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Preventing apple tree breakage, how to save zinnia seeds and more

The main horizontal limb on this Haralson apple tree broke halfway through under the heavy load of apples. Special to Forum News Service1 / 2
Don Kinzler suggests thinning apples in June, when they're still dime-sized, could help prevent branch breakages like this. Special to Forum News Service2 / 2

Q: I should have listened to your advice about thinning apple trees. The main horizontal limb on our Haralson apple tree broke halfway through under the heavy load of apples. I mowed around that tree so many times thinking I should thin those apples, but always got sidetracked on another project. — Jody Bendel.

A: Thanks for sharing about your apple tree. It might seem like a shame at the time, but thinning apples in June when they're dime-sized, spacing them about 4 to 6 inches apart, lets the remaining apples become larger and better instead of the tree dividing its resources, sugars and juices among an overabundance of apples. With thinning, not only is apple quality increased, but the weight is lifted, reducing the chance of branches breaking and trees splitting.

Thinning also levels out the yearly fruit crops, reducing the feast-or-famine tendency of some apple varieties to be "biennial bearers," fruiting heavily one year, barely fruiting the next, in a two-year cycle. Thinning tends to break this cycle, helping trees to bear better every year, instead of every other year.

Q: If I save zinnia seeds from the more unusual zinnias such as Magellan Orange or Queen Red Lime, do I get the same flower next year? And what is the correct way of saving this seed? — Marilyn Ginsburg, Renville County, N.D.

A: Whether or not zinnias will "come true" from seed collected from this year's plants depends on whether the variety is a hybrid or not, which can usually be checked in seed catalogs or online.

If the seed is a hybrid like Magellan Orange, then they might not grow with the same characteristics, but you can experiment if you like. I tried this with hybrid Vista Bubblegum Petunia seed that I collected, but the resulting plants were far inferior. Generally, it isn't recommended to save seed from hybrids.

But if the variety isn't a hybrid, called open-pollinated, then collected seed usually produces plants very close or identical to the parent plant. Queen Red Lime, sold by Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, appears to be a nonhybrid.

To collect the seed, harvest the largest, driest, and ripest flowers. As you rub open the flower heads, separate the chaff from the flat, gray zinnia seeds. Spread the seeds in a shallow tray in a warm spot to dry thoroughly, then store in a closed container in the back of the refrigerator.

Q: Is it OK to trim low-hanging branches from a shade tree this time of year? — Jet Collins, Valley City, N.D.

A: Tree pruning is best done in late winter or early spring instead of late summer or fall. As tree growth slows in autumn, cell division slows, causing pruning cuts to heal more slowly. Major pruning is best done right before the start of the spring growing season.

This from Colorado State University on tree pruning: "Late summer to late fall is generally considered an undesirable time to prune trees. It may stimulate canopy growth and interfere with winter hardiness. Extreme cold may cause cambium damage near the pruning cut." So, fall isn't the time to open up wounds before a tree is facing winter. If you can wait, I'd wait.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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