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Published April 08, 2011, 12:00 AM

Hortiscope: Removing tree’s dead branches a good idea

Q: My wife took a master gardener class from you a couple of years ago, and we read your weekly column with great interest. Two years ago, I moved some large green ash and American elm trees from a pasture to a spot near a house we are building.

By: Don Kinzler, INFORUM

Q: My wife took a master gardener class from you a couple of years ago, and we read your weekly column with great interest. Two years ago, I moved some large green ash and American elm trees from a pasture to a spot near a house we are building. Overall, the trees seem to be doing well. However, there are some branches that have died or do not leaf out. Should I be removing these dead branches or can they be left for the birds? I also have some ponderosa pines that were ravaged by a porcupine a year ago. On some of the trees, the critters killed many branches, including the leader on a couple. Should I be removing those branches? Thanks for your helpfulness. (email reference)

A: It always is a good idea to remove dead branches whenever possible for aesthetics and the health of the tree. Clean wounds from proper pruning always heal better than something that has been butchered by local wildlife. Thanks a million for the nice comments about the master gardener program and the weekly column!


Q: I am on the verge of cutting my mock orange to ground level. It is very woody and has many stems. When you refer to early spring, do you mean the week of March 20 or just when the snow is gone? I live in Maine. I don’t want to harm the plant by cutting it too soon, but the snow is gone from around here, so I’m ready to start the chainsaw. (email reference)

A: I just got back from a week in Boston visiting family members, so I can tell you that you are safe in starting your chainsaw and getting the deed done.

Welcome to spring!


Q: Earlier this winter, I read your information posted online. I was glad to see your response on growing arborvitae from cuttings. However, I tried it but didn’t have much success. Could you give me some more instructions? Is there a certain time of year that works best? Is there a certain type of sand I should use? Mine seems to retain moisture. Should the cuttings be kept at a certain temperature? I don’t have a mist system, so can I use a spray bottle to mist them? How often should I water the cuttings, and how much water should I use? I would appreciate any help you could give me. (email reference)

A: Sorry you are having a problem with this easily rooted plant species. An assignment for the plant propagation class was to take winter cuttings and dip the cut ends in a rooting hormone (KIBA or something similar), stick them in perlite/sand (50/50), utilize bottom-heating cables, and mist the cuttings with distilled or drinking water. Rooting is usually close to 100 percent if following these instructions. Try again using these details to see if your luck improves.


Q: I have some gerbera daisy plants. They are in pots, get full sun, and I use 2-in-1 systemic Bayer’s Rose and Flower Care (8-12-4) every six weeks. The plants have many buds and are healthy and happy. The problem is that the flowers open before the stems grow very long, so the blooms are hidden in the foliage or just barely peeking over the top. The foliage is not excessive, so it’s the shortness of the stems that are the problem. About 75 percent of the stems are this way. Any suggestions? (email reference)

A: You have me on this one. I don’t know what to tell you about this problem or how to solve it. Perhaps someone reading the column will know and get back to me. If he or she does, I’ll pass it on to you.


Q: I have three gladiolas growing in a Pringles can. I am wondering if they should be transplanted. They’ve already sprouted. One is 7 inches tall and the others are around 2 inches tall. Thanks for your help. (email reference)

A: Get them planted as soon as possible before they get any taller. Good luck and enjoy their beauty.


Q: I pruned my jade plant about a month ago. Since then, some of the leaves have wilted and some have turned yellow and dropped off. I have noticed that some of the stems have turned black, but they aren’t near the bottom, so I don’t think it is rotting. If you could email me with some advice, I will be grateful. (email reference)

A: Go to www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/houseplnts/jade.htm for a lot of information on jade plants. If you still cannot find what you think the problem could be, send me a couple of high-quality photos.


Q: I watered my lily plant with compost tea. When I woke up today, all the leaves were droopy. What can I do? I took it out of the pot and put it in a strainer to help dry it out. Is the tea killing the plant? (email reference)

A: Compost tea is a generic term used for anything that has rotted into compost.

Something toxic to the lily may have been in the tea. There are better materials to use, such as fish emulsion fertilizer.


Q: I am interested in getting a yellow climbing rose. Do you know of any that can be grown in my area? (Underwood, N.D.)

A: The only one that I know of that could possibly grow in your area is the yellow showers climbing rose. Scout the catalogs to see if any nursery has it or other possible choices.


