Bagworm partly out of its bag.


Two bagworm cases hang from a red cedar as their occupants feed on the needles

Two bagworm cases hang from a red cedar as their occupants feed.

I can see them hanging all over our eastern red cedars right now greedily munching away on the tender young needles from the protection of their “bag”. Curious little devils but very destructive.

Bagworms are not worms at all but the larvae of insects that attack many evergreen (and some deciduous) trees and shrubs. The caterpillars of the evergreen bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) damage many landscape trees and shrubs by feeding on needles and leaves. A large infestation can lead to almost complete defoliation of trees.

Some of the more common evergreen host plants include their favorites, arborvitae and red cedar, and also fir, hemlock, pine, and spruce. Deciduous host plants include black locust, honeylocust, sweetgum, and sycamore.

A bagworm caterpillar sticks its head out of the bag as it feeds on cedar needles

A bagworm caterpillar sticks its head out of the bag as it feeds on cedar needles

The name bagworm comes from the characteristic case or “bag” that these caterpillars construct around them as they feed. The bag is composed of silk and bits of plant material collected from whatever they happen to be feeding on. As the caterpillars grow in size over the summer, they enlarge the bag by adding more plant material to the front of the bag. It is like a “mobile home” during their larval stage and later becomes their pupa case.

The life cycle of these insects is rather interesting. In late May and early June, the eggs hatch from bags that were constructed the previous season. As soon as they hatch, the young caterpillars crawl out and begin to construct a bag around their hind parts. They “wear” this bag as they move slowly through the branches feeding on needles and leaves.

A bagworm pupa case hangs from a cedar branch

A bagworm pupa case hangs from a cedar branch

In August, the mature larvae attach their bags to a branch and enter the pupa stage looking very much like small pine cones. The pupa stage lasts about 4 weeks.

The adult males, which are small moths with clear wings, emerge from the cases in September or October and begin to search for females. The adult females remain in their bag, releasing a pheromone to attract the males.

Female bagworms mate, produce eggs, and then die without ever leaving the bag. In fact, the eggs develop within the dead body of the female.

The body of a female bagworm cut open to reveal hundreds of eggs

The body of a female bagworm cut open to reveal hundreds of eggs

A female bagworm can produce up to 1,000 eggs which overwinter in the bags and hatch out the following May. Yikes, that’s a lot of little caterpillars! No wonder they can be so devastating to our evergreens.

Birds and some insects will prey on bagworms but normally this predation is not enough to stave off an infestation. The following are some tips for getting rid of bagworms if you find them hanging from your trees or shrubs.

As much as is feasible, try to physically remove and destroy as many of the bags as you can. The silk that holds the bags on the branches is quite strong and scissors or shears are usually needed to cut them off. Depending on the number of bags and the size of your trees or shrubs, removing them all may not be possible. We do not recommend using a ladder!

A bagworm case from a previous year hangs on a cedar tree

A bagworm case from a previous year hangs on a cedar tree

The second most important step is to control the YOUNG caterpillars when they hatch out in the later part of May or June. Young caterpillars can be controlled (without harming beneficial insects) by spraying Bonide BT Thuricide (Bacillus thuringiensis). Bt is a type of bacteria infects and kills the young caterpillars. It is also helpful for controlling young tent caterpillars.

If you miss the younger ones, larger caterpillars (and the young ones too) can be controlled using Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew. This product contains spinosad, an insecticide derived from a naturally occurring bacterium. Like Bt, spinosad targets many different plant pests but spares most beneficial insects when used according to the label directions.

Always read and follow the label directions when using any pesticide and NEVER spray any insecticide when trees or shrubs are in bloom!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Japanese beetle on a morning glory leaf

Ewwwww! What was that that hit me in the head? Unfortunately, I knew what it was before I reached up to get it out of my hair – a Japanese beetle!

We have been lucky for the past two or three years – the Japanese beetles haven’t been bad at all. This year, they may be back in greater quantities.

They must be starting to emerge now because, just yesterday, I had three separate encounters with these nasty beetles.

A Japanese beetle chews holes in our morning glory leaves.

A Japanese beetle chews holes
in our morning glory leaves.

