Prune off hips on roses to spur growth

Here are some questions I addressed this past week.

Q: What do we do with our roses with only the hips showing?

A: Hips are the seedpods of roses. Prune them off. Leaving hips on bushes signals plants to produce seeds, something you don’t need. Remove the hips to encourage blooms this fall. Reach down the stem to a leaf (a leaf on a rose is made up of five leaflets) and remove all above it. Expect new roses in about 50 days. Once roses open, remove them to encourage more roses. And give your bushes a shot of rose food at half the strength through the summer.

Q: Why won’t my Armenian cucumbers produce female blossoms?

A: I had to reach back to my college days on this one. Way back then, a common phenomenon was that some squash plants produced all male blossoms. I recall an old reference book saying female flowers are likelier to develop on shoots branching off the main vine. It recommended cutting off the ends of vines to encourage side growth. This stimulated females to develop. Let me know if it works.

Q: I was pulling up my tomato plants and noticed large knobs on the roots and am wondering what caused them?

A: You’re describing root-knot nematodes. They are small microscopic larvae feeding on the roots, causing the knobbiness. As you water and feed plants, these critters tap the supply line (roots) and become fat and happy. Whenever you pull up any vegetable plants, always examine for those distorted roots.

The best way to control nematodes is amending the soil with compost. Then moisten the infected area and cover it with plastic for about a month. Cover the edges of the plastic to hold it down. The nematodes feast on the compost, causing them to explode; the added plastic finishes the job. This is also a good way to eradicate existing weed seeds in your garden. After removing the plastic, prepare to plant a fall vegetable garden.

Q: Why were my apricots so small?

A: If apricots are stressing for water or are undernourished, the fruit can’t size up. It takes a lot of energy to produce this year’s crop and at the same time lay down buds for next year’s apricots. Finally, if there was an overproduction of fruit, they will be smaller.

Q: We planted an apple tree last year and are wondering why the apples were about the size of peas?

A: You don’t want fruit trees to produce fruit for at least three to five years. You can keep a few for those in-between years, but you want the tree to put its energy into building structure. Letting fruit set stunts the tree and invites borers.

When it’s time to produce fruit, start thinning when the fruit gets about the size of marbles. Always remove misshapen fruit first. The sooner you thin, the larger your fruit will get and you can expect to get the same amount from year to year.

Q: What is the strange- looking flower rising from the center of our sago palm?

A: Sago palms are really cycads. There are separate male and female plants. You apparently have the male plant. Male plants produce a yellow to tan pinecone up to 2 feet tall. Female plants produce tan crowns that resemble flattened basketballs.

Q: Why hasn’t my 8-year-old lemon tree produced fruit? It’s well protected from the sun with trees growing all around it.

A: It’s getting too much shade; citrus requires full sun. There is no way your plant can produce enough carbohydrates to produce any fruit, so move it to a sunnier location this fall.

Since your lemon tree is 8 years old, dig a trench around the tree now. This severs the extending roots. Apply a root hormone to the rootball to stimulate new root growth. Refill the trench so no one gets hurt. Come fall, prepare the new sunny site where you’ll plant the tree. Remove the soil from the trench to dig up the tree and move it. Severing roots now is the best way to move trees to avoid troubles later.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at 702-526-1495.