Hortiscope: Willow shoots will sprout for a few years

Q: I hope you might have the time to answer a question about willow trees. I cleared off some willow trees to make way for a vegetable garden. In my rush to set up the garden, I did not treat the roots of the willow trees to avoid shoots coming u...

Q: I hope you might have the time to answer a question about willow trees. I cleared off some willow trees to make way for a vegetable garden. In my rush to set up the garden, I did not treat the roots of the willow trees to avoid shoots coming up. At the time, I did not realize they would be such a problem. I am struggling to keep up with cutting down the new shoots. I spend more time cutting down the shoots than tending to my vegetables. I would like to treat them organically because of the vegetable garden. I would be most grateful if you would respond. Thank you. (England)

A: The only organic way that I can think of is to completely chisel the trunks and roots out of the ground. Shoots will keep sprouting as long as there is stored energy available for them to do so, which could go on for a few years. I don't know what exists in England to use in broadleaf weed control, so you might want to check to see what local garden stores have or suggest using that would not have a soil residual characteristic. Glyphosate is used in the U.S. to control such sprouting. The advantage of glyphosate is that it is not a soil- active compound. It comes in a ready-to-use formulation that one sprays on the foliage coming from the spouting roots. Attempting to get a garden established in a former willow planting is a lot like trying to grow a garden where Canada thistle or quack grass once dominated the area. People are advised to set aside a full growing season to get these pesky weeds under control or eliminated from the planting site. The same holds true for willow roots. Sorry I can't come up with anything more creative.

Q: I have an emerald green arborvitae that was planted by a housing developer in 1986. The tree is 20-plus feet tall. The trunk of this tree is about 12 inches from the foundation of the house, so I am concerned that the roots may damage the foundation. Should the tree be removed? If so, does the stump also need to be removed to prevent further growth? (Rockville, Md.)

A: In your situation, I would advise you to remove everything. When it was planted by the developer, it made a cute little accent. However, now the arborvitae is an overgrown evergreen that is completely out of place. Once removed, you can get something else planted that is more of a complement to your home.

Q: For two years, I and a friend have planted romanesco broccoli, which is a wonderful-looking broccoli. The problem has been that the plants grow well, but we cannot get the plants to bear fruit. All we get are tall, leafy plants. Out of about 16 plants, only one has yielded a broccoli fruit. The plants get plenty of sun and water, so it's hard to visualize anything wrong with the soil or the place where they are growing. Considering the robust nature of the plants, it is very frustrating not to get anything to eat. Any ideas or suggestions? (Long Island, N.Y.)


A: You could be using the wrong cultivar for the climate or you are direct-seeding instead of transplanting. Also, Long Island summers could be a limiting factor with this particular cultivar. I would encourage you to check with the local farmers market association where you live to see what cultivars of broccoli they grow successfully. You also might want to check with your local Extension agent to find out what cultivars of broccoli are recommended for your area. To find a local Extension agent, go to


Good luck and have a successful growing season.

Q: I would like to do a live art piece involving a connected chain of spider plants with the babies planted in other pots. Do I have to cut the babies from the mother plant or can they stay attached? (email reference)

A: You absolutely can leave the babies attached to the mother plant. In fact, that is the foolproof way to get the baby spiders established.

Q: I have potted cactus plants that were overwatered by a house sitter, so now they are rotting. Will they recover? Most of the plants have rotting spots and some of the limbs are falling off. I'm so sad because they were so beautiful. (email reference)

A: Once rot sets in, it has been my experience with desert cactus that it will lead to the death of the plant. In nature, cactus plants can recover. However, as houseplants, I've not known of any cases where recovery has taken place.

Sorry to have to advise you to dump your plants and start over.


Q: I received a beautiful cyclamen in December. Two weeks later, I began smelling a strange odor in our basement. We could not figure out what was causing the nasty odor. Finally, I realized it is the cyclamen causing the odor.

It was confirmed when the room where I moved it to stank the next morning. It smells like cigarette smoke (no one in the house is a smoker) and one person said it smells like thrift store clothes. It is hard to describe the odor but it is very nasty and pungent. The plant was stored in a cool room that gets indirect light and I watered it from the bottom. However, the leaves started turning yellow, so something wasn't quite right. I previously had a cyclamen that bloomed almost continuously and was very happy in the same room. I am sorry I have to discard my lovely plant, but I cannot stand the odor. Is this a problem others have had? What can be done? (email reference)

A: No one else has written to me about a smelly cyclamen plant. My guess is that something is rotting in the soil. From the description of the plant you provided, it is best to dump the plant and hope you never experience such a problem again.

Q: We planted several rows of Russian almonds in our yard about 15 years ago.

The shrubs have formed two hedges that are 4 to 5 feet tall. When they are loaded with fruit, they bend to the ground. Can we cut the bushes back so they resprout or should we just prune them? (email reference)

A: I'm uncertain whether your plants will resprout from a hard cutting back like privet, lilac or cotoneaster does. At this point in my knowledge, I'll give you the safer of two possible answers. Carefully prune them to lighten their fruit load. If I ever can get a documented instance where a hard cutting back resulted in a flush of acceptable growth, I'll certainly let everyone know.

Q: I have been researching the common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and have found a plethora of information, including from your Web page. However, I have not been able to confirm or dispute my question. Is common hackberry a tree species that reproduces through underground shoots? The reason I ask is because we have areas on our property where there were far too many hackberry trees in proximity to allow for optimal growth. I decided to cut three-fourths of them down for firewood and allow the others to expand their canopies. I treated the cambium of the cut trees with a small amount of Pathway herbicide to prevent resprouting. Last spring, all the trees left standing leafed out normally.

However, within weeks, the trees dropped their leaves and died. There was no obvious gross overspray of the Pathway to contaminate the ground as evidenced by normal vegetation growth. While I worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we found that treating random black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) with a basal bark treatment of 15 percent garlon and basal bark oil adjuvant also would kill the surrounding trees. However, I have never heard or read of this happening to common hackberry reproduction. (email reference)


A: All mature trees of the same species that are planted in proximity will tend to do what is called root grafting. The roots of mature trees will reach a long way. When the roots contact each other, they will form a bridge graft in the root system. The bad part is that any herbicide or disease that is picked up by one of the root systems very likely will translocate the problem to the other roots. To prevent this from happening, arborists who have to remove a tree for disease reasons will sever the roots between the trees. Sorry you had to lose so many beautiful trees.

Q: How will all this mild weather we're having affect trees, grasses and plants?

Do they need to go through a deep freeze or will they not be affected by the beautiful weather we are having? (email reference)

A: Good question. It is difficult to tell what the effects this mild winter weather will have on our landscapes. I think we'll come through it OK. In the worst-case scenario, tulips and other bulbs may come up later this month or in February. The fruit trees may break buds too early and get wiped out later by subfreezing temperatures. Dehydration may impact the plants as well because of the lack of snow cover providing moisture protection in the soil. Hard freezes with no snow cover could damage marginal plants or those that were planted in 2011 and did not have sufficient time to get established.

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 email .

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
What To Read Next
Fred Fancher also survived North Dakota’s deadliest blizzard, wrote the state constitution, and became a multimillionaire businessman.
The newest arrivals in the Fargo area
With its soft and gooey center surrounded by a crisp exterior, kladdkaka is the perfect cross between a brownie and a molten lava cake.
"It’s easy to make assumptions about a person based on their outfit or their day job," Coming Home columnist Jessie Veeder writes. "I mean, my dad used to work in a bank and he also broke horses and played in a bar band at night."