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Lawn & Garden

Ask Dayle

5/8/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

Q: Over the winter, all of my normally hardy English ivy took a severe blow and I found that ALL of the leaves had shriveled and turned black. I removed all of these dead leaves and now am wondering if this ivy will recover or has it been lost? All that remains now are the bare runners — with no signs yet of any new growth. (I have applied PLANT TONE fertilizer ) — should I do anything further? How long should I wait to see recovery? Or should they just be replaced?

A: You are not alone in the loss of an otherwise faithful botanical member of your garden. A slew of normally hardy vines, shrubs and perennials in our readership area took hard hits this past winter. Boxwood appears to be the shrub most harshly affected around town. The winter damage shows on these shrubs in swaths of small yellowish white leaves across the entire windward facing portions of the plants.

A neighbor lost two majestic 40-year-old rhododendrons, yet my own two puny 20-year-old rhodies came through the winter largely unscathed, although most of the flower buds died and dropped off. Other probable losses in my own garden include two evergreen shrubs and six hydrangea shrubs that bloomed pink, blue, chartreuse and white. Nary a green bud has shown on these plants yet this spring. My climbing roses were the worst hit, with every cane turned black and brittle, including ‘New Dawn’ and ‘White Dawn,’ and the very special ‘Eden Climber,’ which was cultivated at Winterthur Gardens and planted in my garden in 1998.

Of course, everything that looks dead may be dead, but let’s cross our fingers, shall we? If we all were to tear out and replace everything in the garden that appears to be dead right now, garden budgets would explode. For now, I suggest ‘wait and see” as the best approach for everybody’s plants, including your ivy.

I assume you refer to the traditional English ivy, Hedera helix, which grows so well in our area. This vine is an incredibly stalwart plant that normally withstands even the most extreme zero weather. Let’s hope that your plant simply has a severe case of winter burn and will recover with a little TLC.

Winter burn occurs when moisture is lost from evergreen plant leaves via dry winter winds, which turn leaves brittle and damaged. Sometimes a winter is especially harsh and is too much for the plant to withstand, which means portions of the foliage and roots are killed off by deep freezing.

Only time will tell how much damage has occurred with your ivy. The root system may still be alive enough to produce new foliage. You did good to fertilize and to remove the blackened and dead leaves. This will prevent any insect pests from moving in and making matters worse.

Generally for any plants affected by winter burn, fertilize, prune and then wait. For pruning, remove all clearly dead leaves and limbs of the plant. If you can’t tell if a leaf or limb is dead, scrape the surface of the leaf or limb with your fingernail. If there is green under the scrape, that part of the plant will probably recover. If it’s completely dead, prune the section out so new growth can fill in. Fertilize your evergreens yet this spring with a food that is appropriate for each particular plant. Fertilizer will encourage regrowth. Fertilizer and spring rain should set minimally damaged plants back on their feet; badly affected plants may need the entire growing season to regain their footing.

If you find you must replace your ivy plants this summer, be sure to plant them in a shaded spot that is protected from winter winds. Set ivy plants out in the garden 12 inches apart in loamy, moist soil. Both the plant and the soil should be well watered prior to planting. To prevent winter burn from occurring in subsequent winters, shield the vines from the wind by creating a windbreak with burlap sacking and stakes.

I am reluctant to throw in the trowel on my ‘New Dawn,’ ‘White Dawn’ and ‘Eden Climber’ roses and plan to give them until the last possible second of summer to breathe new life. The hydrangeas will receive a butch haircut in the hopes that new growth will sprout from the base of the plants.

Good luck to all gardeners in coaxing back winter weary plants to their very best health.

For more horticultural information, call The Ohio State University Summit County Hotline Tuesdays between 9 a.m. and noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request Fact Sheet HYG-1016-96, “Overwintering Plants in the Landscape.”

Please note fact sheets are sent out free, but there is a fee for bulletins. Many bulletins are available online at ohio line.osu.edu and can be printed from home or accessed at the public library.


Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and coursework in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is certified as a Master Gardener under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions regarding lawn and garden issues, which could be featured in a future edition. Questions can be emailed to kcollins@akron.com, faxed to 330-665-9595 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333. Please do not send any leaves, seeds or other organic material.

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