How to perk up boxwoods that aren't very happy

BACKYARD Q&A

October 10, 1999

Q. I inherited what I suspect are English boxwoods, and they don't look happy. Entire branches are dead and many of the leaves are cupped. Where do I begin in trying to restore these shrubs?

A.The first step is to remove the dead and dying branches at ground level. They were probably killed by one or two of the common fungal diseases that attack boxwood. Disease problems can be prevented by improving air circulation around the foliage.

Reduce density and open up your shrubs by pruning out branches randomly. Make the cut about 6 inches down -- where the foliage stops and the woody stem begins.

The cupping you observed is caused by the boxwood psyllid, a sucking insect pest. The nymphs can be controlled in April and May with a spray application of horticultural oil. Call the number listed below to receive the fact sheet "IPM Series: Boxwoods." It gives detailed information on caring for boxwoods.

Q. I live in a rowhouse and all of my back yard and most of the front is in vegetable and flower beds. I have a compost bin but don't want to put vegetable scraps in it because they may attract rodents. Can I just bury them in the soil?

A.Yes, you can bury vegetable scraps, and other foodstuff as well. That's how Native Americans once improved the soil. They buried dead fish, a good source of nitrogen.

Dig 6- to 8-inch holes or trenches in various places around your garden and bury scraps in them through fall and winter. The nutrients released by the decomposed scraps will be available to your plants next spring. (Note: You'll find that some food products, such as egg shells and citrus rinds, take longer to break down than others, such as coffee grounds and vegetable peelings.)

Q. My grapes were terrific this year. Very little black rot. I am inspired to take great care of them in the coming years. Should I prune the vines now? Do the old canes keep making fruit?

A.You can prune grapes any time between leaf drop this fall and early spring. Shoots that emerged last spring grew all summer long and should now be shortened to about 15 buds per shoot. In the second year of growth, these shoots are called canes, and they produce clusters of fruit on lateral branches. Old woody canes are unproductive and should be pruned out.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Don't panic as needles on your evergreens yellow and drop. It's natural for older needles to do so this time of year. There's no need for alarm as long as the remaining needles are green.

2. Cut back dahlias and cannas and lift them out of the ground. Store in an unheated basement or garage until replanting time next year.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Maryland Cooperative Extension. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.

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