Fielding Questions: Unusual tricolor zinnia, hollyhock blight and apple trees on hunting land

Don Kinzler
Forum News Service

Q: Look at this lovely tricolor Magellan Zinnia! My friend Randy Mann is a longtime Fargo gardener and has never seen this before. What will happen if he saves the seeds from this singleton flower to replant next year? — Joyce Duenow, Fargo.

A: Thanks, Joyce, for forwarding this intriguing photo and question. Randy Mann, who grew the zinnia, writes, “Only one plant out of about 50 produced this one unusual bloom. In many years of gardening, I’ve never had a flower on any plant divide itself into color quadrant thirds like this.”

In botany genetics, this is called a chimera, and it’s sometimes seen on apples also, where a section of the fruit has a well-defined different shade of color. Chimeras happen when cells mutate in the developing tissue, causing different DNA structures side by side.

Fine Gardening Magazine writes, “This sort of flower, where one section is a different color, is called a ‘sectorial chimera,’ and it comes about when a natural, chance mutation occurs in part of a developing flower stem. They’re very cool and unusual, but they don’t last, as future flowers will most likely just be all one color. If you spot one in your garden, be sure to enjoy it while you can!” Texas A&M University says, “Sectorial chimeras are by their very nature unstable and the likelihood of propagating plants with the same pattern from these types is low.”

If you collect the seed of this zinnia, will it produce the neat tricolor next year? Chances sound slim. But it certainly never hurts to try, and it would be fascinating to see what flower colors the seeds produce. Please let us know what happens, same time next year.

Q: We were gone for 10 days and came back to very moldy hollyhock leaves! What is the best thing to do for the hollyhock plant with this condition so that it will return in full glory next year? — Tom and Beth Iverson, Moorhead, Minn.

A: Hollyhocks are susceptible to several rust and mildew diseases, mostly caused by various fungi. Fungicides can be applied now, but will have little effect late in the season when most of the foliage is already infected.

For best future control, cut back and dispose of all stems and leaves this fall about the time of the first frost. Rake up dropped leaves. Then in early summer of next year, fungicides can be applied as preventatives when the foliage is still healthy. When watering, moisten only the soil, keeping water off the leaves as much as possible, and water in the morning instead of evening, so any water that splashes on stems and leaves will dry more quickly.

Q: I just planted three apple trees on some hunting land, and I was told I need to spray them. When should I do that and with what? Should I put fertilizer spikes out now or next year? — Tyler Kummeth, Fargo.

A: The young apple trees would be best fertilized next May. Although spikes will provide nutrition, they are taken up by the roots in a localized way. For greater impact, spread granular 10-10-10 fertilizer over the root zone, so roots have access to the fertilizer in a wider area.

The main purpose for spraying apple trees in our region is to prevent the apple maggot, which causes brown streaks visible when apples are cut open. Spraying for apple maggots doesn’t need to begin until the trees reach fruit-bearing age.

Because the apple trees are located in an area that might be visited by deer, it’s wise to wrap the trees well this fall to prevent injury to the trunk from animals and rodents. Tree wraps also help prevent winter sunscald injury.

A reader asks what will happen if their friend saves the seeds from this unusual tricolor zinnia and replant next year.