Ronald C. Smith,
NDSU Extension Service
Q: I planted petunias and zanias in an outdoor bed and planters. This
year the plants started to turn yellow at the outside of the leaf and then
into the main steam. I also have several small violas that turned yellow and
then brown. I use only rainwater with no fertilizer. These plants were
blooming well and healthy looking until just recently. (Bison S.D.)
A: It could be a simple fertilizer need. Give the plants a shot or two
of Miracle Gro or something similar a couple of times during the growing
season. While rainwater is excellent for watering, if the soil is devoid
of nutrients they are not going to thrive.
Q: We would like to know what a Juneberry bush is. How tall does it grow
and what are its bushing habits? Is the fruit good for eating, making jelly
or jam or feeding birds? (Forman, N.D.)
A: Juneberries are native to our region and are beautiful shrubs with
white flowers in early spring and blueberry type fruit about this time of
year. If you can get to them, they make good pies, jams and jellies but
birds gobble most up before we humans can get to them. They also have a
nice yellow/orange fall color.
Q: I have an Iris bed that is getting very dense. Can I divide the bulbs
now or should I wait until fall? (E-mail reference)
A: Itís best to do it late summer or early fall.
Q: Can you tell me how to stop the suckers from growing on my crab apple
tree? I cut them off each spring and they keep coming back. (E-mail
A: Visit a local garden center or nursery and ask for "Sucker Stopper."
Spray it on after you cut the suckers back. That should take care of them
for the growing season.
Q: I have an individual who has seeded a new lawn using fairway-crested
seed with oats mixed in. She wants to cover it with straw and is looking for
guidelines as far as depth or any other information you can provide.
A: I would encourage her not to mulch, as it will only add more weed
seeds. The oats she used will act as living mulch, which is much better.
The oats will pop up and grow within a few days followed not long after by
the wheatgrass. Tell her to begin mowing as soon as the oats reach four
inches in height.
Q: I have some gardeners that called me about their cabbage plant leaves
curling. They were planted before May 20. They have not noticed any insect
damage or feeding. The plants have been exposed to pesticides. They said it
is not happening to all of the plants. Is it safe to assume that pesticides
are causing the leaves to curl? (Carson, N.D.)
A: It probably is the pesticide. The pesticide I am thinking of is some
form of herbicide that was either an off-label or they may have over used
the right stuff.
Q: I have a 7-year-old Colorado spruce that started to turn brown in the
inside a year ago but the needles, for the most part, stayed on the
branches. Now it's spreading to the next tree plus this spring a number of
my pines began losing their new growth on the tips. They turn brown and fall
off. Would spraying with Malathion take care of both problems? (Onaka, S.D.)
A: The first thing is to get the malady correctly diagnosed. Spraying
with an insecticide will not help if the problem is a disease. Contact the
South Dakota State University Extension Plant Pathology lab and send a
sample to Marty Drapper for diagnosis. Describe to him, as accurately as
possible, what you see happening.
Q: I understand that one should avoid trimming a crab apple in June or
July. I have a tree trunk that did not get leaves this year. Should I trim
it now or wait until winter? Also, is this dead trunk a sign of things to
come for the rest of the tree? (E-mail reference)
A: Try to avoid pruning apples or crabapples in the hot, sticky months
of summer to avoid possible disease problems but if the branch is dead, it
isn't a good idea to keep it around either. I would recommend cutting it
back to just outside the collar. This is not necessarily a sign of things
to come. It could be the branch died of a cankerous fungus or borers that
may have decided to take up residency in your tree. Monitor the condition
of the tree and try to catch any anomalies that may show up early so they
don't become a lethal threat to your tree.
Q: The grackles have nearly ruined my marigolds. They peck away and leave
flowers all over the ground and sidewalk. Any ideas on how to make these
pests leave my marigolds alone? (Fargo, N.D.)
A: Grackles are the mischievous teenagers of the bird world. Spray your
plants with pepper spray. Also, tie aluminum strips to small stakes
throughout your marigold planting. The pepper will burn their tongues and
the aluminum strips will scare them. Once they are driven away they
usually wonít return.
