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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Readers: In responding to an inquiry concerning the growing of black walnuts in Crosby, I stated that I wasn’t sure the trees would grow there and proceeded to give some advice. Somehow, this was interpreted that I didn’t know black walnuts grew in our state. They do. I know it because one of my neighbors has a beautiful black walnut tree. Since then, 18 of you good readers have sent me e-mails or called me to tell me of black walnuts growing in your vicinity or on your property. Thank you for the feedback. It proves to me that the column is read carefully by many of you! The last time I was in Crosby was more than 22 years ago. I honestly can’t recall seeing any black walnut trees growing there. Therefore, when the inquiry came to me, I answered that I didn’t know if black walnuts would grow in that corner of the state. I still don’t because no one from Crosby has contacted me. Anyway, my assistant, editor and I would like to put the black walnut question to rest. Thanks to those of you who are willing to offer some of the nuts to this person. If the writer ever gets back in touch with me, I’ll link him up with some of you.

Also, I recently received a carefully typewritten letter postmarked Spokane, Wash. The letter was very complimentary about the information in the Hortiscope column. These compliments were greatly appreciated. However, the sender did not include a return address on the envelope or in the letter. With the hope that she is reading the column, I want to thank “Old Lady P” (her signature). She has been using coffee grounds in her garden for 40 years. May your garden and life continue to flourish!

Q: We bought some lots in Hague, which is in the south-central part of the state. We would like to plant some trees and were wondering what kind of trees would do best in that area. We live in Wisconsin, so I would buy them here and bring them to Hague. I would like to plant some pine and other trees that grow fast. We are planning to retire in a few years and would like to have some average-sized trees by that time. (e-mail reference)

A: The best thing I can recommend for you is to refer to this publication at You will see a listing of trees and shrubs that grow in North Dakota. The publication will tell what trees are native to the state and what the soil preferences are. From my observations, three very adaptable pines (ponderosa, limber and scotch) grow in the state. However, review the list, click on the name and look at the color photos, plus a description for each of species listed.

Q: I saw your website about schefflera, but I did not see my topic. I have a beautiful, huge schefflera in my steam-heated apartment. It has done well through the years. This summer, I did a lot of fertilizing, so it grew significantly. One branch added many new leaves from the stalk and other branches grew huge leaves from the extension of the branches. Recently, the branch with 10 new leaves on the trunk started dying from the top. Each day the sickness goes farther down the trunk and the newer leaves are wilting and falling off. The stalk has been turning a darker green from the top downward. I broke off some of the trunk from the top and it looks like there’s a white fungus in the center. Also, the wood is soggy. Could the problem be root rot? I am somewhat perplexed because the branch closer to the base of the plant is healthy and a separate trunk is very healthy. Do you have any suggestions about what to do? Is there some sort or antifungus treatment I can give it? Should I dry out the plant? I look forward to your response. (e-mail reference)

A: I cannot tell from your description what the problem is. If you can cut the affected parts back to healthy tissue and allow it to callus over, that might arrest any further development of the problem. The fact that the other stems are healthy and solid is a good sign. Stressing the plant a little by withholding water might help, but it depends on what it is you are dealing with. The only way to get an accurate diagnosis is to send a sample to a plant pathology or diagnostic lab at the land-grant university in your state.

Q: I have noticed a reddish tinge on the bark of three of my apple trees and a red maple. The branches affected have splitting and peeling bark and eventually die. This has been going on for about three seasons. The red color looks like individual red fuzzy spores. Is there anything I can do at this point? (Eugene, Ore.)

A: The best advice I can give you is to have the tree inspected by a certified arborist. There should be someone in your community. To find one, go to You need an onsite evaluation to properly diagnosis what is going on and find out if the trees can be saved.

Q: My girlfriend and I were discussing watering the old cottonwood tree in front of the house because it has been a warm and dry winter. The tree is more than 80 years old. With most trees, a person should water at the drip line where rain falls off the tree. Is that also true for cottonwood trees? (e-mail reference)

A: Watering around the drip line of any tree is the best rule of thumb to follow. Root systems, especially those of the cottonwood, will adjust to the soil environment they are in to survive.

Q: I bought a package of tulip bulbs last fall and stored them. I forgot about them until last week. They are still firm and have nice sprouts coming out. Should I wait until spring to plant the bulbs? We have a spring that is even later than Fargo's. Are they past saving? Several years ago, I bought "volunteer" maple trees. Last summer, I noticed many bumpy spots in brown and black on the leaves. The spots wouldn't brush off. The leaves also were starting to wither. What could this be and will it continue? Thanks for any help you can give me. (Devils Lake, N.D.)

A: I’d suggest trying to pot them and enjoying their flowers. As far as the maples, I would suggest sending a sample or two of the affected leaves to a lab for analysis after the trees leaf out this summer.

