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Plant food should still be good even 10 years old

When moving bleeding hearts, be mindful of afternoon sun. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Q: The grass around our arborvitaes used to be beautiful. This spring, I noticed the grass is very thin and the winter winds blew a lot of the dead needles out of the trees and onto the grass. Can these needles damage the grass? The grass where the needles didn't fall looks normal. If the needles do affect the lawn, what can be done other than trying to remove the majority of the needles?

A: A number of causes can contribute to grass decline next to any mature woody plants. It could be water and nutrient competition from the roots of the arborvitaes that are integrated with the grass roots.

Depending on the orientation, shade from the arborvitaes would impact turf grass quality negatively. There must be millions of situations across the country where attractive turf is adjacent to arborvitae plantings. I would encourage you to rake up the needles, have your entire lawn core aerated, power raked and fertilized and do some overseeding.

Q: My raspberries are taking over my garden. Can I transplant them into a box or something similar with a bottom so the roots don't keep spreading across the garden and surrounding lawn?

A: Where do you live that they are that aggressive? Yes, you can go ahead and box them up to keep them confined. They just happen to be weedy biennials that produce deliciously healthy fruit! Annual maintenance would work to keep them from spreading, unless you have too many to look after.

Q: I have a box of plant food in my garage that has been there for approximately 10 years. Is it still potent enough to use or should it be tossed? I would like to try to grow green peppers this year. However, I read they require a great deal of phosphorus. Can you tell me if this is true? If so, what do you suggest in the way of plant food for peppers?

A: The material will be usable. However, it probably is caked together, which will require a hammer or some other means of breaking it up prior to spreading. While peppers will use phosphorus, they do not need any more than any other fruit-bearing plant. Go ahead and grow them. Unless your soil is almost pure sand, there should be ample phosphorus to grow a decent garden of peppers.

Q: I just purchased luscious and parker pear trees from a nursery. I didn't know what varieties to get, so I bought what was recommended. After doing some research, I found that the luscious is pollen sterile. Does this mean the parker will pollinate the luscious, but the parker never will produce fruit because the luscious is pollen sterile? I don't have any other pear trees. Would summercrisp have been a better choice than the luscious?

A: The consensus in the literature is that you would need a third tree, such as a summercrisp, to get fruit from all three. Luscious is known to be quite susceptible to fireblight, so you might want to reconsider keeping that one. Trade it for a summercrisp, assuming you haven't planted it already. I gave up attempting to grow pears in my backyard in Fargo more than 20 years ago because of fireblight and chlorosis problems. It was not worth the effort.

Q: I have three bleeding hearts planted on the north side of my west entryway. The plants are getting too big for this area, so they need to be moved. When is the best time to move them? Can I plant them on the west side of my house? They wouldn't get any direct sunshine until noon or so. After that, they would have direct sun for four to five hours before the area becomes shaded by my neighbor's trees. Would this be an ideal location or should I think of another spot?

A: Without knowing where you live, I would say that the west side location should be OK. However, the higher afternoon temperatures may shorten the bloom time of the plants. They can be moved when they are finished blooming or have gone dormant.

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