  1. In the morning I was enjoying coffee on our deck when I noticed a Japanese beetle on a leaf of our heavenly blue morning glories. Upon further inspection, I saw that there were holes in many of the leaves and a few big ones right next to this guy. Ugh! They’ve been feasting on the flowers!
  2. When I got to work, I had an e-mail waiting for me from someone whose 5-year old blueberry bushes were being attacked by Japanese beetles. They were wondering how to get rid of them because they were “beginning to do quite a bit of damage” to the plants.
  3. Then early in the afternoon, I was talking with a customer in the garden center and a Japanese beetle flew into my head and got stuck in my hair! Yuck!

They’re here!

Adult Japanese beetle

Adult Japanese beetle

Japanese beetles are native to Japan – as their name implies. They were brought over to the U.S. accidentally (as is the case for many of our alien pests) in the early 1900’s and are now a major pest throughout most of the eastern United States and beyond. They are about a half inch long with iridescent copper wing covers and a shiny green thorax and head. Their legs have rough spines that get caught in everything – including your hair! Nasty!

Japanese beetles feed on leaf tissue eventually leaving just the veins.

Japanese beetles feed on leaf tissue eventually leaving just the veins.


In our area of the Shenandoah Valley, adult Japanese beetles typically begin to emerge from the ground in early July. Almost immediately, they are up and flying around in search of food and mates. We are just starting to see them buzzing around the gardens.

Once they mate, the females will begin to lay eggs in the grass. These eggs hatch about two weeks later and the young larvae (white grubs) burrow down and begin to feed on the roots of the grass.

Beetle grubs devour the tender grass roots killing the grass.

Beetle grubs devour the tender
grass roots killing the grass.

From late August through October, the grubs grow, molt, and continue to feed heavily on the grass roots. This is the time when you will begin to see damage to the turfgrass if you have a heavy infestation. Patches of grass start to turn brown and die. Because the roots are gone, these brown patches can be peeled back easily to reveal the grubs underneath.

Once the weather turns colder in the fall and the soil begins to cool down, the grubs stop feeding and burrow down deeper into the ground where they spend the winter. In the spring when the soil warms a bit, the grubs begin to move up toward the surface and feed on the roots for a short time before they pupate near the surface. The adults emerge in early to mid summer and the cycle begins again.

Japanese beetles have ruined this beautiful Echinacea flower.

Japanese beetles have ruined this beautiful Echinacea flower.

As you can see, these annoying beetles are destructive in two stages of their life cycle; the adults can ruin flowers, foliage, fruits, and vegetables with their feeding and the larvae/grubs can kill large patches of turf as they consume the roots of the grass.

Controlling beetles in the garden

Hand picking is the safest method of control for beetles, however this is often difficult if not impossible to keep up with. If you carry around a small pail with soapy water, you can knock them off into the pail without ever touching them.

Pheromone traps can be used but be sure to place these at the edge of your property and not in or close to your gardens as the attractant will bring the beetles in from all around the neighborhood!

Japanese beetles consume Buddleia flowers

Japanese beetles consume
Buddleia flowers

Control with an insecticide is tricky since Japanese beetles often attack plants that are blooming; eating the foliage or worse, the flowers that the bees and other pollinators frequent.

Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew is listed for controlling Japanese beetles and many other pests in the vegetable garden as well as on ornamentals. This product contains spinosad, an insecticide derived from a naturally occurring bacterium. The nice thing about spinosad is that it targets many different plant pests but spares most beneficial insects when used according to the label directions. It is similar in this way to Bt but it lasts longer in the garden and targets a broader range of insect pests.

Bonide Eight is also listed for control of Japanese beetles as well as many other destructive beetles and garden pests. Like Captain Jack’s, it can be used in the vegetable garden as well as on fruit trees and ornamentals. Always use according to the label directions.

A word of caution: Even natural or organic products can be deadly to pollinators like bees. If possible DO NOT spray when plants are in bloom. If this is not possible, spray early in the morning or later in the evening when bees are less active and ALWAYS read and FOLLOW the label directions! Sometimes, for a plant like Buddleia that blooms all summer, Andre will shear off all the flowers before spraying an insecticide.

