Q: Attached are photos of our huge maple tree in the backyard. While mowing, I noticed piles of nuts gathered at the base of the tree. Then I realized they were embedded throughout the bark of the tree and in the notches of the branches. I've never seen this before and we have lived here since 1995. I did some research and think they are butternut nuts. Have you heard or seen this before? — Berta S.

A: From the shape, I think you’re correct about them being from a butternut tree, whose botanical name is Juglans cinerea. Butternut is more borderline in winter hardiness than its close cousin the black walnut, which is Juglans nigra. Black walnut fruit are more rounded and butternut fruit are more lemon-shaped, which the fruit in the photo seem to be. Inside these fruits are the walnutlike nuts.

It's fairly common for squirrels to gather black walnut seeds and "squirrel them away" in odd places, such as people's flower planters, flower beds and gardens, where they sprout the following spring. I've seen the fruits piled in little crevices at the base of trees, but I don't think I've ever seen them embedded in the bark the way your photo shows.

The presence of these fruits in your maple tree shows that there must be a mature butternut tree somewhere close by.

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Q: I found a squash that’s light green, the size of a pumpkin, and it’s the only one like it in the squash patch. All the rest are the normal buttercup squash. I’m wondering what would cause this? — Harold P.

A: The lone squash of a different type that you found in the buttercup patch is most likely the result of a seed in the original seed packet that was of that type. Occasionally seed mix-ups happen in packaging seeds, which is understandable when seed types look nearly identical, as with various types of squash.

One easy explanation of mix-ups is in the equipment used to package seeds. When one batch of squash seed is run through the machinery and the machine is cleaned before switching to another type of squash, one seed clinging in a crevice can easily end up in the packet of the next type.

It might mistakenly be thought that this was the result of some type of cross-pollination in your garden. That wouldn’t be the case, because any type of cross-pollination in your buttercup squash affects the seeds inside the fruit, not the appearance or size of the fruit itself. It will be interesting for you to sample the squash.

Q: I have a Haralred apple tree and the apples are big and so nice but very sour. Next door there’s a flowering crab tree, and I’m wondering if it pollinated with my Haralred apple tree, making the apples sour. Is that possible? I’m not sure what to do with the apples. I’m going to wait for a hard freeze to see if they will sweeten. — Betty S.

A: Haralred apples don't ripen fully until well into October, so they should be left on the tree as long as possible, as cooler temperatures promote the conversion of starches into sugars. Haralred is a redder-skinned version of Haralson, and both can be quite tart if sampled in September. By now, we’ve had more frosts, and hopefully the apples have begun to taste less tart.

There's no need to worry about cross-pollination affecting the fruit. Apple trees actually require cross-pollination from a variety different than itself to produce fruit. Flowering crabs are great sources of pollen, as bees fly among trees. The pollen affects only the seeds inside the fruit, not the fruit itself or its quality. That’s why if you plant a seed from inside one of your Haralred apples, the resulting seedling will be different, depending on where the pollen came from.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.