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Don Kinzler, Published March 12 2010

Don’t give up yet on planting tulip bulbs

Q: We received an arrangement of tulips when my mother-in-law passed away. What can I do with the bulbs? There are about seven flowers with the petals falling off. I would like to plant the flowers, but I am not sure what to do. (e-mail reference)

A: Generally, these bulbs don’t work out for the owner. However, I have some suggestions if you are willing to give it a try. Keep the foliage on the bulbs until it turns brown. During that time, don’t allow the soil to dry completely, and keep the plants in bright, indirect light.

Once the foliage has died, remove the bulbs from the container. If the bulbs are firm and healthy, store them in a cool location, such as the crisper in your refrigerator, for at least 60 days.

After that time, remove and store the bulbs at room temperature until fall planting in September. Plant the bulbs to a 4- to 6-inch depth in a sunny to partially shady location and water them in. That’s it! With a little luck, they should bloom for you the following spring.

Q: I hope you can help me. I live in Zone 9 with clay soil and winds during the summer. I have a spot in my front yard where I attempted to grow a tree. The original tree was an elm planted by the homebuilder. This tree did not fare well. I now have a ginkgo, but it has not grown for the past few years. The soil is soggy because of lawn watering and the low spot in the yard that the tree is situated in. I have been trying my darndest to find something that will work. I am considering an autumn blaze maple. I believe a willow would crowd the yard.

The local nurseries don’t seem to be much help. I was hoping for something that will work. A big bonus would be a colorful tree. I am avoiding anything too tall so I don’t block the neighbor’s view of the valley. Do you have any suggestions? (e-mail reference)

A: Except for willows and poplars, soggy soil conditions from a lawn sprinkler will doom most trees. If you want a tree to last on your property, you have to do whatever is necessary to improve drainage. Once that problem is solved, then the palette of tree selection will be open for you. I would revisit some of the better nurseries in your area after the drainage problem is corrected or contact the county extension office where you live.

Q: I have a maidenhair fern, but I’m not exactly sure which variety. I had it in pot outside facing north. It did very well and stayed green well into the fall.

I have not watered it during the winter, and it has not been rained on because I brought it inside. I assumed it went dormant. However, it is upright and mostly green. I was wondering how to get it going for the spring. Should I cut all the foliage down? Is it alive? Should I put it out so it can be rained on? (British Columbia, Canada)

A: Yes to all of your questions. It probably is alive but may go dormant. Put it outside so it can get the benefit of rain. Nothing beats rain.

Q: I have a Japanese lace leaf maple that has a lot of snow on it from two snowstorms. I noticed today that the branches are weighed down from the snow and it is split at the top down the middle of the trunk. Will it heal if we try to wrap it? Is there something we could apply to it before we wrap it? It sounds like we may be getting more snow. Any advice would be appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: There has been some success with wrapping a split tree, but the plant tissue must be lined up precisely. Do not treat it with anything before wrapping it. If you can, get some heated beeswax to seal the wrapping tightly. You might want to secure support stakes outside the wounded area temporarily to keep the split from taking place again.

Leave the wrapping on through the growing season. As the tree leafs out, remove the external braces. When fall arrives, the wound should have healed if it is going to heal at all. At that time, remove the wrapping to inspect it. If it has healed, you’re home free!

Q: For the past few years, I have seen blueberry plants for sale at local retail stores. I am wondering if it is possible to grow blueberries in the Red River Valley. We have two rows of pine trees that serve as a windbreak. I was told the plants might do well in that area. (e-mail reference)

A: If you are in the Red River Valley area that has high pH soils, it will be impossible to grow blueberries to production unless these are new cultivars that have been bred and selected for growing in high pH soils. The other barrier is our winter climate. We are in hardiness zone 3, which most blueberries will not survive in.

Of course, if every winter would have the snow cover we have this year, we might be able to grow pineapples in our region! Then, they probably would be washed away by spring flooding.

In spite of this advice, I get the feeling that you will go ahead and try to grow a couple of blueberry plants. I encourage you to do so if you want. If you do, let me know what the results were.

Q: Is there any way to control grass and other weeds in an iris bed short of removing all the plants and starting from scratch? I have some beautiful white iris plants and some ordinary purple. However, for the past few years, it has been hard to keep grass out.

(e-mail reference)

A: Look for a grass control product that contains sethoxydim. There are several on the market. If label directions are followed, the product will take out the grass selectively without harming the iris plants. Some products that might be available are Checkmate, Poast and Vantage.

Q: I have two iris beds. I have heard several things about iris plants, but I can’t confirm them. Iris bulbs bloom only once and should be discarded after blooming. Only the bulbs that never have bloomed should be replanted. If you cut iris blooms in the spring for use in indoor arrangements, the plant will send up another blossom stalk. Are these myths or facts? (e-mail reference)

A: There are two forms of iris plants, which are the bulbous kind and those that form rhizomes. The rhizome-forming iris plants usually are hardy into zone 3 (North Dakota and surrounding territory). The bulbous types are for milder climates and usually are hardy to zone 5 (Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and farther south).

If they are grown in colder zones, they should be treated as an annual, which means you should enjoy the blooms and then discard the bulbs when finished in the fall.

