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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I live in an apartment that does not have good lighting. I was wondering what types of indoor plant lights you would recommend for my spider plant. (e-mail reference)

A: Any light that is labeled for plant growth and that you can put on a timer for 12-plus hours. There are several on the market at a wide range of prices. A combination of a cool/warm light from fluorescent sources will do a satisfactory job.

Q: I have two neighbors who each have two maple trees. I get all the helicopters, so they are growing in the mulch in my flower and plant beds. I end up pulling thousands of seedlings out of my mulch, but I’m getting too old to do that. I tried raking them out, but that didn’t work. There has to be something I can do to stop the helicopters from growing. Please give me some ideas. (Warren, Ohio)

A: I have a few suggestions you might want to consider. Look for a simple knock-down herbicide on the market that is labeled RTU (ready to use). It will not remain in the soil but will be lethal to the seedlings. However, you need to take care that you do not hit the desirable plants in your planting beds. Another idea is to get a material called Preen and incorporate it into the beds before the seeds scatter. This may work to keep them from germinating, but it will not be 100 percent effective. Other than that, if you can find a teen to come in and lightly hoe or cultivate the seedlings out in exchange for a batch of chocolate chip cookies (I would do it for that!), then I have nothing else to suggest.

Q: Several years ago I purchased some blue spruce trees from a big-box chain store. I have two left. One looks normal, but the other tree is thin and tall. I have used fertilizer stakes in the past. Is there anything else I can do to make the tree wider? (Park Rapids, Minn.)

A: Considering the source of purchase, these probably were seedling spruce trees. What you are seeing is individual variations occurring from sexual propagation (seed sowing, not by cuttings or grafting). Save your money on the fertilizer stakes because they do very little good. Spruce and other evergreens seldom need fertilization unless a specific nutrient deficiency can be identified.

Q: I have a winter lawn question. What is your opinion on clearing snow with a snowblower across a strip of lawn and using that as a pathway to walk on during the winter? (e-mail reference)

A: It shouldn't hurt the lawn to any great extent unless you or someone else is planning to use the strip for wind sprints during the winter! Your idea certainly is better than trudging through deep snow.

Q: My son and I are growing some purple wood sorrel. Somehow a pink variegated plant popped up. I was wondering if you had ever seen this variety. (e-mail reference)

A: That is hard to say because this species has so many different cultivars that are deliberately or naturally produced, so it is hard to keep track of them all. All I can say is enjoy the plant. The plant probably is a mutant (periclinal or sectoral chimera). If you think it is something new, then see if you can perpetuate it and try marketing it. However, the color variation probably has occurred before and some sharp nursery operator has been marketing it for quite some time.

Q: I live in a mobile home park about five miles southeast of the Los Angeles airport. About two weeks ago, I bought two hanging pots with established strawberries in them and runners hanging down. I see many very small, black flies running around on the leaves and the soil. Also, some of the soil has a white appearance. Is this problem from too much water or not enough direct sun light? Is there a natural product I can use to get rid of the bugs? (Los Angles, Calif.)

A: The white appearance likely is a salt accumulation in the soil. This often happens when the container does not have complete drainage. Strawberries need full sun from the crack of dawn to sunset to produce and grow properly. A good natural insecticide is Insecticidal Soap. It is available at most retail outlets that handle garden products. To be effective, most natural products require direct contact with the insect.

Q: I know it is early for a garden question, but I want to be on top of things by spring. My question concerns strawberries. I have two rows of strawberries. The plants are 3 years old and bearing very well. I control the grass that grows with Poast. However, broadleaf weeds are taking hold and are beyond pulling. Most are of the weeds are thistles and dandelions. I looked everywhere this past summer for a herbicide that is safe to use on strawberries but couldn’t find one. I seem to remember your column dealing with this problem at one time. What do commercial growers use? (Lake Park, Minn.)

A: Unfortunately, there isn't a heck of a lot to choose from for broadleaf control. The University of Massachusetts has a publication out that recommends the use of different products. One of the products is glyphosate that is used while the strawberry plants are dormant. You can review the publication by going to My wife and I find that our strawberries start to decline in productivity after about three years. This also is just about when the weeds start to be troublesome. We dig everything up, clean out the bed completely, refresh it with peat moss and a shot of phosphorus. Replant using a new cultivar.

Q: I have two large crown of thorns. We had a little snow before Christmas. I was so excited about the snow that I forgot to protect my plants. The leaves all died, but I thought the plants were fine. However, I was examining them and noticed that the ends of the branches were soft. Should I trim these back or just leave them? These are my favorite plants and really put on a show during the summer. (Texas)

A: It would be best to prune the plants back to firm tissue. The frosted ends will be vulnerable to rot and decay that may impact the entire plant. A brief shot of snow as you described is seldom lethal to plants like this. Continue to treat the plants as you normally would and try not to push them into recovery by fertilizing and overwatering.

Q: I have two bulbs planted for spring in window boxes. I am wondering if I can leave the bulbs in the boxes after they finish their season and plant other flowers above them for summer and fall use. I would put fresh planting soil in the boxes in late fall after the plants are removed. (e-mail reference)

A: This is commonly done, so go for it!

Q: I bought a house three years ago that has a beautiful mature orange tree in the backyard. It has produced 200 to 300 navel oranges each of the past three seasons. As of December, the tree only has produced 10 ripe oranges. It looks like that's all I'm going to get this year. Is there a reason that this year's harvest is so small? Might there be a problem with the tree? Do you have any advice? (Los Angeles, Calif.)

A: I would assume that orange trees have alternate bearing years the same as apple trees. The tree produces heavy fruit for a couple of years and then has a light year or two to catch up on the energy that it takes to produce a bumper crop. That is my best guess. To be sure, you might want to check with your local Extension Service office to see if it has a horticulturist who could more accurately identify the cause for this drop in production. Go to and click on your county. In North Dakota, we don't grow too many orange trees outdoors!

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,
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: De-stress with Gardening  (2019-05-23)  According to researchers, gardening can be beneficial for mental, physical and social health.  FULL STORY
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