Q: I’m sending you a picture of a 52-year-old cactus plant growing outdoors at our neighbors in West Fargo. If you’re interested, they would be happy to tell their story about the plant. Their names are Harvey and Rosemary Heise. Thanks. Nancy Frosaker.

A: I’m always interested in a delightful story, and I enjoyed a phone conversation with Harvey and Rosemary. Thanks, Nancy, for sending the beautiful photo, and for putting us in touch.

The story began in 1969 when the Heises were visiting a brother in Wisconsin and brought back a sprig of the cactus in a coffee can and planted it by their home. As they’ve moved over the years, they’ve taken the cactus along with them, every step of the way.

The cactus has been in its present location about 11 years, and the patch measures over 4 feet across. This year, the Heise’s counted over 200 blossoms, beginning about July 1 and lasting several weeks. The flowers are interesting shades of yellow and peach.

According to the United States Forest Service, prickly pear cactuses such as these are the most northernmost cactus found in the world. They’re fully winter-hardy in our zone, as the Heises have found, and native in many states in the Upper Midwest.

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Thanks, Harvey and Rosemary, for sharing the fun tale of your pretty cactus!


Q: I read the following about an arborvitae. "Cutting it down to just a few inches off the ground may rejuvenate an arborvitae that is overgrown or weak." Can that possibly be true? — Sharon Buhr, Valley City, N.D.

A: Your skepticism is well-founded. Arborvitae, which are the evergreens with grass-green, flattened, soft foliage, aren’t able to rebound if cut back as severely as mentioned. Most leafy, deciduous shrubs can be rejuvenated terrifically by pruning back to about 6 inches above ground level in early spring, and they rebound beautifully.

Evergreens, however, don’t have the ability to produce new shoots on wood that is old and bare. Cutting them down to 6 inches above ground level, as we would a deciduous shrub, results in a barren stump, incapable of bursting force with new growth. Evergreen pruning should be limited to the areas of the shrub that have healthy green foliage.

Q: Both of my bleeding hearts have leaves turning yellow starting at the bottom and moving up the plant, finally turning brown. Is it some kind of fungus? If so, will I be able to plant another new bleeding heart in the same place next year? If I get a new bleeding heart, is there something to prevent this from happening? — Cindy B., Fargo.

A: Good news — your bleeding hearts don’t have a fungus; it’s their natural growth habit. Bleeding hearts normally begin going dormant in early July, especially in hot weather. In increased shade and cooler temperatures, the foliage remains green longer.

The rock mulch in which your bleeding hearts are growing tends to accumulate heat, which in turn makes the plants go dormant quicker. Removing the rock from a circle around the bleeding hearts and replacing with shredded bark will keep the soil cooler, and generally prolong the time the foliage stays green.

Although it’s common for bleeding hearts to go dormant by midsummer, they’ll come back just fine next spring. Wait to remove yellowing foliage until leaves and stems are totally brown and crisp. Removing the tops too soon weakens the plants. Many gardeners plant a few annuals around bleeding heart, so that when the foliage is gone, the annual flowers provide color.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Fielding Questions columns

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.