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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: We received an arrangement of tulips when my mother-in-law passed away. What can I do with the bulbs? There are about seven flowers with the petals falling off. I would like to plant the flowers, but I am not sure what to do. (e-mail reference)

A: Generally, these bulbs don't work out for the owner. However, I have some suggestions if you are willing to give it a try. Keep the foliage on the bulbs until it turns brown. During that time, don't allow the soil to dry completely and keep the plants in bright, indirect light. Once the foliage has died, remove the bulbs from the container. If the bulbs are firm and healthy, store them in a cool location, such as the crisper in your refrigerator, for at least 60 days. After that time, remove and store the bulbs at room temperature until fall planting in September. Plant the bulbs to a 4- to 6-inch depth in a sunny to partially shady location and water them in. That's it! With a little luck, they should bloom for you the following spring.

Q: I hope you can help me. I live in Zone 9 with clay soil and winds during the summer. I have a spot in my front yard where I attempted to grow a tree. The original tree was an elm planted by the homebuilder. This tree did not fair well. I now have a ginkgo, but it has not grown for the past few years. The soil is soggy because of lawn watering and the low spot in the yard that the tree is situated in. I have been trying my darndest to find something that will work. I am considering an autumn blaze maple. I believe a willow would crowd the yard. The local nurseries don't seem to be much help. I was hoping for something that will work. A big bonus would be a colorful tree. I am avoiding anything too tall so I don’t block the neighbor’s view of the valley. Do you have any suggestions? (e-mail reference)

A: Except for willows and poplars, soggy soil conditions from a lawn sprinkler will doom most trees. If you want a tree to last on your property, you have to do whatever is necessary to improve drainage. Once that problem is solved, then the palette of tree selection will be open for you. I would revisit some of the better nurseries in your area after the drainage problem is corrected or contact the county Extension office where you live.

Q: I have a maidenhair fern, but I'm not exactly sure which variety. I had it in pot outside facing north. It did very well and stayed green well into the fall. I have not watered it during the winter and it has not been rained on because I brought it inside. I assumed it went dormant. However, it is upright and mostly green. I was wondering how to get it going for the spring. Should I cut all the foliage down? Is it alive? Should I put it out so it can be rained on? (British Columbia, Canada)

A: Yes to all of your questions. It probably is alive but may go dormant. Put it outside so it can get the benefit of rain. Nothing beats rain.

Q: I have a Japanese lace leaf maple that has a lot of snow on it from two snowstorms. I noticed today that the branches are weighed down from the snow and it is split at the top down the middle of the trunk. Will it heal if we try to wrap it? Is there something we could apply to it before we wrap it? It sounds like we may be getting more snow. Any advice would be appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: There has been some success with wrapping a split tree, but the plant tissue must be lined up precisely. Do not treat it with anything before wrapping it. If you can, get some heated bees wax to seal the wrapping tightly. You might want to secure support stakes outside the wounded area temporarily to keep the split from taking place again. Leave the wrapping on through the growing season. As the tree leafs out, remove the external braces. When fall arrives, the wound should have healed if it is going to heal at all. At that time, remove the wrapping to inspect it. If it has healed, you're home free!

Q: For the past few years, I have seen blueberry plants for sale at local retail stores. I am wondering if it is possible to grow blueberries in the Red River Valley. We have two rows of pine trees that serve as a windbreak. I was told the plants might do well in that area. (e-mail reference)

A: If you are in the Red River Valley area that has high pH soils, it will be impossible to grow blueberries to production unless these are new cultivars that have been bred and selected for growing in high pH soils. The other barrier is our winter climate. We are in hardiness zone 3, which most blueberries will not survive in. Of course, if every winter would have the snow cover we have this year, we might be able to grow pineapples in our region! Then, they probably would be washed away by spring flooding. In spite of this advice, I get the feeling that you will go ahead and try to grow a couple of blueberry plants. I encourage you to do so if you want. If you do, let me know what the results were!

Q: Is there any way to control grass and other weeds in an iris bed short of removing all the plants and starting from scratch? I have some beautiful white iris plants and some ordinary purple. However, for the past few years, it has been hard to keep grass out. (e-mail reference)

A: Look for a grass control product that contains sethoxydim. There are several on the market. If label directions are followed, the product will take out the grass selectively without harming the iris plants. Some products that might be available are Checkmate, Poast and Vantage.

Q: I have two iris beds. I have heard several things about iris plants, but I can't confirm them. Iris bulbs bloom only once and should be discarded after blooming. Only the bulbs that never have bloomed should be replanted. If you cut iris blooms in the spring for use in indoor arrangements, the plant will send up another blossom stalk. Are these myths or facts? (e-mail reference)

A: There are two forms of iris plants, which are the bulbous kind and those that form rhizomes. The rhizome-forming iris plants usually are hardy into zone 3 (North Dakota and surrounding territory). The bulbous types are for milder climates and usually are hardy to zone 5 (Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and further south). If they are grown in colder zones, they should be treated as an annual, which means you should enjoy the blooms and then discard the bulbs when finished in the fall. Almost any flower will rebloom if it is removed before flower fertilization takes place. If you are a close observer of the flower development and harvest it before pollination occurs, you should get a rebloom if the plant is healthy.

Q: We planted three ornamental crabs last spring. Deer ate the bark off of the crabs during the winter. Do you think they will grow this year? If not, do you think we could keep one of the suckers growing but cut down the main tree? (e-mail reference)

A: Bark removal means death. The suckers are coming from the rootstock, not the scion wood. This means the suckers probably will be different than the original trees. Also, I have have heard of or seen where sucker growth amounted to anything more than annoying semishrub-type growth.

Q: I'm looking for advice about a goose-foot plant. The new leaves that are growing are half brown and dead. Meanwhile, the existing leaves are browning at the tip. (e-mail reference)

A: What you have is called an arrowhead vine. The arrowhead vine does best on a bright but not sunny area. It will tolerate some shade, but then grows a bit slower. If placed in an area that is too dark, it produces smaller leaves. It can be potted in a good potting soil mix. Keep it constantly moist, but avoid overwatering. Never allow it to dry out completely. It appears that your vine either is suffering from being kept too wet or it has excess fertilizer salts from overfertilization.

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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