Winterburned evergreens -- 6-2-14

(This week’s flower is the common wintercress. To enlarge the picture, click on it.)

The baby robins in all the nests I’m aware of have flown, but there must be another one in a the big maple alongside our house. Why else would the robins chase away the squirrels so energetically? The squirrels are quick, but forces attacking from the air keep them from hiding in their favorite retreat -- the other side of whatever branch they’re on.

There are still baby robins out there. I know that because one who has fallen out of the nest frantically scampers away when the dog and I come by. Fortunately, the dog is not interested. She, too, prefers the squirrels, who sometimes allow her to get within 10 feet before scampering up a tree. I am tempted to say they are mean for teasing her, but they’re just using their instincts to judge how close they can allow a leashed dog to get.



A friend recently asked me why his Leyland Cypress trees were showing some yellow patches. An expert at University of Maryland Extension told him that it was probably winter damage and that the Leyland Cypress was borderline hardy for this region. The expert suggested that should he choose to replant, he might want to pick a hardier variety.

What does that mean? To prevent farmers and home gardeners from putting in plants that have no chance of surviving a region’s hot or cold weather, a map has been created, dividing the U.S. and Canada into 11 zones, based on a 10-degree (Fahrenheit) difference in average annual minimum temperature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that this area is 6b, with a minimum annual average temperature of 0 to -5 (Fahrenheit).

In other words, that’s as cold as it get here, on average.

But the extension expert notes that we’re on the border of two zones, as you can see if you consult the USDA’s map, available at

A reputable nursery should not sell you plants unfit for this zone. But some people insist in trying to grow trees ill-suited to this zone and in some cases, those trees thrive. But when you’re planting, “some cases” shouldn’t be good enough. Ask if the tree you’re buying is hardy for this area and if the nursery will back up its sale with a replacement, should the plant die. The thought of having to do the job twice -- and for no pay the second time -- should inspire plant sellers to err on your side.



Winter damage on evergreens often takes the form of winter dessication or, as it’s more commonly known, winterburn. Because evergreens don’t lose their leaves before winter as deciduous trees like maples do, the harsh winter winds can steal moisture away from them. Then in the spring, they either brown up, or in the case of trees like our magnolia, lose their leaves altogether.

Our magnolia was planted out in the open, instead of against a brick wall that would have reflected heat and provided a windbreak for the trees. The leaves, each about the size of a large chicken breast, brown up and fall into the yard, but not all at once, unfortunately. I pick up a 30-gallon bag of them every week.

There is no cure for winterburn, after-the-fact, but you can take measures to prevent it. Make sure your evergreens get plenty of water before the ground freezes and in the case of delicate, slow-growing varieties such as English boxwood, you might want to use burlap screens to shield the sides and the top of the plant, not only from the wind, but from the snow load.



Now that the new growth has appeared, it’s time to trim your Japanese yews, a commonly used shrub, although you must be careful that livestock and other animals don’t eat the cut branches, or that children don’t get their hands on the red berries. Both of them are poisonous.



New growth on hollies is now showing the pinprick signs of the holly leaf miner, a fly which lays its eggs on the holly leaf. The larvae then “mine out” the inside of the leaf, leading the foliage to fall prematurely. Unfortunately, the time for spraying to kill adult flies has passed, but mark this down as a pest to deal with next April, according to the Ohio State University entomology department.


My son’s garden in Greencastle, Pa. yielded two questions this week. They are:

Q. Okay, so the garden questions for this week: Is there any special care I should be giving my eggplants? They are not looking so happy.

A. Eggplants love the warm weather and we’ve had a lot of cool nights lately. Organic Gardening magazine suggests black plastic mulch, which it says will raise the soil temperature by eight degrees. See their article at

Q. I'm still awaiting my cucumber and basil via mail but the bean sprouts and the peas and squash are all sprouting nicely now. There are millions of tiny weeds though that seemingly cannot be eliminated by pulling. Any help?

A. If the plants have sprouted, put down mulch, either organic matter or black plastic. Smother the weeds you don’t want and nourish the plants you do.

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