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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: This spring, I transplanted a flowering quince starter bush from my mother's home in Kansas. This bush has a long history with me, so I want to preserve it if I can. On the Internet, it says that this bush is hardy to zone 4. I have planted it in a sheltered corner with a southeastern exposure. It has grown a bit since I planted it, so I know it's a survivor. A master gardener friend said I should put mulch on it in the fall for the first couple of years until it gets well established. I would like to know if this should be done, and if so, how to do it. Should the mulch cover the plant completely? Should it be dense or loose? Thank you in advance for any advice you can give. (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: Bark or peat mulch over the roots would help. I also would cover the branches with a rose cone or geotextile frost blanket once it has gone dormant. Do this just before freezing weather takes place in the next few weeks.

Q: I am in the process of digging up and moving numerous Asiatic lilies. I'd like to know what happened to the large bulbs I planted several years ago. When I dig up the lilies, all I find are much smaller bulbs. Why are the bulbs smaller and what can I do to encourage the growth of larger lily bulbs? Do larger bulbs equate to larger flowers? (e-mail reference)

A: The bulbs you purchased years ago were plumped up for sales and marketing appeal. They flower lavishly with some large flowers or numerous smaller ones. The larger the flowers and the more of them, the more energy it takes. This depletes the carbohydrate reserves in the bulbs, which shrink their size. Will larger bulbs produce bigger flowers? Quite likely or just more of the same-sized ones! Also, as the bulbs divide, the competition for nutrients and water increases, leaving less for each bulb to get along on, resulting in the reduced size. When you replant them, mix in about 2 cups of 5-10-5 or something similar for every 100 square feet of bed space. This will encourage the growth of larger flowers and more blooms.

Q: I just planted eight green giant arborvitae trees. I live in central Pennsylvania. I plan on watering the trees once a week. Should I water them through the winter? Won't the ground be frozen, so the water won't soak in? It gets very windy occasionally where they are planted, so I would feel more confident if I stake them for at least six or seven months. Any harm in doing that? Finally, do you recommend I place a wind screen around the trees using burlap instead of staking or is staking plus a wind screen doing too much? I wondered if I could just place burlap on each tree, which should be cheaper than installing 100 feet of burlap screening around all the trees. If so, how do you recommend wrapping a tree with burlap? (e-mail reference)

A: Water the trees up to the time the ground freezes. With the current warm weather across the country and if you haven't had any rain of significance recently, give them a good soaking about once a week. If you feel better staking them for the winter, then do so. Be sure to remove the stakes with the spring thaw. As for wrapping the trees in burlap or putting up a burlap screen, you can do either, but generally neither is needed unless you live in an area that gets little snowfall. Generally, wrapping an evergreen in burlap is accomplished with just pinning the ends together with either twine or lightly wrapping it with pieces of burlap. These trees can withstand the rigors of our North American climate and usually get by fairly well with little or minimal care on the part of the owner, so don't overdo your care.

Q: I would like to move my raspberry patch from one raised square garden to another. What is the best way to do this to minimize damage and when is the best time to do it? (e-mail reference)

A: While the plants are dormant is the best time to transplant the raspberries. Transplant early next spring before new growth emerges. Just dig them out and move them. Essentially, raspberry plants are weeds that produce a fruit that we love. The plants can take a ton of benign or intended abuse and still produce fruit.

Q: I have been reading your forum on lilies, so I thought you may be able to help me. I have purchased a large peace lily. It is healthy, but I was told it was just repotted. The pot is a little small and some of the roots are exposed at the top. It is staked because it is quite top-heavy. Can I repot it now, and should it have any of the roots exposed? (e-mail reference)

A: Repot it in a container that can support the plant’s size and do not leave any exposed roots.

Q: I have several mock orange plants in my backyard. Some of the plants have branches that have died. I put on new fertilizer, added iron and root stimulator, and sprayed for bugs, but nothing is helping. What could be the problem? (e-mail reference)

A: No idea what the problem is because I don't have enough information to make a judgment. Contact someone locally through your county Extension office. Perhaps you can have an agent take a look at the plants. Go to to find an agent. It might help if you included a photo or two of the problem plants.

Q: I have two red twig dogwoods that are about 10 years old. Both are well, but I would like to remove them. Can the trees be removed without killing them? How extensive are their root systems? One of them was planted right by the drainage area in the backyard. I think it’s in heaven because it probably grew into the drainage system. I think I could set fire to each of the plants and they would grow back. I’m wondering if I should call a professional before I wear out my back. (e-mail reference)

A: Moving and keeping alive shrubs that old is a challenge for even the best professional. The roots are bound to be very extensive. My advice is to save your back and hire some young people to come out and grub them out for you and replant whatever you want.

Q: I bought a goldfish plant in Montreal, Canada. However, there seems to be two types of goldfish, the Nematanthus wettsteinii and the Columnea. Is there any difference in the care between the two genuses? Mine has succulent, shiny green leaves. It had orange flowers, but two years ago it quit flowering. I give it water when it dries out, and it is by a south window that gets sunlight, but not direct sunlight. I never fertilize the plant. Could it be that it does not receive enough light? Would an emulsion fertilizer be OK to use? (e-mail reference)

A: As far as I'm concerned, the Columnea is the only true goldfish plant. From what you describe, it sounds like that is what you have. As for the Nematanthus, I'm not at all familiar with that particular plant. As for care, water management is critical for successful blooming. Stressing it a little in the early spring will help initiate flowering. I suspect that you are keeping it too evenly moist. You need to initiate a fertilizing program that has a high phosphorus number in comparison with nitrogen and potassium. This should be done monthly. The rest of the year, mist with distilled or reverse-osmosis water to keep the humidity high.

Q: We moved into our house about five years ago. There was a healthy evergreen at the front of the house. During the August extreme heat wave, the tree turned brown. We don't see any evidence of bugs or fungus. Is there anything we can do? (Tulsa, Okla.)

A: I certainly need more information than what you've given me. While a photo might help, you'd be better off going to your local Oklahoma State Extension office in your county to get some help. Go to to find contact information.

Q: I have a few questions for you if you would be so kind. With dead branches on a maple tree, is it best to trim closest to the trunk or is it better to trim at a knuckle on the branch? Should I do vertical or horizontal cuts and when is the best time for trimming? I thought I had identified the branches that were dead, but without leaves now, it is tough to remember. Could I wait until spring or should I figure it out this fall? (e-mail reference)

A: To be on the safe side to save as many live branches as possible, wait until spring after the leaves have unfolded. Maples are heavy sap bleeders in the early spring. Allowing the leaves to open will reduce that significantly. When pruning back to the trunk or a main branch, it is better to cut just outside the knuckle area you are referring to. This will facilitate faster healing of the wound. Cutting back beyond that collar is cutting into the tree's trunk and will result in slower healing and an increased possibility of decay. The angle of cut doesn't make any difference as long as it is a clean one.

Q: My yard is very wet. If you dig down about 12 inches, you hit water. There also are areas of standing water when it rains that last for several days. The soil is a heavy clay. What kind of trees will tolerate these conditions? I am in zone 7. (e-mail reference)

A: Very few will survive, but there are possibilities. Some likely candidates are weeping willows, bald cypress and black locust. Be sure to check local cultivar availability and contact your local county Extension office for further information and guidance. Go to to find an agent near you.

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) 231-7123,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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