Ronald C. Smith,
NDSU Extension Service
Q: I am having reoccurring problems with quackgrass in my garden. Can you
tell me how to get rid of it? It starts out as a fine grass and then, as it
grows, gets a hard stem to it. I have tried Roundup but it didnít work.
A: Try Roundup again. Buy the already-prepared formulation that is
available at retail outlets, as it has a sticker added which should make
it more effective.
Q: We have an evergreen which we are quite certain has needle cast
disease. Can this tree be saved and with what type of treatment? (Minot,
A: It can be saved but I would suggest that you contact Mike Rose, the
Ward County extension agent. He is a sharp horticulturist and can confirm
whether or not it is needle cast that is devastating your tree. If it is
in the early stages, corrective action can be taken; if it is in the later
stages, it may be too late.
Q: I recently repotted my jade plant but now have found very little
worm-like things in the soil. I repotted another jade at the same time with
the same soil and it does not have them. What can I do? (E-mail reference)
A: The worm-like animal most likely came from the old soil still
clinging to the roots of one plant and not the other. They could just be
feeders of the organic matter in your soil or the larval stage of a root
maggot. You can try controlling them with insecticidal soap. Water the
plant which usually drives these creatures to the surface and, when they
appear, spray them with the soap solution. It kills the soft-bodied
insects via desiccation and is not harmful to either you or the plant. You
will have to do this several times to get them all. The soap is sold by
Safer, a company that specializes in organically approved pest controls,
and is available at local garden stores.
Q: My landscaped beds are overridden with thistle and dandelions. There
are certain areas of the beds that are infested with thistle and other areas
with clumps of dandelions. What is the best way to get rid of these weeds?
A: That is a perpetual challenge! Since it is early in the growing
season, I suggest the physical removal of them at this time. In other
words, create a cleanly cultivated bed with nothing remaining but the
ornamental plants that you want. There is a product known as Bio-Barrier
that creates both a physical and chemical barrier between the soil surface
and the germinating weeds. Place this in your landscape beds after the
weeds are removed and cover with an organic mulch like bark or wood chips.
You should be virtually weed-free for the next 10 years if everything is
Q: I have a client that has two apricot trees, a sungold and a moongold,
that have great fruit sets but later in the summer drop all fruit when it is
about a half inch in diameter. There are no visual symptoms. Is there any
inherent problem in these varieties or would you suspect another cause?
(Devils Lake, N.D.)
A: A number of things can cause premature fruit drop of apricots. The
most common one is overbearing. When the fruit is pea to pigeon egg size,
begin thinning to prevent fruit drop. Pollination and fertilization are
carried on at too great a level for the tree to sustain all of the set
fruit and consequently simply drop the whole load. This will reduce the
energy expenditure of the tree and it can then put more of it into
upsizing the remaining fruit. You can also thin the blossoms rather than
the fruit. Considerably less damage is done to the tree with selective
blossom removal and the procedure goes much faster. The problem could be
pollination but no fertilization or fruit maggots inside the fruit. I
doubt that either of these is the cause since it wasnít a selective drop
and you saw no visual symptoms.
Q: Can a crepe Myrtle be moved and transplanted? If so, when do you do
it? (E-mail reference)
A: It can be transplanted as a balled and burlapped plant when dormant.
The best time is either early spring or fall.
Q: I have a Christmas cactus that is more than 60 years old and is very
large. I can no longer move it or repot it. This year it's not looking very
well. I think it's just too big. Can I cut it way back without killing it?
A: I cannot answer that question. I would suggest that as you make your
cuttings, try and root some of them. Many if not all, should develop a
root system for you. Just stick some in a 50/50 sand/peat mixture, and
keep moderately moist.
Q: I would like to try to grow Niger thistle for bird feed in a corner of
my home garden and at my son's home in Alberta. What are your
recommendations in this regard? ( Victoria, B.C., Canada)
A: I'd say go for it and not pay out valuable Canadian dollars to the
imported material that I'm sure is saturating your market as it is ours.
There is a short-season cultivar known as early bird that we have
successfully grown in the Northern Plains - specifically in the
Carrington, Langdon, and Minot Research and Extension Centers. The crop
was productive at all sites even when a delayed planting (June 13) took
place at Carrington. The seeding rates were experimented with and it was
found that the 9-pounds per acre rate consistently outproduced the 3- and
6-pound per acre rates. The yields ranged from as low as 300 pounds per
acre to as high as 700 pounds. So, if you get something successfully going
there, you might have yourself a small economic nest-egg!
