Now's a good time to assess a boxwood hedge's health

BACKYARD Q&A

February 13, 2000

Q. Last fall I moved into an older home with a long, neglected hedge of boxwoods. They had yellow foliage and looked unhealthy. What can I do to bring them back?

A. Boxwoods have a number of insect and disease pests that can produce leaf yellowing symptoms. Several insect pests, including boxwood leaf miners, boxwood mites, scale insectsand boxwood psyllids, suck plant sap, causing leaves to look bleached out. A fungal disease, volutella, may also be responsible for some of the yellowing and dieback. During the growing season, the fungus produces very noticeable masses of salmon-colored spores on infected branches. This is a good time to prune any damaged or dead branches in your hedge. If you're not sure what is alive or dead, scrape the bark with a sharp knife and look for green tissue. If your boxwoods are in serious decline you would probably be better off cutting them down to within 4 inches of the ground. They will begin to regrow in the spring.

Q. I want to plant some creeping thyme around my brick walkway and wondered if I should be asking for a specific variety. Also, I know the plants are supposed to release their fragrance when stepped on, but can they also be used for cooking?

A. Look for cultivars in the mother-of-thyme group, also known as creeping thyme. The specific plant is Thymus praecox arcticus. There are numerous named varieties, but all will produce a low-growing, dense mat of foliage. Speak to a knowledgeable salesperson wherever you go to buy your plants to select an appropriate cultivar. All of the creeping thymes can be used in the kitchen.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Place your order now for fruit trees, brambles, grapes, strawberries and blueberries with a reputable company. Be sure to designate a delivery date.

2. Cut ornamental grasses and fall-bearing raspberry plants to within 2 inches of the ground.

3. Keep bird baths filled with clean water; continue to feed wild birds through the remaining weeks of winter.

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