Of course, controlling the larval stage will help prevent infestations of adult beetles to some extent. Here are some tips for controlling the beetle grubs in your lawn. For these guys, timing is everything!

Hopefully the beetles won’t be too bad this year. We will definitely know soon!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Floral Fireworks!

Delosperma cooperi

It’s Independence Day and the flowers are celebrating with us!

Gaura 'Siskiyou Pink'

Gaura ‘Siskiyou Pink’

Well – it might take a little imagination in some cases but there are lots of flowers that burst into bloom with an explosion of colorful petals reminiscent of our Fourth of July fireworks.

Take for instance the colorful Delosperma cooperi (Ice Plant) shown at the top of the post. The beautiful magenta petals radiating from the sparkling white central button remind me of a brilliant display of exploding fireworks.

Sassafras flowers against a gray sky

Sassafras flowers in spring

Even some of the tree flowers get into the spirit – although they are a little ahead of the 4th of July celebration! The interesting sassafras flowers produced in the spring are drooping racemes that resemble a beautiful aerial display. My little Japanese maple has pendulous flowers that remind me of falling missiles about to burst into a shower of sparks.

Composite flowers, like chrysanthemums and Echinacea, can often appear very much like fireworks exploding in the night sky.

Echinacea flowers

Echinacea flowers

In fact, a glossary of firework effects contains terms like chrysanthemum, bouquet, dahlia, palm, peony, pistil, and willow to describe the aerial displays of different types of fireworks. It’s quite interesting!

Even the “flower skeletons” of fall and winter can remind you of bursting firework explosions!

So many different flowers, flower clusters, and seed heads have interesting “explosive” shapes.

Below are a few photos that I have taken over the years. These pictures were taken in the Viette gardens, in my gardens, and in my sister’s gardens.

Like I said; you may have to use your imagination!

I hope you enjoy the floral fireworks!

Happy Independence Day everyone!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!


Beautiful mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia 'Keepsake', at my sister's

Beautiful mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia ‘Keepsake’, at my sister’s

Supertunia 'Raspberry Blast'

Supertunia ‘Raspberry Blast’

Clusters of flowers beginning to open in a panicle of Phlox 'David'

Clusters of flowers begin to burst open on Phlox ‘David’

Colorful flowers of lacecap hydrangea

Colorful flowers of lacecap hydrangea

Eupatorium flowers

Eupatorium flower heads beginning to open look like
a blossoming aerial display on the 4th of July

Snow crusted dried umbel of fennel

Snow crusted dried umbel of bronze fennel

A bright red Monarda bursts into a shower of color!

A bright red Monarda bursts into a shower of color!

A sassafras flower against a gray spring sky

A sassafras flower against a gray spring sky

Cascading flowers of Japanese maple

Cascading flowers of Japanese maple

Flower of the powder puff tree ( Calliandra haematocephala). St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.

Flower of the powder puff tree (Calliandra haematocephala).
From Andre’s slide collection; St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.

Dandelion seed heads remind me of a mass of exploding fireworks.

Dandelion seed heads remind me of a mass of exploding fireworks.

Flowers of witchhazel create a grand finale!

Flowers of witchhazel (Hamamelis) create a grand finale!

Spindle galls on cherry

Galls on plants are funny things.

They come in all sizes, funky shapes, and crazy colors. There are thousands of different types of galls and they can be caused by insects, fungi, bacteria, mites, midges, or wasps. Galls can form on the leaves, buds, flowers, stems, twigs, branches, and even on roots.

Oak bullet galls

Oak bullet galls

Normally, galls are formed by the plant in response to some type of “alien invasion”; often from insect or mite feeding or egg laying. As bizarre as these abnormal growths appear, they do not usually interfere with the normal function of the plant.

A few years ago I wrote about two types of galls that are common on goldenrods; the bunch gall caused by the larva of a small gnat and the stem gall caused by the larva of the goldenrod gall fly. The goldenrod was still blooming and seemed otherwise unaffected despite the presence of these galls.

Oak trees seem to harbor several different types of galls, many of which are caused by tiny gall wasps.

