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Published February 03, 2012, 12:00 AM

Hortiscope: Attempt to perk up aloe by not overwatering

Q: I had an oversized aloe plant that I repotted. It took three of us to tilt the pot and wiggle it out. I left the mother plant and two smaller plants in the original pot. What I had left was 15 plants. However, they are dying. The mother plant is leaking a brownish-red substance on my floor that is staining my tiles.

By: Don Kinzler, INFORUM

Q: I had an oversized aloe plant that I repotted. It took three of us to tilt the pot and wiggle it out. I left the mother plant and two smaller plants in the original pot. What I had left was 15 plants. However, they are dying. The mother plant is leaking a brownish-red substance on my floor that is staining my tiles.

The leaves on all the plants are limp and turning dark. I did not put a lot of water in the pots. I am so upset because the plants are dying. I hope you can tell me how to revive the plants. I believe I waited too long to repot it, but it was so big and beautiful, I was scared I might mess it up. Ironically, I did anyway. I am sending you a picture of the plant. (email reference)

A: From your description, I don’t know what you did wrong. Based on what I know, about the only thing I can recommend is to not overwater the plant in an attempt to get it to perk up. Follow normal watering protocol for this succulent the remainder of the winter. Allow the soil to almost dry out before watering again.

As spring starts to advance, get the watering cycles and amounts increased to see if new growth emerges from the roots. In nature, aloe plants have a wet-dry cycle, which has the top dying and regrowth coming back when the rains return. This may be what your plant needs.


Q: We purchased 28 dark green arborvitaes from a reputable tree farm 70 miles north of where we live. We wanted something that would give us privacy, have the appearance of a Greek garden, hardy to our area and only needs light care. I wanted emerald green arborvitaes, but the people at the tree farm said they burn easily during the winter. I was told the dark green arborvitaes would give me everything we wanted and we would have privacy within a year because of their fast growth. I have enclosed pictures of the trees they planted. When they were planted, the arborvitaes looked like bare sticks with very few branches. They went downhill very fast, no matter what we tried to do. We have clay soil, so I used peat moss. The people at the tree farm said I didn’t need to use the peat moss because the arborvitae would do well in clay. We paid $4,600 for the plants, but I am not convinced they gave us dark green arborvitaes. The tree farm guarantees the trees for a year and will replace all the dead plants.

However, we have to pay for the planting. I plan on going right to the tree farm in April because I am afraid to replant these trees and lose another summer of privacy around my patio. Can you please give me your opinion of the type of tree these appear to be and if they should be so open (branches)? My neighbor has something very similar looking to these trees and you can see right through them because the branches are very open.

I live in central Minnesota. We did have a lot of rain last spring. The arborvitaes were planted in May. I do not want to replant and experience the same situation. I’ve never had trouble with newly planted trees before. They are almost all dead and never stopped browning in the center. They did grow the first two to three months. (email reference)

A: Emerald arborvitae is one of the hardiest and winter color-holding arborvitae on the American market. The specimen shown in the photo you sent appears as if it was grown in shade and not full sun. Plants like that should never be sold to the public unless there is a discounted price because the company wants to move the stock. The arborvitaes may have come from a field and been forced into a container that was too small for the root system.

Assuming this is a nursery operation that is reputable, I’m sure it will want to make right on your investment because you laid out so much money for this project. What you have will not amount to anything approaching what you want.

“Container grown” and “containerized” plants are not the same. I’m afraid that you may have been given containerized plants. This means that a significant amount of the root system was left behind. Get in touch with the nursery and try to get this settled in as amicable a manner as possible. I’ve known nursery operators all my life and find them to be reputable and conscientious individuals.


Q: We have several plants in the house that have tiny flies flying around. We see a lot of them in the window sill that are dead or going to die. I believe they came from a plant we bought. We are wondering how to get rid of the flies.

I heard one should spray plants before bringing them in the house. Is that true and what type of flies do we have? (email reference)

A: These could be one of a half-dozen insects. The problem often is fruit flies, even when there is no fruit around. Fruit flies will emerge from the organically rich soil in newly purchased plants. You can spray the plants with a knock-down spray when they are seen. Usually, the flies will die as the winter wanes. One of the best ways of limiting their propagation is to not overwater your houseplants. Drier soil conditions will tend to limit their numbers. With the arrival of summer weather, I would suggest moving the plants outdoors. Before a frost in the fall, bring the plants inside and repot them using pasteurized potting soil.


Q: We live in a house that has an old river birch a few feet from the foundation. Should we be concerned that the roots will hurt our foundation? We live in south-central Kansas if that matters. (email reference)

A: I’ve never known a river birch root system that threatened a solid foundation. For that matter, no tree roots ever have penetrated or collapsed a solid, nonleaking foundation that I am aware of. In every instance where roots have been implicated in damage to the foundation, it was the foundation that was at fault because of cracks or breaks that gave the roots an opportunity to follow moving water. If it makes you feel any better, I have a 26-year-old cut leaf weeping birch about 6 feet from my poured-concrete foundation that has not given me any trouble. Enjoy the majesty of the tree as it continues to grow and don’t give the foundation a second thought unless some cracking is noted.


