Ronald C. Smith, Horticulturist
NDSU Extension Service
Q: I am looking for information about cutting back a schefflera. I live
in Central Florida. About 15 years ago we could not get the plant to grow
inside, so we planted it on the south side of our home, where it has been
growing quite well until this winter. It is about 20 feet tall, and with all
of our freezes this winter, it has lost all of its leaves and I presume is
partially dead. Can I cut it back, and how low to the ground should I cut?
It has many stalks about 7 inches in diameter. (E-mail reference, Florida)
A: If the plant is alive, it will come back from the root system. You
can go ahead and cut it back to within 2 to 4 inches above the ground.
When the weather warms, it should send up some sprouts from the base of
those stems -- providing it is alive. Generally, when these plants get to
be that age in your location, it would take quite an extensive cold period
to kill them off completely. There is a lot of energy stored in the roots,
which will likely send up some adventitious shoots as the weather
continues to warm. As soon as the new growth begins to emerge, you might
help it along with a general purpose fertilizer.
Q: I have a calla lily that is growing in a south window, in a tub
because of all the new shoots (plants) that continue to grow. But I've only
seen it bloom once. How do I get it to bloom again? Does it need a rest?
(E-mail reference, Brookings, S.D.)
A: Yes, the calla lily needs a resting period to mimic that found in
nature in the tropical ecosystem where it originated. When the plant stops
flowering completely, reduce the watering gradually to allow it to dry up
and go dormant. When the leaves finally whither and turn yellow or brown,
stop watering altogether. This should go on for about two to three months,
then begin watering again, gradually increasing it as the leaves develop.
By the way, the dormancy period is a good time to do some repotting.
Sounds like yours needs it!
Q: I have been told that to increase foliage on house plants put a
teaspoon of Epsom salts to a gallon of water. What do you think? (E-mail
reference, Britton, S.D.)
A: Your question is kind of like asking a doctor if you should take
vitamins; the answer is, only if you need them. In other words, if your
plant is deficient in magnesium or sulfur, the elements that make up Epsom
salts, then you will see a positive response to the application. If it
isn't, then there will be very little to no response. In this particular
case, there is no harm in trying and see what the result is. Just don't
overdo it, as we Americans typically do so many things!
Q: I haven't watered my calla lily for some time, and it still sends up
new shoots. Do I put it in the closet? When I repot, what size pots should I
use? Shall I set the pots in the ground when the weather is right? Full sun?
(E-mail reference, Britton, S.D.)
A: Putting the plant in a closet is not recommended, until it dies
down. Repot in a size that is suitable to you and the size of the division
you are working with. Basically, the container should be half again as
large as the spread of the division to give it room to grow for a season.
Yes, you can set the plants outdoors when the danger of frost is past.
Monitor continuously for watering as long as the plants are in leaf. Some
direct sunlight will benefit the plant, even when it goes dormant during
the summer. Be aware that any extended rainy period early in the season
could pull it out of dormancy prematurely, resulting in a plant with poor
Q: I have a small yard with two active boys and an active dog. Is there a
type of grass that could hold up to them? I have sodded and seeded and have
had minimal success. I'm looking for a grass with a strong root system to
stand up to both the boys and dog running and playing. The backyard soil is
mostly clay. Two years ago I tilled the entire yard raked it completely and
took out all the stones. I added 2 inches of topsoil and had sod delivered.
I sodded myself and it took well. Now after two years itís not holding. I
dug a hole, and the good news is that I have a good 3 inches of topsoil and
a sandy soil from the sod as a mix. Is there any type of strong grass that
will survive the winters, kids, and dog, or should I wait till retirement to
have a lawn in my yard? (E-mail reference, New Jersey)
A: Your part of the country is blessed with a wide range of grasses
that can be grown. It is in what is called the "transition
zone." While it is unlikely that any grass can survive the continuous
onslaught of dog and kid activity, there are some suggestions I can make
that may help, and encourage you to accept the fact that your
"perfect lawn" likely won't come about until you do retire!