Oak bullet gall with exit hole

Oak bullet gall with exit hole

This spring when I was walking around in our yard, I noticed a bunch of hard, round galls on some low branches of a young white oak tree. These galls are called oak bullet galls (or oak marble galls) and are caused by a gall wasp. The gall forms as a deformity of a leaf bud when the wasp lays an egg within the leaf bud tissue. The developing larva stimulates the growth of the gall which starts out as a round green mass and matures to a hard brown marble-sized gall later in the summer. The tiny adult wasp emerges in September through a small exit hole in the gall.

Oak apple gall developed from this oak leaf tissue

Oak apple gall developed
from this oak leaf tissue


Oak bullet galls are often confused with another common oak gall called the oak apple gall. Oak apple galls are quite a bit larger than the oak bullet galls. They too are caused by the feeding of a gall wasp larva. In this case, the gall actually develops from leaf tissue.

Like most galls, oak bullet galls and oak apple galls do not usually hurt the tree.


Wool sower galls are quite beautiful!

Wool sower galls are quite striking!


The wool sower gall is another strange gall that is only found on oak trees and specifically only found on white oaks. These puffy, round galls are caused by the larvae of another small wasp. They are really cool looking! Wool sower galls are sometimes called the oak seed gall because if you tease them apart, you will find tiny structures that resemble seeds in the center. The wasp larvae develop in these little compartments.

Spindle galls on a cherry leaf

Spindle galls on a cherry leaf

Another really funky looking gall is the spindle gall. Every year I see these weird growths on the leaves of some of the wild cherry trees in our woods. Talk about something out of a sci-fi movie! These colorful, finger-like galls are caused by microscopic mites called eriophyid mites. The galls form in early spring when the leaves begin to expand and the tiny mites begin feeding on the leaf tissue.

Spindle galls on a maple leaf

Spindle galls on a maple leaf

The upper surfaces of the leaves become covered with these crazy looking pink, red, or green spindle-shaped projections. It looks like some terrible rash! Believe it or not, the growth of these spindle galls has little effect on the health of the trees. Spindle galls are common on maples as well as cherries.

Galls caused by one of the spruce gall adelgids

Galls caused by one of the
spruce gall adelgids

Adelgids are devastating pests of many conifer species. Woolly adelgids have decimated huge populations of Eastern hemlocks and Fraser fir in the eastern part of the United States.

Several adelgid species, including the eastern spruce gall adelgid and the Cooley spruce gall adelgid, produce galls in various species of spruce. Unlike the woolly adelgids, these adelgids generally do not kill the trees unless there are repeated infestations which can eventually weaken the trees. Normally the damage is limited to the tips of a few branches, but in the landscape, these brown tips can be unsightly.

A mature cedar-apple rust gall erupts into mass of bright orange tendrils after wet weather in the spring.

A mature cedar-apple rust gall with bright orange tendrils

Cedar-apple rust is a fungal disease that produces weird galls on eastern red cedar trees. I’ve written about this double-host disease before. During wet weather in the spring, these galls sprout gelatinous tendrils full of fungal spores which are carried to the alternate host, apple or crabapple trees. Here they cause damaging rust disease on the leaves and fruit. The galls on the cedars cause little damage to those trees but the apple and crabapple trees can be heavily damaged if they are not protected with fungicides.


Well – that’s a little bit about some of the funky growths that you may encounter in your landscape!

Normally, chemical control is not warranted or even very successful with these galls, EXCEPT in the case of the adelgids and the cedar-apple rust. Adelgids can be controlled with Bonide All Seasons Oil and the cedar-apple rust can be controlled on apples and crabapples with Bonide Copper Fungicide.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Computer paper mulch

Remember way back when there was no such thing as a personal computer? That was a long time ago …

A young meadow vole sits in crownvetch.

A young meadow vole sits
in crownvetch.

Back when Eric and I were in graduate school at Penn State, the computer available to students was a giant mainframe that was housed in a computer center on campus. During the summer when we weren’t in the field collecting data, we basically lived in the computer center. This was kind of nice because in order to keep these giant computers from overheating, the whole building had to be air conditioned. Being in the comp center offered a nice break from the hot crownvetch fields where we were using a combination of live trapping and radio telemetry to study the home range and movement patterns of meadow voles.

