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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have some information that might be useful to your readers. My jade plant had powdery mildew, so I sprayed it with the 3-in-1 product that your website recommends. However, the leaves became spotted and then fell off after using it. I decided to cut all the leaves off the plant. Surprisingly, the plant is surviving. After about three weeks, new leaves emerged and the plant appears to be recovering. The plant probably was sensitive to the chemicals in the product. Since I didn't read about doing this on your website, I thought what I did might be of interest to you and your readers. Thanks for the advice you provide. (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the information about your jade plant experiences. The 3-in-1 products or any other products that call for the application to be applied directly on the foliage of the plant should be used with caution. Apply the product on an area of the plant that is not highly visible to see what impact it will have on the foliage. You did the right thing and I'm glad to know that the plant is in a recovery mode. Feel free to send me a photo when you have the time because it would be interesting and probably educational to see. Thank you for your kind comment about the website.

Q: I just finished reading your Hortiscope column, but I still have a question about amaryllis plants. I have had the same bulbs for many years. I keep them growing in pots after they have bloomed and then plant them in my vegetable garden. I water the plants when needed and fertilize a few times during the summer. After the first frost, I dig up the bulbs and put them in a plastic bag. I then hang the bulbs from a rafter in the furnace area of my basement because it is quite cool in there. After flower buds start to show, I pot them and enjoy them during the winter. Since I have several plants, there are times when I have a regular garden of color. Right now, the first one I potted this year has two flower stems. The one opening has four red blooms. I plan to take another bulb and pot that very soon. The small bulbs that formed from the big ones I will leave until spring and then plant them in the garden. These will bloom in a couple of years. I don't always get two flower stems with four blossoms each, but many times I do. Last spring, I thought that two of the bulbs were too small to produce a bloom in the house, so I waited to plant them in the garden. I ended up with two beautiful blossoms. A year ago last fall, we didn't have a frost until very late in the season. When we did get a frost, the ground also froze, so I thought my amaryllis plants were history. When the ground thawed enough for me to dig, I brought them inside but doubted they would amount to anything. However, I didn't lose a single plant. That shows that they can stand some frost without killing them. For the ground to freeze so hard that I could not dig them out, it had to have been down to at least 20 degrees for some time. I did lose most of my potatoes. (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the small dissertation about your amaryllis culture. It is good to learn that they can take a good freeze and still survive. However, I wouldn’t make it a regular practice. My wife and I have had some success in getting reblooming to take place with these beautiful plants. It takes patience and proper siting to get them to come around again with a flower show during the winter months. It helps the mind survive by having some tropical color in the dead of winter.

Q: I am looking for some insight on what trees I should plant. I live near Lake Ashtabula and have good soil. The trees will be replacements for some that didn’t survive last spring’s planting. Some of the area is wet. I am looking for native, nonevasive trees, shrubs, bushes or hedges. I also would like trees that benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. The plants also would be used as a windbreak. I like trees that add color or are visually appealing. The trees should be fast growing, wind resistant and do not split. I have many seed catalogs to look through that have hundreds of varieties to choose from. The problem is that the catalogs don't tell everything, such as wind resistance and splitting. If you could give me a list of trees, I would appreciate it. I would like to know where I can purchase seeds for native wildflowers. I also would like to know if those red worm composters work before I purchase one. (e-mail reference)

A: All of your tree questions are answered in my “Tree Information Handbook” that you can download or view at The handbook lists specific characteristics for each species and has color photos. The closest wildflower source I am aware of is Prairie Restorations at I have no experience with red worm composters, so I am not in a position to pass on any kind of valid recommendation. The scuttlebutt I’ve heard is that they do what they are supposed to do. Good luck with all the planting you want to do.

Q: This fall, I cleaned out some dead trees in my farm grove. I want to replant with some type of medium-height trees that provide winter shelter and food for songbirds, pheasants and other animals. Can you give me some suggestions? Thanks. (e-mail reference)

A: I assume you are in North Dakota or Minnesota. If so, here is a website,, I suggest you go to that has a wide selection of adapted trees. Some to consider are crabapples, chokecherries, Juneberries and Russian olive.

Q: I have read your column and understand you might be able to provide me with some advice on a problem we have with our villosa lilacs. In 1990, we planted 60 villosa lilacs along the perimeter of our city lot. We have let them grow without any pruning or trimming so they would have a natural look. However, in the last three years or so, the look has gone from natural to rangy, and the foliage and blossoms are becoming sparse. Some of the branches have stopped producing foliage. We would like to save these plants and restore their vigor. Your thoughts and recommendations would be appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: They need rejuvenating pruning. Cut out the oldest and least attractive canes or branches back to the nub or crown while they are still dormant. If the task is overwhelming because there are too many to do by hand, then I’d suggest using a chain saw to cut them all back. This will give you a very strong flush of growth. The lilacs will provide vegetative growth this summer but not flower. They will start to flower in 2012. In the following years, shape them by selecting certain branches to remove. However, do not take out more than 25 to 30 percent of the branches at one time. This will encourage fullness in growth and flowering but no rangy-looking plants.

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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