Ronald C. Smith, Horticulturist
NDSU Extension Service
Q: How do you tell red mulberry from white mulberry? I would like to grow
some from hardwood cuttings (I've read that they root readily) but am not
sure which species the local trees are. I want to grow only native trees.
A: Think very carefully before you plant a mulberry tree ( either one).
The fruits are almost irrationally attractive to birds, and if they are
planted in a location that is inappropriate to that kind of attention, you
will have a mess on your hands! If you can, try to propagate from a
fruitless (male) tree for a cleaner area under the canopy. Of the two
trees, the red mulberry (Morus rubra) is more rare and more attractive. It
is difficult to describe the subtle differences but I will try: the white
mulberry leaf is very polymorphic-- that is, some leaves are lobed, others
not; the base of the leaves could be cordate (kind of heart shaped),
others not; the veins on the underside of the leaves could have a slight
pubescence (peach-fuzz) to them. The red mulberry has a much handsomer,
dark green leaf that is broadly oval, and comes to an abrupt point, with
some being two or three lobed (but not as frequently as the white); the
underside is dark green and softly pubescent, not confined to the veins.
Q: Is there a cheap household way to treat flowers that develop fungus?
I'm having problems with geraniums and summer phlox. Someone mentioned
baking soda, but I don't know how much to add per gallon. I suppose I could
buy a well known fungicide and have it for next summer. (E-mail reference)
A: Sorry, but I don't know of a baking soda cure. I would recommend the
use of an organic fungicide such as Safer Fungicide and Miticide. Another
one on the market containing Neem, another organic, is Schultz Expert
Gardener Fungicide 3. It is a miticide, fungicide, and insecticide. All
fungicides work better as preventatives than as cures.
Q: A local farmer brought tomatoes and wanted to know why they developed
All have some degree of yellow on them. I'm sorry I don't have any
information about the variety, etc. (Williston, N.D.)
A: The random yellowing is nothing to really worry about, unless one
happens to be a nutrition fanatic. It simply represents a lycopene (red
coloration) breakdown in the fruit and could be a result of the cultivar
interacting with the environment (soil, watering, nutrients, weather
conditions, etc.). Slice 'em up and enjoy, even if they are still a little
Q: My mother would like me to move her perennial flower garden. Could you
tell me when is the best time to move hostas and day lilies? (E-mail
A: After a good, hard, killing frost.
Q: We recently built a new home, had several loads of black dirt hauled
in and have a huge problem. We have not been able to get anything to grow
but crabgrass. We have reseeded twice. We did spray the crabgrass (which had
little effect); now our linden tree is dropping its leaves. We can only
conclude that the soil must have been treated with some kind of herbicide.
Can you help? (Watertown, S.D.)
A: Your information is too spotty: Did you backfill around the linden
with these several loads of soil? If so, when did that take place? As
little as 6 to 8 inches of soil over the rootzone of the linden could
cause problems with survival. Crabgrass is an annual and easily controlled
with a pre-emergent herbicide in the early spring. If you are going to be
seeding your lawn, as opposed to sodding it, then you can only use a
product called Tupersan (siduron). It is an effective annual grassy weed
control that will allow the typical lawn grass seed to germinate. All
other herbicides will prevent the lawn grasses from germinating for up to
12 weeks. It could well be that the topsoil came from a former wheat field
where broad-leaf herbicides were heavily used. If so, then the residue
could be migrating to the roots of the linden and being taken up and
gradually killing it. To test the soil, try growing a bean or tomato plant
in it. If either die, that is likely the problem. The only options open to
you then are the complete removal of the soil you brought in or generous
incorporation of activated charcoal into the soil to absorb the herbicide.
Q: We recently moved into a house built in1997, so the trees have been
there for maybe four years. The previous owner put in four poplar trees.
There are also two lindens and two crab apple trees. A bit overdone. We have
underground sprinklers so I am nervous about getting the poplars out of
there. What is the best way to do this? (He also had two weeping willows,
but I got those out as soon as the snow melted.) Also my lindens are looking
sickly, with very small leaves. I am watering and putting on aluminum
sulfate to counteract the clay soil. What else can I do to help bring them
back? (Fargo, N.D.)
A: I suggest doing to the poplar trees exactly what you did to the
weeping willows--cut them down and grind out the stumps. The lindens could
be affected by the lawn sprinkler system, most likely getting too much
water. They are very adaptable trees and don't need any special soil
treatment. When were the trees planted? Are they planted too deep? That
seems to be one of the most common causes of loss with these trees, along
Q: I have recently taken on a project investigating the composting of
poultry feathers. Before I tackle the issue I am researching the techniques
of composting and what factors make a good compost. I have investigated the
moisture content and the carbon to nitrogen ratio. (E-mail reference)
A: You need to get your hands on two books: "The Rodale Guide To
Composting" and the "Science and Engineering of Composting"
edited by Harry A.J. Hoitink and Harold M. Keener, Ohio Agricultural
Research and Development Center, The Ohio State University, Wooster, OH.
If you canít find the answers to your composting questions in these
two books, I doubt you'll find them anywhere else!
Q: I have a spruce that is about 4 feet tall. It has a space of about 18
inches on one side where there are no branches. If I keep the top cut off
and do not allow vertical growth, will new branches develop in this bare
space? (E-mail reference)
A: No! But as a matter of practicality, those 18 inches will be of less
significance as the tree continues to grow and mature. The branches above
will droop down with age, and you will likely be taking off the bottom 18
inches anyway. Cutting the top off a spruce is never a good idea!
Q: Is there a spray available that you can use so plum trees don't bear
fruit? The plums are making a real mess in my yard. (E-mail reference)
A: A material called "Fruit Stop" contains an
ethylene-producing substance that, with the exact right timing, would
cause embryo abortion of the fruit, never giving it a chance to form. Itís
available in many garden centers. My experience has been that its
performance is very undependable.
Q: We are seeding about 2.5 acres in a cemetery expansion and are looking
for recommendation for types and cultivars of grass for this area. The soil
is light sandy loam on in a full sunlight flat overlooking the Sheyenne
valley. We also need to know a recommended planting rate. We hope to seed
with a barley or wheat cover crop. (Valley City, N.D.)
A: I would seed some common Kentucky bluegrass, like Kenblue or SD
Certified, at a rate of 3/4 to 1.25 pounds per 1000 square feet. The cover
crop is a good idea. If bluegrass isn't to your liking, then I would
suggest a crested wheatgrass cultivar like Fairway or Ephriam. The former
is a bunchgrass and the latter is stoloniferous. Both are minimal
maintenance turfgrasses, establishing easily and quite drought tolerant.
Seed Fairway at about 5 pounds per 1000 square feet and the Ephriam at
about 3 to 4 pounds. If this isn't going to be a highly public cemetery, I
would go with one of the wheatgrasses.
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.
Note to e-mail correspondents: please identify your location (city
and state) for most accurate recommendations.
Source: Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor: Gary Moran, (701) 231-7865, email@example.com