You eventually may want to give up on these characters and grow something that is showy and nonsuckering.

Q: We are considering growing a chokecherry tree. I saw your Web site and wondered if you would know how far south the black knot fungus has gone and if there are recommended vendors of trees that sell healthy trees. (Omaha, Neb.)

A: This is something you need to check out with your local Extension Service office. Go to and contact the county office you live in to get local information and recommendations. In spite of the problem with black knot and other diseases, this is still a popular tree because of its beautiful spring flowers and abundant fruit to make good jelly and wine.

Q: I have a kalanchoe plant that has been growing out of control for years. I've taken cuttings from it and started other plants, but the stems are limp and don't stand up. I've tied them to skewers to get them to stay upright. Also, what do I give them to make them bloom? They haven't bloomed since I had the first plant. Any help would be appreciated. (Salt Lake City, Utah)

A: You must be referring to the kalanchoe blossfeldiana, not the K. tomentosa or K. beharensis that are known for their striking foliage but not flowers. The flowering plant needs more light to be stronger and more self-supporting. If you cannot provide enough natural light from southern or southwestern windows, then I suggest getting a plant light and run it on 12 hour cycles. Also, stop being so nice to it. It sounds like it is getting an abundance of nitrogen based fertilizer. Back off on the fertilization and let it go hungry for a while. That usually brings it into bloom. Create slightly tough conditions for the plant by withholding water occasionally, no more fertilization and more light duration and intensity. These will contribute to bringing the plant around to set flower buds.

Q: I have a creeping juniper in front of my house. It was in great shape and looked wonderful. This year, we had a tree taken away and parts of the juniper were trampled and crushed, leaving a damaged area in the middle of the shrub. What can I do to nurse it back and help the plant recover? I never have fertilized it. (Seattle, Wash.)

A: If there is any green leaf scales in the area you describe as being damaged, it eventually should recover with just a little help from you. If there is no foliage, then you might as well remove the plant. To help it along, clean cut any damaged areas and give it a little shot of a water soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle Gro or something similar. Then just be patient.

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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