Do not make jelly with these berries because they are not Virginia cherries

A: I’m glad you asked the question because berries are not Virginia cherries, but rather the fruit of a small tree or large shrub called Common Buckthorn. Its botanical name is Rhamnus cathartica, and the fruits cause serious gastrointestinal disturbances in humans.

Buckthorn is one of the most common plants for which identification is requested, as they appear in unexpected places along windbreaks and in landscapes, and people often wonder if the berries are edible. Although the fruits are toxic to the human digestive system, birds enjoy them and lay the seeds in flight, widely distributing buckthorn.

Buckthorn is considered a pest species almost everywhere, and aggressive campaigns in many states are fighting for its containment and control. Its fast growing nature and easy propagation allow it to supplant native vegetation and tree plantations.

Buckthorn can be identified by the prominent leaf veins and pointed buds, reminiscent of a goat’s horn, giving its name. An easy way to distinguish between buckthorn and white cherry is the arrangement of the leaves on the twigs. In buckthorn, the leaves are arranged opposite each other, or just slightly below, called sub-opposites. The Virginia Cherry leaves are arranged along the twigs in an alternating pattern, rather than facing each other, giving an immediate distinctive feature between the two.

A reader wonders if these berries are Virginia cherries.  Special at the Forum

A reader wonders if these berries are Virginia cherries. Special at the Forum


Question: My lawn is so thin from the drought this year. Should I try to overseed this fall? – Henri T.

A: Fall is normally the best time of year to seed or overseed a lawn. If seeding is done between the end of August and September 15, the grass will germinate, grow and establish well before winter.

This year, of course, is very different from most. Whether or not we should plant this fall depends greatly on your ability to water. Successful germination of seeds depends on continuously keeping the soil surface dark and moist. This often requires watering twice a day, sometimes more on windy days. Growing grass seeds can easily fry and die if neglected in hot, windy weather.

Cool fall temperatures and Mother Nature’s fall rains can aid seedling success, but care should always be taken. Basement moisture is severely depleted in many parts of the Upper Midwest, and recent rains have helped a lot, but not enough to replenish the soil.

It is difficult to predict whether or not to reseed this fall. If timely rains and cool temperatures make your watering routine easier, then you will be fine. If the fall is hot and dry, it will be difficult to keep a moist seedbed.


Question: I delayed planting our plum tree because it was very hot and dry all summer. I watered it in the pot and kept it in a sheltered place, and it looks really good. Can I still plant it this fall? – Jake N.

A: Fall planting can be very effective for trees and shrubs. Cooler fall temperatures reduce stress on newly planted material and it’s easier to maintain good humidity after planting. Trees planted in the fall begin to grow their roots, which gives the advantage of delaying until spring. For best results, plant before the end of September, allowing more time for root growth before the ground freezes.

Basement moisture is almost non-existent in many areas, so after digging the planting hole, fill it completely with water a few times and allow the moisture to seep in before you plant the tree. Water well after planting to ensure good soil-root contact.

Trees planted in the fall will establish well with weekly waterings of about 5-7 gallons for an average 6-foot tree. Daily watering can quickly drown a tree due to lack of soil oxygen.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at [email protected] Matters of high interest may be posted, so please include your name, city, and state for appropriate guidance.

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