Q: The strangest thing happened this year on my cucumber vine. I think it’s growing a pumpkin. Is a busy bee to blame? — Sandie Ryan, Horace, N.D.
A: Thanks for a great question and photo. Although the little round object looks like the start of a pumpkin, it’s a misshapen cucumber.
Although pumpkins and cucumbers are both in the vining cucurbit plant family, they’re different species that are biologically unable to cross. Even though bees likely carry pollen between pumpkins and cucumbers during their travels, the pollen isn’t compatible and only cucumber pollen would be effective on another cucumber flower.
For the sake of discussion, even if pumpkins and cucumbers could cross-pollinate, the current “mother” cucumber flower and resulting fruit would still look like a cucumber, but the seeds inside the fruit would be different because of the pumpkin’s pollen and would show the differences when those seeds were planted and grown. The underlying rule is that anytime two plants cross-pollinate, if they are able to cross-pollinate, the seeds inside exhibit the difference, not the mother fruit.
So what caused the cucumber to look like a little pumpkin? Pollination can be adversely affected by temporary weather that’s hot, chilly, cloudy or wet, and when pollination goes haywire, misshapen or odd fruit form, often resulting in ball-shaped cucumbers instead of the usual elongated shape.
Q: Would it be proper to cut back some of our overgrown hosta plants and divide them this fall? Previously, we have left the foliage of our hosta and day lilies intact in the fall to provide some protection from our subzero winters, and then divided them after we cleaned up the dead leaves in the spring. My wife wants to weed-whack them all back after the first hard frost so it’s not such a mess in the spring. She would also like to divide them now and transplant some to other flower beds. — Charles Canning, Fargo.
A: As a rule, the tops of most perennials are best left intact during winter, as you’ve done in the past, which helps collect snow and ensure better winter survival. However, there are a few perennials that turn to mush during winter as the leaves collapse after frost, and don’t afford much winter protection while also making them difficult to clean up in spring.
So although it’s generally better to leave perennial tops intact, types that are better cut back in fall are hosta, day lily and iris, plus peonies because of their susceptibility to foliage disease. Go ahead and cut back the tops of these after the first fall frost.
September works very well to dig and divide day lilies. The preferred time for hosta is spring, just as new growth is emerging from ground level, but September can work also.
Q: My Autumn Blaze maple has odd-looking, ugly raised bumps on the leaves, and several upper branches never leafed out. What’s affecting the tree? — Cindy M., Casselton, N.D.
A: There are two separate and unrelated issues affecting the tree. The bumps are maple leaf galls, caused by tiny mites that hide themselves within the growths that form on the leaf surface. Although the galls look frightening, they generally don’t cause long-term tree injury, but are considered mainly cosmetic. On large, towering maples, we wouldn’t even notice the growths.
Growing Autumn Blaze maple successfully in much of the region is considered a roll of the dice, especially from the Red River Valley westward. The tree’s distaste for alkaline, prairie-type soils makes it susceptible to winter dieback, iron chlorosis yellowing and general poor growth. Autumn Blaze maple is a hybrid whose parentage includes red maple, listed by some sources as zone 4. Much of our region was plunged into zone 3 conditions this past winter, injuring many trees with zone 4 tendencies.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at email@example.com or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.