Q: I live in southeastern Georgia about 100 miles from the coast. I relocated two oak trees recently. They were in perfect health when we moved them. The taproots were not damaged during the move. I have been watering them about twice a week. They had leaves when we moved them, but now the leaves are drying up and dying. The branches on the tree are limber and bendable all the way to the tips.

Do you think that my trees are dying, or are they just shocked from the move? (email reference)

A: They are at least in shock from the move. As to whether they are dead, only time will tell. I would suggest waiting six to eight weeks before coming to any conclusion. If they have not started leafing out by then, then I would suspect they will not recover.


Q: I’m getting married in October. Will gerbera daisies be available in stores at that time or will I have to order them? If you could let me know, I would greatly appreciate it. (email reference)

A: What should and will be available often are two different things. To be on the safe side, I’d suggest ordering them to be ready for your wedding in October.


Q: I have several weeping willows in my yard that are over a wet-weather spring. They are doing well, with the exception of one. The bark is peeling off in strips and there appears to be small boreholes in the tree. The tree seems healthy and has started budding, but I’m concerned that there may be a beetle or insect that has attacked it. The boreholes are about the size of a pencil head. Any suggestions or solutions you could offer me would be greatly appreciated. (email reference)

A: I would encourage you to get a certified arborist to inspect the tree.

Willows, unfortunately, play host to a wide range of insect and disease problems. This helps keep entomologists and plant pathologists employed for life! To locate a company or arborist, go to www.treesaregood.com/findtreeservices/FindTreeCareService.aspx.


Q: I have a 33-year-old Swedish ivy that appears to be dying. Some of the leaves are turning pale and limp, and you can see red veins in the leaves. My dad always took care of it, but since he passed away almost two years ago, I have done nothing except water it. I don’t believe it has ever been repotted. It is not very thick. I did break off some of the more obviously dead pieces and then watered it well. I’m inclined to cut it back but wanted to hear what you had to say before I do that. (email reference)

A: These tough plants will respond well to repotting in fresh potting soil and by cutting them back. In a nutshell, go for it. I doubt you will be disappointed in the results. It also wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot of diluted fertilizer.


Q: My kids bought me a peace lily for Mother’s Day. It had many green leaves and flowered until November. However, the flowers started to get smaller and stay green longer to the point where the last flowers never turned white. It gets many new green leaves that I’ve been pruning back to encourage the other leaves to grow bigger. Should I stop doing that?

I figured it wasn’t getting enough light. Until I moved it, it sat on a north-facing table by a big picture window. A lot of soft light comes through the window, but no bright light. I moved it to a south-facing window at the end of February. It now gets a lot of indirect light. I turn the plant every day. I’ve also allowed it to get dry between waterings. I’m thinking it’s going through a dormant period, but I’d like to know for sure.

Other than the foliage being thinned out, it’s pretty much the same as when I got it a year ago. I fertilized it for the first time last month and again this month. I’m going to start watering it with compost tea instead of fish fertilizer as recommended by a website. Am I doing the right things, and will it start blooming again? (email reference)

A: Actually, your peace lily looks good judging from the photo you sent.

From what you are telling me, it appears as you are on the correct course for perpetuating this plant. It should rebloom for you again this spring or later in the summer. Be patient and don’t give it too much direct sunlight. Peace lily plants thrive in bright rooms but not in direct sunlight. As to why yours isn’t getting any bigger, it is likely a dwarf form of the plant.


Q: I found your name on the Internet, so I thought you were the guy to ask about plants. I am looking for a houseplant that can live here in Phoenix and will keep the air smelling clear and clean. I don’t like using things that come in spray cans to keep the place smelling good, so I was hoping I could find a plant that filters the odors and other stuff out of the air. Do you have any suggestions? (email reference)

A: Herbs are the most aromatic plants to grow outdoors or indoors. Mint, basil and lavender will provide a nice, continuous fragrance. Cut flowers, such as daffodils, hyacinths and flowering trees add a temporary fragrance. No houseplants in particular that I know of add a fragrance that would be significant. Before anyone nails me, I know there are flowering houseplants, such as African violets, gardenias and amaryllis, that do have subtle fragrances, but I am assuming you are looking for plants that are grown primarily for their foliage and remove toxic gasses to keep the air fresh.

Research shows that plants such as Boston ferns, gerbera daisies, dwarf date palms, and spider and rubber plants are at the top of the list for efficiency in toxic gas removal. The greater the density of houseplants you can establish, along with maintaining a 70 percent or greater humidity, the fewer microbes and pollutants will be in the air. Hope this information helps.


To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or email ronald.smith@ndsu.edu.

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