NDSU Extension Service
Q: My boyfriend brought
me a plant-your-own-cactus novelty kit from Las Vegas for my birthday.
There are two plants in the kit. I would feel awful if they died. One
plant is tall and thin with white hair wisps coming out of the top. The
other plant has a cluster of three short, round trunks with aggressive-looking
spines that are brown at the tip. One of the round trunks started to turn
red and the spines are drooping. This condition is slowly spreading to
the rest of the cluster. It appears one of the roots has grown out of
the soil, but the pot should be more than large enough. I'm not sure if
it is normal, but there is some white fuzz at the juncture of all the
spines. (e-mail reference)
A: You have a very
thoughtful boyfriend, so I understand your desire to keep the plants
alive. I'll try my best to help you. The cactus with the wispy white
hair is known as the old man cactus, Cephalocereus senilis. The purpose
of the wisps is to help shield the plant from the severe desert sun.
The other plant sounds like it is a prickly pear cactus, genus Opuntia
spp. There are many species and cultivars of this one, so it is difficult
to determine which one he got for you. The prickly pear cactus may have
a mealy bug infestation that is slowly killing the plant. Cut out the
one pod that has totally collapsed because it probably won’t survive.
With the others, dip some cotton swabs in rubbing alcohol and then dab
it on these characters, rubbing them off if possible. If this task is
too daunting, go to a local garden center and get some houseplant spray
for insects. The Schulz and Safer companies offer this product. Don’t
be surprised if you lose this plant because an infestation this heavy
can be very destructive, even on tough cactus plants.
Q: My neighbor moved
and gave me several indoor plants. One has a braided trunk and long, slender
dark green leaves. I believe it to be a ficus, but can't find any photos
to confirm this. It is about 4 feet tall and umbrella-shaped. It was almost
dead when I received it, but is now doing well. It seems to love a bright,
southern exposure. Can you help me identify this plant? (e-mail reference)
A: Gladly. It is
usually the ficus benjamina that is grown in this fashion. It is commonly
called the weeping fig. You are correct, the plant likes a bright location
and warm, humid environmental conditions.
Q: My first question
is about iris corms. My sister and I purchased some new plants yesterday
and have them in cold storage. Can they be planted outdoors at this time?
Iris winter OK once they are planted, so we think they could be planted
when the ground is thawed enough to dig. What is your opinion? My second
question is about tulips. I have several that are in clumps, so the original
bulb must have several bulblets on it. I want to dig these after blooming,
then separate the plants and replant to get more tulips. Most of what
I have read says this doesn't work. Would I be wasting my time or will
I get new plants? I figure they must do this somewhere to get new bulbs
to sell. I live in zone 4. (e-mail reference)
A: You can plant
the iris after the frost is out of the ground. The tulips can be dug
up and replanted after they finish blooming and the foliage dies down.
While they will not produce large flowers the first year or two (likely
remain vegetative), they should do well after that. This practice is
done all the time, so I don't know where you found information to the
contrary. Have a good spring!
Q: I recently salvaged
the tulips from my mother-in-law's garden after she passed away. They
were very crowded. I separated them and planted them again. That was last
fall. They are coming up nicely, but very few have more than one leaf.
Does that mean they will not produce a flower? If so, is there anything
I can do to increase the chance of flowering next spring? (e-mail reference)
A: No, just let
them mature to yellowing this spring. They need to get to a larger size
and store more carbohydrates before they can flower.
Q: I have a bromelaid
plant I got from my daughter two years ago. It had a pretty, pink flower
when I received it. The flower lasted a long time before it fell off.
The plant looks healthy, but it is in a small, plastic pot that would
not stand up alone. I feel it needs to be transplanted into a larger pot.
Will it ever bloom again if I do that? Any help you could offer on the
size of the pot I should use for transplanting and what fertilizer to
use would be greatly appreciated. (e-mail reference)
A: A clay pot is
always better than a plastic one. What you need to do is go up to the
next size pot. If it is in a 4-inch pot, go to the next size larger,
which is a 5-inch pot, but don’t go any larger. You always can
cut the plant back to keep it from falling over. Plants that produce
a bloom will do so again when it has enough stored energy. Make sure
it is getting enough light (a deficiency would be stretched and/or weak
stems) and is not overwatered. The time to fertilize is when new growth
is evident. Fertilize about every two weeks with a diluted solution
of any good houseplant fertilizer.
Q: The oak tree in
our garden was cut down by accident. I collected lots of acorns from it,
although many are not in good shape. I’m very eager to grow some
of them, but I’m not very knowledgeable about how to do it. Could
you give me some simple steps on how to grow the acorns? (e-mail reference)
A: If the intent
is to use acorns for propagation purposes, then gather the acorns as
soon as possible after they drop from the tree because mold sometimes
can infect fallen acorns, which destroys the cotyledons within. There
is a difference in oaks as to germination approaches. The white oak
(ones with rounded leaf lobes) group’s acorns will germinate shortly
after falling, so that is another reason for the rush in collecting
the acorns and putting them in cold storage until planting. The red
or black oak group needs cold stratification in moist sand for about
90 days to facilitate germination. The first thing you need to do is
test the acorns you have collected for soundness. Fill a bucket or sink
with water and dump in the acorns. Get rid of the acorns that float.
