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How To Plant A Tree How To Plant A Tree
Ron Smith answers questions about flowers, trees, gardens and shrubs.

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have a plot that is full of clover and weeds. I want to keep the clover, but get rid of the weeds. They are broadleaf weeds, but I’m not sure what they are. They look to be some kind of foxtail or something along those lines. I have read that 2,4-D will kill the clover. Should I just spray the weeds or spray the whole plot? When should I spray? (Virginia)

A: Thanks for making contact. Since you reside in Virginia, you need to get in touch with my counterpart with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. Go to to find the person nearest you. If that person is unable to assist you, he or she can get you in touch with someone at Virginia Tech or Virginia State University that is a specialist in weed control situations.

Q: My neighbor has a tea rose bush that I'm dying to have. There is a lot of new growth that my neighbor prunes out every spring. Last spring, we took some new growth from the mother bush and put them in water that had fertilizer in it. However, they all died. How do I go about getting the new growth to produce roots? When should it be done? (Calgary, Canada)

A: A tea rose bush growing in Calgary? Are you sure? Your neighbor must give it super protection to have it survive the winter months. Roses are among the easiest woody plants to root through hardwood cuttings. Take rosewood cuttings 6 to 8 inches long. Cut the basal end at a slant and stick it in pasteurized potting soil that is 2 to 3 inches deep. Keep the soil moist. Do this in the early spring. To make life a little easier, you can take a clear baggy and loosely fit it around the cutting and over the edge of the pot. Keep the cutting in a bright location, but not direct sunlight. In six to eight weeks, the cuttings should have a mass of roots at the base. Some people will dust the cut end with a rooting hormone to speed up rooting. However, usually that step is not needed, unless a particular cultivar of rose is difficult to root for some reason. Go to for some home propagation techniques that you might find useful. You can download the entire publication or the parts that interest you.

Q: This is a great column and thanks for writing it. This probably is the stupidest question you've ever had, but I need to ask somebody what I'm doing wrong with my apple trees. My dwarf apple trees are 10 years old, so they have substantial branches and trunks. How do I get them to grow horizontally? I prune them each February, but wonder if I'm removing too much each time. (email reference)

A: Your question is not even close to being stupid. I assume you want the tree to not grow as upright as it does now, but not as extreme as espaliering would be. My colleagues at Utah State University have put together a very good publication that shows all the pruning approaches used on fruit trees. Go to and read through or download the publication. If you still have questions, get back in touch with me and I’ll do my best to assist you further.

Q: I need your help. I came across your column and see that you know something about lilacs. As I looked out my front window, I saw the county crew hacking off my lilac hedge. We live on a state highway in a heavy tourist area. The ditch between the hedge and road is mowed in the summer and kept neat. We mow the ditch between our orchard and the road so that the county is not tempted to spray the area with weed killer that could kill the pear trees that border the road. When in bloom, the hedge is so attractive that tourists stop to take pictures. Some tourists even come to the house and ask for bouquets, which I gladly cut for them. The hedge is about 20 years old and has 10 to 12 different varieties in it. I planted it to stop the dirt and noise from the traffic, but still give us an open view during the winter. The hedge has sent up suckers that I was planning on digging up this spring and planting them on my son’s 40 acres as a barrier between his organic operation and a neighbor who allows his spray to drift. All the suckers were hacked off, but the main trunks are still standing. The county workers did not hack off the bushes on other property down the road. Yes, technically some of the suckers were on state property but were on our side of the ditch and in no way hampered traffic. What can I do to get the suckers to grow back? The hedge is so thin that the road dirt will all come into the house. I need to grow the hedge back thick and fast. I’m 70 years old, so I don’t have a lot of time left. I’m so upset about this action by the county highway crew that I’ve not been able to sleep the past three nights. I’ll feel a whole lot better when I’ve got a plan of action to rejuvenate the hedge. I am going to send a complaint letter to the county. What better revenge than a beautiful lilac hedge growing back? Thank you so much for any help you can give. (email reference)

