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 need some advice. I have jade plants that are growing nicely. However, they reach a certain point where they get top heavy and bend over. Short of propping them up with sticks, how do I get them to grow stronger stems? Am I overwatering? Do I need bigger pots? Please help if you can. (email reference)

A: Plants, like people, need exercise to develop strong tissue. In their natural environments, houseplants such as jade are challenged to withstand their conditions. We cultivate the plants to become “houseplants” where the environment is without any physical challenges. Your jade likely is being overwatered and not getting enough light. To thrive and develop strong tissue, most houseplants need more light to build thicker cell walls and adequate, but not excessive, water. The plant needs some exposure to air movement to develop stress tissue, which keeps the plants growing upright and self-supportive. I suggest that you cut your jade back to where it can stay upright without any outside support and increase its exposure to natural or artificial light that comes close to what they would receive in their native environment. Set up an oscillating fan on a timer that will cause stress tissue to develop as new cells are being formed so the plant can support itself.

Q: I have a gentleman who has some aspen trees in his yard that have been severely debarked by some deer. I know you had mentioned Plant Skydd for preventing deer damage. However, is there anything he can do after the damage is done? (email reference)

A: If the trees are completely girdled, they are goners. If not, there is a chance they may survive. In that case, he should apply Plantskydd or some other deer repellant at his earliest convenience.

Q: I just noticed that my money tree plant has a clear, sticky substance on parts of the leaves and stems. I sprayed it with a garden and insect spray and let it sit for a day. I then washed every leaf. Two days later, the sticky substance was back. What is the cause of this sticky stuff and what would be the best product to use to prevent it? I also tried a systemic, but I’m not sure if it worked. How much time should I wait before washing the leaves after spraying? I live in your old neighborhood, so our days and nights are in the 40s and 50s, so keeping it outdoors for any length of time is out of the question. I don’t want to lose this plant but can’t afford to have it affect the others in the room. Should I try malathion? I don’t want to kill it. Please help. (Amherst, N.Y.)

A: A money tree is a bonsai plant that is subject to spider mites, aphids and mealy bugs. My first guess is that your plant has spider mites. All three of these pests can be controlled by washing the plants under a tepid spray of water in the shower. You also can use Safer Insecticidal or Miticidal Soap, which should be available at garden stores in the Buffalo area. Once you’ve got the problem licked, frequent misting with distilled water during the winter months would be a good practice to keep this from recurring.

Q: I live in southeastern Michigan and have a very shady yard. I can grow begonias very well in the summer. I have brought some into the house in their original pots. Can I leave them in the pots and take them back outside in the spring? I trimmed one of the plants outside. However, by the time I got it in the door, all I had was a pot of dirt with no stem. Will the others do the same thing? We heat our garage to about 40 degrees. Is that too cold for the plants? I also have a sunny, cool room and a basement with south-facing windows. Which location would be best for these plants? I trimmed back the large angel wing because it was dropping leaves and flowers. Thanks for your advice. (email reference)

A: A temperature of 40 degrees is too cold for begonias. They need a strong interior light source that is augmented with natural light coming through unshaded windows. While not as easy to overwinter as tuberous begonias that can be allowed to go dormant, angel wings need to be kept moderately moist and not allowed to dry out completely.

Q: I love your helpful website. I have healthy indoor hibiscus plants that have not bloomed for months. I've been fertilizing weekly and moved the plants from a root-bound pot to a larger one. The plants also have developed some type of problem on the leaves. There are white areas that are irregular in shape. Some of the areas are quite large. I am willing to prune the plants if you want me to. (Washington Island, Wis.)

A: Good idea to prune heavily when bringing indoors what I call summer hibiscus. It sounds like your plant has a powdery mildew fungus. If confined to just a few leaves, I'd suggest removing and disposing of the bad leaves. Use a fan to move some air over the foliage to keep the fungus from recurring. I also would encourage you to consider using a light on the plants during our dark winter days. It is a good idea to stop the weekly fertilization because that could be contributing to the mildew development. Fertilize using a diluted solution when new growth is starting to be evident and then only twice a month at most.

