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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: We have a sand cherry tree that had some winter damage a couple of years ago, so I removed the damaged parts. However, the bark is severely damaged, and we expect to take the rest of the tree down in the coming year or so. At the same time, we have been nurturing a nearby sucker from this same tree. The sucker is in a good spot and doing well. Can we cut down the original tree and still have the sucker continue to thrive for years to come? (e-mail reference)

A: This happens all the time! In some instances, the suckering habit of the cherry species can be annoying and distractive to the objectives of a residential landscape setting. By removing the parent plant and any other suckers, you will give the sucker that you want a good shot at growing and filling in the empty spot.

Q: I have two tree roses in separate containers. In the past, I have laid them in the ground with mulch on top and then replanted them in the spring. This year, I am unable to do this, but I do have an unheated garage. What is the best way to care for the roses this winter? (e-mail reference)

A: You didn't indicate where you live, so simply moving them into an unheated garage may be sufficient. If the winter temperatures do go below zero in the garage, then it would be best to wrap the rose trees in some insulation for protection. I'd leave them outdoors until they either defoliate completely or go totally dormant. Once the temperature is predicted to drop into the single digits, get them into the garage as soon as possible. Get the containers hydrated before a permanent freeze sets in and monitor the temperature fluctuations to provide protection when needed.

Q: I'm so confused by my crotons. You gave me advice on the first croton I bought and now it's doing wonderfully. The new one I have has the curly-type leaves and is an indoor plant. My other plant is an outdoor plant. The indoor plant gets light from the window during the day, but the leaves do not stand straight up and several of them have broken off. I come home and find leaves broken off as if they were cut off. I don't understand why this is happening. Should I put it outside to get more sun? (e-mail reference)

A: Obviously the two growers had different final sites in mind for their crotons. One grower was envisioning an outdoor plant that would grow in the south where it is mostly frost-free. The other grower envisioned a cozy inside houseplant for growing in the north. Basically, both plants were grown in greenhouse situations to get them ready for market, which gives them the maximum amount of sunlight for good growth. The fact that your plant is shedding foliage is an indication that the plant probably is not getting enough light. You can correct this problem by adding a plant light with a timer switch. Set the timer so the plant gets 14 hours of light per day. This should stop the plant from dropping leaves and promote new growth. To wean the plant off this long light cycle, gradually reduce the timing during the winter months to approximate the natural light you get through your window. These are very adaptable plants to use as houseplants, but they need a transition from what they were getting to what they will be getting.

Q: I bought an apricot tree three months ago. Since that time, it has been losing leaves, so it seems to be dying. I have avoided overwatering it and it gets good sun. It was a little stressed due to our Texas heat. Is there anything I can do to save it? I used a knife and peeled off the skin from the trunk and found some green in it. (e-mail reference)

A: From what you have told me, I cannot give you adequate advice. Contact the Texas Extension Service office where you live to see if someone can assist you. Go to to find your county office. If they cannot help you directly, they can hook you up with a horticulturist at Texas A and M who should be able to address your concerns.

Q: I have a 7-year-old spider plant. It is a wonder that I have been able to keep it alive for this long without difficulty. However, brown spots have been forming all over the leaves. It was most distressing when I first saw them, so I immediately replanted it. That idea hasn't worked and now the many baby spider plants are leaking a clear liquid from their leaves. Do you have any suggestions? This spider plant is very dear to me. (e-mail reference)

A: Check for spider mite, aphid or other insect activity. Check around town where you live to see if there is a florist who knows how to diagnose houseplant problems or contact the land-grant university where you live to have a sample sent to its plant diagnostic lab for analysis.

Q: I've got a linden tree in a tree row that I planted this spring, but the tree didn't make it past the lawnmower. I've got some extra trees that I planted in a garden for this very purpose. Would it be beneficial to dig one up and transplant it now or wait until spring? If I wait until spring, I think I might have a smaller window of time between the time the ground thaws and the buds start to swell. To be considered dormant, do all the leaves have to fall off or even the buds at a certain stage? (e-mail reference)

A: If you can get it into the ground this week before everything freezes, go for it! Otherwise, wait until spring thaw.