Meadow vole being fitted with a radio collar

A female meadow vole being fitted
with a radio collar

We spent hours in the comp center entering data by punching cards (anyone remember that?) and later by typing our location data into a remote terminal. We would then plug the data into various programs to plot the locations and run statistical tests. The jobs were submitted to the big mainframe computer, and then we had to wait for them to run and eventually print out on the wide, continuous feed, green bar paper (or sometimes a heavier weight white paper). Depending on the job queue, it could take quite a while to get a printout. My how technology has changed since those days!

Anyway, there IS a point to this story!

Our years at Penn State left us with boxes and boxes of computer paper output which Eric has been storing in his office at the college. Last year, he decided that it would make the perfect mulch for our vegetable garden so he brought two boxes home for use in the Three Sisters Garden.

One year we mulched with composted leaves.

One year we mulched the tomatoes with composted leaves.

We have discovered that for people with busy lives and big vegetable gardens, mulching is one of the keys to success.

A cover of mulch around the plants and throughout the vegetable garden is wonderful way to reduce weeds and thus the time spent weeding.

Mulch also helps maintain soil moisture and keeps the soil from drying out too quickly. This not only saves water because you don’t have to irrigate as often, but the more even soil moisture helps to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.

Cucumber leaf ravaged by a fungal disease.

A cucumber leaf ravaged
by a fungal disease.

In addition, mulching the vegetable garden helps to reduce disease problems so you spend less time (and money) spraying fungicides. Fungal diseases, such as early blight, late blight, and septoria leaf spot, are the main destroyer of tomato plants. Downy mildew and anthracnose can wreak havoc on cucumbers, squash, and other cucurbits. The fungal spores that spread these diseases are lurking in the soil just waiting to jump onto your vegetable crops. A layer of mulch can prevent these spores from splashing up onto the leaves of your plants during a rainstorm or when the plants are watered.

Eric laying out the computer paper

Eric lays out computer paper

The mulch we usually use in our vegetable garden is a thick layer of newspaper covered with straw. This works really well and the newspaper prevents most of the straw seeds from germinating in the garden. Last year, we substituted the computer paper for the newspaper – it worked really well!

Since each computer job generated pages and pages of continuous output, we could literally walk backwards through the garden unfolding the paper as we went. When you got to the end of a row, you could either tear the paper at a perforation or turn around and go back to lay down a second (or third) layer. It was easy as long as the wind wasn’t blowing but this is true with the newspaper as well. Usually one of us would spread the straw as soon as the paper was laid down thick enough.

Computer paper ready for a covering of straw

Ready for a covering of straw


Straw completely covers the paper.


Laying computer paper goes much faster than putting down sheets of newspaper and it’s a great way to recycle the boxes of computer output that have been cluttering Eric’s office for all these years! But … I suppose there aren’t too many people that have boxes of old computer paper lying around!

Oh well, mulch that garden with something – you’ll be glad you did! Here’s to a prosperous gardening season with loads of fruits, vegetables, and flowers!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!


Botrytis infected peony stem and bud

An ugly name for and ugly disease!

Botrytis or gray mold is a fungal disease that attacks many perennials but especially peonies – the “aristocrat” of the spring perennial garden!

A peony bud and stem infected with botrytis

A peony bud and stem infected
with botrytis

Anyone who grows peonies eagerly anticipates the appearance of their glorious blooms in mid to late May. Sometimes we are bitterly disappointed when our peony stems suddenly begin to turn brown, wilt, and flop over.

It is especially upsetting when this occurs after the flower buds have developed and are beginning to swell on the stems. We can hardly wait for them to open and reveal their beautiful flowers – but then … Ugh!


Botrytis at the base of this peony leaf

Botrytis at the base of this peony leaf

Botrytis blight often rears its ugly head in the garden after late spring freezes or during periods of cool, rainy weather. It can be especially damaging to plants when wet, humid conditions persist over several days.

Botrytis (Botrytis paeoniae) is probably the most common disease of herbaceous peonies. It typically first appears as brown or black patches on the bases of the young leaves and stems when they emerge in the spring. The stems and leaves wilt rather quickly and fall over.

