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Published December 16, 2011, 12:00 AM

Hortiscope: Use conifers for cattle protection shelterbelt

Q: I have a row of 20 pyramidal arborvitaes. They are narrow, cylindrical and bushy all the way to the top (not pointy like emerald greens.) They bend over during heavy snowfalls, and I have to tie them upright every spring. They are getting too big to do this every year. I was going to try to tie them upright this fall, but we just got hit with that crazy snowstorm here on the East Coast.

By: Don Kinzler, INFORUM

Q: I have a row of 20 pyramidal arborvitaes. They are narrow, cylindrical and bushy all the way to the top (not pointy like emerald greens.) They bend over during heavy snowfalls, and I have to tie them upright every spring. They are getting too big to do this every year. I was going to try to tie them upright this fall, but we just got hit with that crazy snowstorm here on the East Coast.

Several of these tall bushes are bent over in the same direction, which leaves no opposing branches to tie them against and bring them back upright. I was thinking of cutting off a foot or so off the top. This would significantly lighten the weight. Also, I think it would make them less susceptible to getting top heavy with snow this winter. What do you think? (email reference)

A: I’m uncertain of the evergreen you are referencing. It sounds like they could be cylindrical junipers from your description. If you top an arborvitae or juniper, do not leave a bare stub. Cut back to just above another branch. If you could send me a couple of good photos, I could give you more accurate information.


Q: This year, we are planting a shelterbelt that will be used for cattle protection. We are wondering if there are certain trees that you would recommend. There will be six rows. Rows one and six will be caragana and lilacs.

Rows two and five will be junipers. We are wondering what you would suggest for rows three and four. Any ideas will be appreciated. We have sandy loam soil. (email reference)

A: I would recommend conifers, such as Black Hills spruce or ponderosa pine.

Plant one row of each type of tree. Both grow well and are adapted to North Dakota conditions. There is a shelterbelt publication at http://goo.gl/idduk that you might find useful. Another possibility is at http://goo.gl/lkJfA. On Page 6, you will see a listing of some other suggestions to consider.


Q: I have several Christmas cactus plants. Since moving to Florida, I have had much more luck with them than when I lived in northwestern Pennsylvania. The cacti are starting to bud, but most of them have turned red. They started out green. Am I doing something wrong or is this normal? Thanks for your help. (email reference)

A: The plants are producing an overabundance of anthocyanins, which is the red pigmentation you are seeing. They will turn green as the new chloroplasts take over and begin masking the red with the traditional green. What you are seeing indicates a happy plant with a lust for life.


Q: We planted three arborvitaes in March that are now turning brown on the inside. What can we do to save them? (email reference)

A: Arborvitae turning brown on the inside is normal and will be the heaviest the first year. You will have dieback every fall in varying amounts. It will depend on the weather conditions from the previous summer. As long as the current year’s growth is not affected, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.


Q: We own a shallow-depth property located in Pacific Grove, Calif. It is two to three blocks from the ocean. The central coast climate is fairly temperate, and there is a salt-air breeze. Our property has a sunny location after the morning fog burns off. Our town passed a hedge ordinance that states that hedges cannot be taller than 6 feet. We need to plant fast-growing trees that would effectively screen an unattractive view. However, the trees would have to be attractive and not labeled a hedge. Would Green Giant arborvitae be suitable for our situation? What online nursery would you recommend? (email reference)

A: Green Giant would do the trick of screening and so will the Brandon cultivar.

As to an online nursery, I don’t recommend going that route because you would not get to select the plants. I would encourage you to shop around at your local garden centers to see what is available and can be delivered. Perhaps someone at the nursery can recommend plantings that would be better than arborvitaes. I also would put out feelers to see if what you want to plant can be later construed to be a hedge by either your neighbor or local authorities. It would be a heartbreaker and waste of money to have the plantings removed after a few years.


Q: I was cleaning out my mother’s basement and found an amaryllis plant kit. The basement is dry, and the temperature is usually around 65 degrees. The bottom of the cardboard was dated 2008. The kit is from Smith and Hawkens, which went out of business in 2009. A few healthy shoots appear to be emerging from the bulb.

The exterior of the bulb had several layers of dry skin almost like an onion. I peeled off the dried exterior and planted the bulb according to the directions.

I also gave it some plant food. I will watch it closely. I’m curious if it will grow into a beautiful flower. What do you think my odds are? (email reference)

A: Probably pretty good if you saw some shoots coming out of the mother bulb.

You didn’t need to peel off the outer skin or fertilize. If you get a flower and are proud of it, as I’m sure you will be, please send me a photo.


Q: We have seven Dunstan chestnut trees. One appears to have died during the growing season after growing leaves but not producing nuts. We can see some bark peeling on the smaller branches and a white fungus growth on the larger branches. This strain of chestnut is supposed to be disease-resistant. After having these trees for more than 20 years, we are concerned that we could lose the rest of the trees. One tree adjacent to the dead tree appears to be stressed and is dropping leaves faster than the other trees. We had the wettest year on record and wonder if the excess moisture could be an issue. However, the trees are in an area of our yard that has good drainage. We live in Ohio. (email reference)

A: There has not been a single reported instance of Dunstan chestnuts dying of blight infection in more than 30 years. I would encourage you to check with Ohio State University plant pathologists or forestry/horticulture pathologists to see if there have been any reported outbreaks of blight anywhere in Ohio. While this might not be the dreaded chestnut blight, obviously something is at work. The problem could be an elevated water table or a systemic vascular fungus that is being passed from one tree to the next through root grafting. Go to http://goo.gl/M3ep8 to find your county Extension Service office. Someone in the office can get you lined up with the right person to get this problem assessed, isolated and eliminated.


Q: I have been reading that lilacs will not bloom very well in North Carolina.

However, I also have been reading that Miss Kim lilacs may do well. Do you have any experience with the Miss Kim variety? (McLeansville, N.C.)

A: As you stated, Miss Kim lilacs are an excellent choice for residential

landscape settings. They thrive in full sun and get to a height of 6-plus feet.

Whether it would do well in your climate is something that only local horticulturists can tell you. To find an Extension Service office near you, go to http://goo.gl/7r6Yn.

Someone there or at North Carolina State University should be able to give you excellent guidance in making the right selection for your purposes.


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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