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Don Kinzler, Published January 07 2011

Hortiscope: Location no longer suitable for plum tree

Q: When we moved into our home six years ago, there was a beautiful plum tree in the yard. It didn’t produce fruit, but it did have lovely blossoms in the spring. After the tree started to decline, we were told that it had developed pests and was dying, so we had it removed. Is it OK to plant another plum tree in that same location? I seem to remember that the original person who diagnosed it said it was best not to plant the same tree there because the other tree did not do well in that spot. Is this true?

The tree trimmer said plum trees don’t live very long and suggested planting a birch tree. We already have one, but it looks skimpy compared with the plum tree. There also is a very large and shady sycamore tree nearby, so maybe the lack of sun will be an issue for any new tree. (e-mail reference)

A: Since you mention a sycamore tree in your note, I know that you are not writing from North Dakota. The person who removed the plum tree is correct that it is not a good idea to replant the same species in the same location, especially when the previous tree was diseased. It also is true that plum trees don’t live that long. Decent-looking plum trees after 25 years are becoming more of an exception rather than the rule.

A birch tree should do OK unless the large sycamore is densely shading the new planting. I would suggest considering a flowering dogwood planting if they grow in your region. However, if you can grow sycamores, you should be able to grow flowering dogwoods. The only stopper there would be the soil being too high in pH alkalinity or too brutal of an exposure to the elements. Generally, flowering dogwoods do well as a subcanopy tree, so the shade from the sycamore shouldn’t be an issue.

Q: I received a Christmas cactus more than a year ago. At that time, it had three leaves. Since then, it has grown two more leaves and has a couple more just starting to grow. How big does the plant have to be before it begins to bloom? I understand that I need to give it a rest period to encourage blooming.

I just found your website and am thoroughly enjoying the information you provide. Keep up the good work. (e-mail reference)

A: As far as size goes for blooming, I don’t know that there is any size determination to consider. Small plants will give you few blooms, while large plants should have many blooms. Try giving the plant a little stress by reducing the watering and temperature a little. Start giving the cactus 13 to 14 hours of total darkness every day to see if that sets up some flower buds.

If you’ve read my responses to Christmas cactus questions, you’ve likely seen the ones where people don’t do any fussing over the plant but it blooms profusely. Others follow a strict schedule but don’t get any results. Our former department chair got his Christmas cactus plants to bloom even though all he did was give the plants water. Be patient with the plant and observe how it responds to what you do. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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