Q: I live in western Washington. I planted tulips for the first time last year at this time. I used Miracle-Gro soil and planted my tulips per the instructions. When spring came, only one side of the flower box produced flowers. The flower box has drainage holes of the same size throughout the underside. The tulips had the exact same exposure to the sun and they were from the same package of bulbs. When I dug around to find out what was going on, I found that some of the bulbs were rotten. What would cause them to rot on one half of the box but not the other? What can I do to prevent this from happening again? It looked pretty silly with my beautiful flower box only having tulips on one side. I read on one website not to water tulips for a couple of weeks after planting because they are susceptible to rot in the early stages. However, it rains all the time here. Should I cover the flower box for a couple of weeks after planting? I also was wondering what other plants that bloom during different seasons are compatible with tulips. I want to have different flowers throughout the year. I love tulips, but they have such a short life once they bloom. I need more color around here. Thank you so much for any help you can give me. (email reference)

A: I can only guess that somehow the nonblooming side of the flowerbox did not have adequate drainage or got impacted with more water than the blooming side did. All spring-flowering bulbs have a short life. If you want something to go beyond the spring burst of bloom, you would need to plant some summer bulbs, such as tuberous begonias or annuals, that are adapted to the light conditions of that site. For some ideas on what to plant, go to or Good luck.

Q: Without really thinking about it, I purchased a hibiscus plant this year. I liked the way it looked. While doing my fall cleanup, I noticed that the hibiscus was not looking very good. I kept the tag that came with it and realized that my hibiscus is meant to be an annual in my climate. That’s fine, but I have grown to like this plant. I knew we had more cold weather coming that night, so I dug it up and put it in the largest plant container I had. I brought it inside and gave it some water and Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food. However, the leaves are wilting and falling off. Some are yellow and falling off. The container I used has a bottom for the water to settle. It was full, so I emptied it. I remembered I had a grow light, so I hooked it to the ceiling and put it on a timer. The plant has been inside for three days. I know some of this is stress, but I fear that it was outside in the cold for too long. I am not sure what else to do. This is bugging me more than I expected. Part of the problem was my irresponsibility in not paying attention to the plant. However, I think it is more the fact that I like this little guy and would like to keep it around. I am going to attach some pictures to give you an idea of what I am talking about. Thank you for any help. (email reference)

A: Don’t be so hard on yourself. The plant looks OK. If you are patient and don’t overwater or try to push it with fertilizer, it will recover. You then can replant it outdoors next spring when the danger of frost is past. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Give it 14-plus hours of light on a timer and keep it in the same location through the winter months.

Q: I have two silver maples in my front yard that are 30 or more years old. The one that drops pods in the spring drops most of its leaves by early to mid-November. Its mate still is full of leaves. This happens every year, and most of the time there is snow on the ground before it consistently drops leaves. Is this a soil issue or can there be that much variability in when silver maples drop their leaves? (email reference)

A: Silver maples vary on when they drop their leaves. This variation happens with many tree species, such as elms, birches and lindens. About the only time one sees uniformity in leaf drop is where the trees are clonal stock or there is no difference in exposure, water or nutrient status, which would be unusual in a landscape setting.

Q: I have a couple of questions for you. Is it OK for me to mow my grass even though it looks like it is dormant? I would like it shorter going into winter. Also, I bought a Selaginella that looks like the one on this website at I have been kind of hard on it, so the leaves have turned a pinkish color. Is there any hope that I can keep it alive inside this winter? Thanks for your advice. (email reference)

A: The only thing I know about this plant is that it is commonly used in making terrariums and needs high humidity indoors to make it through the winter. Place the plant on a pebbled tray filled with water to keep the surrounding air humidified. You can spray the plant a couple of times a day or place it in a terrarium setting with good indirect light. I think if you find a reference book on terrarium plants, it will give you all the information you need. We used to have terrarium workshops when I was at Ohio State, so I knew the plants that could be used successfully in terrarium gardening. However, that was more than three decades ago, so my memory has faded a lot!

Q: We are new to Minnesota and its frigid winter weather. We came from the Sacramento, Calif. area. The house we purchased had an old little wagon with a broken handle in the corner of the yard. I filled it with potting soil and planted leaf ivy and petunias in it. It looked great. Most of the flowers are gone now, but what should I do with the ivy? My only thought is to find enough pots to transplant the ivy and bring the pots indoors. (email reference)

A: Welcome to cold country! You didn't say what kind of ivy you have. If it is English ivy, it needs to be brought indoors for the winter. If it is Virginia creeper, then it is hardy enough to withstand Minnesota weather. To be on the safe side, just about any ivy should be brought indoors for the winter. If you could send me a photo or two of what it is you are talking about, I could give you more accurate advice.

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 email

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Nov. 23, 2011

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-7971,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
Renewable Accounts: Renewable Accounts: E15 fuel could help you, the environment and N.D. farmers  (2019-06-06)  The EPA now allows E15 fuel to be sold year-round.  FULL STORY
Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: Enjoy Lounging Outdoors With a Refreshing Beverage  (2019-06-13)  If plain water is kind of boring, try infusing it with fruit and/or herbs.  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