NDSU Extension Service
Q: I have several
cacti that have a white, fuzzy and sticky substance at the juncture of
the needles and the main body of the cactus. (e-mail reference)
A: It could be cottony
cushion scale. Take a Q-Tip, dip it in rubbing alcohol and wipe it on
these characters to see if you can get rid of them. Then spray the cacti
with Fungicide 3. It is an insecticide, fungicide and miticide. It is
a neem product, so it will be safe to use indoors on most houseplants.
Prior to using it, check the label to be sure your plants are not excluded.
This general spray will cover any crawler stage (juvenile) that has
not yet settled into making the cottony covering to protect it.
Q: I planted potentilla,
spiraea and a dogwood 18 inches from the basement wall of our house. I
am concerned that the roots from these shrubs might find their way into
the weeping tile around the footing of our basement. I would estimate
that the tile is at a depth of about 5.5 feet. (e-mail reference)
A: I have dug every
kind of shrub, including the ones you mention, out from the foundations
of old houses and never have found any roots that go down 5 feet. I
think you are safe.
Q: I have read most
of your comments about how to care for a goldfish plant. I bought one
in August. It was in full bloom, but the blooms disappeared within two
weeks. I hung it in my bathroom, where it gets some indirect light. From
my research, I felt it was probably not getting enough indirect light.
I put a 60-watt grow light in my bathroom fixture to give it more light.
The grow light is about 18 inches away from the plant and I leave it on
about 16 hours a day. I am watering the plant when my water meter says
the plant is at a medium moisture level. I mist it about twice a week.
I’m still trying to figure out a fertilizing schedule and what type
of fertilizer to use. (e-mail reference)
A: I never have
suggested this before, but I am going to try it with you. The trick,
according to all of my references, seems to point toward high humidity
around the plant, with frequent misting a common suggestion. Why not
use a humidifier in the room during the winter months? This will bring
the humidity up from the normal 10 percent to15 percent that home interiors
are during the dead of winter. Misting is a nice, but infrequent treat
for the plant. Based on its tropical origins, there is no way the continuously
high humidity requirements can be met by trying to remember to mist
every day, which, even then, I think is inadequate. Give it a try this
winter and continue to maintain your other cultural approaches, which
appear to be on the mark. Let me know if the plant comes back into flower.
Q: I brought my plants
into the house late in September. I also brought in a million tiny black
flies. Now I cannot get rid of them. I sprayed the plants with Raid House
and Garden, but only lightly. My husband is allergic to the carrier in
aerosols so I cannot use it again. The bodies of these flies are about
a sixteenth of an inch or maybe a bit longer. Is there any way to get
rid of them? I am using Aeroxon Window Fly Catchers (a sticky tape that
goes on the windows). It works well, but is not nearly enough. I hope
you can help because I do not want to throw the plants out to get rid
of the flies. (Huron, S.D.)
A: The flies are
probably fungus gnats or fruit flies that took hold in your soil during
the summer. You can repot the plants in fresh soil. Clean the containers
completely in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Also, rinse the
plants in tepid water. If any critters remain, get ahold of Schultz’s
Insecticidal Soap or Fungicide 3. This is a neem extract product, so
your husband’s allergies should not be activated. Generally, these
pests die from the dryness as the central heating unit is activated
with the arrival of cold weather. It’s a good idea to try to get
them under control before then, if possible.
Q: I have a man looking
for information on starting roses from seed. If you have any suggestions
regarding what information I should pass along to him, I would really
appreciate it. (e-mail reference)
A: The seeds need
to be extracted from the hips (fruit). To break the tough seed coat,
stratify the seeds in moist sand at 80 to 90 degrees for about three
weeks. I would then suggest storing them in an airtight jar. Place the
jar in a cool and dark location until spring. Sow them in a sunny location
when the frost is out of the soil.
Q: I have a bathroom
in the house that receives very little light. I am looking for a houseplant
that can tolerate very little light and likes the steam from the shower.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. (e-mail reference)
A: Sounds like a
perfect setting for a Boston or Dallas fern.
Q: My tomatoes were
hit with fusilaria wilt this past summer. Is there an effective method
of sterilizing the soil? Would a propane weed torch work? I would appreciate
any help you could give me with this problem. (Detroit Lakes, Minn.)
A: If you use a
propane weed torch, all you will do is warm the surface of the soil
a little and perhaps kill a few languishing weed seeds, but nothing
more. The best approach, when you have disease problems, is to get a
resistant variety and plant in a different location in full sun. Always
try to avoid water splash.
