You are here: Home Columns Hortiscope Hortiscope
Document Actions


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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I am looking at raising hazelnuts after reading an article in a magazine. I am looking for some local source of information, so I’m wondering if that could be you. As a kid growing up on the Spirit Lake Reservation, I remember picking hazelnuts, so I know they grow in the area. I have a patch of land that has nothing planted on it except grass. I have a hill that I moved my house on (work in progress) and sold off part of the hill to a construction company as fill. The company left gently sloped hills after it was finished. I was going to plant an apple orchard until I saw the article on growing hazelnuts. There are sellers of the planting stock, but I don't know enough about the business to make an informed decision. I also don't know if I want to do this as a business or a hobby. (e-mail reference)

A: Hazelnut trees will grow in North Dakota. The best source I know of for hardy stock is from St. Lawrence Nursery in Potsdam, N.Y. Stock from the nursery is produced organically and shipped bare root. I would encourage you to start out growing the trees as a hobby until you get the hang of all the cultural requirements. You also will find out if this is something you want to look forward to doing every day to earn a living. The St. Lawrence Nursery catalog is available at

Q: I’ve had a Norfolk pine houseplant for about two years. Every time it gets a new set of shoots or branches on top, the lower branches start to get brown edges to the middle of the branch. They eventually turn brown, get dry and fall off. It has done this ever since I got the plant. There were three plants in the pot when I got it, so my daughter took one. She says her plant does the same thing. What would cause it to do this? (e-mail reference)

A: Norfolk Island pines are a challenge to grow as houseplants in North Dakota. During the long winter months, the central heating system is drying the air to unbuttered popcorn dryness. Being native to islands, such as Hawaii, the pines thrive in high moisture, which we don’t have unless some special arrangements are made. The branches you lost never will regrow, so it is up to you to accept the way it is going to look or discard it. If you think it is worth saving, then get some distilled water and use it to mist the plant a couple of times a day during the remaining winter months. You can try air layering it to build another plant if you are game to try it. Go to for information on air layering. A description and sketch of this technique is on Pages 8 and 9.

Q: A few months ago, I e-mailed you for advice on arborvitae care in Louisiana. This winter has been unusually cold, so I'm worried about my new arborvitaes. All have lost that deep green color and are starting to turn yellow. They were planted in October, so they have been in the ground for three months. I water them once a week if there is no rain. I am wondering if this is normal for newly planted arborvitaes going through their first winter. The temperatures have been in the 30s at night and 50s during the day. (e-mail reference)

A: They should not be losing color in Louisiana the way you describe. These are extremely hardy plants and able to tolerate temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees. However, they are not going to thrive in your long summer of heat and humidity. That’s where I’m afraid you will have a problem, so it will require considerable management skills on your part. I suggest you contact a local Louisiana State University Extension horticulturist for assistance. Go to to find the one nearest you. I don’t want you to be wasting a lot of time, effort, hope and money if there is no chance the plants will make it through your hot summers.

Q: I found your tulip material to be very informative. You mention planting the bulbs this spring and having them come up next spring. The place I want to plant them is a bed along the walk to my front door. If I plant something that isn't going to bloom for a year, the bed will just look like dirt. Is it possible to plant something on top of the bulbs, such as an annual, or will doing this kill the bulbs? (e-mail reference)

A: Let me make a small clarifying point or two about your comments. It is best to plant tulip bulbs from late September to the end of October. This will give the bulbs an opportunity to get a root system up and going so they bloom the following spring. I’ve had inquiries from folks who have tulips that weren’t planted in the fall, so they wanted to know what they could do with them. If they have gone through a chilling or winter treatment, they can be potted or planted as soon as the frost is out of the ground. If the bulbs meet the cold treatment requirement, they should bloom sometime later in the spring. If they have not had a winter exposure, they probably will sit dormant until the following spring. Planting annuals over the bulbs will not harm them unless you physically affect them with your planting activity. This is a common practice after the bulbs are done blooming and the foliage dies back. I’m glad the website was informative.

Q: I plan to buy two or three apple trees this spring. However, I am confused about what variety to buy. I live in west-central Minnesota. I want to use the apples mostly for pies. The apples should be solid, somewhat tart, keep their shape and produce medium to large apples. I would like some for eating. I also would like the apples to ripen in late August to mid-September. We had a Haralson tree for many years. We liked the apples, but it ripened a little later than I like. I have been looking at nursery catalogs, which is a fine pastime on these cold, wintry days. I am leaning toward semidwarf trees. Are they as hardy as the larger trees? I also would like to purchase a tree that would mature in two to three years because I am 75 years old, so I can't wait forever! Would I do better buying at area nurseries where the trees are growing or get bare root trees from a catalog? Any help you can give me will be appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: You would be better off purchasing trees from a local nursery. They would have a good selection that should be hardy for your area of the country. Avoid the big-box retailers because their tree selections often are indiscriminate and may not be hardy enough for your area. For a good explanation of apple varieties, I suggest that you review the St. Lawrence Nursery catalog at The nursery lists 150 apple varieties that are very well-described. However, the trees he sells are bare root only. It probably would take three to five years before the trees started bearing apples. At the very least, you could check out what the local nurseries have to offer to see if they are listed and described on the nursery’s website.

Q: I acquired a cactus from a Mexican restaurant that closed down. I repotted the cactus because it was in a small pot. It seemed to be doing well for a time. I don’t know what kind of cactus it is, so I’ve sent you a picture of it. I really like this cactus and it has become my pride and joy. However, some of the stems have been getting soft, leaning over or falling off. I do burn wood in the winter, so at times it can get chilly in my house. I did put a heat lamp on it that I never turn off. Is that a bad idea? (e-mail reference)

A: All I can guess is that it is an Opuntia species of cactus. Most cactus plants are killed in home situations because of overwatering, especially in winter. Cut off or remove any pads that are dead or dying. Set the plant light on 13- to 14-hour cycles. The plant needs a diurnal cycle to thrive. Try to control temperature fluctuations a little better and watch out for smoke backups when lighting a fire.

Q: I have a question about my spider plant. My plant was taken outside for four to five minutes during a cold snap. It was taken outside because we were moving. When we got it back inside, all the baby spiders were wilted and looked dead. The rest of the leaves are starting to do the same. Is there anything I can do to save it? (e-mail reference)

A: It depends on how low the freezing temperatures were and if the crown of the plant suffered cold damage. At this point, all you can do is remove the affected foliage as it dies and hope the crown will produce new growth. If it is going to produce new growth, you should see some evidence of this action in six to eight weeks. In the meantime, treat the plant as you normally would. Don’t overwater or fertilize the plant at this time. These common mistakes make things worse for the plant.

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 - Feb. 2, 2011

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-7123,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: 5 Tips to Evaluate Health Information in a High-tech World  (2019-05-16)  Reliability and trustworthy information is important when making health decisions.  FULL STORY
Use of Releases
The news media and others may use these news releases in their entirety. If the articles are edited, the sources and NDSU must be given credit.

Powered by Plone, the Open Source Content Management System