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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have a seedpod on my spider plant. How long does it take to ripen? (email reference)

A: No idea. I would suggest that you wait until the pod starts to discolor a bit and then put a small paper bag around it to collect the seeds as the pod opens. Keep me posted on this because this is something my spider plants never have done.

Q: Thank you for your Hortiscope column in the Farmers Forum. I raise a lot of fruits and vegetables, so I look forward to reading the column every week. Last winter, the snow was so heavy that it broke most of my latham raspberry canes about a foot off the ground. I cut to the ground the canes that were broken (70 percent). They grew back and now are 6 to 7 feet tall. Should I cut them back to 4 or 5 feet when I am pruning out the old canes this spring or should I leave them as they are? Thank you for any advice you have. (email reference)

A: Go ahead and cut the new growth back to about shoulder height and enjoy the resulting fruit this summer. You are lucky because my latham rotted from the soil being too saturated last year. Now that I have them dug out, I’m considering what else I can plant in that location to get some summer fruit. Thank you for the nice comment about the Hortiscope column.

Q: One of the local master gardeners was trying to do some research on the wodarz apple. Do you know if there are any variety descriptions for this apple or disease resistance ratings? Any help would be greatly appreciated. (email reference)

A: You may have seen this already, but all I was able to find is at

Q: I have some very tall heritage river birch trees around my house. My husband had a service top the trees. However, the company cut the trees down from 40 to 50 feet tall to 15 feet or so. Will they live? (email reference)

A: How I wish you had contacted me before the trees were worked on. After what you describe as the result of their work, it sounds like you might as well turn the remainder of the trees into firewood. Trees never should be topped in residential or commercial landscape situations. Birches are especially sensitive to excess pruning, so they should be pruned lightly when needed. Topping is a term that should be forbidden in the vocabulary of arborists. I’m afraid that what was done to your trees is more akin to butchery. If you can, please send me a photo or two of what the trees look like. When I see the photos, I can tell if there is a chance for the trees to survive. However, I doubt they will live. Any tree that has its size reduced by more than 50 percent is nothing more than a stump.

Q: I saw your name and email address on a website, so I was hoping you'd give me your advice about my schefflera plant. I live in southern California. The schefflera is about 25 feet tall. The leaves and plant look great from my second-story window. It's planted about 3 feet from the house, so I am concerned about the roots damaging the foundation. If you have any advice you could share with me, I would greatly appreciate it. (email reference)

A: You have nothing to worry about as long as your foundation doesn’t leak or isn’t deteriorating. If it will make you feel better, you can have a barrier installed between the tree and the foundation. Biobarrier is a fabric material that is used around golf course greens and other areas where tree roots might be invasive. It keeps the roots from doing any damage by killing the tip of the root growth without harming the rest of the plant. It is guaranteed to last for 20 years. Go to for a listing of contractors in your area. However, I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. It sounds like you have a beautiful specimen that many people would be envious of. Keep in mind that tree roots will follow the path of least resistance toward water and air in the soil.

Q: I read an article not too long ago about a new shade tree called northern acclaim honey locust. It is what I am looking for but I have been unable to find a supply source. Can you suggest a source for this tree? (Fergus Falls, Minn.)

A: There is a source in Sauk Center, Minn. For more information about the tree and the company, go to You have found the ideal tree for our climate and region. Enjoy the tree and thanks for supporting NDSU woody plant research by purchasing this tree!

Q: I’ve had a spider plant in my office for many years. A few months ago, I moved to a different office and put the plant on a high cupboard. Since then, the plant has climbed out of the pot toward the light from the window. It is in two brown strands about 6 inches long. The green leaves are growing from the ends of these ropelike tentacles. I would like to get it back in the pot but am not too sure how to go about it. Could you advise a rescue plan, please? (email reference)

A: There is always something different happening with these plants no matter how much experience I’ve had with them. Based on what you have told me, I would say it is time for a major repotting of this character. Get it off the top of the cupboard, get a new and slightly larger pot, use fresh potting soil and repot right up to the base of the ropelike structures you described. Place the plant where it can get adequate natural light from the window. Supplement the natural light with an artificial light set to be on for 12 hours at a time. The plant is reacting to a single light source, so it needs to go through the repotting/relocation process to return to something approaching a normal environment. Spider plants are very tough, so the plant should respond to this treatment without any problems.

Q: I’ve had a ficus tree in my home for eight years. It has been doing well. However, on the stem of the tree, there is a growth that keeps enlarging. It’s a beige/brown bump coming out of the side of the tree. Should I be concerned? Your advice is appreciated. (email reference)

A: What you are seeing is a simple gall. The gall very likely is harmless to the plant because it is living as a noninfectious parasite. If you remove it, you probably will see some (or one) larvae inside or at least see evidence of where one existed previously. In rare instances, the gall could be caused by something other than a harmless insect. In either case, you have nothing to worry about. It just is an interesting and rare phenomenon.

Q: I plant a lot of bulbs and perennials. I've been adding potting soil and had been getting some compost from the landfill. One year, I bought soil from one of the landscaping places. The city compost seems to bring in lots of weeds, but the other soil was not much better. Is there anywhere that a person can buy the dirt like the piles you have on campus? I’m trying to make life a little easier. (email reference)

A: Those piles of soil you see on campus also come with weed seeds. We use a pre-emergent (Preen), which does a very good job of keeping about 90 percent of the weed population down. It must be cultivated in and applied just before a rain event or watered in. The only other option is to purchase potting soil that is pasteurized. However, it is outrageously expensive for what you intentions are.

Q: I have a problem with worms in my cherry trees. This property is at least a mile from other cherry trees, although I sometimes find a rare chokecherry in the woods here and there. The trees seem healthy and bear well. Unfortunately, not everyone likes to eat cherries with worms in them. Do you think cutting the trees back almost to the stump but above the graft would help? Would that break the insect cycle and free us from the problem for at least a short period? Is the insect able to survive longer than a year in its ground stage? I prefer not to spray if I don’t have to. I would very much appreciate any advice. Thank you in advance for any suggestions you might have. (Kootenay, British Columbia)

A: There are a couple of organically approved products that you might want to consider to control this pest. The two are Spinosad and Neem, but they might be under other commercial names in Canada. For cultural control, place plastic landscape fabric or another barrier on the ground under the canopy of the cherry trees to prevent larvae in dropped fruit from burrowing into the soil, where they will pupate for the winter. Landscape fabric placed in the spring also will prevent adult flies from emerging from the soil. Keep the fabric clean because soil and debris on top would provide pupation sites for the fruit flies. You also might look around to see if there is a pheromone product available that you can use. It will attract the male fly into the trap and prevent mating with the female so the female will be unable to lay eggs under the skin of the developing fruit. The pruning tactic you have in mind would be disastrous for the trees. You might as well remove them if you are going to cut them down almost to the stump. Keep in mind that insects have an amazing homing mechanism hardwired into their biology. They are able to scope out the object of their desire from miles away, so your tactic would not cure the problem. Growing any kind of edible fruit is an ongoing struggle between the grower and the predators out there who think your efforts are all for their enjoyment!

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 – Feb. 23, 2012

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