Q: We have a hybrid willow tree that we have some concerns about. I am sending some pictures to see if you can tell us if there’s any cause to worry. — Dean M.

A: The tree looks like a grand willow. Willows generally follow nature's tree growth principle — trees with the fastest rate of growth tend to have the shortest lifespan. Within the fast-growing tree group are the poplars and willows, both growing rapidly, but they tend to have shorter lives than slower-growing trees such as oaks.

From your photos I see visible indications that your willow might be developing problems customary with these shorter-lived species. Mushrooms, like those growing on the willow’s trunk, are most likely wood-rotting fungi growing from a moist environment in the tree's interior or trunk crevices.

Such mushrooms are not primary invaders. They don't attack trees; instead, they are secondary invaders that enter a tree that already has problems, such as trunk cracks or wounds that are beginning to rot. Mushrooms can indicate that the tree might have internal rotting and weakening.

Is the tree cause for concern? The question is best answered by an arborist certified through the International Society of Arboriculture to do risk assessment. Tree risk assessment is a specialized field, and certified assessors study a tree to determine if there are safety issues.

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Check with local tree-care professionals to see if they have a qualified tree risk assessor on staff. Such assessors use their education, knowledge, training and experience to examine trees and recommend measures to reduce the risk of living near a tree in question.

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Q: We had a bumper crop of Haralson apples this year. Is it true they shouldn’t be stored close to potatoes? — Susan L.

A: Haralson apples will store well for up to six months under refrigerated temperatures around 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Potatoes can also keep for six months, but they should be stored at temperatures closer to 40 degrees. At normal refrigerator temperatures, potato starch can change to sugars, adversely affecting their cooking and eating qualities, which is why potatoes shouldn’t be stored in the refrigerator.

Besides the differences in optimal storage temperatures, apples give off ethylene gas, called the “ripening gas,” which can shorten the life of potatoes or other vegetable stored close to apples.

Q: I saved my poinsettia from last Christmas, and had it growing outside all summer. It’s doing beautifully now indoors, but is still green. How do I get it to turn red for Christmas? — Sheila T.

A: Poinsettias are known as “obligate short day plants,” meaning they must have a minimum number of continuous short days with long, dark nights before flowering is triggered. To bloom by Christmas, the long-night treatment needs to begin by at least Oct. 1.

For about 14-16 hours each night, the plant must be in total darkness, either in a closet or covered with blackout material. The daily treatment can stop once red coloration is noticeable. Because we’re beyond the Oct. 1 date, your poinsettia likely won’t flower by Christmas, but it will brighten your home in midwinter.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.