NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
August 17, 2000
Ron Smith, Extension Horticulturist
North Dakota State University
Q: I have been looking for a maple tree to plant in my yard. I wanted a royal red maple, but they seem to be hard to find. Im told they don't grow very well around here but that they may grow OK in older established neighborhoods near the river. I don't live near the river, but I do live in an older neighborhood. I want a royal red maple because of its deep red leaves to add some season-long color. The nursery told me about a autumn blaze maple that gets blood red in the fall. If they do always turn that would be OK, I guess. What do you think would be my best choice of trees if I would like some color? (Fargo, N.D., e-mail)
A: The autumn blaze would definitely be the better choice, and yes, it will always turn that color red in the fall. The royal red is a cultivar of the Norway maple, and it simply does not do well in our part of the country--old neighborhood or not. You don't want something to simply survive but to look good and grow with some vigor. The autumn blaze will do that for you.
Q: We got pounded with hail this spring and now my pussy willow branches have holes in them with sawdust coming out of them. Do I spray or remove the branches? It may decimate the shrub if I have to remove all the branches. What do I do? (e-mail)
A: The pussy willow sounds like it has borers damaging it. If you can, cut the affected branches back and destroy them by burning or chipping--just get them away from the plant. Spraying would do very little good at this time. Try to keep the plant growing vigorously with fertilizer and water, when needed.
Q: About three years ago we bought and planted what was called apricot bushes, which were supposed to produce fruit. Each year they get leaves but no blossoms or fruit. What happened? (Yoncalla, Ore., e-mail)
A: Most likely, your apricots are living too good a life: ample water and nutrients with no or very little stress, environmentally speaking. You might want to try a little traumatic stimulation, which means coming out to the dripline of the trees and pushing the blade straight-edged spade into the ground about 6 to 9 inches deep at about a half-dozen places around each tree. This effectively reduces the root system volume without hurting the tree and often stimulates it into a reproductive mode. You won't get anything this year, but you may next. Give it a try.
The other possibility is that the apricot flowers at a time when the pollinators are inactive because there is too much wind or rain or a frost.
Q: Two years ago a friend gave me seed she said was Queen Anne's lace. It is now flowering, but the flowers do not look as full as garden book pictures of Queen Anne's lace. Also, it is at least 6 feet tall and the stems have purple blotches. There is no "hair" in the foliage as books say Queen Anne's lace has. My plants are pretty, but the flowers aren't what I wanted, and the worst of it is that I think its poison hemlock. Even worse than that is I scattered the leftover seeds in the windbreak as a wildflower when I planted the eight plants that I have in the flower garden. So far I haven't noticed any except the eight but I'm worried about it. How do I get rid of this? I have to cut the flowers off pronto so it won't seed. Should I chop it all of the way down and then use Roundup on what's left? Should we burn the foliage? Everything I've read about poison hemlock says you have to be careful in how you handle it. (Carrington, N.D., e-mail)
A: You are very wise to be cautious with wild members of the parsley family because some are poisonous, such as poison hemlock and water hemlock, while others are not. Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) can be easily confused for Queen Anne's Lace--except the hemlock stem is hollow, and when crushed, it has an unpleasant odor; whereas, the Queen Anne's Lace has a carrot-like smell. As you correctly pointed out, the poison hemlock is also taller--getting to 8 feet in height with leaves being finely divided and up to 1 foot long.
I suggest using Roundup on all eight plants and any that you see coming up in the future. Once the plant is dead, dig out the remains and burn it to be on the safe side. I don't want you to walk in the steps of Socrates by mistake!
Q: How do I pinch back or pluck off the flowers from my cyclamen? Thinking that they would bloom again, I started breaking off the flowers at the top. Then I read that I should break the whole stem off at the base. Which is the correct way? (e-mail)
A: Cyclamen should always have the entire flower stalk removed as the flowers fade. This can be accomplished by twisting the stem and pulling sharply. Remove any damaged or yellowing leaves in same manner.
Q: As a genealogist, I hope no one will take your advice to sand blast lichen from gravestones as this may damage the writing on the stones. A better solution is to use a brush and take care not to go down so far that the writing is damaged. Opening the tree shade up to let light on the stone will prevent lichen from forming in the first place. (e-mail)
A: Your advice is better than what I gave. Thank you! None of us want to lose that information on the gravestones, as it is often the only surviving record.
Q: I can't figure out what's eating my basil. I didn't think anything did, except people, but the leaves on my basil plants have got holes. It doesn't really look like slugs, and I haven't seen evidence of slugs yet on the hostas or other plants they usually eat. I tried an all-purpose bug spray, but it doesn't seem to help. I've always grown lots and lots of basil and nothing ever got to them before. But whatever it is, it seems to be eating my sweet peas (the flower kind) too. Any thoughts? (Bismarck, N.D., e-mail)
A: Aphids and thrips are common insect problems with basil. Sounds like it could be a beetle of some kind, since the spotted cucumber beetle feeds on sweet peas.
I advise against the continued use of insect sprays, since your objective is to eventually eat the basil foliage. I suggest perhaps using some Remay, a geotextile material, to exclude them from the basil planting. The cover needs to be complete and be sure that you are not enclosing the planting with any insect pests inside! They'll think they've arrived in bug heaven!
Don't leave the cover on all summer, as it may negatively impact the growth of the basil--not as bad as the beetles but basil needs as much sunlight as it can get.
Q: I planted some three-year asparagus plants, and they came up very well. What do I do now? Am I supposed to cut them down to the ground or let them go to seed this first year? I should be able to harvest them next year, right? My asparagus is all ferny now. How many harvests can I expect in one year? Do I have to cover them over the winter? (Jamestown, N.D., e-mail)
A: Asparagus can be allowed to go vegetative the first year after planting to give the crown a chance to get well established. Next spring, remove the old fern growth from the previous year, and keep an eye open for the new spears to begin emerging. Harvest and enjoy!
The fern growth is needed to allow the plant to replenish the nutrients for next year's spear production. The asparagus can be harvested for a period of about two to three weeks once the spears start to show. Some people push it longer, but I don't recommend going beyond that. Besides, even if you love fresh asparagus, 3 weeks of it is enough for most people!
Do nothing over the winter. The ferns will be good snow trappers, and give you a rough gauge as to the depth of the snow.
Q: Can you give me some suggestions for shade tolerant shrubs. The area gets very little sun, if any? Do you think Boston ivy will tolerate much shade? (e-mail)
A: Shrubs for the shade include the following: taxus (yews), currants, juneberry, prunus spp., elderberry, honeysuckle, juniper and cotoneaster. But give the Boston ivy a try. When people speak of shade, it is difficult to make a judgment call because it can vary so much.
Q: I have a mature cotoneaster hedge 15 to 20 years old. We are planning to do lawn edging to clean up the perimeter, and to keep grasses and broadleaf weeds out of the base of the hedge, I want to apply an organic mulch. What type of mulch is best? There is fireblight in the neighborhood, and I don't want to make it any worse. (Jamesotwn, N.D., e-mail)
A: I strongly suggest an organic bark mulch (actually there is no other kind of bark). It conditions the soil beneath it, and eventually breaks down, releasing nutrients over time.
Stone mulches are often used, but I find that the stones migrate into the lawn somehow, creating problems for mowers. Also, all stone mulches seem to do is collect dirt and add little to the aesthetics of the planting.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Ron Smith (701) 231-8161, email@example.com
Editor: Gary Moran, (701) 231-7865