Questions on: Mock Orange

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: Can you tell me how to get starts off a mock orange bush? I can't find any information on this. My mother got a start off her sister's bush more than 40 years ago. I've broken pieces off and tried to root them in water, but that didn't work. (e-mail reference)

A: With asexual propagation, timing is important in many cases. Mock orange will root if softwood cuttings are taken at this time of year. The cuttings should be treated with a rooting powder or liquid and stuck in a sand/peat media. The cuttings should be in partial shade and kept moist.


Q: I have some questions about our very large mock orange. It is 6 feet tall. How and when do I prune this monster? Am I going to have to sacrifice the blossoms for a year if I prune? How do I go about propagating the plant and when should I do it? I tried a method I found online last year involving a greenhouse-type effect indoors, but a spongy, white mold started growing. I hope to plant the seedlings in a spot that gets morning sun. Is this a bad idea? Many thanks. (e-mail reference)

A: Extensive pruning now will eliminate flowering this spring. Semihardwood cuttings are difficult for homeowners to attempt because they simply do not have the right conditions to do it successfully. It is easier to get some results by collecting the seeds. You might consider dividing this monster during pruning and planting that division somewhere else. That usually results in fairly good success. I have seen plenty of mock orange shrubs successfully growing and blooming that only get morning sun.


Q: I have attempted to find information on how to prune a mock orange. We have a mock orange that was full of dead branches and twigs. The shrub also was outgrowing its space. It looked fine if you pruned it just right, otherwise you could see all the inner dead stuff. Last fall I hoped to return it to a lively looking shrub, so I tried to find information on how to prune. I should cut it to the ground as you have directed, but I very much appreciate the tree, so I didnít want to kill it by overdoing it. I pruned the bush last fall after finding only one hint to cut it by thirds during a three-year period. This spring it looked awful. It was green on top with a lot of dead interior. It did have some sprigs from the bottom, but they were very unattractive. I read on your site to cut mock orange to the ground in early spring. Should I do this next year? I note you are in North Dakota, but I believe we are in a similar zone here in Saskatchewan. (e-mail reference)

A: We are in a similar zone. When plants get ugly, cutting them back to the ground will not hurt the plants if they are healthy and growing. Pruning in early spring, before growth begins, will force the stored carbohydrates from the previous season into the surging new growth. You wonít have flowers for a year, but you will have a handsome shrub. If flowering is an absolute necessity in your life, then allow what is there to flower. Prune the canes back to the ground immediately after flowering.


Q: I have some mock orange and snowball shrubs that I want to trim and wonder what is the best time to do this. I trimmed them last year after they bloomed and thought they did not bloom as well this year but we are in an extreme drought here and watering can't measure up to mother nature. (E-mail reference, South Dakota)

A: The best time with most flowering shrubs, including mock orange, is to prune them right after flowering. It has been pretty much the same all over, poor flowering on what are usually shrubs that flower heavily. I think our wide swings in winter temperatures is what caused the problem in part, along with the current drought in some parts of the region.


Q: What can you do to a mock orange bush that refuses to bloom? I have had this bush for about five years. There were no blossoms the first year, only two little blossoms the second year, and nothing since then. It was suggested that I cut it down and so I did three years ago. It has come back and grown larger each year, but still no blossoms. I would appreciate any suggestions that you can give me. (Hope, N.D.)

A: A non-blooming mock orange could be from too little sunlight or too much lawn fertilizer. If neither of these fit the bill, then I suggest getting it out of there and replacing it with something else.


Q: When you prune a mock orange, do you take each branch right down to the ground or do you remove a section that has had the flowers on previously? The shrub is about 7 feet high and very cluttered where the old flower heads were. It looks very messy and unattractive. (E-mail reference, Saskatoon, Sask.)

A: It sounds like your mock orange is in need a rejuvenation pruning. To do that, and not lose the vigor of the plant, I suggest that you wait until next spring and prune before it re-leafs. Get long-handled loppers and reach into the base of the plant and cut everything out, as close to the ground as possible. The resulting vigorous growth can then be shaped to your desire. That first year you'll sacrifice the flowers, but that is a small price to pay to get a new and vigorous shrub.


Q: I just bought a tree. The tag says it is a "Box Orange." It has thorns and the leaves are kind of narrow and shiny. I canít find any information for a box orange. Also, I bought a Juniper a couple of days ago and took out the moss and rocks that came with it. The soil looked soaked and was very compact, but everything besides that looked good. Then the next day all of the soil was covered with fungus. It is white, fuzzy, and smashes down to the slightest touch. do you know what it could be from? (E-mail reference)

A: I assume since you are referring to a tree known as Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) that you live somewhere south of North Dakota. It would be nice to know where you are writing from -- just the city and state. This is a tree that is related to the mulberry and is generally used in windbreaks to control wind erosion on farmlands in the Great Plains area -- Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, etc. It is also a good traffic stopper with those long, sharp thorns. Not too many folks will attempt to run through one of those plants more than once! The female plants produce a large, rindy fruit that we used to practice softball with. Hopefully you got the male tree, about the only saving grace this species could have from an aesthetic view. If you want some tough wood, there are few that come any tougher. It is a good one for making decks or patios as it has a natural decay resistance in it. The fluffy white mold you are seeing on the soil around the roots of your juniper plant is most likely a saprophytic mold, working on digesting the organic matter in the soil around the roots, which causes no harm to the plant. When planting, simply wash it off the roots and plant appropriately. The juniper should be fine.


Q: Would you please tell me what is wrong with my maple tree? Do fern leaf peonies take the same care as regular peonies? Are Japanese tree lilacs slow growers, and are they OK to plant in this area? Also, do you need to have two mock oranges to get them to flower? (Winner, S.D.)

A: Your maple looks as if it is suffering from too much salt (fertilizer burn or naturally high soil salt content) or is planted too deep. Try to improve the drainage around the plant site if possible, even if it means resetting your tree.

Basically, the peonies all require the same care. Japanese tree lilacs are among the most trouble-free plants to use in our prairie landscapes. They are not slow growers and have an attractive cherry-like bark. Get one!

No, you do not need two mock orange shrubs. Lack of flowering could be due to not enough direct sun, too much nitrogen fertilization or improper pruning. It could be, too, that you really don't have a mock orange!


Q. Thanks for all of your help in the past. I really do appreciate it.

Would you please tell me what kind of weeds these are?

Also would you please tell me what is wrong with this mock orange? I read to spray with fixed coppers for blight. What are fixed coppers?

How do I tell if I have a male or female bitter sweet vine? I read also that you have to have both.

I bought some Tempo for grasshoppers but it does not list grasshoppers on it to kill. I was told not to use it in the garden. It does not say this either.

How do shamrock plants go dormant? Do they lose their leaves or just not flower? (Winner, S.D.)

A. The weeds are barnyard grass and oxalis or wood sorrel. The third one is prostrate kurtweed.

The mock orange has septoria leaf spot. Protect next spring after leaf-out with a multipurpose fungicide such as Bordeaux mixture, which contains the copper you are asking about.

Bitter sweet are like holly bushes--no two sexes, no fruit--but will grow anyway. I guess you have to depend on the integrity of the nursery to include both sexes in the container.

Tempo can be used in the landscape and on lawns for good grasshopper control. Use either Malathion or Sevin in your garden.

Shamrock is a name given to many species of clover-like plants, generally Oxalis species. The ones I know set seed and die, with the seed sprouting later.


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