Almost any flower will rebloom if it is removed before flower fertilization takes place. If you are a close observer of the flower development and harvest it before pollination occurs, you should get a rebloom if the plant is healthy.

Q: We planted three ornamental crabs last spring. Deer ate the bark off of the crabs during the winter. Do you think they will grow this year? If not, do you think we could keep one of the suckers growing but cut down the main tree? (e-mail reference)

A: Bark removal means death. The suckers are coming from the rootstock, not the scion wood. This means the suckers probably will be different than the original trees. Also, I have heard of or seen where sucker growth amounted to anything more than annoying semishrub-type growth.

Q: I’m looking for advice about a goose-foot plant. The new leaves that are growing are half brown and dead. Meanwhile, the existing leaves are browning at the tip. (e-mail reference)

A: What you have is called an arrowhead vine. The arrowhead vine does best on a bright but not sunny area. It will tolerate some shade, but then grows a bit slower. If placed in an area that is too dark, it produces smaller leaves. It can be potted in a good potting soil mix. Keep it constantly moist, but avoid overwatering. Never allow it to dry out completely.

It appears that your vine either is suffering from being kept too wet or it has excess fertilizer salts from overfertilization.

Q: For the second year in a row, my cucumber vines died midsummer. The problem then spread to my squash and pumpkin vines. I have been told this is caused by something in my soil. I also saw on the Internet that cucumbers and squash should not be planted next to each other for more than a year. Do you know the reason for this? If I plant my cucumbers on the opposite end of the garden, will that help fix the problem next year? (e-mail reference)

A: Crop rotation every year fools diseases and plant-destructive insects into not settling in and raising a family. Continuous cropping with the same species or family of vegetables will encourage the entrenchment of these characters, so the gardener will be fighting a losing battle. In a nutshell, the more you can plant away from or use different crops (cucumbers followed by beans, for example), the lower the incidence of disease and insect problems. Also, look for disease-resistant cultivars when making seed purchases.

Q: I inherited a fern when my grandmother passed away at age 98. It was handed down in the family, so we estimate that the original plant was about 100 years old. I believe it is a lace fern. It is similar to a Boston fern, but with very finely frilled leaves.

For the first two years I had it, the fern was vigorous and it sent out many offshoots. I divided it several times to give to other relatives. Now I am afraid that my fern has a scale infestation. I accidentally brought home an infested plant and have found scales on my other houseplants.

Sections of the fern have withered, and the leaves have dropped. I threw out a couple of the infested plants and treated all the others (including the fern) with insecticidal oil. I used Safer Soap a month later. My other houseplants now seem to be doing OK, but I can’t tell if the fern is doing any better. It has some areas that look fine, but some leaves have continued to wither.

Of course, because it has sentimental value, I am worried about it. Should I treat it again with something else or is that going to do more harm than good? Could the plant be withering because of something else, such as dry air? (Chicago)

A: If the treatment was effective on the other houseplants, it is a pretty safe bet that it also was on the fern. I would suggest getting a humidifier and moving it close to the houseplants, especially the fern. This plant is native to a very humid environment, which our homes in the north during the long winter months are not.

If this plant should succumb, I would suggest going to one of the friends or relatives that you gave a part of this plant to and see if you can get an offshoot started from one of those.

Q: Last summer, my tomatoes had blight. I think it was early blight because the leaves yellowed, had brown spots and died. Then my pole beans, which were planted in an adjacent raised garden box, started getting rusty and brown/black spots on the leaves. The bean plant leaves started to die after that.

Is there a blight that affects both beans and tomatoes, or am I dealing with two different problems? Is the blight from the water splashing off the soil? If that is the case, will placing newspaper or plastic around the tomato plants be helpful? (Pelican Rapids, Minn.)

A: You are dealing with two different disease organisms. One is bean rust that is caused by the fungus Uromyces phaseoli typica. The disease is most important on dry and pole snap beans, but it also affects bush, snap and lima beans. Bean rust normally occurs in late summer. The fungus exists between crops in the form of spores that infect the following crop.

Cloudy, humid days with temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees are favorable for disease development. Under these conditions, an infection of bean rust can produce a new crop of spores in 10 to 15 days. Although the spores may blow long distances and infect plants where no beans have ever been grown, it has been shown that when one crop of beans follows another in the same field, the amount of rust inoculum is increased.

This means that the following crops may be severely damaged. A good crop rotation is the first suggestion for control. Don’t plant beans in the same location for another three years. Spraying with approved fungicides at regular intervals, starting when the disease first appears, will give you effective control.

Some bean varieties are resistant to some races of the rust fungus. These varieties are listed as rust resistant in seed catalogs. Consider them where space doesn’t permit long rotations and where fungicides will not be used, especially in late summer plantings.

Basically, the same holds true for tomato problems. Select resistant varieties and alternate your plantings in three-year crop rotations.

Should the symptoms begin showing again, immediately remove the infected plant.

As for watering, it is best if you employ a basic drip system to avoid any splashing and overwatering possibilities.

Also, some common sense will help. Don’t work the crops when the foliage is wet from morning dew and keep weeds at bay. Open up the area around the garden by pruning trees and shrubs to allow for better and longer sunlight penetration and air circulation.

Finally, with any garden vegetable plantings, work the soil up every spring prior to planting to improve the drainage.

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 e-mail ronald.smith@ndsu.edu.