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Too much love and care is killing bleeding hearts

Q: I ordered a bleeding heart plant that was just starting to grow when it arrived. I potted it according to the directions. The soil I used was Jiffy Organic Seed Starting Mix and I mixed in some Pennington All Purpose Plant Food 6-10-10. After two weeks, my plant turned brown. All it has is a tiny, brittle, thin stem. I took it out of the pot to clean off the roots, but there weren't that many.

I repotted the plant using the Jiffy Organic Seed Starting Mix without the extra stuff I used last time. If this does not help revive my bleeding heart, what do you suggest I do to bring it back to life? I have been sowing seeds inside until it is warm enough to put them outside. I did half of my plants using the Jiffy mix and the other half using the Jiffy mixed with a little of the Pennington 6-10-10. All the seeds planted in the Jiffy mix have germinated, but none of the seeds planted in the mix of Jiffy and Pennington have germinated. Should I stop using this mix?

A: The death of your bleeding heart and the lack of germination of the seeds are caused by no one else but you. In your attempt to shower kindness on your plants, you are killing them.

When germinating seeds or transplanting crowns, there is no need to add any fertilizer because most potting soils have a sufficient amount of nutrients for normal plant growth. The bleeding heart may have been immersed into a toxic level of fertilizer.

Repot it using just the soil and wait patiently to see if something emerges. If there is life, it will begin responding in a couple of weeks with normal watering. I would encourage you to get your plants used to being outdoors by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions during the day when the temperatures are in the 50s or higher and not too windy. Move the plants back indoors at night. Do this for about 12 to 14 days to toughen them up before planting them outdoors permanently. However, be sure the danger of a hard frost is past.

Q: Are the whirly birds falling from my tree poisonous to my dog? He loves to eat them.

A: Those whirly birds are seeds from a maple tree. These whirly birds have never been known to poison a dog.

Q: We planted three Black Hills spruce trees in our backyard in 2007. One of the trees has developed a long, central lead branch with two long branches just beneath it. The top of the tree is not symmetrically balanced like the other two trees we planted.

Should we trim the main upright branch and the two side branches or just leave it as is? When is the best time to trim these?

A: First, congratulations on selecting the Black Hills spruce and not the Colorado spruce for your planting! Yes, you can go ahead and trim those branches back. Now is a good time to do this. These are some very good-looking trees that will be an increasing asset to your property as they continue to mature. Just don't overwater or overfertilize them.

Q: The grass in our green space area next to our preschool playground needs to be reseeded. I'm wondering what mixture of grass seed you would recommend for such an area. It gets lots of traffic from the little ones and is partly shaded by a church and large trees.

A: Look for a package labeled as playground mix or athletic field mix. These contain mostly Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass in equal proportions by weight with some creeping fescue mixed in. With the shade you mention, you would want to get a shady lawn mixture and incorporate that into your overseeding efforts if you were not able to get a separate package of creeping red fescue.

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