Q: I received some tulips as a present from my boyfriend. It is January here in Florida. Amazingly, the tulips bloomed and are ready to be deadheaded. I have been told that I can’t plant them in the ground because it doesn’t get cold enough here for the bulbs. Where do I go from here? Can I repot them? Right now they are in a cute little store pot. Tulips are my favorite flower. If I can keep them blooming every year, I would be so happy. I have no experience with tulips, so please help. (email reference)

A: Unfortunately, your enthusiasm for tulips is not in line with your geography.

Tulips need a chilling treatment for them to bloom every year. Because you live in Florida, that won’t happen unless there is a significant climate change.

Allow the bulbs to die down naturally. Separate the foliage from the bulbs by gently tugging on the yellowed leaves. Refrigerate the bulbs in the crisper of your refrigerator until next winter or until you see new growth beginning to emerge. This process has about a 50 percent chance of success. Better yet, ask your boyfriend to keep giving you tulips and treat them as annuals in your part of the country. Many landscape contracting companies do that. The companies do massive tulip plantings in the fall and allow them to bloom. The tulips then are removed once the blooming cycle is complete. This way you always will have fresh flowers to look forward to and not have to take a chance at spotty or poor blooming.


Q: It appears that voles have created a resort under our driveway concrete slab.

Can anything be done or will I need to deal with them in the spring? (email reference)

A: Once discovered, action should be taken to eliminate them or the consequences may turn out to be something your landscape plants will not like. Depending on where you live, I’d suggest employing a professional exterminator to do the job because they usually guarantee results. Our amateurish attempts are more entertaining to the voles than a threat.


Q: Do you know the answer to the tree farm’s question about evergreens? Are the evergreen trees they have too sensitive to our prairie winds? Do you think they grow faster than Black Hills spruce? I have a cedar that is 8 to12 feet tall that my father planted around 1980. If I use urea or DAP (18-46-0), how many cups should I give each tree and how frequently? I’m 37 years old and want the evergreens I plant to be of some use before I die. (email reference)

A: The nursery is being cautious. Any openly exposed evergreen will be subject to windburn or winter desiccation. Depending on the kind of growing season prior to winter, the damage will vary. I’d stay away from using straight urea for fertilizing your evergreens. Instead, use DAP because it is more balanced. If your objective is to push the growth, keep in mind that doing so results in softer tissue that is more prone to the elements and insect and disease damage.

Keep in mind that the two cedars you are talking about may be different cultivars that are hardwired genetically to a particular growth rate and size.

If you use DAP, I’d limit usage to one cup in the spring prior to new growth emerging.


Q: I have a Christmas cactus that bloomed from October through most of December.

I think it might have been affected by a draft, so I moved it before Oct. 1. I live in Maine where we had a mild autumn. In the past three weeks, it has gotten colder and the leaves have started to droop. The buds start to peek out but don’t grow and then dry and fall off. What can I do? Did a draft possibly hurt the plant? What is the best thing for me to do now? (email reference)

A: Anytime the external temperatures shift one way or the other, the internal environment is going to react as well. Going from mild to frosty outdoors will engage the central heating system more and cause the air to dry and bring about the results that you are describing. From what you have told me, my best advice is to try to move the plant to an area that does not have air drafts. You can mist it daily using distilled water to try to perk it up. I hope the plant is reacting to the dry air and not rot in the roots getting started.


Q: We are in the process of cleaning out some shelter belts. One row is honeysuckle bushes that look terrible. One of our neighbors said the honeysuckles in this area have blight. Are our bushes doomed or can they be saved? Also, my garden seeds always have been stored in a heated garage. Now my seeds are in a nonheated potting shed. Will the seeds remain viable? Thanks for your help and I enjoy your segment on the “Hear It Now” radio show. (Bismarck)

A: Hard freezing vegetable seeds is not recommended. It is OK for woody plants and hardy seeds. Brief exposure to freezing temperatures will not be a problem.

However, as soon as we expect our mild winter to continue into spring, we will get broadsided by very cold temperatures. It is best to keep the seeds at a temperature somewhere in the mid-50s to low 70s. The common honeysuckle is plagued by the honeysuckle aphid to the point where they are not worth growing.

If your plantings don’t show any signs of this problem, then you might have one of the resistant varieties. Go to http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/e451aphid- honesuckle-w-b.html to see what honeysuckle aphid symptoms look like. If your honeysuckle plants don’t have the symptoms shown, then your plants probably are resistant to this pest. Thanks for being a faithful listener to the “Hear it Now” radio show. It is a fun program to be a part of and thanks to everyone for your questions.


Q: I have a weeping willow that is very old. Large parts of the bark are missing near the base of the trunk that exposes the inside flesh. This inside flesh is weathered because the bark has been gone for so long. However, the flesh seems firm and there is no decay. Farther up the tree, the bark is peeling back along some cracks in the bark. Is my tree dying? For safety reasons, does it need to be cut down? (email reference)

A: I cannot advise you with just the information provided. I suggest you contact an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist to get an answer to your question. Go to http://www.treesaregood.com/findtreeservices/FindTreeCareService.aspx to find an arborist near you. Be sure to check credentials before allowing any major work to be done.


To contact 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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