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Hortiscope: Gloxinias will take root using a fresh leaf, good soil

Q: I have volunteered to help our church with yard maintenance. I need to trim back all the bushes, but my concern is the blue spruce tree. It is a very nice tree, but it is growing over the parking lot and very close to the church. Can I cut back the lower branches? I was thinking of doing the trimming 6 to 7 feet up the tree.

A: If you prune the spruce, cut the branches back to the main trunk to save time, trouble and the frustration of having to go back and do it again in a few years. I promise it will not hurt the tree because I've done it many times.

Q: I purchased a new ficus benjamina last month. It was very lush and full. It lost many leaves after being moved, but I expected that to happen. Now that I can see into the tree, I can tell it was heavily pruned. There is a great deal of cut back to dead areas deep in the tree.

There were many dead leaves deep in the branches that had been there for years. It's much tighter than any ficus I've seen. I did cut back lots of dead, woody material along with long, stringy root-looking vines in the center. I also have noticed three clumps of little, brown, dry grapes. I've noticed a few tiny flea-type bugs in the soil while picking up the dead leaves. Four weeks after I bought the tree, it still is losing leaves. I paid a fortune for this tree. It appeared healthy, but I don't think it is. Can you please advise me?

A: Being as old as you describe, I don't think you have anything to worry about unless someone hacked this plant out of the ground and left most of the roots behind. The clumps you describe could be mummified fruits. The flea-type bugs probably are springtails. They annoy more than they damage.

Repotting using a pasteurized soil usually will get rid of them. Keep in mind that plants are like cats. They thrive on routines that remain unchanged. You have moved this plant from what probably was an ideal location as far as light duration and intensity goes. The tree adapted to the watering regime and temperature fluctuations of the previous location.

That said, very likely you have not duplicated what it had before, so it is "pouting" by dropping leaves. It will continue to do so until it reaches some kind of equilibrium with its new location and care routine. After that, it will begin generating new foliage. To make a long story short, be a little more patient. Don't try to push it with too much water or fertilizer while it is going through this adaptation.

Q: I have many gloxinias. I've raised them for years, but this year I lost my double pink. How do I make a new plant?

A: Basically, the method is the same as for other gesneriads (African violets). A fresh leaf will root in good light, high humidity and good soil. Use either perlite or vermiculite. You also can use a mixture of the two.

Stick the leaves in a small pot and enclose everything in a plastic bag that zips shut. For faster results, put the bag under a fluorescent light.

Gloxinia leaves root easily. The leaves produce a tuber and then a shoot that can be grown to flower. Gloxinias also root from tip cuttings and even from the spent flower stems that still have the calyx attached. Gloxinia are easy to grow from seed, which can be produced by self-pollinating a plant, but then the double flowering characteristic may very well be lost.

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