Evergreens not so green after stressful times

BACKYARD Q&A

In the garden

April 23, 2000

Q. I'm seeing a fair bit of browning of the leaves of evergreen shrubs and trees such as boxwood, Leyland cypress and hollies, around my yard. I know that very cold winters can burn evergreen leaves, but I thought we had a mild winter. Are insects and diseases the culprits?

A. We had sufficiently cold temperatures and wind to produce winter burn symptoms. Evergreen plants that are stressed going into the winter -- from drought, pest damage, site and soil problems, etc.-- are more susceptible to cold weather injury. In general, the winter burn symptoms we are observing this spring were made worse by three suc- cessive drought-filled summers. Prune the dead leaves and branches and be sure to water your plants when rainfall is lacking.

Q. Every spring I see a huge number of 2- to 4-foot-tall weedy plants with small yellow flowers growing in fields and lots. What is this plant and is it edible? I have seen people harvesting it when it's young.

A. There are many wild members of the broccoli family that fit your description. These include various mustards, rape, cresses, wild radish and rocket. Other family members have small white flowers (always with four petals). They are all edible -- cooked or raw -- and are prized by some as some of the earliest wild greens of spring.

Q. I saw a very interesting evergreen shrub last fall that had large pointed leaves like holly with strange light blue fruits. I have a perfect spot in my backyard for this interesting plant. Can you tell me what it is? Is it native? Will it take partial shade?

A. You are describing leatherleaf mahonia, a native of China, that produces fragrant light yellow flowers in early spring. It is well-adapted to our climate, can reach 10 feet in height and will grow well in partial shade.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Start cucumber, muskmelon, watermelon and squash seeds indoors to have plants ready by mid-May.

2. Fertilize spring flowering bulbs to produce strong foliar growth, which provides the food reserves for next year's flowers.

3. Avoid the temptation to spray aphids feeding on garden plants. Predators and parasites usually provide effective control.

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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