Q: I have a stand of golden willows that are defoliated every season by a
crawling caterpillar. They start at the bottom and work their way up. I am
looking for an aerosol tanglefoot. Would this work and where could I find
it? (E-mail reference)
A: As far as I know, there is no such thing. I have seen it only in a
toothpaste-type tube. Even if it did exist, I would hesitate to recommend
it. I would suggest you spray immediately with a dormant oil spray,
assuming that your tree is still dormant. This will take care of any
overwintering eggs or pupae. If the tree has already begun leafing out, I
would suggest hitting it with Orthene, which is a systemic spray and
should give you some control. Tanglefoot can be applied to the trunk in
bands about 4 inches wide, following directions. It does a good job, in
most instances, of catching the majority of cankerworms.
Q: I'm sure you have heard the theory that if you want to grow large
pumpkins, feed them milk. Is this true? My mission this year is to grow a
large pumpkin. I have three different varieties of large pumpkin seeds and I
will be planting them in different locations around the farm. I've read a
lot of articles on selecting the female plant and choosing one flower to
produce the pumpkin but I was going to try some of these legendary growing
tips to see if they work. Do you have any advice? (Fargo, N.D.)
A: Talk about an old farmer's tales! This one takes the cake. It is
purported that some farmers would custom-grow their pumpkins to the size
desired by the customer via milk injection into the vine. A rubber tube
was connected to the needle, the other end inserted into a quart of milk,
and the pumpkin supposedly pulled the milk. More credible stories have
involved pumpkins grown under a cloth with gallon milk cartons under and
next to the developing plant. One of them would have some pinholes in it,
the other would have hot water. They would be placed by the developing
plant at nightfall with the one with holes supplying water slowly and the
other keeping the air and soil around the plant warm to encourage growth.
I have heard that some people keep their pumpkins shaded under the cloth
to keep the plants from reaching the heat stress compensation point. That
is where the plant carries on respiration faster than it does
photosynthesis. Others have a family concoction of black tea sweetened
with honey and milk that they feed to the plant every other week. Perhaps
the easiest trial to follow is to simply select the first female blossom,
hand fertilize it, keep all other blossoms picked off, and try to maintain
a balanced water and nutrient regime. Quite frankly, largeness in pumpkin
has never attracted me as I have always preferred the more manageable
sizes that make good jack-o-lanterns or delicious pies! Good luck and let
me know what works for you.
Q: There was a flowering shrub in Hoven, S.D. last year that throngs of
people in the area were stopping by to see. It was an evening primrose. What
was so fascinating was that its profusion of yellow flowers opened a few at
a time every evening at sundown right before our eyes! Then all of a day's
blooms would fall off before morning and the next day the whole cycle would
repeat again. Where can we get seeds or a young plant? Is it a perennial
hardy for north-central South Dakota? (E-mail reference, S.D.)
A: The plant is a hardy perennial in our upper great plains. Seed
should be available just about anywhere perennial seeds are sold. Most
nurseries would also have the young plants available. It is native to the
Q: We have several maples in our yard that are about 10 to 15 years old.
We need to do some major pruning of the lower branches. When is the best
time to do this so the tree won't die? (E-mail reference)
A: Maples are known as "bleeders" when pruned early in the season and
still dormant. This fact usually upsets most homeowners when they see the
excessive sap flow pouring out of pruning wounds. It is messy and attracts
some insects, but doesn't kill the tree. Assuming the tree is otherwise
healthy, I suggest pruning the plant after full leaf-out and expansion of
the foliage. Minimal to no bleeding will take place and it will still be
early enough in the growing season for the wounds to begin complete
compartmentalization and healing.
Q: My yard is very damp with clay soil and lots of direct sunlight. The
soil is soft for the first 12 inches then turns into hard clay. Would a
weeping willow grow well under these conditions? (E-mail reference)
A: Yes it will. There are only two places that I know of where a
weeping willow wonít grow, in a blacktop parking lot and a desert
Q: We are planning to move some evergreens in our yard this year. They
are Colorado blue spruce and balsams. When is the best time to do it? The
trees are at least 10 years old. (Jamestown, N.D.)
A: The best time is as early as possible for digging a rootball. If you
are planning to do this yourself, you have a monumental job on your hands.
I suggest recruiting some professional help.
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.
Note to e-mail correspondents: please identify your location (city
and state) for most accurate recommendations.
Source: Ron Smith, (701) 231-8161, email@example.com
Editor: Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,