This peony bud would have produced a beautiful flower!

This peony bud would have produced
a beautiful flower!

A gray mold which produces and disseminates a tremendous number of spores eventually develops in these areas. These botrytis spores are carried by the wind and also by insects to the leaves and flower buds of other nearby peonies where they grow and cause leaf blight and bud rot. Often, this is when the damage becomes most noticeable. The very tiny flower buds turn black and fail to develop further while larger buds and the stems just below them turn brown and quickly droop over. Unfortunately, under favorable conditions, botrytis can quickly spread through your peony beds unless steps are taken to control it.

What can you do?

Botrytis spores beginning to cover this diseased bud.

Botrytis spores beginning to
cover this diseased bud.

If you notice botrytis on the buds, leaves, or stems of your peonies, carefully remove the infected plant tissue, place it in a bag and discard it in your trash – do not put it in your compost pile! Never prune infected stems and foliage while the plant is wet or you risk spreading the disease to other healthy plants.

Botrytis overwinters in dead leaves and other plant tissue so it is important to remove all plant debris from the garden in the fall. Cut peony foliage to the ground in September or October, bag it up, and put it in the trash. Rake up dropped leaves and remove them from the garden.

Again, do not compost any of this plant debris.

Leaf blight caused by botrytis often develops after the blooming period.

Leaf blight caused by botrytis often
develops after the blooming period.

In the spring, just as the shoots begin to come up, spray the shoots and the surrounding soil with a mixture of Bonide Mancozeb (with Zinc) and Immunox according to the label directions. Then begin a spray program, spraying first with Mancozeb, copper fungicide, or Bonide Fung-onil and then 10 days later spray with Immunox or one of the other fungicides that you didn’t use for the first spray. Repeat this every 10 days until they flower.


In our gardens, botrytis wasn’t too bad this year. However, I have had a few calls about the sudden death of peony buds or the lack of bud development all together. If you don’t see signs of botrytis, the following are a few other reasons why peonies might fail to bloom:

  1. A late spring frost or freeze might kill the buds. We had some very cold nighttime temperatures this spring. It dropped into the mid 20’s several times in the middle of April and we even had frost in mid May this year.
  2. Peonies may be planted in too much shade. Sometimes, as your landscape matures, full sun gardens can become more and more shaded. Peonies will bloom in bright shade but the bloom will begin to decline in deeper shade.
  3. Too much nitrogen will hinder flower development. Your grass loves lots of nitrogen; peonies, not so much. Nitrogen promotes lush green growth – just what you want for your lawn but not your perennials. Foliage comes at the expense of flowers. Be very careful to keep your high nitrogen lawn fertilizer out of your perennial beds if you want a nice show of flowers! Choose an organic fertilizer like one of the Espoma “tones” or another fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen.
  4. Bare root peony showing the two types of "eyes".

    Bare root peony showing
    the “eyes”.

    Your peony may be getting too old. As your peonies get age, flowering may slow down. To rejuvenate your peonies and make them bloom well again, dig and divide them in September or October when the foliage begins to turn brown. Here are some tips.

  5. Peonies are planted too deeply. Plant your peonies so the eyes are no deeper than 2″ below the soil surface. If they are planted deeper than this, they may not bloom.

Our peonies were pretty spectacular this year! I hope yours were, too!

Peony 'Gay Paree' blooms in the Viette gardens. It is one of Andre's favorites.

Peony ‘Gay Paree’ blooms in the Viette gardens. It is one of Andre’s favorites.

If you don’t have any planted in your garden, maybe it’s time to find a sunny spot for one or two! Check out our list!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Dead buds along a hydrangea stem.

It was a long, cold winter Charlie Brown!

I think we became a bit spoiled with the unusually warm winter temperatures we have experienced over the past few years. Not to say that the winters had been balmy, but we hadn’t had a good “old-fashioned” cold winter for a while.

This winter had some really cold nights; the temperature dropped below zero quite a few times here in the Shenandoah Valley and the wind made it feel even colder. Below zero wind chill readings kept kids home from school on many occasions. I’m not sure why – we had to go to school no matter what the temperature was outside! And we had to walk a long way to the bus stop!

Anyway, it WAS a cold one to be sure.