Q: A young lady brought me an egg shaped white thing that was growing
from the base of a tree. It is not a mushroom but is shaped like an egg. It
is rather soft and about an inch and a half long and about an inch in
diameter. It appears it grew out of some kind of sheath as there is dried up
sheathing around the base. (Lisbon, N.D.)
A: While not a mushroom, it is a member of the family. They are
unromantically referred to as "conks." They are an indication of internal
rot taking place in the tree. The tree owner should get an arborist to
take an increment boring of the tree to see how far along the rot has
advanced. The tree may need to be removed immediately to prevent property
damage or personal injury.
Q: I looked at a yard where a large tree had been removed years ago. The
dirt was also removed and large raised beds were put in using new dirt. Even
with all that work they still have mushroom problems. The mushrooms come up
in large four to eight inch clusters and push everything out of their way.
It appears as though they are spreading but we have had a wet spring.
A: People can practice their golf swing on emerging mushrooms if they
wish. Some people claim a 10 percent solution of bleach poured on the
areas where the mushrooms are originating from will work. I don't like
that idea too much because, at best, it has only a temporary effect. I
don't like putting even a 10 percent solution into the environment.
Mushroom growth will be the worst right after frequent rains but will
disappear when we have drier and hotter weather.
Q: I have a 5-year-old hawthorn. This year, three quarters of the bark
has come off the trunk and the leaves are very small. Can this tree be
saved? (E-mail reference)
A: It doesn't sound like it. Once the damage is that extensive, it is
usually only a question of time before the tree dies.
Q: I have white clover taking over my lawn. What can I do to control it?
A: Spray it with a herbicide known as "Clover & Chickweed Killer" or
Trimec. You also need to fertilize your lawn. Clover invasion is a pretty
good sign of insufficient nutrient levels, especially nitrogen.
Q: I was recently given a dying ficus tree. I repotted it and gave it
tender loving care. The tree thrived but after six months I noticed leaves
were starting to drop off. The dead leaves are a mottled yellow. I also
found a drop of gummy white substance on the stem. I love this tree and
don't want to lose it. (E-mail reference)
A: The gummy white substance on the stem is an insect that is feeding
on the plant. It could be aphids, spittlebugs or scale. If you look
closely you will likely see many of them, concentrated around the leaf
petiole attachment to the stem. If the number is not overwhelming, you can
remove them effectively with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. If
there are too many for that operation, then you will need to apply a
systemic insecticide such as Orthene. This should be applied outdoors, not
inside the house. After drying overnight, the plant can be brought back
Q: I have an ornamental crabapple that I planted a few weeks ago. I have
noticed that the leaves are always folded inwards. Could this mean the tree
is over or under watered? (E-mail reference)
A: The first thing I would suggest is to look inside the folded leaf
and see if there is a critter there. Some insect larvae will make a cocoon
that way. It could also be responding to high temperatures as a means of
conserving water. Many times the symptoms of over or under watering are
exactly the same. That is a determination you will have to make. Most
people tend to overwater.
Q: I am having a problem with several spruce trees. They are developing
brown needles in some cases while others are developing bare spots where the
needles have dropped off. Someone told me it is natural for spruce trees to
lose needles and that they would be replaced. However two trees, both about
10 feet tall, lost all their needles and died. I have two trees that are
about 40 feet tall and about 25 years old that are looking quite rough with
sparse needle coverage. I have used a water-soluble fertilizer that is
recommended for acid loving plants like azaleas and evergreens which I
applied using a hose. They are in various locations in my yard and receive
varying amounts of sunlight. (Eureka, S.D.)
A: Some needle drop is normal but a bare branch on an evergreen will
always be a bare branch, it will not grow new needles. It sounds like you
are dealing with a needle cast disease. Purchase some Bravo (chlorothalonil)
to spray on the trees and do it as soon as possible. Spray again next year
in June and again in July. This will help to control the disease. In the
mean time, try not to spray the trees with irrigation water. That will
only cause splash spreading of the disease organism resulting in further
tree decline. If you want to fertilize, use Miracle Gro around the tree,
spraying it into the root zone and not on the foliage.
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,