A: Go to bed tonight and get a good night’s sleep. Because they cut the lilacs while they are in winter dormancy, they will regrow with a vengeance this spring when the weather warms up. It would not be unusual for the hedges to spout and grow 4 to 6 feet this growing season. No blooms this year, but they will come back into the flowering cycle during the growing season of 2013. As tough as it may be, try to sound professional and be tactful when writing your complaint letter. Let your anger be known over this action, but couch the words in such a way as to not get into back and forth argument. If you have a lawyer, you might just put a note at the bottom of the letter indicating that a copy was forwarded to a legal entity. When I was in business, this usually got people focused fairly quickly to get the problem rectified. Sweet dreams.

Q: Two out of three of our Canada red cherry trees have black knot. One of them had this problem on the main leader of the tree. A strong wind storm broke the tree off at the point of the black knot, but the tree continues to live. The other tree is 10 years old. In the past year, we've begun to notice a couple of branches with black knot. We cut off the infected branches but, even through the winter, we've noticed quite a few more branches that have black knot. Do more of these formations develop even though the tree is dormant? There are areas of the tree that we can’t reach to cut out the black knot. If we leave the tree as is, will it die or should we just remove the tree and plant something else? We hate to lose it because it gives us a lot of shade. (email reference)

A: If you can afford it, have a professional arborist inspect the tree. You might be able to save the tree through a program of proper pruning and spraying. Otherwise, just get the tree out of there or else it will continue to act as a source of inoculant to surrounding cherry trees. The disease is spread by wind, insects, birds, pruning and humans.

Q: I have accumulated a variety of iris plants through the years. I planted them on the north side of my garden. They never did much there or were too screened for me to notice. In 2010, I tilled up a new bed and moved the iris plants to the new location. They now get full sun for most of the day. During the summer of 2011, they grew well and some of them bloomed. Is there something I should do this spring to get them to bloom? Maybe the transplanting put them off a year? Also, what grapes do you recommend planting in the Williston area? Where do I find them? I’ve recently heard of some varieties of winter squash or small fruits that would work better for just two people eating them. Do you have any suggestions or source of seed? (email reference)

A: Thanks for letting me know where you live. There are two folks out in Williston who can assist you. Warren Froehlich is the NDSU Extension Service agent in your area and Lorna Bradbury is the horticulturist at the Williston Research Extension Center. Lorna would be the logical one to contact with your questions because she does vegetable trials at the REC every growing season. She also grows wine grapes and has many years of data to back up any suggestions she might make. The problem with your iris is possibly planting them too deeply. The rhizomes should barely be covered with soil and planted in as much direct sunlight as possible. The move also could have shut down their blooming ability if they were not planted too deeply. Giving the plants too much fertilizer would have the same effect.

Q: We live in southeastern North Dakota. Our soil is rich, but has a lot of clay in it. In 2009, we planted some apple trees grafted onto antonovka rootstock. They were planted exactly as the nursery instructed. We lost two trees and the rest seem stunted. Could it be that we planted them too deeply? What is the correct planting depth? Also, does it make a difference if they are tap-rooted or fibrous-rooted trees? Thank you. (email reference)

A: Very likely the apple trees were planted too deeply. The graft should never be buried. Doing so stifles the vigor of the root stock and often causes the development of weak, adventitious roots between the flare and graft. Whenever possible, opt for bare-root plantings of trees and shrubs. That way, the plant is going into the new site without any foreign soil from the nursery. There also is 100 percent of the root system available and the roots are not cramped into a container, which might result in girdling root development through the years. If you are going to be using bare-root stock, the plants must be in a dormant state. Usually this is done in the early spring, but it can be done in the fall if you can get the stock. While spring is the most popular time for tree and shrub planting, great success can be realized with fall plantings. The root systems will remain active in soil temperatures at 40 degrees or higher, even though the aerial part of the plant is going dormant.

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. 29, 2012

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