The acorns that sink are the soundest seeds to use for growing. Without
knowing what type of oak you are referring to, all I can suggest is
that you plant some of the acorns that sink in water as soon as the
frost is out of the ground to see if germination will occur. Store the
rest of the acorns in the crisper of your refrigerator for 90 days in
damp sphagnum moss to see if the root radicle starts to emerge from
some of the acorns. If the roots start to emerge, get them planted immediately.
Squirrels will be interested in what you are doing, so be sure to protect
the new seedlings with chicken wire or something similar.
Q: How and when should
I prune my endless summer hydrangeas? (e-mail reference)
A: You can prune
your hydrangeas anytime now and prune as much as you want because they
bloom on both the old and new growth.
Q: My geraniums look
healthy, but the leaves are turning a bright red. I am growing them in
a greenhouse. This is the second year this has happened. Is the greenhouse
too hot during the day? I haven't put up my shade cloth. I am using Miracle-Gro
once a week. Any ideas on what I should do? (e-mail reference)
A: This sounds like
the problem could be magnesium deficiency, but the only way to determine
for sure is through a tissue test. Since I don’t know where you
live, try putting up the shade cloth to see if that improves the situation.
It also could be from a heavy metal contamination in the water supply,
but that wouldn’t be the case if the water is coming from a potable
source. These are my best guesses.
Q: I have had a problem
growing cucumbers. I start them out as seeds, but as soon as they get
a few inches tall, they fall and start to die. I have tried plant supports
for them to grow along or lean in to, but that doesn’t work. Any
suggestions? (e-mail reference)
A: The plants need
to be started in sterile or pasteurized potting soil, not soil from
the outdoor garden. It sounds like they are being wiped out by a common
pathogen from a nonsterile media. This is known as "damping-off."
Try again, following my suggestions. Don't overwater, provide plenty
of light (fluorescent bulbs) and provide a little air circulation over
the surface of the plants, using a fan if needed.
Q: Can I use Canadian
cherry wood for smoking meats? (e-mail reference)
A: I don't think
so because all parts of the plant, exclusive of the fruit, are considered
toxic because it contains HCN (hydrogen cyanide). I have to add that
I am not an expert on the choice of wood for smoking meat, but from
what I know of this species, I wouldn't do it. I have asked Julie Garden-Robinson,
a nutritionist at NDSU, for her interpretation of your question. Agree
or disagree, she will get back to you with the official take on this.
In the meantime, don't experiment!
Q: My question is
about schefflera. It has a skinny trunk and the branches don't start branching
out until about a foot up from the pot base. The plant has 23 branches.
It seems a new branch starts every week and grows rather fast. It appears
healthy, but the branches are weeping down and have put a lot of weight
on the trunk, which has caused it to curve. I have solved the problem
by tying the trunk to a stake in hopes that it will straighten out. I
am wondering how many inches there should be between each branch or how
many branches per foot. I have a feeling that I should be cutting back
some of the branches, but they aren't unhealthy looking, just weeping.
A: Your plant needs
more direct and stronger light, which will give it a thicker trunk or
stem. I would suggest cutting it back to just above the lowest branch
with leaves to see if that forces any new breaks below that point. With
the added direct light and the removal of the staking material, it should
grow to be a stronger, stockier plant that doesn't need staking. Also,
don't push fertilization with a high nitrogen level because it will
cause spindly growth.
Q: I found an aloe
plant in the garbage can of our apartment building. It looks like it might
survive, so I rescued it, but I'm not sure what to do with it. I found
your Web site while looking for some answers. I'm hoping you can help
me. It is in a fairly small pot. The stalk grows out of it for about 6
inches before there are leaves. The whole plant is about 30 inches tall.
The leaves look healthy, but are damaged from being thrown out. A few
of them have black spots, which I plan on cutting off. It topples over
unless it's leaning against something. If I plant it in a bigger pot,
should I leave the bare stalk or should I plant it up to where the leaves
start? What else should I do or is this a lost cause? (e-mail reference)
A: Not a lost cause
at all. Repot in a larger pot. Set the plant in the soil right up to
the base of the leaves. Give it as much direct sunlight as possible
without burning it and don't overwater.
Q: In the last several
years, my chokecherry bushes have declined and just about died out. I
think that the lawn herbicides my neighbor has sprayed commercially on
his lawn might be part of the problem. I was told my use of Roundup to
control nearby weeds and suckers also may be contributing to the problem.
I would like to replace these sickly shrubs with a variety of other shrubs
that produce food for the birds and some for me. Do you have any suggestions?
I'm thinking about planting Juneberries, but in reading about them I am
afraid they will sucker too much. The growing area gets partial to full
sun. I want to plant the shrubs for use as a privacy screen. (Aberdeen,
A: Stay with the
idea of Juneberries because they don't sucker that much. I've grown
them on my property for the past 20 years without hassle, except the
birds get the fruit if I don't cover them!
Smith, (701) 231-8161, email@example.com
Editor: Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, firstname.lastname@example.org