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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I planted four honeycrisp, four haroldson and two prairie spy apple trees several years ago. I am interested in information on tree care and basic maintenance because I would like to keep them healthy. (email reference)

A: You got a good start on creating a miniature apple orchard. There are a couple of publications that you can review to keep you on the right path to success. Go to and for the publications. So far, it seems you followed the right path getting the trees established. That got them off to a good start. Let me know if I can help you with anything else.

Q: I just came across your website while researching grapes. You seem very knowledgeable about grapes. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask some questions about growing them. I'm interested in growing Concord grapes here in southern Maine. Some friends of mine across town have grown grapes successfully before. How would I go about doing this? What type of soil, sun and care do they need? Is it a lot of work? How do you keep them safe from animals? Thanks for your help. (email reference)

A: As much as I’d like to give you some advice, I think you are better off contacting the county Extension agent nearest you in Maine. Go to to find the agent. Good luck and enjoy.

Q: My orange tree did well being outdoors this summer. However, the tree has had a lot of flies on it for the past month. I moved it into my sun porch and see that many of the leaves are sticky. I cleaned each leaf off twice with soapy water, but the sticky stuff came back. I also sprayed it with rubbing alcohol but it also didn't help. What can I do to solve the problem? (Milwaukee, Wis.)

A: This could be from scale insects infesting your tree. The fact that flies were attracted to the tree is an indication that there was a feeding insect population somewhere on the tree. Obviously, they were not on the foliage because you've wiped it down twice. Look on the stem to see if there are any lumps along the branches. I'm willing to bet that this is the cause of the problem. The topical insecticides or treatments you have given the tree so far won’t help. I suggest visiting a local nursery or garden center to see if a systemic insecticide is available for controlling scale insects. Apply the product according to the directions on the label and your problem will go away eventually.

Q: I have a 5-year-old lawn that is being used by the neighbor kids as a football field. I’m pretty sure I will need to reseed the lawn next spring. I’m happy to have the kids play in the backyard, but I am wondering if there is a grass seed variety that would hold up to this kind of heavy use. (email reference)

A: We’ve used “athletic mix” on the NDSU football practice fields and RedHawks baseball diamond. The athletic mix consists of a 50/50 mixture of several cultivars of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass that have been tested to stand up to the heavy wear. This mix usually is available where grass seed is sold at retail and hardware stores.

Q: What is the recommended amount of water for lawns in North Dakota? In Rapid City, they suggest an inch and a half of water per week. Do you know what the recommendations are for McKenzie County in western North Dakota? (email reference.)

A: There is variability in any kind of estimation or recommendation. First, it depends on the grass species in question. Then it depends on the exposure and soil type that it is being grown in. Finally, the water source and quality play a major role. Yes, an inch and a half per week during the growing season is a good general recommendation. However, watering depends on the owner’s expectations. If there is no supplemental water from Mother Nature and the temperatures are in the mid-90s or higher, then that only would be enough water to keep the grass from going dormant (assuming it is Kentucky bluegrass) or barely keeping it green. One and a half inches of water is a good budget figure to work with when planning. Keep in mind that an acre-inch of water is 27,150 gallons. On a typical residential lawn that is about 10,000 (approximately one-quarter acre for easy calculation) square feet, it would require about 6,700 gallons of water per week. Then multiply that by 20 weeks for North Dakota’s growing season needs and you can see that you should budget for about 134,000 gallons of water. To confuse matters even more, if the homeowner planted a buffalo grass or crested wheatgrass lawn in the western part of the state and invested the first year in getting it established to a thick turf canopy, the homeowner could get by with no water expenditure at all if he or she would be satisfied with it turning brown during the heat and drought of summer.

Q: I have a question about an 18-year-old Canada red cherry (tree form) that we have in our front yard. It never has been pruned, so it is now a bunch of thin branches going in every direction. How much can we prune off and at what time of the year should we do it? The tree also has a bunch of little suckers coming up around the base. Can we do anything with these other than cutting them down or mowing them? On another front, what is the best time of the year to saw off the bottom branches of our huge evergreens (blue spruce) so that we would be able to mow under them? (email reference)

A: The spruce can be pruned anytime between now and next spring’s growth. If you do it now, it will help with wind movement and snow distribution around your yard and possibly eliminate some irritating drifts. You are asking the wrong person about pruning your Canada red cherry. Having never been pruned, the tree will be almost impossible to get back into decent shape. Even if you succeeded in doing so, it would reward you with more sucker growth. Basically, no more than 25 percent of the tree canopy’s volume should be pruned out in any one season. This means that you have four years of careful pruning ahead of you. That’s if the tree remains static, which it won’t. After you prune it in late winter or in early spring, you will see a new flush of growth coming out that also will need pruning. Canada red cherry trees are difficult to own and care for properly because they send up root suckers as far as the root system can reach. They also are subject to black knot and shot-hole fungal diseases and a smattering of insect problems. My recommendation for pruning is to make one cut, which would be at ground level and then treat the suckers that will show up all over your yard as broadleaf weeds. Use a broadleaf herbicide, such as Trimec, to get rid of the suckers.

For answers to general horticultural questions, go to

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Nov. 7, 2012

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