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Too much good care can spoil the plant's reproductive cycle

HORTISCOPE: See Page 3 Q: I enjoy reading your column every week. I have a question about morning glories. For many years, I have planted morning glory seeds along the south side of our house between the garage and sidewalk. We have chicken wire ...

HORTISCOPE: See Page 3

Q: I enjoy reading your column every week. I have a question about morning glories. For many years, I have planted morning glory seeds along the south side of our house between the garage and sidewalk. We have chicken wire on the garage, so the plants grow beautifully to the top of the garage and fill in the whole side. This year, I started the seeds indoors in April and transplanted them in May. However, no flowers developed on the vines. All the other years the garage was covered with blue flowers. Do morning glories use up all the nutrients in the soil through the years? Should I rotate crops the way farmers do? I usually add a little bit of fertilizer (12-12-12) to the soil each spring before planting. Could I have had a bad batch of seeds or was it a bad growing year for flowers? I called former NDSU Extension Service agent Dave DeCock on his radio show. He said that I overwatered the plants and took too good care of them, so that is why the vines grew without flowering. I usually don't water the vines more than once a week, but it was so dry last summer, so I watered more. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: What Dave said is correct. Too much good care will spoil the plants to the extent that they will not go into their reproductive cycle. However, from what you have described, it doesn't sound like you did, so I'm at a loss as to why the vines didn't flower. It could be that something changed in the environment, such as a shading change, construction debris or nitrogen migrating in from somewhere. It was a very good year for flowers and morning glories in particular. The morning glories we planted bloomed profusely and even attracted hummingbirds! I wouldn't give up on growing them. This probably was a fluke of some kind.

Q: What cultivars of grapes would you suggest for Sargent County (N.D.)? The client wants to use the grapes for juice and wine and, if possible, for the table. (e-mail reference)

A: For table or jelly making, try bluebell, Swenson's red or edelweiss. For wine, try frontenac, frontenac gris or La Crescent. I have some of these growing in my backyard and am looking forward to getting an initial harvest this year. We also have some growing at the Research Extension Center in Williston.

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Q: Thanks for your Web site. I think it is very informative. I live in Minnesota and have a 40-year-old hoya (my mom's) that bloomed a few years ago. I've transplanted it to larger pots as it got bigger. It has a white, milky substance on the stems and leaves. I saw small, flying bugs on it, so I sprayed it to get rid of the bugs. However, spraying did not get rid of the milky substance. Otherwise, the plant seems healthy. I removed the entire plant from the soil last summer and soaked it in clean water. (e-mail reference)

A: The white, milky substance likely is powdery mildew, but it would be unusual for the plant to have it, so this is a guess. If you could send me a photo of it, I could make a better determination for you.

Q: I have what appears to be a green Braeburn apple tree. It has silver leaves and one dead branch. The fruit it produces has black spots and sometimes a reddish mold forms on the black spots. There also appears to be mold growing on the trunk and on the new shoots that are coming up around the base. (e-mail reference)

A: It doesn't sound good. I would suggest removing the tree and replanting. The suckering coming up from the base of the tree is a good indication, along with the other factors you have mentioned, that the tree is in its final stages of decline. It likely has a number of maladies, such as borers, bark beetles, stem cankers and a leaf fungus of some kind.

Q: I have a spruce tree that I bought at a Christmas tree lot. We set it up in water on Dec. 9. We decorated the tree with the usual decorations, such as lights, balls and tinsel. We watered the tree twice a day. As I was taking off the decorations, I noticed the tree has new growth along the branches. It has a brown covering with very green buds underneath. The tree is covered with new growth. Is this possible? I thought a tree dies after it is cut. I have had spruce trees at Christmas for more than 60 years, but don't recall ever seeing new growth. (e-mail reference)

A: Don't be perplexed. The tree is coming out of dormancy because of the mild temperatures and the consistent water regime you followed. This also is a good indicator that your tree was cut within a week or so of your purchase and kept in cold temperatures before you started giving it some decent care. Eventually, the buds will die because the tree lacks a root system to continually provide moisture and nutrients to sustain it. The brown covers are there as protectors of the viable tissue beneath.

Q: I am losing my devil's ivy. I repotted the ivy in a very large pot so I wouldn't have to do it again for many years. All the leaves turned yellow and brown and are dropping off. The main stem is green. Can you help me bring it back to life? (e-mail reference)

A: Usually overpotting results in overwatering. You may be watering the same number of times as you did previously. However, with a larger soil volume, the water is retained longer. The continuous watering causes the plant to decline in quality, which leads to the gradual death of the plant. My advice is to back off on the watering significantly. Water when the soil is dry after inserting your index finger about an inch into the soil.

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Q: I have a palm houseplant that has very weak new growth. There are brownish growths or bugs on the stem. They crumble when I touch them. Is this a fungus or a bug? How can I fix it? (e-mail reference)

A: Based on the limited information you provided me, my best guess is that the plant is not getting enough light. As for the brownish growth, it probably is residual material from a fungal organism. I think that if you provide more light by moving it to a sunnier location or providing direct light using a plant light or two, both problems may be solved.

Q: I stumbled upon your Web site because I was looking for information on the potential medicinal value of hackberry leaves and why a dog might want to eat them. You responded that you had never heard of this before and offered a few suggestions. We have a mixed-breed dog that hunts for hackberry leaves and then eats them. Our dog has eaten all of the leaves on the lower branches. This evening the dog even resorted to standing on its hind legs to reach the last few leaves on the saplings! Just thought you might like to know that the golden retriever mentioned on your Web site is not alone. (Texas)

A: Good grief - another dog that eats hackberry leaves! I am at a loss in giving you a rational answer. While I lived in Texas, my mixed breed would eat some disgusting things, but never hackberry leaves. Thanks for adding your story to this unusual activity. Perhaps someone with a Ph.D. in animal science will let me know what attracts certain dogs to hackberry leaves.

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