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

By Ron Smith, Horticulturist

NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have six big evergreen trees that broke in half during a storm. Will these trees be OK or do I need to take them all the way down? (Gaithersburg, Md.)

A: I would advise removing the trees. Any wind force that produced stress enough to snap large evergreen trees in half also may have caused root damage. Even if the roots aren’t damaged, the evergreens cannot be contributing to the landscape aesthetics of your property unless you like something out of the ordinary!

Q: My cut leaf birch tree splits into two main branches. One side has leaves that all died last month after 100-mile per hour winds during a thunderstorm. Is this from the bending of the tree during the storm or do you think this is the result of a disease? (e-mail reference)

A: Cut leaf birches are very flexible in windstorms, but it approached the upper limit of tolerance with winds reaching 100 miles per hour! There would have to be a break in the limb in order for that to be the cause of death. This could be the result of bronze birch borer feeding activity. The adult lays eggs just beneath the bark in the spring and the larvae hatch and begin feeding on the cambial tissue. The borers eventually girdle the branch and kill it. This commonly happens starting with smaller branches at or near the top of the tree and gradually works down to larger stems until the tree is so misshapen and poor looking that it loses any attractiveness in the landscape. I would like to suggest that you contact an International Society of Arboretum certified arborist in your region to inspect the tree. Go to http://www.treesaregood.com/findtreeservices/FindTreeCareService.aspx to find an arborist. Be sure to check his or her credentials before authorizing any major work on the tree. I share your love for this species! I have one right in front of our house. I am guilty of giving the tree a hug every now and then!

Q: My question concerns the sappy stuff coming off my parents’ black walnut trees. Is this normal and is that what is attracting all the bees? We live in South Dakota, but this is the first Web site I've seen written by someone with any knowledge. (e-mail reference)

A: The sappy stuff likely is caused by aphid feeding activity. The sap attracts yellow jacket wasps, not honeybees to any great extent. This is something that most trees can tolerate up to a point. When discovered this late in the season, a decision needs to be made if it is worth the expense to go after them with an insecticide or just let Mother Nature do the work with a hard frost. A topical insecticide, such as Sevin, will take care of the aphids and yellow jackets in one application. To be effective, you need to hire a licensed, professional arborist to do the job of getting the tree completely covered. Using Sevin won’t impact the consumption of the walnuts at harvest time.

Q: Our tomatoes (goliath) are beautiful, but very slow ripening, tough and not juicy. Have you heard any complaints about this problem? (Casselton, N.D.)

A: Goliath typically is a more southern hybrid that gets mixed reviews on flavor. Some love it, while others don't and think that other large slicers are a better choice. This seems to vary with the summer heat and geographical location. As I said, southern (Texas and Florida) growers seem to sing more favorably about goliath than we do.

Q: I planted a Redmond linden on my boulevard about three years ago. The tree looks good and the leaves are big and green. However, I noticed this spring that the branches coming out of the trunk are nice and erect, but the further out you go, the branches start to droop. It’s been watered well and I did put one fertilizer stick at the drip line this spring. Is this normal or is the tree in trouble? (West Fargo, N.D.)

A: Some of this may be perfectly normal, so I don't believe you have any reason to be concerned from what you told me.

Q: I planted a willow in a corner of my yard near a runoff ditch. Everything was fine until this year, when we got inundated with rain and there was about 4 to 6 inches of rain standing around the tree all spring. Algae also grew around that part of the yard. I noticed at the base of the willow that all the outer bark has split and separated from the tree, so the inner part of the tree is wide open. Do I need to remove the willow or is there anything that can be done to save it? (e-mail reference)

A: That was some rain event and subsequent flooding period! You didn't state whether or not the tree was otherwise healthy and in full leaf. If it is, I don't think you have anything to worry about. To aid the trunk in healing, cut the loose bark back to where it is attached. Prior to winter's arrival, wrap the trunk in Kraft paper that is available at local garden centers or supply stores. Remove it next spring as the tree starts to leaf out. These are pretty tough trees, especially when they are young.

Q: Could you tell me why my plum tomatoes have hard, black stuff in the middle? The tomatoes have good size and a nice color, but most are black in the center. (e-mail reference)

A: This is just blossom end rot that has been compartmentalized. The rot apparently developed early in the growth of the tomato, so healthy tissue grew around the rot. Throw those away because the later harvests should be clear of any rot.

Q: I stumbled upon your houseplant Web site today. I've been looking for information on spider plants for years! My plant used to flower beautifully but hasn't for about three years. I haven't always taken good care of it. In fact, once it was too close to a candle and most of it turned brown and wilted within 24 hours! It looks like the plant was split in two. Half of it has died, but the stem part of the dead half is still there and is brown and unattractive. Can I separate the growing plant from the dead stem? Should I wait until spring? Is there a specific time of year that babies tend to grow? Thanks for the wonderful spider plant tips! (e-mail reference)

A: Like human babies, spider plant babies arrive when they are ready to do so. Clean the plant up for the winter by getting rid of anything dead, diseased or damaged. We just brought our spider plants indoors for the winter. They are loaded with both babies and flowers. They apparently got enough sunlight energy to go into their reproductive cycle. Yours also will when that point is reached. You might try locating it in a sunnier window or providing additional lighting to give it a little more vigor. Enjoy this fantastically durable plant.

Q: I rescued a Christmas cactus about three years ago. It was a little spindly thing covered with aphids. With some tender loving neglect, it has grown to overflow a typical hanging basket pot and grown gorgeous blooms. However, this year, after I put the plant outside for its summer vacation, my grandmother became ill and the neglect became not so tender. Many of my other plants ended up dead, but my aloe got huge and my Christmas cactus grew immensely. However, it got too much sun and now the leaves have a bleached yellow color. The plant is back inside in her regular wintertime spot. Is there anything else I can do for her? Yes, it is a she, but don't ask me how to tell. (e-mail reference)

A: Of course the plant is a female. I never doubted it! Unfortunately, I have no magic remedy for this sunburned plant. Hopefully, she will have enough gumption to recover on her own and regreen during the next few weeks. Don't despair because worse things have happened to plants that made a full recovery.

Q: My Christmas cactus is turning pink. I have it on a window sill that faces west. It is exposed to inconsistent temperatures because I live in an old apartment building with drafty windows. Outside of obviously moving it to a place with a more consistent temperature, is there anything I can do to promote chlorophyll production? It does need to be repotted. Is there something that I could add to the potting soil that would help? (Rochester, N.Y.)

A: This lack of chlorophyll is not fatal to the plant, so worrying too much is not warranted. You might try adding supplemental lighting with a plant light to see if that brings about the expression of greener leaf tissue. Mother Nature produces many plants that are visibly lacking chlorophyll in the leaves without hurting the plants. As long as this aberration is not resulting in the decline in plant quality, I wouldn't worry too much about this discoloration. Most houseplants suffer from insufficient light and being overwatered.

Q: I have a creeping juniper that must be at 10 to 15 years old. It was in great shape and looked wonderful. This year, we had a tree taken away and parts of the juniper were trampled and crushed, leaving a damaged area in the middle of the shrub. What can I do to nurse it back and help the plant recover? I never have fertilized it. (Seattle, Wash.)

A: If there is any green leaf scales in the area you describe as being damaged, it should recover with just a little help from you. If there is no foliage, then you might as well remove the plant. To help it along, clean-cut any damaged areas and give it a little shot of a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro or something similar. Then just be patient.

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 ronald.smith@ndsu.edu.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161, ronald.smith@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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