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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I think I’ve read every posting on the Hortiscope website, but I still have a few questions. I live in Ohio and just purchased clumps of prunus v. schuber. I do not have a green thumb and have no knowledge of plants. I separated the clumps into separate trees and planted them. Did I just kill them by doing so? Also, I am a little confused because these plants are not listed as chokecherries. Earlier in the summer, I bought what I was told were chokecherries, but they looked like bushes. I bought from two separate places and they look distinctly different. I did not realize prunus v. schuber was a chokecherry until I was looking for information to see if I killed them. If I do have chokecherries, what should I do or don’t do? What will the berries look like and how can I use them? (email reference)

A: In 95 percent or more of the instances that I know of, chokecherries are sold as trees. Chokecherries are a very astringent fruit even when ripe. Its main claim to fame is in the jelly and wine that it produces. All of the other parts of the plant are toxic, so do not include any seed or other vegetative parts of the plant if you are making jelly or wine. There are several species of cherries on the market, especially in Ohio, so it is hard to say what you actually purchased that was called chokecherry. As far as killing your purchase by dividing, all I can say is that time will tell. They at least have the remaining weeks of fall to recover.

Q: I have several walnut trees in my area that nobody harvests, so I am interested in doing so. After they fall from the tree, will they mature? In other words, when is the best time to harvest? (email reference)

A: To harvest walnuts, you have to wait until they are mature enough to drop off the tree on their own. You don’t pick them. This can make for a bit of a messy and unpredictable nut harvest. As they ripen, the green husks will come apart and turn black. It’s at this point that they will stain anything they touch, including your hands. Don’t leave your nuts for too long inside the husks at this point. The oils will seep through the shell and taint the nutmeat. Get the nuts out of their husks as soon as they drop off the tree. Wear throwaway gloves or rubber gloves, or simply tolerate your hands being India ink black for about a week after handling them.

Q: I have a spider plant that I bought that was huge and had many orange shoots that had babies on them. I've looked online and don't see any spider plants with the orange color. Why are my shoots orange? I just moved it inside because I don't want the cold weather to harm it. However, the leaves have turned yellow and have brown tips. There are brown streaks down the middle of the leaves and they are limp. What have I done wrong? Do I repot the plant? Do I feed it distilled water? I think it might be lacking sunlight, so I've moved it to a different area. (email reference)

A: You have a live plant, not some model of vehicle where they all look exactly alike. Genetic variation exists throughout the plant kingdom. One of the challenges faced by those of us who make horticulture a career is to know and understand plants. If your spider babies are doing OK, don't give this little anomaly a second thought. Generally, it is a good idea to repot when bringing houseplants indoors for the winter. This gives you the opportunity to inspect the roots and crown for any root rot or insect problems. Also, sometimes plants respond so robustly during the summer that dividing them either is recommended or needed. Going from an outdoor environment, where the light intensity hovers around 10,000 foot candles (FC) on a cloudless day, to indoors where a 1,000 FC event would be unusual, is bound to put the plant in a shock situation. Lower light intensity means less growth and need for as much water as existed outside. You did the right thing by moving the plant where more light is available. I would encourage you to repot using fresh, pasteurized soil. Use a new pot or wash the one you have thoroughly.

Q: I am trying to find out if tomatoes will rebloom. I live in Alabama, so we have time before a frost hits. Please help if you can. (email reference)

A: You very likely have “determinate” tomato plants. These are the bush form that grow to a genetically set size, bear fruit and are done for the season. These types are popular with commercial growers, commercial food companies and heavy-duty home canners. The “indeterminate” tomato plants are vining plants that continue to grow and produce until a killing frost stops them. Some of the same varieties of tomatoes come in both determinate and indeterminate forms. To get more information on the wide variety of tomato types, go to or I think you, as well as most backyard gardeners, will be surprised at the almost endless forms and variety of tomatoes that we have to play with as gardeners.

Q: I moved to this place last year. The apple tree that is on the property started out great and had many apples on it. However, the apples never grew. They got to the size of a golf ball and then fell off. I’m just wondering if you might have an idea what could be wrong with the tree. Thank you for your time. (email reference)

A: This could be an indication that the flowers were not fertilized or that the stigma was nailed with a frost that stunted apple development. Of course, this is all conjecture on my part. Other factors could do the same thing. The problem could be excess rain at the time of ripening pollen, windy conditions or pollinating insects not being active at the time of pollen/stigma interaction. Finally, it could be that the tree needs a pollinator that was removed or never planted.

Q: I have a hibiscus tree that bloomed great last year. This year, after a weird winter, the tree did not develop leaves or blooms. We had suckers growing, but they did not develop buds. I think the buds froze. Should I trim it next spring and try again? (Yakima, Wash.)

A: Because hibiscus will bloom on new growth, go ahead and cut it back next spring to see if it will rebloom for you. Their beautiful flowers are worth the patience and effort. If a frost is expected when the new growth is just beginning, throw a frost blanket or a sheet over the plant to give it some protection.

Q: Your website has been the most helpful I've seen. My husband and I bought a blue spruce as our first Christmas tree in 2006. He planted it in frozen ground per the instructions. It has thrived for the past few years. For the past few months, it slowly has been turning brown. It has bagworms, which we will pick off and destroy. Is it too late to do that? We also had a very harsh summer with a long stretch of 100-plus temperatures. Can you help us save our first Christmas tree? I will be devastated if it dies. I am sending along photos of the tree. (Missouri)

A: While I see evidence of struggling new growth, I really think the tree is going through its last gasps of life. It is evident that bagworms have caused extensive damage on the upper part of the tree, which never will come back. From what I can make out, there is extensive damage elsewhere on the tree that could be caused by the same pest. You might be able to save the tree, but it would be in the barely surviving category and not have the majestic beauty that you want. I suggest you dispose of the tree. Excavate the existing soil in the planting site and scatter it around your property. Bring in fresh topsoil as a precaution and plant a new spruce. If you want to celebrate a re-enactment of the first Christmas tree planting, apply a heavy mulch of clean straw over the planting site. Store the new soil (it shouldn't be more than a bushel basket full) where it won’t freeze. Purchase your tree close to the Christmas holidays and plant it into the already prepared hole using the unfrozen topsoil and water in completely. Don't be concerned with the soil freezing. Just make sure the tree is well hydrated before setting it outdoors for the winter.

Q: We were underwater for more than a month during the Minot flood. We live on an oxbow of the Souris River that has many mature trees, including ash, box elder and one magnificent American elm that survived Dutch elm disease. We also had many chokecherries on one side of our property. I have lost probably $15,000 to $20,000 worth of perennial plantings if I have to replace them from nurseries. My perennial gardens included a lot of hosta, astilbe, lilies, sedum, ajuga, veronica, lily of the valley, iris, coneflower, fern, peonies, spring bulbs and many more. Is there anything that can be planted this time of year, especially plants that might be purchased in bulk? I have excellent soil and ready access to water. The good news is that I have four small hosta plants and several lilies peeking out beneath the muck. However, they appear weak and somewhat straggly. (email reference)

A: I’m sincerely sorry to hear about your loss during this horrible flood! About the only possible source I can find is at I encourage you to explore this website because it appears that there might be something you can do with one of the outlets listed. Tough characters, such as hosta, lilies and rhubarb, often will grow in spite of the beating Mother Nature threw at them. I hope you find more plants emerging. Be on the lookout for some strange stuff that you have not seen before. Floods like this usually show us plants that have never been in the area before, so vigilance is needed so you won’t be overrun by an invasive species.

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 – Sept. 28, 2011

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-7971,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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