Ronald C. Smith, Horticulturist
NDSU Extension Service
Q: I want to plant a lilac tree and flowering crab this year but need
some advice about lilacs. Would it be best to plant hybrids or the old
fashioned lilac? Would I need two for cross pollination? What kind of
flowering crab would you suggest? I live 40 miles south of Fargo and in zone
3. (Rothsay, Minn.)
A: First the lilacs: It all depends on what you want, Fragrance? If so
then the common ones are best. If fragrance isn't important, but vivid
colors and mature size are, then go for the hybrids. You can have one
lilac or 100; either way they will flower beautifully. Next, the
crabapples. Do you want them for just the flowers with no or minimum
hassle with the fruit, or is the fruit size, color, and durability
important to you? There is only one completely fruitless crabapple, and
that is 'Spring Snow', which is loaded with white flowers in spring, and
no fruit. Then there is the 'Red Jewel', which is a beautiful,
red-fruited, white flowering crab. The fruit shrivels and darkens with
fall frosts, and remains on until spring, serving as a source of food for
wildlife. Then there is the 'Thunderchild' crab which has delicate pink
flowers and deep purple leaves. Again, one is all that is needed for
fruiting, as there are usually plenty of other crabapple or edible apple
species within a half mile or so for pollination and fruit set.
Q: I have a fiddle leaf fig near a sunny window. The plant leaves have
now turned to grow towards the light. Is it okay to rotate the pot from time
to time or is this too much for the plant? (E-mail reference)
A: Not a problem at all. It just might be easier for you to get a
direct overhead light source so you wouldn't have to do that so often.
Q: A producer asked how to make his own carrot seeds. Could you tell him
what he needs to know? (Napoleon, N.D.)
A: Since carrots are biennials, he has to leave them in the soil for a
second year, making sure the crowns are protected with mulch going into
winter. After winter, the carrot is then "vernalized" and flower
induction takes place, with a seedstalk being formed. From there, he is on
Q: I have a 25 year old ornamental crabapple that has gotten too big. I
have tried pruning branches back to thin and reduce its height, but new
branches sprout densely and grow very long during the next summer. I
understand there is a hormonal balance between roots and shoots, so I spaded
around the tree about 6 feet from the trunk, 8 to 9 inches deep, to cut
roots. Still the branches sprouted. How can I get the tree reduced in size
without it becoming dense with new, long growth? When should this be done?
A: There is a basic rule of thumb: to stimulate growth, prune when
dormant; to slow or reduce growth, prune after leaf out. The idea behind
this is that by pruning in late spring or early summer, photosynthizing
material is removed, which reduces the vigor of the tree. Doing it just
once will not do the trick. It must be done annually and sometimes twice
during the season. The bad news about this is that pruning in summer or
when the trees are actively growing opens them to disease spore invasion.
Consequently, I would advise carefully selecting the time to do such
pruning when there is no rain or high humidity and high temperatures
forecast for a few days. Once these plants mature, and if they are
healthy, their growth can be difficult to control, so don't give up.
Q: Do you have any tips on how to germinate and then successfully raise
oak trees from acorns? I have a couple of acorns that I have stored in the
refrigerator from last fall, and I would like to plant them this spring.
When should I plant? How large a pot is needed, and given the size of the
pot recommendation, how long should I leave the seedlings in them? How much
growth can be anticipated in the first year? How should I store the
seedlings to ensure that they will live through the next winter? (Fargo,
A: When the soil thaws and is free of frost, plant the acorns about 4
inches down, where you want them to grow to maturity. I suggest planting
two or three in each hole in case some don't germinate. Of course, if more
than one germinates, then simply save the best one by snipping off the
others at ground level. Planting them in containers is a good idea, but
with the tap roots that develop on oaks, transplanting often causes some
losses. You might want to put a protective cone around the planting site
to keep the squirrels from getting to them. Since (I assume) you gathered
the oaks locally, you need not worry about protection over the winter.
They are completely hardy bur oaks that should take off nicely. I would
protect them from rodent damage by surrounding them with a plastic or
metal collar the first few years. Growth is hard to predict. It depends on
the genetic vigor of the acorn. Usually, the first year is just to get
established, so growth of about 12-18 inches should be all that can be
expected, if that much. Be sure to sow the acorns in a sunny location.
Q: We have a large laurel willow in our yard that is about 30 feet tall.
Beginning last summer, the leaves were much smaller and the tree started
losing its branches in any type of high wind. They just snap off and fall to
the ground. During the high winds on Feb. 11 the yard was full of willow
branches that broke off the tree. Some of these branches are 2 inches in
diameter, but snap like balsa wood. Should we have the tree removed? I am
concerned that it may fall onto the house. (Fargo, N.D.)
A: I strongly urge that course of action. The tree is dead or dying and
obviously has deadwood throughout. Better to be rid of it than to be
picking up branches out of your living room or bedroom!
Q: Does a corn stalk just produce one corn cob? (Napoleon, N.D.)
A: Corn stalks often produce at least two, sometimes three, cobs. The
second and third ones are smaller, sometimes down to the
"nubbin" size, but still good eating.
Q: I have a peace plant that I have had for about five years. The problem
I am having is that it was blooming when I purchased it, and hasn't bloomed
since. I have fertilized it and repotted it over the years, but still
nothing. It has gotten rather large and I would love to see it bloom. Any
suggestions? (E-mail reference)
A: Give it more light, but not direct sunlight. Placing it near or next
to an east window will often bring it into bloom in a month or two.
Congratulations on having the plant for five years! Most people cannot
keep a houseplant around that long.
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