Q: I realize English ivy is widespread in Maryland, but there are some evergreen vines clinging to trunks that look a bit different than typical ivy leaves. Are they native, or should they too be removed?
A: An evergreen climber I see covering tree trunks in parks which might be confused for English ivy at a distance is wintercreeper (sometimes written winter creeper; Euonymus fortunei). This non-native invasive acts like English ivy in that it’s a groundcover when no support to climb is present, and a clinging vine when trunks or walls are available.
This species also has negative impacts on the trees and our ecosystem and should be removed if growing on your own property. Parks manage invasives as best they can, but with limited resources, we can do our part by not cultivating the species likely to spread into them, even if we don’t live immediately next to parklands. Weed Warrior volunteer programs exist, such as in Montgomery County, if you wish to be trained in invasive plant ID and to help with their removal on public lands. While wintercreeper has been banned for sale by the Maryland Department of Agriculture since 2018 as a Tier 1 invasive plant, established plants in the region can still mature enough to produce fruit (berries) that wildlife then inadvertently spreads into natural areas. Long a popular landscaping groundcover due to those vibrantly green leaves (and the variegated forms for their color), I always recommend removal and replacement with alternatives, preferably a medley of native species instead.
As with English ivy, it’s safest for the tree to simply sever the climbing wintercreeper stems’ connection with the roots in the ground and let them slough off the trunk on their own as they dry out and disintegrate. Even though they attach via root-like structures, those aren’t functional roots and no moisture or nutrients are absorbed by them. Pull up, smother (deny them light), or spray any running stems covering the ground. As with any tenacious weed, eradicating an established patch of this species may take time and repeated efforts at removal before finally being successful. Be vigilant, because birds could always re-introduce it in a future year. (Invasive plants…the gift that keeps on giving.)
By Miri Talabac, Horticulturist, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Miri writes the Garden Q&A for The Baltimore Sun and Washington Gardener Magazine. Read more by Miri.
Have a plant or insect question? The University of Maryland Extension has answers! Send your questions and photos to Ask Extension. Our horticulturists are available to answer your questions online, year-round.
Using evergreen cuttings to decorate the home offers an easy way to incorporate different textures, shapes, and aromas. Evergreens add a touch of simplicity, elegance, and nostalgia to holiday décor. They can be used easily on doors and entryways, as garland, or centerpieces. Cutting materials from your own landscape can provide a thrifty option.
Here are a few tips for making evergreens a beautiful addition to your holiday décor.
If cutting from your own landscape, be cautious not to cut too much. Pruning in the early winter is generally not recommended unless it is to remove diseased or damaged material. It won’t hurt a well established plant to trim off a few branches, but try not to cut anything from newly installed plants. Check out this factsheet for additional information on pruning evergreens.
Caution! Several critters are overwintering on evergreens so once they get warm in your home, they will become active. These uninvited guests can cause surprise and panic from those not expecting them this time of year. If you find spiders, etc., you can put them outside.
Keeping evergreens cool and hydrated will extend how long they stay fresh and beautiful. Place the ends of cut branches into water.
Often mixing different types of evergreens is a fun way to add unique smells, shapes, and texture to your home.
Shorter needled (hemlock/spruce) plants tend to lose their needles faster than longer needled species.
Evergreen boughs are easy to stick into seasonal planters before the soil freezes. Be warned that if the branches freeze in the soil, they will be impossible to remove until it thaws.
Don’t forget to gather interesting seed pods, ornamental grasses, pine cones, etc. These add additional interest and natural beauty.
Some favorite cuttings include Junipers, Arborvitae, Holly, White Pine, Rhododendron, Boxwood, Lavender, and Rosemary. If you have a live Christmas tree, be sure to repurpose those trimmings as well.
As you gather your materials and get ready for crafting, remember that:
Sharp pruners give a clean cut that will help increase the life of your branches and prevent premature needle drop. Guidance on sharpening pruning tools can be found here.
Use green floral wire to put cut branches together. It blends in well and is easy to work with. It is widely available at craft stores and low in cost.
Repurpose metal clothes hangers for inexpensive frames for swags/wreaths/garland.
Swags are often simpler and easier than a wreath to make and require less material, but provide a nice garnish for your entryway. Think of making a bouquet and then turn it upside down to get an easy door swag.
If you’re placing cut evergreen stems into a container, use clean water and clean containers to prevent fungal and bacterial growth.
Keep arrangements out of direct light and as far away as possible from the heat source.
Misting cut evergreens can help extend their beauty.
Using cut evergreens outside the home will help them last the entire season.
Ribbon with wired edges is easier to work with for beginner bow makers.
You can create many beautiful decorations by working with nature! Be creative and enjoy the gifts that your garden continues to give all year round. And it’s never too early to start thinking about garden plant additions for 2022! Think about items you could use in future holiday decorations or another season’s decor.
By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland, edited by Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension. See more posts by Ashley and Christa.
Dr. Dave Clement, University of Maryland Extension Plant Pathologist, explains two common diseases of this popular evergreen tree.
Colorado blue spruce trees, although not native or adapted to Maryland, are commonly planted in landscapes for their attractive color and shape. There are, however, two plant diseases that commonly infect and disfigure them. Both diseases also can occur simultaneously and progressively speed up the decline of this popular tree.