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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I would like to know if we can grow black walnut trees. We would like to try because we used to have one and loved the meat. Where do we find the seeds? Thanks in advance for helping us. (Crosby, N.D.)

A: I have no idea if you can. I would suggest that you contact St. Lawrence Nurseries in Potsdam, N.Y. The nursery lists black walnut stock in its catalog. I know they would be hardy enough to make it in your area because they can survive and produce in the northern part of New York. Go to http://www.sln.potsdam.ny.us/ for what is available in the catalog. The black walnuts are listed on page 27. You should ask if you could purchase nuts instead of trees. The nursery is a small business enterprise run by a husband and wife who grow and ship only organically grown plant material. Good luck.

Q: We have about 40 arborvitae planted along our drive on a thin strip of flat ground. The ground falls off drastically to a ravine just a foot from the trees. There is no direct watering system for the arborvitae. They looked fine this summer, but I just noticed that the trees are thin and browning, especially on the side facing the ravine. We had an excessively dry summer. I desperately need to save these trees, so I am wondering if there is something I should do now (25-degree weather and snow). Should I water? We are renting the home and cannot afford to be replacing all the trees. (e-mail reference)

A: You didn’t say where you live. However, it must be somewhere in the north. Essentially, I would say there is nothing you can do at this time. I would think this is something that the property owner should be made aware of. The potential failure of these trees should be the responsibility of the owner, not the renter. Additionally, someone from a local nursery or an arborist should examine the trees to see what is causing the problem. Watering during the middle of the winter is fruitless.

Q: Eight years ago, I planted a row of ficus trees to make a hedge. All the trees are on an automatic watering system. Two of the trees started to shed leaves more than the rest. A fertilizer expert sold me a product called FERICA 48 that seems to be iron-based. The one tree, by this time, had lost all its leaves. The other tree also was dropping leaves and the branches are looking a lighter color. The small branches on the trees are starting to die. I put down lots of water and then added the FERICA 48. After that, I added lots of water. The tree that lost all of its leaves got healthy, new leaves in a month. The other tree only got about half its leaves back, but they are small. Since then, both trees have started to thin out again. The biggest concern is the one that has the light branches. The new leaves and buds got black tips and then fell off. In desperation, I gave the trees another dose of fertilizer and sprayed them with Fairy Washing-up Liquid. Could it be there are bugs in the ground or on the leaves? I am desperate because I have a beautiful hedge with a bare patch developing. (Canary Islands)

A: The “land of eternal spring” is a beautiful place to live. From your description, the problem could be a root issue, too much water, poor drainage, compacted soil, girdling roots or a root fungus. Since the symptoms are not universal, I suspect it is some sort of root system failure. If that is the problem, it will not improve with time. I would encourage you to remove the two trees and try to get them replaced with trees the same size as the existing hedge. There must be competent horticulturists or plant pathologists on the islands somewhere who could examine the trees. The cause of the decline and death of these trees must be determined before replanting takes place. If the problem is a root rot fungus, then the total removal of the roots and adjacent soil is needed before replanting can be safely undertaken.

Q: I have a 3-year-old Christmas cactus that was blooming when I got it but hasn’t since. My other cactus plants bloom a great deal. The problem plant is healthy and growing. The one difference is that the problem cactus has smooth leaves instead of rough or pointing edges along the outside edges of the leaves. (e-mail reference)

A: This probably is a different cultivar or species of Christmas cactus. From your description, this sounds like your cactus may be what is referred to as an “Easter cactus.” This species will come into flower sometime in late March or early May. I would advise having patience. Maintain the plant slightly drier and cooler than the others to see if any buds form. It may take a couple of years or more for the plant to build up enough energy to do this. In the meantime, don’t treat it too generously because a little stress will help encourage flower bud setting.

Q: I came across your website during a search on why my majesty palm plant has an awful smell. We have three of these plants at work, but only one emits a bad odor. The best way I can describe the smell is that of baby vomit or spit up. The smell is awful. I couldn't find an answer, so I took matters into my own hands. I took a large pitcher and filled it with lukewarm water and a squirt of dish soap. I poured it over the top of the soil and let it drain out. I took the plant out of the pot and set it in another pot for a day. I cleaned the original pot with water that had about 1/2 cup of bleach in it. I let it sit for a day and then drained and rinsed it. I repotted the plant in the original pot. That was about six months ago. The smell was gone and all was well until today. The same plant has that same awful smell again. I am not sure what to do. The pot has great drainage and the plant never has standing water in it. The smell is worse closest to the base of the palms. I would really appreciate it if you have any advice. I can clean it the way I did in the past, but I think that is more like putting a bandage on a broken arm. (e-mail reference)

A: Of all the questions I’ve received these past 25-plus years, I think this one takes the cake! I have no idea what could be causing the stink you describe. I am amazed at your patience in dealing with it. I would recommend dumping this particular plant and go for another. We planted hundreds of majesty palms while I was in Saudi Arabia but never had anything approaching this kind of a problem. Do you have someone who is trying to get your goat by dumping something rotten smelling in the pot? Never overlook the possibility of a prankster when logic fails to provide the solution.

Q: My father was into growing houseplants but has passed away. My mom has a dieffenbachia that is very tall and has leaves only on top. My father would cut the plant and place a bag with moist soil around it to get it to root. At least I think that is what he did. My mom would like to have the plant much shorter and I would like to get a copy of the plant. Can you help? (e-mail reference)

A: That is one leggy cane plant. However, because it is, you have the opportunity to make many copies from that naked stem. Cut the cane back to about 4 to 6 inches. Take the remaining cane and cut it into 4-inch sections, but keep track of which end is the top. Get a wooden or plastic flat and some unmilled sphagnum moss. Soak the sphagnum moss and then hand wring it out. Spread the sphagnum moss on the bottom of the flat and lay the cut pieces of the dieffenbachia on top. Barely cover the pieces with the rest of the moss. Place the flat in a brightly lit room or one with abundant sunshine. Keep the moss misted with distilled water to prevent the moss from drying out. If this is too much of a task because of the dry winter air, then lightly cover the flat with clear plastic to slow the drying. In six to eight weeks, new growth should be evident on both ends of the cut pieces. When the growth has developed sufficiently, remove them from the moss and plant in a pot. The mother plant should be producing new growth at the same time if you keep it watered. For more information on this and other propagation methods, go to http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/landscap/h1257.pdf.

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 ronald.smith@ndsu.edu.


NDSU Agriculture Communication - Jan. 18, 2011

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-7123, ronald.smith@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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