May 1

1 - You can grow a new aspen tree from a broken branch.

Q. The main branch of the top of my aspen tree has been inadvertently severed. It is about 3 feet tall. My question is this: Is there a way to root or propagate it? It broke my heart that this happened. I presently have the "cutting" in a container of water hoping it might root. It has been 5 days and it is still alive with the leaves looking great.

Loida R.

Los Alamos

A. Branches from aspen trees will form roots fairly readily in moist soil. Small twigs will often form roots in water fairly easily. If the severed stem is less than 2 inches in diameter, it will probably form roots in the water (keep it in a fairly warm location to speed root formation). If it is larger, you can put it into a large pot of moist potting soil to form roots. (You can do this with a smaller branch if you wish, also.) Or, you can put it into a bed of moist soil outside. It will often form roots in the soil outside if the soil is kept moist. Application of rooting hormone powder to the base of the cutting will help with root formation in soil, but in the case of aspen may not be necessary.

Willow branches and cottonwood branches can be propagated in the same manner. These are all closely related trees species (in the Salicaceae plant family). They are native to moist areas and capable of forming branches on severed stems and roots. There are other tree species that can be propagated by stem cuttings, but the members of the Salicaceae are among the easiest to grow from stem cuttings. Some, such as apples, are virtually impossible for home gardeners to grow from stem cuttings. Congratulations, the accidental loss of the top of the tree occurred in one of the best species for starting a new plant from the severed stem.

It is important to identify insect pests before choosing a treatment.

Q. This is my first year here in Albuquerque and I am trying to grow a garden. I have a raised bed, 4x8 feet with a topsoil mix from a local compost supplier. After planting a crop and getting great sprouts I started noticing some wilting, dead plants. It started with the spinach, then a radish or two and then all my onions. This damage was all done in about 2 days, during a wet week. I pulled up the dead/dying plants and saw maggots. Is there any help/advice you can provide a curious medical student gardener regarding these maggots? Is there any pesticide or (preferably) "organic" solution for this problem?

A. There are several insects whose larvae could be causing this problem. It is possible that the insects came with the "top soil", but also very likely that the eggs were recently deposited at the base of your plants by an adult insect.

It is important to determine which insects are causing your problems. If possible, collect a sample of the larvae, put them into a vial (sealable container) with rubbing alcohol and take them to your local NMSU Extension Service agent. The agent will either identify the sample, or send it to an entomologist in Las Cruces to identify the pest causing the problems. Once the insect is identified, an appropriate treatment can be determined.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!