There is a grass species called tall fescue. In that species, are several
cultivars that have very attractive and durable turf characteristics. Here
are some of the advantages of tall fescue: Wear tolerant - it has been
used on many athletic fields where it is hardy. Shade tolerant - this
species is second only to fine fescue for shade tolerance. Rapid
establishment - tall fescue establishes quickly and reliably. While it is
slower than perennial ryegrass, it is much faster than Kentucky bluegrass.
Inexpensive seed price - just be sure that in taking a frugal approach you
don't purchase "K-31" tall fescue. It is suitable only for
roadside situations. You would not be happy with it as a turfgrass.
Adaptable - to both warm weather of New Jersey summers, as well as just
about any winter condition that your state has. Drought tolerant - it is
among the most drought tolerant of the cool season grasses. Should a water
shortage ever hit, I can assure you tall fescue will be the last to die
out or go dormant. May contain endophyte - this is an internal fungus that
has been bred into some of the cultivars or varieties that provides
biological control of surface chewing insects. Try to find a variety that
has at least 35 percent endophyte enhancement or infection. Some of the
best cultivars that I am aware of are: 'Arid', 'Gremlin', ĎTaurus',
'Rebel Jr', and 'Rebel II'. 'Bonanza' is another popular one, and I have
had it growing in my backyard for over 12 years now. The only thing I
don't like about it is the need to mow it about twice as often as the
'Touchdown' Kentucky bluegrass in my front yard.
Q: I read your column faithfully in the Jamestown Sun every week. I'm
very interested in ornamental grasses and wonder if there are any that are
winter hardy for North Dakota's zone. I am especially fond of pampas grass
but understand we have too cold (and long) a winter for it to do well.
(E-mail reference, Wishek, N.D.)
A: There are several ornamental grasses that will do well in North
Dakota. One in particular I know you will like is the 'Karl Foerster'
feather reed grass (Calmagrostis arundinacea 'Karl Foerster'). Even though
the references claim it to be hardy to only zone 5, we have been growing
it in Fargo, Dickinson, and Williston for several years now. It gets to
about 5 feet tall and blooms early, giving us a nice show through most of
the summer. A couple of others are big bluestem and little bluestem (Andropogon
gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium). Big bluestem will get about 6 feet
tall, and gradually spreads or colonizes the area it is growing in. Little
bluestem does not spread and gets about 2.5 to 3 feet tall. Both are
beautifully ornamental. While it is true that pampas grass is not hardy in
our area, a "type" quite similar in appearance that I'm sure you
will like is the Chinese silvergrass - Miscanthus sacchariflorus. It will
get to be about 6 fet tall, and will colonize any area it is planted in.
Finally (at least for now!) is Indian grass - Sorghastrum nutans. Look for
the cultivars 'Holt', 'Osage', or 'Rumsey'. This too will approach 6 feet
in height. It has beautiful yellowish-brown flowers that sway nicely in a
gentle breeze and remains as a clump. There are more, but none as
spectacular as these. I'm glad you are interested in ornamental grasses.
Q: The last three years I have had what our county agent calls leaf
blight. The leaves on the cukes, cabbage, and melons dried up and got lacy
looking holes, then the plants died. He suggested spraying with a
multi-purpose fungicide. I did that every 10 days, but I didnít like
eating the vegetables with all that spray on them. Is there anything else I
could do? If I changed the soil in my garden spot would that be a solution?
A: Changing soil and rotating your planting sites will certainly help.
Also, try to order seed varieties that are known for disease resistance.
Irrigation practices can play a big role in disease development as well.
Drip irrigation delivers a consistent amount of water without splashing
the foliage. Finally, avoid working the garden when the foliage is wet
from dew or rain. Avoid vigorous cultivation too close to the plants to
prevent root or foliar damage.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor: Gary Moran, (701) 231-7865, email@example.com