We are now beginning to become aware of some of the winter kill that occurred over this very frigid winter. Plants that normally breeze through the winter unscathed got hammered by the deep freeze. Consequently, we have had many calls and e-mails this spring addressing this general problem.

I live in zone 6 in VA and am waiting for my 7 year old Hydrangea macrophylla bush to leaf out on the old wood. It’s about 4 feet tall and leaves have sprouted from the base of the shrub but no leafing action has come out of the branches. Do you think I should wait a few more weeks to see if leaves will come out like it did last year or should I assume that it’s winter damage from our long winter and just prune it to the ground?”

My lacecap hydrangeas were sprouting nice new growth from the rootstock but the tops were dead.

My lacecap hydrangeas were sprouting nice new growth
from the roots but the tops were dead.

The lacecap hydrangeas in my own garden are in the same shape. This was a very tough winter for many trees and shrubs. Buddleia, crape myrtle, Leyland cypress, boxwood, azalea, gardenias, and many others are showing varying degrees of cold damage.

Dead terminal bud.

Dead terminal bud.

Buds all along the stems were dead as well.

Buds all along the stems were dead.

The buds were freeze dried!

The buds were freeze dried!

In many cases, the above ground portions of hydrangea and Buddleia were killed during the winter. When I checked the buds along the stems of my lacecap hydrangea, they were all dead as a doornail. Nice and crispy! Same with my Buddleia – all above ground stems were dead.

Luckily, many of these plants will still have live, healthy roots. Like the gardener above, all my hydrangeas have lovely green growth coming up from the roots. My Buddleia are also sprouting new stems from the base.

The only option for these shrubs (including also boxwood, yew, azalea, rhododendron, and gardenia) is to cut the dead stems back to green wood. In my case, I will be cutting my lacecaps all the way back to the ground. They will still grow into an attractive shrub this summer but I know I won’t have flowers on them this year. Hydrangea macrophylla, which includes the lacecaps, blooms on old wood and unfortunately, all my old wood is dead.

Buddleia cut back to the ground is beginning to sprout new growth at the base.

Buddleia cut back to the ground is beginning to
sprout new growth at the base.

Happily, Buddleia blooms on new wood so there should be plenty of flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds on my butterfly bushes this summer.

Crape myrtles and Leyland cypress were also hit hard by this cold, cold winter, especially at the northern edges of their hardiness range. As evidenced by the many questions we have received this spring, trees that normally have little or no winter kill are showing a lot of damage this year.

Crape myrtle cut back to live wood after a hard winter.

Crape myrtle ‘Hopi’ cut back to live
wood after a hard winter.

The solution for crape myrtles is pretty simple; just cut them back to healthy, green wood once they begin to grow again and you can easily tell what is live and what is dead. They will respond with a flush of new, vigorous stems. Since these trees bloom on new wood, you should still get some beautiful flowers this summer.

Be sure to feed them with Espoma Plant-tone or Holly-tone after pruning if you haven’t fed them yet this spring.

Leyland cypress with winter damaged branches are more of a problem. These trees produce new growth from buds at the tips of the branches and also from buds that are randomly located along the stems. You can’t just chop off the damaged portions and have it reliably break out in new growth. The best option for these shrubs is to feed the foliage with a liquid fertilizer and ground feed with Espoma Holly-tone (10 lbs per 100 sq feet of root surface). Often if the damage isn’t too severe, the tree will put on new grown and the damaged tips will drop off. Some pruning may be necessary but if whole branches were killed, you may unfortunately end up with a permanently disfigured tree.

A monarch butterfly visits Buddleia 'White Profusion'

A monarch butterfly visits
Buddleia ‘White Profusion’

Look on the bright side
consider this a great opportunity to rejuvenate some of your trees and shrubs. They will flourish with lush new growth and your summer flowering trees and shrubs may even bloom better this summer.

Next spring, your spring flowering shrubs should produce flowers on a beautiful new, but shorter plant! However, be forewarned that it may take up to two years before you see a full, bountiful bloom.

If you aren’t able to save your tree or shrub because it is too damaged or even completely dead, consider the loss an opportunity to try an exciting new variety!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!


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