NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
February 17, 2000
Ron Smith, Extension Horticulturist
North Dakota State University
Q: Everybody wants to know how to get a Christmas cactus to bloom. I have no problem. My cactus is setting beside the television by an east window. The Venetian blinds are shut, and lace curtains are over the window. It sets there year-round. I do nothing but water it.
It bloomed for Halloween last fall and hasn't stopped blooming since. For Halloween it had 89 full blossoms plus 12 buds that didn't open. About two weeks after all the blossoms had dried up, it got two more full blooms, and a couple of weeks after that it got two more full blooms. As the last one was drying up I noticed that it already has 14 buds again. I call this my miracle plant. (Jamestown, N.D.)
A: Thanks for sharing the success you had with your Christmas cactus. I just have to share this information with the readers.
Q: When should we start our tomato and pepper seeds? Can we just plant them directly outside in the spring? (e-mail)
A. Pepper and tomato seed should not be started yet! Figure about 28 to 30 days from the average last frost date in your area, and plant the seeds in a sterile media (like vermiculite) at that time. Be sure they get ample light from a flourescent lamp (about 6 to 9 inches above the seedbed), and bottom heat of about 72 F. As the seeds germinate, move the lamp up accordingly.
If we lived in a warmer climate, direct sowing might be possible. Simply put it out of your mind anywhere in the upper Midwest. Some may sprout, but the fruit bearing would be non-existent due to our short season.
Q: We have a dragon's tongue plant that keeps tipping over since we repotted it. Should we add more dirt or simply stake it up? (Fargo, N.D., e-mail)
A. I suppose you mean the Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata). I would simply stake it until the roots take hold in their new setting in about six to eight weeks.
Q: What do I do if my tulips start to come up with the nice weather lately? Will it damage them or kill them if we have a cold snap? (Gardner, N.D.)
A. Don't do anything. Tulips are very cold hardy and adapted to our climate. You will likely have more damage from the cottontails that rove the state looking for freshly sprouting tulips. To prevent rabbit damage, I suggest covering them with a wire mesh or wire cages as they begin to emerge.
Q: My lilacs started to bud out last November when it was so nice. Now I am worried that they will not survive. Should I be concerned? (Bismarck, N.D.)
A. Lilacs are pretty tough characters. While there may be some damage from last fall's budding, I have every confidence that the damage will only be cosmetic for this year, if at all. Mother Nature, in her wisdom of plant design, very cleverly allowed for such irrational contingencies in weather patterns. Any apparent damage will be masked by flushes of new growth that will take place later in the spring or early summer.
Q: I have a beautiful hydrangea in front of my house and I would like to break it apart and put some in another location. I know the best time to do it is in the fall, but can I still do it in the spring? (e-mail)
A. Since hydrangeas flower on current season wood, you will lose nothing by transplanting it in the early spring. So go ahead and move it. These are tough plants--almost impossible to kill. If you are really in love with this plant, you can take softwood cuttings from it in May, June or July and root them easily in a sand/peat mix.
Q. Which method do you recommend more--seeding or sodding--in establishing a new lawn?
A. That depends on two factors: how much money you have to spend and how much patience you have.
A sodded lawn is an instant lawn, but the cost is about four to six times that of a seeded lawn initially. The seeded lawn will usually test one's patience to an extent from the horde of weeds that will attempt to establish a home there ahead of the grass. Roughly, a full year is needed in patience and persistence to get a seeded Kentucky bluegrass lawn looking decent.
But a seeded lawn, once established, is adapted to the local site conditions--soil, rainfall and climate. The sod, however, is grown at another site (perhaps 200 miles or more away on soil that could be markedly different from yours and with a selection of seed that is best for the grower to establish). Sod looks good going down, and perhaps continues to do so for the next two to three years, but it often begins to decline from soil incompatibility, which brings on disease problems.
If you are going to use seed, try to give yourself all the advantages. Kill off existing vegetation with Roundup, disturb the present grade as little as possible--no more than to simply establish good surface drainage--and seed in late August when any annual weeds that may be coming up will be killed off by a fall frost before they can set seed.
I have been successful with both seed and sod lawns. I like the sod because clients are instantly happy with the results, and they pay their bills quickly. With seeded lawns, I have had problems with collecting because the client wanted to wait until "it was a nice thick lawn, free of weeds and no bare spots!"
If you know your sod source to be a mineral-based sod and not a peat-based one, then the chances of it getting established with no future problems are much better. Given my druthers, if I had the initial dollars and knew what was in the sod as far as grass species and the soil it was grown on, I'd go with the sod. Without these assurances, I'd seed.
Do you have a gardening or houseplant question? Write to Hortiscope, Box 5051, NDSU Extension Service, Fargo, ND 58105 or e-mail to Ron Smith at email@example.com.
Source: Ron Smith (701) 231-8161
Editor: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136