Q: I had someone call
this morning who has miniature roses, begonias and hibiscus in pots. She
has moved them into her house. How does she care for these plants so that
they make it through the winter? Does she need to prune the plants or
do something else? If these plants are normally dormant during the winter,
does there need to be some “neglect” to allow dormancy? (Carson,
A: All three plants,
the miniature roses, hibiscus and begonias, can make it as houseplants.
Generally, the roses will need to go through a little dormancy/chilling
period, so if they have not been treated to the fall weather, allow
them to stay outside for a few more nips by Jack Frost and they should
be in sufficient dormancy. As to the hibiscus, she can cut it back somewhat
to set it up for some new growth. Place the rose and hibiscus in as
sunny a location as possible in the house. The begonia will do OK under
a plant light and probably will flower sometime during the winter.
Q: My co-worker has
a cactus plant on her desk. We noticed a little red bump growing out of
one of the creases surrounded by a lot of fuzzy, white stuff. We poked
at the bump and it popped off. It looks like a little red berry. She says
now there are several of these little red balls on her cactus. What are
they? (e-mail reference)
A: For shame! You
knocked off a cactus apple. There must have been a flower there that
was ignored or just forgotten. In Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California,
etc., where cacti grow, it is common to see these apples form. They
can be harvested and made into jellies or juice. Let those that are
on the plant ripen and fall off naturally. Fix a nice treat, but be
careful of those little leaf modifications that remind us, often painfully,
that they are cacti!
Q: I have a question
on ice melt and vegetation. The MSDS sheet and advertisement on an ice
melt product claims that it is gentle on vegetation. It doesn’t
list the percent of each chloride, but I did find that it’s a sodium
chloride-based product. That statement leads me to believe it has more
sodium chloride than other chlorides. What would be your opinion on using
this around landscaping shrubs, grass and native prairie grass? (e-mail
A: The chloride
will not hurt the plants to any great extent. The sodium chloride component
is the fourth item listed, behind calcium, magnesium and potassium.
It’s always better not to have sodium, but I am afraid that is
close to being unrealistic. Because you are going to be controlling
the amount of ice melt used around the plantings, and if you follow
up with a good soil wash/leaching operation next spring, there should
be minimal damage, if any at all.
Q: I have had a barrel
cactus for a couple of years. Recently it started to turn brown at the
base. A beige, shrunken (dead or dying) section is on one side. It sits
in a southern window and I water sparingly once a week. Can you help me
save my cactus? (e-mail reference)
A: Watering once
a week is too much. Take a cutting and try to root it. To do this, cut
off a part of the stem where there is no rot. The cutting should be
about 3 inches in length. Allow it to cure for a day and then try to
root it. It should root in two to three months.
Q: I have had a peony
for two years that never has flowered. What type of soil conditions do
peonies need? Will it flower in the near future? (e-mail reference)
A: Peony plants
need some basic conditions to flower. They should not be planted too
deep and need plenty of sunshine. Correct one or both of these shortcomings
and it should flower.
Q: I have a tomato
plant that is now my second houseplant to be attacked by a strange problem!
Little black, egglike gritty things are appearing on the underside of
the leaves. The leaves are turning yellow and dying. (e-mail reference)
A: You can control
these insects with Insecticidal Soap, which is a direct toxin to soft-bodied
insects. It kills the insects by dehydrating them. Be sure to cover
both leaf surfaces. This material is safe to use on edible plants and
in the home on houseplants.
Q: I am currently
planning my wedding. I am going to have hydrangeas on the tables for the
reception. I want to give all of my guests some seeds as a gift, along
with a contribution to a memorial fund. The idea is to have the plants
grow in memory of those who are no longer with us to celebrate the wedding.
What type of hydrangea would be the easiest to grow for the novice horticulturist?
What is the best way to order seeds in bulk? (e-mail reference)
A: That is a good
question and a noble undertaking on your part. Go to www.iloveplants.com/html/Plants_and_Seeds/
to contact potential nurseries that specialize in hydrangea production.
You might start out with Bluestone Nurseries out of Ohio. Good luck
and best wishes!
Q: I have heard you
say that the best time to prune an apple tree is early spring before it
leafs out. Unfortunately, we are not always in the state at that time.
Is there another time that would be appropriate and not open the tree
to disease? (Valley City, N.D.)
A: Yes, after it
has shut down for the winter. Being a hardy tree, I hope, pruning should
not hurt it.
Q: Does cutting the
top of a plant permanently stop its growth? (e-mail reference)
A: It just removes
the apical dominance exerted by the top bud and causes the plant to
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.
Smith, (701) 231-8161, email@example.com
Editor: Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, firstname.lastname@example.org