Q: I'm a ninth grade student at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas. I'm going to do a project on the effect of temperature variations on worm growth. I'm going to set up an experiment using three groups of earthworms. Each group will be at a different temperature. All of the worms will be of the same species and in the same type of soil. They also will get equal amounts of food. I'll be measuring the growth of the worms daily for a several-week period. I've been doing some research about earthworms, but I’m hoping you can answer some brief questions. How often should I feed the worms and what should I feed them? What should I do to regulate the moisture of the containers? What types of maintenance should I perform on the containers and how often should I do this? I know you're very busy, but I’d appreciate any information you can provide for my project. (e-mail reference)

A: Although I practice composting and work on improving the earthworm population in my garden, I am not considered an expert on vermiculture. Basically, what you want to do is feed them vegetable and fruit table scraps, such as orange and banana peels, potato skins or any vegetable food scraps but no meat or fat. You want a container that will allow for moisture to seep through to a collection pan so that the container doesn't become stagnant with excess standing water. This liquid, a byproduct of the composting and worm feeding activity, is a good source of organic fertilizer for houseplants or outdoor plants. As far as the amount of food to provide and the maintenance, I don't have that answer for you because I've never done a controlled study on this subject. I know that keeping the container too wet will kill them. On the flip side, keeping the container too dry would not be conducive to healthy vermiculture growth. I assume you've given Google a shot at answering your question or talked with some of the horticulture professors at Texas A and M. If not, be sure to look them up at I'm sure someone there will be interested in assisting you with your project. Good luck and please let me know what you find out with your experiments.

Q: During the past couple of years, my jade plants have been growing nicely. However, I have noticed a residue almost like a pitchy substance on the surrounding furniture surfaces. The carpeting below the plants has this same sticky stuff as well. The leaves seem to be sticky with some sort of small particles on them. I have looked closely at the leaves and they do not appear to have any kind of bugs or mites. Can a jade plant give off a sticky residue? If so, why is the plant doing this? Is there a treatment to remedy this condition? (e-mail reference)

A: The sticky substance your jade is giving off is an indication of mite, scale or aphid feeding activity. It may require that you look very closely at the plant with a magnifying glass to see what pest the plant has. All three of these pests have piercing-sucking mouth parts they use for feeding. The sticky material is their excreta from their feeding activity. The mites are about the size of a period. Scale and aphids would be on the underside of the leaves and stems. If you have mite activity, look for minute webbing. Without knowing what pest is on your plant, I can’t make an accurate recommendation for control. Mites and aphids can be dislodged with hard sprays of tepid water. The scale would require the use of a systemic insecticide that can be obtained from a local garden supply store. It also would control any aphid activity. I hope this gives you some possible guidelines to eliminate this problem.

Q: I have two blazing maples that were planted five years ago. The maples have been doing great. This spring, I noticed one of the trees had black, bumpy stuff on the trunk and limbs. I haven't been able to find anything about what this could be. Do you have any idea? I live in North Carolina. (e-mail reference)

A: These could be cankers or simply corky tissue, but I cannot tell from your description. I encourage you to contact the Extension Service office in your county to get someone locally to take a look at what you are describing. Go to to find your county office.

Q: I have a friend with a very bumpy lawn. It was core aerated three years ago. The problem is to the point that it is difficult to mow. My friend has a lawn service fertilize and spray for weeds. A nursery owner suggested the problem might be night crawlers. I have reviewed your Hortiscope information on night crawlers and am wondering if it is too late to apply Sevin as you suggest. Can this be done this year or should my friend wait until spring? Is this something that you recommend the homeowner do or use a lawn service?

A: With the cold weather we’ve had, the night crawlers are almost dormant. Your friend would be better off waiting until next spring to have a lawn care company perform some tasks once the grass is actively growing and been mowed at least three times. Core aerate the lawn followed by a deep power raking. This will dig up a lot of duff that will have to be raked up. It will look terrible when done, but if the lawn grass was otherwise healthy and vigorous, it will recover. Follow this up with a lawn rolling using a ballast roller filled to about 75 percent capacity. This will refirm the surface. Apply Sevin to control lawn grubs and water it in. This also will control about 25 to 35 percent of the night crawler population. Follow good lawn maintenance practices from that point on. A reapplication of Sevin can be made late summer when the weather begins to cool and rainfall increases.

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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