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Hortiscope: Hostas can be cut back to improve their aesthetics

Q: I have two apple trees with branches that die every year. It starts in the spring when these branches leaf out later than the others. The leaves that do grow on the affected branches are small. During the course of the summer, the leaves dry up and the branch dies. I cut the tree back significantly and the branches that grew the following year seemed to do well, but then the problem came back. I mark the bad branches in late summer and then cut them out. I thought it was fire blight, but the branches do not have the sheppard's hook or the dark, burned color. The branches that are not affected have apples on them. What is the problem or do I need to take the tree out? Will it affect the other apple tree I planted this year in a different part of the yard?

A: I cannot determine what is wrong with this tree. It seems to resemble borer or canker problems, but I cannot tell. I would suggest you get in touch with the Extension office in your county. Go to to see if an agent or a master gardener in your county can pay a visit to see what problem exists with your tree.

Q: I have hosta plants that have faded and wilted hamps. Some are blooming, but it depends on the plant's orientation to the sun. Should I cut the problem plants at the base and hope for a second blooming or should I leave them wilting on the plant? The way they look is not very attractive and I also am afraid that the dead blooms are taking some strength away from the plant. Thank you in advance for your help and advice.

A: I assume your term hamps refers to seed pods or spent flowers. Yes, go ahead and cut them back to improve the aesthetics of the plants.

Q: I was wondering if I can pick chokecherries that are green and then ripen them. I don't want the birds to get them before I do. Will they ripen?

A: I wish they did ripen off the tree, but they don't. You will have to do battle with the birds for the ripe ones.

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