Q: We have a large evergreen oak tree in our front yard that has been leaking what seems to be water from the junction of its trunk. The junction of the trunk is a foot or so from the ground. Do you know what is wrong with our tree? We think the tree is more than 25 years old. Do you know what we can do to help it? (e-mail reference)

A: Being an evergreen oak tree, you are obviously from the southern part of our country. This seepage could be what is called slime flux. It indicates some internal decay is taking place in the tree that has not been compartmentalized sufficiently. You need to have a certified arborist inspect the tree to make recommendations as to what can be done. Depending on where you live, you also could contact your local Extension Service office to see if it can be of assistance.

Q: We have about 60 emerald green arborvitaes. All of them have been in the ground from three to eight years. This year, we were slammed by snow, freezing sleet and then more snow. The total snowfall is about 24 inches. All of the arborvitaes are heavy with snow and ice. They are bent down to the ground and ended up being buried in snow for about a week. I've tried to pull the branches and stalks of each shrub out of the snow. However, they are badly bent and a fair amount of needles have been lost. Do you feel these shrubs will bounce back and look the way they used to look? Is there anything I can do to help them? Sorry for the length of this question. (e-mail reference)

A: Plant materials suffer brutally when we have winters like this one. None will thrive under layers of ice and snow that cause breakage or severe bending under heavy loads such as you describe. I’ve seen in some instances where arborvitaes will realign themselves to their original form. In other instances, they have not. In one case, the frustrated owner pruned them back to a shrub form, which is not something you want from emerald green arborvitaes. All I can tell you is to wait until spring or early summer to see what the results will be from all this weather brutality and hope for the best. In the meantime, try your best to keep them from getting bent over anymore from more snow or ice storm events.

Q: I have what I think is a desiree begonia. This plant has been around for many years because it used to belong to my mother-in-law. I prune it, place the clippings in water and watch them get roots. I then transplant them and continue making more plants. I give them away and donate some to the local mission or any nonprofit society. I think the leaves are beautiful and love how the plant can be tailored to grow in many different ways. If I would like it to flower, can you suggest a plant food to help in this process? I have many plants in different areas of my house. I have done the drying out thing and other tips that I have learned about on the Internet. I just thought that you might be able to suggest something to jumpstart the flowering of my beautiful plants. I will love them regardless, but I have seen flowers on other begonias. I think the flowers are so delicate and beautiful. Any suggestions? (Victoria, B.C.)

A: Your natural light intensity in Victoria will be low for five or more months of the year. The secret to getting any plant to bloom that is not day length-controlled is to do a combination of management schemes. Increase the light intensity and duration, cut back somewhat on the fertilizer and water and be patient. This might necessitate you getting a plant grow light or two. Put the light on for 14 to16 hours a day for a few months to see if it will set flower buds for you. In the meantime, do not push the fertilizer and watering. From your note, it appears you are a very generous person, so that generosity probably extends to your plant care. Many plants will accept all the tender loving care you can give them but only give back minimal rewards such as leafy growth.

Q: I have a few questions about apples. I have noted that some apples have as many as 12 seeds and others as few as two. Why is that? Secondly, if I save and dry the seeds in the house, will they grow if planted next spring (if that ever gets here)? What tips do you have for drying and planting the seeds? Thanks in advance for your time and consideration of these questions. (e-mail reference)

A: It sounds like you might be a shirttail relative of Johnny Appleseed. A full ovary of seeds versus a partial set goes back to if the fertilization was successful or the fruit may be exhibiting parthenocarpy, which is seedless fruit development, which also is known as virgin fruit. The seed should be stored at this time of year in dampened sphagnum moss in a container in the crisper section of the refrigerator until spring. Only allow the seeds to dry sufficiently to facilitate ease of handling during planting. Plant the seeds outdoors in a prepared bed with friable soil that is about 1/2 to 1 inch deep. Don’t go any deeper because the seedlings will use up all of their stored energy trying to emerge into sunlight. Protect the emerging seedlings from rodents that will be seeking such succulent growth for nourishment!

Q: Our beautiful 18-year-old river birch was damaged by the last snowstorm. Two of the three main trunks have snapped off about 15 feet from the ground. I thought that the entire tree would have to go, but the tree removal people lopped off all three trunks at the same height and assured me that the branches will grow out. It looks awful right now, but I am willing to wait a year or two to see if the tree will grow back. What do you think? Should we give up and have the tree removed? (e-mail reference)

A: If they cut it back to where there are no major branches below the cutoff points, then the stumps will remain stumps. Any growth that may come forth will be known as epicormic growth (suckers) that will not develop into worthwhile branches. In this case, the tree should be removed.

Q: I got your name from a friend who works at a university in 4-H. She said you might be able to help me on the path to understanding what would be involved in hydroponics for the commercial production of strawberries. I am very interested in doing this. I need to figure out the cost, yields and returns. If you can point me in the right direction, I would greatly appreciate it. (Southern California)

A: I have no expertise in this subject area. Try your land-grant university for basic and possibly specific information. Some information on hydroponics is available at

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 - March 9, 2011

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