NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
December 23, 1998
Ron Smith, Extension Horticulturist
North Dakota State University
Q: I planted two crepe myrtle bushes that I got down south this year. I would like to know if they have a chance of growing in North Dakota. I planted them in a very large planter, using potting soil mixed with peat moss. After the leaves fall off, I plan to put the pot in our basement to lay dormant over the winter. I bought some Jobes spikes, systemic insecticide with 14-8-4 fertilizer for flowering shrubs, but I have not used this yet. Do you have any hints, suggestions, or words of hope for me in trying to grow these bushes? (Westhope, ND)
A: Where there is life, there is always hope, as the saying goes. However, crepe myrtle bushes are indigenous to the south and will stand temperatures down to about 0F to 10F. Your moving them inside will definitely save them from the ravages of winter, but you need to keep them in as cool and dark a place as possible so they won't begin coming out of dormancy too early. Let a couple of good North Dakota frosts nip them this year and the leaves fall off before moving them inside. Then simply water them once a month with cold water (helps to keep them dormant) until spring weather appears favorable for planting.
Q: What is meant when we say that a florist "forces" a plant to bloom? In my case, I am referring to the kalanchoe plant. I see kalanchoes for sale in stores that are quite small, but they are blooming beautifully. My kalanchoes only bloom when they are quite large and usually in January or February. (Casselton, N.D.)
A: Good question! Generally, when florists force plants to bloom, they push or alter one of the normal growth factors that would cause them to flower. In some cases, this is feeding with a phosphorus - and potassium-rich fertilizer. In other cases, it involves raising the growing temperature. And in yet other cases, such as with the kalanchoe, it is a day-length factor. When the days become short enough (or the nights long enough), flower buds are initiated and blooming takes place in mid-winter, as is the case with your plant.
What the florist does to force kalanchoes into flower is to provide them with artificially short days by covering them with a lightproof cloth after eight hours of daylight until flower buds are initiated. The same practice is followed with poinsettias and Christmas cactus plants.
Q: I heard you can grow a pineapple from the crown of one you can buy in a store. If so, how? (Bismarck, N.D.)
A: To grow a pineapple, twist off the crown (leafy top part). Trim away any of the fruit, which should be very little, if at all. Strip off a few lower leaves, then store in a dry room-temperature location upside down for about two weeks to allow the cut end and leaf scars to harden. This is important, as it prevents rotting of the end. Plant in an 8-inch clay pot that is filled with lightweight potting soil that has about 1 inch of gravel or crushed clay pots at the bottom. Place the crown in the soil and firmly press the soil around the base. Water about once a week and fertilize every three months. In a nice, warm sunny location, the plant will produce fruit in 20-22 months.
Q: During a break in the winter weather, we decided to clear out our poison ivy growth while it was still dormant. Much to our surprise, every one of us came down with the classic symptoms of poison ivy contacta rash, blisters, swelling, burning, itchingyou name it! I thought that we would be safe in handling this blasted vine during the dead of winter with our clothes, gloves and boots to protect us, plus the lack of foliage. Can you tell me anything about this plant? How is it picked up during the winter? How were we able to get it essentially all over our bodies almost as if we ran naked through the plants? Any assistance would be appreciated! (Wahpeton, N.D.)
A: Another painful lesson learned the hard way! Poison ivy has a toxic oil or resin produced in all parts of the plantactively growing, dormant, or dead. I assume you didn't burn the plants, as that would have put everyone in the hospital.
The toxin gets on anything it touchesclothes, pruning shears, shovelsand it sets up in the skin within 15 minutes of making contact. I suspect that the normal caution was down because of winter conditions, and everyone made bare skin contact with the tools, gloves and boots. As for the other body parts so affected, sawdust must have worked its way to those areas. Those clothes are considered contaminated and should be washed separately with Fels Naptha soap and rinsed completely in hot water. Obviously everyone involved was quite sensitive to the plant's toxic resin. It used to be that I could handle the plant bare-handed and never suffer the consequences. I was bragging about this minor feat one day to a group of folks who happened to have a dermatologist among them. I was promptly scolded as being a foolish show-off and told that my immunity would be "used up" some day, and that I would suffer terrible symptoms. Since then, I have kept my hands very carefully to myself around any poison ivy.
Q: Is it a dumb idea to plant beta grapes 3 feet from my decks edge to provide shade, or would it be better to plant moonflower and morning glory plants? The deck is on the south side of our house and really needs some shade. (Willow City, N.D.)
A: First, there is no such thing as a dumb idea. Secondly, yes, grapes would grow and provide shade. My only concern (from firsthand experience) is the problem with yellow jackets and bird droppings from feeding on the ripening fruit. At that point, your grapes would be like Jack's bean stalk, huge and difficult to remove.
Your idea of moonflower and morning glory is more appealing, and if you add a honey suckle or Trumpet vine, as they would offer a woody base similar to the grape. Honeybees and hummingbirds would be attracted to all of these flowers, and would not be the problem yellow jackets and the fruit-eating bird population would be.
Q: We were gone from home for a week and a squirrel got into our house and ate part of my piggy-back plant. It also ate part of my banana tree and destroyed my blinds. Will my plants survive, or do I have to start over with them? (Carrington, N.D.)
A: An interesting and unusual letternever had one like it before. Here is what I think. The piggy-back plant will eventually make a comeback. Keep it in bright, indirect light and use flourescent tubes if necessary. The same is possible with the banana, since the stem is a unique structure, which is really known as a secondary rhizome. If the squirrel left any leaf scars on the main rhizome, there is a chance it will recover.
Q: About a month ago my angel wing begonia dropped about 10 leaves each day for a couple of days, then it didn't lose any until the past two days when it dropped another 25 leaves. Can you tell me what the problem is? The plant is originally about 12 years old, but I have transplanted it several times. (Willow Lake, S.D.)
A: The leaf samples you sent are good enough to propagate. Thanks! Any type of leaf drop like you describe is the result of some sharp environmental alternative: water/no water, heat/cold, warm or cold drafts or bright, indirect light/low light. Check your cultural practices to see if any of the above is taking place, and correct. I hope this helps you solve the problem as it appears to be a beautiful plant, based on the sample you sent.
Do you have a gardening or houseplant question? Write to Hortiscope, Box 5051, NDSU Extension Service, Fargo, ND 58105 or e-mail Ron Smith at email@example.com.
Source: Ron Smith (701) 231-8161
Editor: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136